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The straight-arm pulldown and standing pulldown both work your upper back muscles, but there the similarity ends. One is a compound, and the other an isolation movement, with one working your upper back muscles more effectively than the other. Focus on correct technique and the target muscles when performing resistance exercises. Consult a fitness professional if you are unsure how to perform an exercise.
Performing Standing Pulldowns
To perform the standing pulldown, reach up and grasp the bar on a lat pulldown station with a wide overhand grip. Step back from the station, and go into a semi-squat with your feet approximately hip-width apart, your knees bent and your hips and butt pushed back. Engage your core muscles to protect your spine, keep your back straight, then exhale as you pull the bar down to your chest with your elbows pointing backward. Emphasize your lats and rhomboids by squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down. Inhale as you straighten your arms to return the bar to its starting position in a controlled manner.
Standing Pulldown Considerations
The standing pulldown is a compound multi-joint movement that works the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids in your back, together with your biceps. Your body position during the exercise is a bit awkward as you focus on maintaining your balance and posture, and avoid being jerked off your feet as you lower the weight stack, all to the detriment of an effective workout for the target muscles. The pulldown is much better performed sitting down, with a pad across your thighs to ensure you don't ride up with the weight stack and your body optimally positioned so you can focus mainly on the target muscles.
Performing the Straight-Arm Pulldown
To perform the straight-arm pulldown, grasp the bar on a high pulley station with a close overhand grip. Step back from the station and place one foot slightly behind the other. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly by pushing your hips back. Keep your back straight, shoulders pulled back and chest thrust out. Bend your elbows slightly and keep them flexed throughout the exercise. Exhale as you pull the bar downward until it touches your thighs and your upper arms are next to your sides. Inhale and return the bar to its starting position just above your head. Maintain the tension in your lats by not letting the weight stack come to rest.
Straight-Arm Pulldowns Considerations
The straight-arm pulldown is single-joint isolation movement that specifically targets your lats, and is the cable equivalent of the flat bench dumbbell pullover. Distinct from the standing pulldown, the straight-arm pulldown works your lats without engaging the biceps, though your triceps and pectorals assist the movement. Don't use a heavy weight on this exercise. Focus on stretching your lats on the upward phase of the movement and tensing them on the downward phase.