I’ve come across a number of people who have asked, “Why Do I Feel Lat Pulldowns in My Triceps?”
Initially, this seems like a strange question, as you’d expect to see mentions of the traps, biceps, or forearms, but definitely not the triceps.
But as it turns out this is actually a “thing”.
So, if you are feeling lat pulldowns in your triceps, here’s the reasons why, and what you can do about it.
Why Do I Feel Lat Pulldowns in My Triceps?
If you feel lat pulldowns in your triceps this is typically caused by having too much weight on the bar, and not maintaining proper form. In order to pull the heavier weight down you may no longer be using your lats, but a wide variety of other muscles, including the triceps.
You’re Using Too Much Weight
A very common reason for feeling lat pulldowns in your triceps is because you’re trying to pull too much weight.
There is a tendency to load the lat pulldown with a weight equivalent to your own body weight and above.
The assumption here is that if you can perform pull ups, then it makes sense to use a similar weight for lat pulldowns.
However, I generally view the lat pulldown as a great way to activate the lats with a lighter weight and higher number of reps.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve performed lat pulldowns for sets of 3-5 reps, but I’ll ensure that my form remains on-point.
That being said, I much prefer to use lat pulldowns in the 15-25 rep range.
So, reduce the weight, concentrate on correct form, and you should find that you are working the lats far more, rather than your triceps.
Change Your Hand Position
The triceps are likely to get activated more during lat pulldowns with a narrower grip.
In effect, if your hands are narrower than shoulder-width apart you’re in much the same position as a tricep pushdown.
Try starting off with at least a shoulder-width grip on the bar and see how that feels.
Once you get to the stage of having your hands further than shoulder-width apart this should no longer be an issue.
However, as I’ve mentioned above, this is easier achieved by having less weight to pull.
I would suggest that you play around with hand positions on the bar.
Find something that feels comfortable for you, which helps you to feel the lats working.
Try Different Handles
I’m constantly changing handles in the lat pulldown machine.
I like to hit the muscles from a variety of angles.
Plus, as the lats are the largest muscle in the upper body, I feel it’s important to hit them with as much variation as possible.
I’ll often use the V-bar attachment or even a rope when performing lat pulldowns.
You will need to be very careful using these specific handles, as they are commonly associated with tricep work.
However, the change in handle could help you to concentrate on using the lats more.
Once again, this is a case of playing around with different equipment and finding what works for you.
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Maintain Proper Form
Okay, I’ve left “proper form” till now, but in reality this is probably the main reason that you feel lat pulldowns in your triceps.
In fact, let’s be honest, the main reason we don’t feel any exercise in the target muscle is due to poor form.
With that being said, I will admit that there are various exercises when you won’t feel the muscles working at the time, but they feel sore as hell the following day.
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However, when it comes to lat pulldowns you shouldn’t be feeling them in your tris unless you’re doing something wrong.
Where’s the Bar?
No, this isn’t a call to totally give up on exercise and drown your sorrows.
But, one of the biggest mistakes I see with lat pulldowns is the positioning of the bar.
This is especially true when it comes to pulling the bar down too far or having it too far in front of you.
With lat pulldowns you’ll want to pull the bar to your upper chest and not further down the body.
A common trait is to turn the exercise into some type of hybrid movement.
This typically involves a lat pulldown, which then somehow converts into a tricep pushdown.
In fact, I have often seen some people pull (or in reality, push) the bar down to mid-torso or the naval.
You will immediately involve the triceps a lot more once you start to “push” the bar below chest level.
So, ensure that you only ever “pull” the bar past the chin and to the top of the chest.
Another issue is the bar being too far out in front of you.
If you watch the cable part of the lat pulldown machine it should be at a slight angle at the bottom of the movement.
So, in effect you are drawing the bar towards the body.
However, if the cable comes down in a straight line the handle will end up some way in front of you.
This will typically mean that you have once again turned this into a pull/push hybrid exercise.
Basically, ensure that the handle is close to the body, if not touching the upper chest, at the bottom of the pull.
Squeeze The Imaginary Walnut
A technique I use whenever I perform lat pulldowns, and pull ups for that matter, is to imagine that I have a walnut sitting in the middle of my back.
My aim here is to squeeze my lats together and hold this imaginary walnut in place.
By doing so, I’ll ensure that my elbows end up close to my body at the bottom (or at the top in the case of pull ups) of the movement.
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This also means that I’ll be contracting my lats to a far greater degree, thus working the target muscle during the exercise.
Don’t Lean Back Too Far
The torso should be at a slight angle during the lat pulldown.
This way you can miss hitting yourself in the face with the handle as you pull the bar past your chin.
However, there is a tendency to either be too upright, or more commonly, to lean back too far.
In fact, I’ve often seen a lot of movement going on with the upper body when some people perform lat pulldowns.
This is generally because once again there’s too much weight being used.
The upper body should be angled back ever so slightly, but remain stationary throughout the movement.
If you find that you’re leaning back too far, or that you move further backwards as you pull the bar down, you’re probably using many other muscles to get the bar down.
The concentration goes away from the lats, and this has once more turned into a hybrid pull/push movement.
Contract The Lats Beforehand – Mind-Muscle Connection
Something that I speak of frequently is the mind-muscle connection.
However, I think it’s extremely important when it comes to performing an exercise correctly, as well as a great way to build muscle.
I’ve even spoken of contracting the target muscle and closing my eyes prior to starting the exercise.
This works a treat for me.
So, I would suggest that you contract the lats prior to doing the lat pulldown.
Place your hands in the correct position on the bar, then really squeeze your lats, and finally pull the bar down.
If you concentrate on all the other techniques I’ve mentioned here, you should find that you’re really working the desired muscles.
I would also suggest that you use a much lighter weight and slow the tempo of the exercise right down.
Take two seconds to pull the bar down.
Pause at the bottom of the movement and really squeeze your lats again.
And then slowly allow the bar to go up, under full control, taking approximately 3-4 seconds.
I can guarantee that if you contract the lats, and work on this slow tempo, you’ll really feel the lats working hard.
Plus, there won’t be sight nor sound of tricep involvement whatsoever.
How to Perform the Lat Pulldown
So, there you have it, my guidelines to follow if you find that you feel lat pulldowns in your triceps.
As you can see this pretty much comes down to poor technique, and also trying to pull too much weight.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that you should always look to perfect your form first, and worry about weight later.
With that being said, I never see the need to pack the lat pulldown with a huge amount of weight.
I much prefer to perform higher reps with a slow tempo and lighter weight.
You’ll automatically get stronger and more muscular by doing the exercise correctly.
Plus, you can progress by adding a little extra weight every couple of weeks.
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.