Progressive overload is king regarding improved strength and muscle. Lifting more weight for more reps is a surefire way to a better flex time, but two routes are sometimes forgotten to achieve that. Lifting unilaterally and changing angles. Strengthening imbalances between sides and changing body position will improve muscle development, especially with the single arm lat pulldown exercise.

The Latissimus Dorsi, or Lats for short, is the broadest muscle in the human body. It is relatively thin and covers almost all back muscles of the posterior torso, except the traps. The lats insert on the arm but have four origin points as they spread over your upper and lower back.

What does that mean for you?

It means changing the angle of your pull will give you wings. Here, Dr. Justin Farnsworth, DPT, CSCS, with over 20 years of experience, brings you the single-arm supported high pulldown for your lat-building pleasure.

Benefits of Unilateral Exercises

The primary reason to do unilateral exercises is to strengthen muscle imbalances between sides and get in some sneaking core work in the form of anti-rotation and lateral flexion. Strengthening imbalances leads to better muscle development and will lessen the chances of a lifting injury because of improvements in bilateral lifting technique.

But with the unilateral pulldowns, there are a few more benefits, according to Farnsworth.

“With the unilateral lat pulldowns, you can allow for rotation and side bending. You can add other planes vs. just sagittal when we use two arms locked onto a non-rotation bar. Plus, if there is pain or injury on one side, you can lighten the load when performing unilaterally or work the uninjured side.” explains Farnsworth.

Don’t worry; one side is not getting bigger than the other here. It’s maintaining a training effect on the injured side.

Benefits of The Single Arm Lat Pulldown Exercise

“Single-arm supported high pulldown allows you to involve rotation of the thoracic spine and shoulder joint and lateral motion of the rib cage. These patterns mimic how you use your upper body joints during daily activities—for instance, reaching for a dish on the top shelf with one hand.

Whereas a lat pull-down emphasizes the lats, the single arm lat pulldown exercise lets you strengthen the obliques during the concentric contraction while getting a great Iat and oblique “stretch” as the arm extends overhead. The bench gives you extra stability to allow the body to move more fluidly and use more weight.

Furthermore, even though the angle of the pull is less than pure vertical,  it still gets the shoulder joint to get near 180 degrees of flexion. Making It an excellent option for lifers who cannot go overhead without pain and discomfort because you can almost get a full range of motion, even if you have a mobility deficit.” says Farnsworth.

Exercises like this with increased stability, large ROM, and a pre-stretch on the muscle before the concentric means better potential muscle-building gains for you.

Single Arm Lat Pulldown Form Tips

Here are a few technique tips Farnsworth suggests to get the best out of this exercise.

  • Relax and allow the shoulder blade to move UP during the eccentric to get that big pre-stretch.
  • Always allow the shoulder to rotate and have the thumb down on the way up and the thumb up on the way down.
  • Drive the weight-bearing leg into the floor with full foot contact and use it to control your torso as the weight pulls you forward.
  • Allow yourself to side bend and go where the cable takes you. Half of this movement allows for the stretch sensation.
  • Allow the trunk to move forward as the weight pulls you forward (it will be a big lat stretch), and then think about pulling your trunk more upright as you pull the weight towards you, giving you a nice lat burn.

Set And Rep Suggestions

Farnsworth says this is an excellent hypertrophy exercise, used as an accessory exercise after your strength move. Shoot for between 12-25+ reps with moderate load. The benefit is in the BURN and STRETCH, not just adding load.  Three to four sets with no more than 45-60 seconds of rest works beautifully.