Last updated on November 1st, 2022 at 01:50 pm
It’s a question that gets asked all the time, “Why Do I Feel Lat Pulldowns in My Forearms?”
Firstly, your forearms and biceps will typically always fatigue before your upper back and lats.
Therefore, as you perform higher reps or use heavier weights, you may well feel the movement in your forearms.
However, if you only ever feel lat pulldowns in your forearms, regardless of reps or weight, this points to a potential flaw in form.
I’ll explain these in more detail now.
Why Do I Feel Lat Pulldowns in My Forearms?
The main reason you feel lat pulldowns in your forearms is because you’re using too much weight. If you’re upper back and lats can’t “handle” the weight then your forearms and biceps will automatically assist. You should also ensure that you lead the movement with your elbows, not your hands. Furthermore, you should lean back slightly and only pull the bar to upper chest level. If you still feel lat pulldowns in your forearms then you should try a false grip and work on strengthening your forearms and grip.
1. You’re Using Too Much Weight
The number one reason that you typically feel an exercise in the non-target muscles is because you’re using too much weight.
Now, I will say that the internet is awash with suggestions of using straps or hand grips.
This will certainly help you to pull more weight with lat pulldowns, although I don’t feel it 100% tackles the issue.
Plus, I will say that I never use straps or hand grips for any exercise.
I know that many people will tell me to “man up” and start using them to increase the weight that I’m lifting.
However, for me it’s just a matter of personal preference.
When it comes to using too much weight with lat pulldowns your forearms and biceps will automatically “assist” with the exercise.
That being said, you will be taking the focus away from your upper back and lats, whereas your forearms and biceps will take more of the load.
Personally, I prefer to use weighted pull ups and heavy rows for my upper back strength training.
I view lat pulldowns as an exercise to create a pump.
So, I will typically focus on using much less weight, higher reps, and more volume.
2. You’re Not Pulling From Your Elbows
Lat pulldowns should always originate from your elbows and not your hands.
In fact, this is true of any pulling exercise that focuses on the upper back and lats, e.g. pull ups, rows, etc.
I like to visualise that there’s someone standing behind me and that I am literally trying to elbow them in the stomach.
Okay, not very friendly I know, but hopefully you get my point.
There is a tendency to lead with the hands with lat pulldowns and other pull-based exercises.
So, in effect you are trying to pull your hands towards your body.
However, this will usually bring the forearms and biceps much more into play.
Your aim with any pulling exercise is to lead with your elbows.
This may take some getting used to, but once you nail it, you’ll find that you’re working your lats to much greater effect.
3. How Far Are You Leaning Back?
When it comes to performing lat pulldowns I prefer to be leaning back ever so slightly.
I would estimate that my torso is leaning back at approximately 20-25 degrees.
What I often see is trainees who are either sitting up completely straight or leaning back too far.
Firstly, by maintaining a completely straight torso you’ll have to contend with taking the bar around your face.
So, you may even have to pull the bar ever so slightly forwards.
This will immediately activate the forearms more.
If you’re leaning back too far, the bar will usually have much further to travel.
However, you’ll stop using your lats about halfway through the pull, and your forearms and biceps will take over for the second half of the movement.
So, it’s important you get your torso position just right prior to performing lat pulldowns.
4. How Far Are You Pulling the Bar Down?
Something else I see a lot is those who pull the bar down too far.
In fact, I regularly see people in my gym pull the bar down to almost belly button level and then have no control over returning the bar.
Realistically, the entire exercise is focused on the forearms, upper arms, and shoulders.
There isn’t a hint of upper back or lat involvement.
When performing lat pulldowns you want to have that slight lean back and then bring the bar to upper chest level, before returning it to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner.
Once you take the bar any further you have almost turned the movement into a tricep pushdown.
Plus, even if you have used your lats at all to bring the bar down, they will no longer be involved once you pass your upper chest.
This isn’t actually an issue if you’re performing lat pulldowns behind your neck, although some people consider this to be dangerous.
Furthermore, simply allowing the bar to jerk back up to the starting position will place stress on the elbow and shoulder joints.
And maybe even the wrist joints too, depending on how bad your form is.
The Correct Way to Do Lat Pulldowns
5. Try Using a False Grip
I typically use a false grip for just about every pull-based exercise when my focus is the upper back and lats.
I just find that this works really well for me and helps me to hit the target muscles.
A false grip simply entails having your thumb and fingers on the same side of the bar.
I would hazard a guess that you typically have your thumb wrapped around the bar when doing lat pulldowns.
However, the false grip seems to work wonders when training lat pulldowns and pull ups.
I even use it on bent-over rows when I’m training for reps rather than trying to pull as much weight as possible.
Now, I wish I could provide an explanation for why the false grip works so well, but I feel this is a subject that I need to research more.
All I know is, having your thumbs and fingers on the same side of the bar does wonders for activating the upper back and lats.
6. You Need to Work on Your Forearm & Grip Strength
The final reason you feel lat pulldowns in your forearms is simply down to grip and forearm strength.
Not to put too fine a point on it, you don’t have the strength to hold onto the bar, and your grip and forearms fatigue extremely quickly.
Now, I have already mentioned that your forearms will typically fatigue well before your upper back anyway.
And this is why many people turn to straps and hand grips.
However, this definitely won’t help with a lack of grip and forearm strength.
There are various ways you can train your grip strength, but I have a couple of personal favourites.
These two methods will help with a wide variety of exercises, but they will help you to increase weight on lat pulldowns (and pull ups) really well.
You’ll want to add farmer’s walks to your routine, two to three times a week.
Additionally, finish every upper body workout day by hanging from a pull up bar.
I usually complete 3 sets of “hangs” until failure.
Try this, and I guarantee you’ll notice the difference in forearms and grip strength within the space of a few short weeks.
Develop Insane Grip Strength – Forearm Workout
Hopefully you have a better understanding of why you feel lat pulldowns in your forearms.
This is mainly down to the fact that you are using your forearms more than your lats to bring the weight down.
You can immediately fix this by reducing the weight and leading with your elbows rather than with your hands.
You should also lean back approximately 20-25 degrees during lat pulldowns and never take the bar further down than upper chest level.
You can also activate your lats more by using a false grip.
Finally, I would suggest working on your forearm and grip strength if you find that they fatigue too early.
Another common issue, which I have also written about, is feeling lat pulldowns in your triceps.
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.