How to Do Cable Pulldowns: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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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

Cable pulldowns use 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.

How to Do Cable Pulldowns

Attach a cable at the highest point at one end of a cable frame. Use any supplied hand attachments that will allow you to use two hands to grasp the pulldown handle.

Ensure 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 correctly, 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 to full arm extension above your head. End in a position where there is still tension on the cable before the next repetition.
  5. Do three sets of 10 to 12 exercises.

Benefits of Cable Pulldowns

The latissimus dorsi muscle, which runs the length of your back, is the primary target of cable pulldowns. Developing this large back muscle can give a desired look to the torso and build 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 used daily for tasks as simple as drawing the blinds. Learning to engage your abs when pulling will help you develop core stability.

Other Variations of Cable Pulldowns

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

Banded Cable Pulldowns

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

  1. Anchor the band from a fixed point.
  2. Keep your arms straight and pull the band down until your hands are by your thighs.
  3. Slowly return the band up under control.

Kneeling Cable Pulldowns

An alternative is to do this exercise kneeling.

  1. Set the attachment point up so you can reach the handle while kneeling.
  2. Squeeze your abdominals on the downward pull of the cable and weight.
  3. Pull the cable down to the floor and release it slowly with control.

As you develop strength, gradually increase the weight, so you must maintain a reasonable effort.

An overhand grip will emphasize the triceps at the back of the arms. You can vary the width of your grip to target the muscles slightly differently. Also, try different hand grip attachments.

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.

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:

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.

  2. American Council on Exercise. Seated lat pulldown.

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

  4. International Sports Sciences Association. Back exercise videos.

  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

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.