Straight Arm Pulldowns 101

In this video Le Physique’s personal trainers shows you how to do a straight arm pulldown. At first glance, this exercise may seem easy, but it’s actually a lot more difficult when done right.


Nicole: We are doing straight arm pulldowns. This is going to work lats mostly, a bit of rear delts. That’s kind of it, right? 

Gillian: A little bit into that serratus anterior interior.  

Nicole: So, shoulder stabilizers.  We’ve got all the postural stuff. It’s a whole-body exercise. Mostly lats though, that’s the big focus. I’m going to have Gillian start by grasping the bar with a palm down position. All right. You’re going to bring it down to almost right out in front of you like a zombie. 

Gillian: Perfect.

Nicole: This is called a straight arm pulldown because our arms are straight. The action is, she’s just going to bring those palms and the bar right down to her thighs. That’s the motion. She’s going to slowly, with control, bring it back up to parallel to the floor and then back down.

So things that I’m looking for, and I’m going to start from the floor and work up. Her knees are slightly bent. That’s going to allow her to use her own muscles to control pelvic position, use her abs to lock into a neutral position. And then once we’ve established this is good, I’m looking at the shoulders stay relaxed and down, in a neutral position while she’s pulling down the bar.

So one thing that people tend to do if the weight is a little bit heavy is they’ll use the whole body, or if they know that I’m watching, they will try not to use the body and then they’ll turn into a triceps press. I have seen all sorts of weirdness with this, or a lot of momentum, or maybe they’re really good at controlling, but they just don’t control their shoulders, so the trapezius come up towards the ears. I know it’s far too heavy. We will lighten the weight.  

Gillian: Or people start to shift back a bit. 

Nicole: Another position that’s potentially doable – so if you want to grab that bar again is with the hips slightly back, she’s still got straight legs, knees bent, hips are just kind of out of the way so when she brings that bar down, she’s got a touch more range of motion. I would accept this as a position as well. She can still go back up to zombie.

Again, she has a little bit greater range of motion with this. How’s that weight after doing that?

Gillian: It gets heavy after a while. 

Nicole: She’s getting tired a little bit. 

When I’m spotting her, I’m going to have my hands on her lats because that’s how I can tell she was actually using these. And I can visually see whether she’s starting to creep those traps up the shoulders up a little bit. I like to say, squeeze. Think about squeezing the back of your armpits.

People can tend to get that in the down position, but when they’re here, I’ll touch here and say: ‘Yeah.’ See if you can connect with that first before you start the movement versus going: ‘Oh shoot. I’m supposed to be doing something right?’ And good. And then exhale. If she’s really contracting through here it’s easy to also draw the attention to the midsection and pull those abdominals in so that way she’s not, again, the hips are not coming into that motion. That looked really bad. Any thoughts?  

Gillian: Okay. A couple of thoughts about that. Don’t hold your breath. A lot of people will go and hold their breath. They should have this nice little exhale and hold their belly button into your spine. It’s almost like you want to float through the top of your head, inhale as your arms come up. Exhale. Yeah. And inhale out. As with any exercise, try not to hold your breath. 

Once again, wrists, make sure they are nicely in alignment. If you have issues trying to get the back of your armpit, imagine you want to bend the bar on your pinky side. So it’s almost like you’re trying to bend it into a horseshoe shape so you can actually get a little bit of rotation through here and get into your armpits.

Nicole: Yeah. And just be aware that it’s that cue is an awareness cue. You’re not actually going to try and grab the bar. 

Gillian: No, it’s just pushing through the pinky side a little bit, just a titch. 

Nicole: Some people, if you’re really dominant in life, we use these three fingers the most. A lot of times, people will do things, not even knowing in this internally rotated position. When we just draw attention to the outside of the hand, it just starts to get different fibres on because you don’t think the pinky’s doing things. 

Gillian: The other thing is if it starts to become very fatiguing, a lot of people will do that. You want to keep your breastbone nice and heavy. Take it down. Inhale that up. Exhale for a second. 

Nicole: Perfect. Love it. Straight arm pulldown. Love that exercise. Have fun.

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