How to Do a Cable Pulldown

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Standing cable pulldown, straight-arm cable pulldown, straight-arm lat pulldown

Targets: Back, arms, abs

Equipment Needed: Cable pulley machine

Level: Beginner

The cable pulldown exercise uses a weighted cable system to target the back, arms, and abdominal muscles. It is a compound, multi-joint movement that builds strength and requires your body to engage the core and abs for balance while performing it. The cable machine allows you to choose the appropriate weight for your fitness level. Use this exercise as part of an upper body strengthening workout.


The latissimus dorsi muscle, which runs the length of your back, is the primary target of the cable pulldown. Developing this large back muscle can give a desired look to the torso as well as building strength. The synergistic muscles involved are the pecs of the chest, the triceps, deltoids, rhomboids, and levator scapulae. The muscles that work to stabilize the move are the triceps, pectoralis major, wrist flexors, and the abdominal muscles: rectus abdominis and obliques. The compound motion is one used in daily life for tasks as simple as drawing the blinds. Learning to engage your abs when pulling will help you develop core stability.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Attach a cable at the highest point at one end of a cable frame. Use any of the supplied hand attachments that will allow you to use two hands to grasp the pulldown handle. Make sure the attachment point is above your head and that you can reach it with outstretched arms. Choose a weight sufficient to enable you to pull the cable down to around the thighs while requiring some sustained effort.

  1. Brace the abdominals. Grab the hand attachments in an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart, with elbows locked and arms straight. Keep your knees soft rather than locked.
  2. Breathe out while pulling the cable down to your thighs in a smooth, controlled motion, arms remaining straight, hips bending slightly forward while keeping the back straight. If you do this exercise properly, you will find that your abdominal muscle will work hard and your arms and back will also get some work.
  3. Pause when the hand grips are at thigh level.
  4. Inhale while allowing the weights to return up to full arm extension above your head. End in a position where there is still tension on the cable before doing the next repetition.
  5. Do three sets of 10 to 12 exercises.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you can get the most from this exercise and avoid strain or injury.

Not Bracing Abs

Make sure to brace the abdominals and feel the squeeze when you pull down. That will help isolate the muscles involved and help prevent rounding the back. At the same time, bracing the abs teaches you to engage your core for stability in such movements.

Rounding the Back

Keep your back straight (neutral position) in order to engage the proper muscles and protect your lower back and neck.

Range of Motion

If your grip is too wide, you will not be able to get the full range of motion.

Modifications and Variations

This exercise can be done in different ways to make it more accessible or provide progression as you develop your muscles.

Need a Modification?

You could also use stretch bands or tubes at home attached at the top of a closed door rather than a cable machine.

An alternative is to do this exercise kneeling. Set the attachment point up so that you can reach the handle while kneeling. The execution of the exercise is similar with the abdominals being squeezed on the downward pull of the cable and weight.

Up for a Challenge?

As you develop strength, gradually increase the weights so you must maintain a good effort.

An overhand grip will place more emphasis on the triceps at the back of the arms.

You can vary the width of your grip to target the muscles in slightly different ways. Also try different hand grip attachments.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a wrist, elbow, shoulder, or back injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to find out whether this exercise is appropriate for you. You should not feel any pain during this exercise. If you do, end the exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Council on Exercise. Beginner strength training workout. February 2014.

  2. International Sports Sciences Association. Back exercise videos.

  3. American Council on Exercise. Seated lat pulldown.

  4. National Association of Sports Medicine. Breathe right: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. November 2017.

  5. American Council on Exercise. Kneeling lat pulldown.

  6. Andersen V, Fimland MS, Wiik E, Skoglund A, Saeterbakken AH. Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;(28)4:1135-42. doi:10.1097/JSC.000000000000023