If you want to build a strong back and upper body, pull-ups and chin-ups are typically the best bodyweight exercises you can do.
But if you’re not yet strong enough to do a complete pull-up or chin-up, lat pulldowns can help.
This exercise is done with a lat pulldown machine but as you can see in this video, I simply use a pulley system with Kettle-bell which is perfect for the home gym set up.
NOTE: The setup is almost identical to the Pull-Up.
1. Sit down on a pull-down machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar.
2. Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using a slightly wider (1-2 inches) than shoulder width grip. NOTE: Using an excessive wide grip adds no additional benefit to this exercise.
3. With a firm grip, act as if your bending the bar in half, trying to point your elbows towards each other. This will “lock in” the lats and engage the serratus anterior muscles much more effectively. Try and maintain this tightness throughout the movement of the exercise.
3. Bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
4. Bring the bar down until towards your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore do not try to pull down the bar using the forearms.
5. After a second at the contracted position squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched. DO NOT allow the shoulders to pull forward at the top of the movement. Keep your lats and serratus anterior engaged as in step 3.
6. Repeat this motion for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
Variations: The behind the neck variation is not recommended as it can be hard on the rotator cuff due to the hyperextension created by bringing the bar behind the neck.