There’s more than one way to “give you wings,” and this one doesn’t come in a can. Lat pulldowns target the broad, flat, winged-shaped muscle coveted by many lifters. Although pull-ups and chin-ups remain the gold standard for building the lats, lat pulldowns and the kneeling straight-arm pulldown variation is a valuable tool to increase volume for improved size and strength gains.

Unlike pull-ups/chin-ups, lat pulldowns allow multiple grips and body positions to attack the lats from various angles for even muscle development. I thought I’d seen most of what the lat pulldown had to offer until I came across this variation from Gareth Sapstead, MSc CSCS, a renowned physique training specialist, Olympian coach, and author of Ultimate Abs, brings his extensive expertise to guide you in his Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown.

But be warned. The kneeling straight-arm pulldown may give you wings.

Why Lat Pulldown Are Good

Here, Sapstead explains why lat pulldown needs to be a regular part of your routine.

“Regular lat pulldowns should be part of your “big rocks” when selecting the best exercises to build maximum muscle. Whether you do them overhand, underhand, with a wide or narrow grip is up to you, and there are various advantages to each. They’re a compound movement tried and tested to build your lats and overall back width and recruit your biceps and forearms.”

Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown Benefits

However, not many exercises are ‘isolation’ per se because muscles work in unison to accomplish the task; straight arm lat pulldowns are as close to an isolation exercise for the lats, explains Sapstead.

“Straight-arm lat pulldowns are an isolation exercise that can be used strategically to isolate your back and lats. This is advantageous for those who struggle with feeling their lats working during regular pulldowns.

You can do these in various ways to emphasize loading different portions of the exercise (i.e., different degrees of shoulder extension); for example, starting further back and away from the cable machine would change the point of maximal loading more towards the middle and bottom portion of the exercise.” says Sapstead.

When you take the benefits of the straight-arm pulldown and change your body position, the wing magic only improves.

“Slightly leaning over can help target the stretched portion of the movement more because you’ll increase the range of motion and the stretch. Due to the length of the rope and wanting to maintain tension towards the top of the movement, it makes sense to kneel on the floor.

This can be perfect if you’re looking to pre-fatigue your lats before a back workout, use it as part of a superset (pre-fatigue or post-fatigue superset) with pull-downs or pull-ups, or “finish off” your back in more isolation towards the end of your workout” explains Sapstead.

How To Do The Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown

Although various attachments are used for straight-arm lat pulldowns, a rope attachment like the one shown allows you to support your wrists and helps remove your grip and forearms from the movement.

Here, Sapstead offers some further form tips to help you get the most out of this excellent exercise.

  1.     Kneeling on the floor, leaning over to stretch the top of the movement.
  2.     Keep your elbows slightly flexed but at the same angle throughout, and drive your elbows down by your sides. While doing so, think about your lats while performing the movement. A good cue here would be to “burst oranges between your armpits” to engage your lats maximally.
  3.     Return to the top as far as possible, trying to get as much stretch in your lats as possible.
  4.     For some with weaker triceps, you may feel these here too (particularly the triceps long head), but overall, you should feel a good contraction and pump in your lats after doing these.


Sapstead suggests two to four sets of 12-20 reps for optimal results. Consistency is critical, and if you can stick to this exercise, you can be confident that it will pay off in new growth and width to your back.