Some of the most cliched training tips also happen to be the most useful ones. One example, which is said by just about every trainer, physique athlete, and strength coach: “Always incorporate variety in your training.”

Clichés are clichés for a reason. Variety is important, and we’re not just talking about doing different exercises for a given body part; even doing slight variations of the same movement can help attack a muscle from a different angle to spur new gains in size and strength. 

This month, we take a look at the lat pulldown—an utterly basic back-building exercise, but one with numerous deviations worth incorporating in your program. On the following slides, you’ll find six pulldown variations, complete with an accompanying sample back workout.

Pulldown Pointers

  • Keep the chest out: The back muscles contract when the shoulders are retracted (pulled back). Keeping the chest out during the movement (on both the down and up phases) is a great cue to ensure this occurs.
  • Squeeze the scapulae: At the bottom of each rep, squeeze your shoulder blades together while also pulling them down. This is how you reach full contraction in the back muscles. Hold this squeeze for at least a one-count on every rep.
  • Connect with your lats: The back is a difficult collection of muscles to fully stimulate; the biceps so often take over in pulling movements, whether you realize it or not. The common result: a back workout that barely trains the back. That’s why it’s critical to achieve a strong mind-muscle connection with the lats whenever you train them. You do this with extreme concentration and focus on these target muscles during every set.