Last updated on November 5th, 2022 at 01:59 pm
It’s one of those things that you’re never 100% sure about, “Should the Bar Touch Your Chest on Lat Pulldowns?”
In fact, you could ask 3 different people the same question, and receive 3 completely different answers, as to where the bar should end up.
With that being said, more often than not you’ll be told that the bar should always touch the chest when performing the movement.
However, is this really the case?
Allow me to explain exactly how far down you should be going with lat pulldowns.
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Should the Bar Touch Your Chest on Lat Pulldowns?
There is no need for the bar to touch your chest on lat pulldowns. Your aim is to ensure you retract the shoulder blades and feel the movement in your lats. Where the bar finishes will depend on factors like the length or your arms, your height, torso length, and your overall flexibility. Anywhere between chin and chest level is fine. As your strength and flexibility improves you can eventually pull the bar to your sternum.
1. How Far Down Should a Lat Pulldown Go?
I will categorically state that the bar does not need to touch your chest when you do lat pulldowns.
I’m sure this will infuriate many people, most of whom will say that you’re not performing the movement correctly if the bar doesn’t touch your chest.
However, for me, it’s simply a case of what range of motion produces the best results for you.
There are actually so many variables to consider with lat pulldowns, and I’ll get to these in just a moment.
But, I will say that a “perfect rep” does not constitute touching your chest.
Okay, I’ll admit that this may be the goal for the vast majority of us.
However, the most important aspect of the exercise is that you actually feel it in your lats.
This means that you should retract your shoulder blades by literally pulling them back and down.
Then rather than actually pulling on the bar with your hands, your aim should be to lead with your elbows.
Much the same as most lat and upper back exercises, the movement is best performed by concentrating more on your elbows.
This way you can actually work the lats, as opposed to using your biceps or even your forearms.
Once you get to the stage where it feels as though your biceps or forearms are taking over it’s time to stop and return the bar to the starting position.
I will say that this should hopefully mean that the bar has at least passed your chin.
If it hasn’t then you’re probably using too much weight.
However, anywhere between chin level and your sternum is fine.
Remember, your main goal is to ensure that you use your lats to bring the bar down.
So, once you feel the secondary muscles start to take over, the actual pull down portion of the movement is over.
2. There Are So Many Lat Pulldown Variables
Okay, it probably sounds like I’m saying that the bar should never touch your chest.
However, this definitely isn’t the case either.
In a perfect world, the perfect lat pulldown will see the bar touch the top of your sternum.
With that being said, there are so many variables to factor in.
And for me, the most important one of these is your overall flexibility.
Many of us lack shoulder flexibility to perform the lat pulldown and bring the bar all the way down to the chest.
In fact, I see people in the gym time-and-time again going past their point of flexibility.
This typically involves pulling the bar down just past chin level, then leaning back excessively, and literally forcing the bar to the chest for those final 3-4 inches.
Yes, there should generally be some backward lean when performing lat pulldowns, but there’s no need to overdo it.
I’ll often see someone whose upper torso is almost parallel to the floor and then they yank the bar towards the chest.
Firstly, you’re placing a huge amount of stress on the lower back by doing this.
Plus, you’re definitely not using your lats for the last few inches.
Flexibility isn’t the only issue that may stop you from touching your chest with the bar.
Your height, torso and arm length, as well as your overall strength also play a role.
Let’s face facts, it’s going to be a lot easier for someone tall with long arms to touch their chest and use their lats throughout.
If you have short arms then you’re probably going to be using your biceps for those last few inches, and maybe even your triceps.
And of course, your lats may simply not be strong enough to get the bar that low.
3. Are You Cheating on the Lat Pulldown?
I have just alluded to this, but a lot of people are cheating in order to get the bar to their chest.
The most common “cheat” will be the excessive backward lean.
However, there’s also the case of yanking the bar those final few inches to the chest.
Plus, I often see people performing lat pulldowns with absolutely no control over the bar.
Any exercise you perform in the gym, not just lat pulldowns, should be done with the weight under full control.
With that being said, lat pulldowns are sometimes more reminiscent of being on the rowing machine.
By this I mean that each rep seems to take no longer than about a second or two.
This usually happens because the trainee is using more weight than they can handle.
Plus, they’re literally trying to finish their set as quickly as possible.
This involves yanking the bar down mainly with your biceps and forearms.
Then the excessive lean back and a second yank to get the bar to the chest.
And finally, the bar returns to the starting position at such a rate of knots it’s surprising not to see the person’s shoulders yanked out of their sockets.
Trust me when I say you can pile on as much weight as you like when using this technique, but you’re unlikely to get much stronger or build any muscle.
In fact, you’re simply heading in the right direction for an injury.
8 Lat Pulldown Mistakes & How to Fix Them
4. Have You Turned the Lat Pulldown into a Muscle-Up?
I’m sure you’ve seen others in the gym do this on more than one occasion.
Basically, bringing the bar down well past the chest, and even almost to waist level.
Remember, the exercise is called a “lat” pulldown, so you only bring the bar down as far as your lats will allow for.
Even for the most strong and flexible among us, this will very rarely (if ever) mean that you go past chest level.
However, I’ve seen this so many times, whereby it almost appears as though someone is performing an assisted muscle up.
So, the bar travels past the chin and then the biceps and forearms work in conjunction to bring the bar further down.
Finally, the triceps, chest, and front delts kick in to take the bar even lower.
Don’t do it.
The apparatus is not called the “assisted muscle up pull down” or the “tricep and front delt pulldown”.
Your aim is to work the lats and nothing else.
Yes, there will always be some secondary muscle activation in the traps, rhomboids, rear delts, biceps, and forearms.
This is a given with any back exercise.
But remember that above all, the most important muscles that need to be worked are the lats.
Personally, I don’t believe the bar has to touch the chest on lat pulldowns.
Yes, this is the eventual aim, but you should only do so if you are using your lats to get the bar there.
Your strength and flexibility, as well as your height, torso and arm length, may restrict you from getting the bar this low.
That’s absolutely fine, so you shouldn’t cheat in order to get the bar that low.
The more you perform lat pulldowns with great form, the lower you will eventually be able to pull the bar, while mainly using your lats.
I’ve covered a related subject that you’ll no doubt be interested in, and that’s whether lat pulldowns help with pull ups.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.