How to Perform the Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
The reverse grip lat pulldown is an excellent exercise for building back width and bicep size. This movement is a vertical pulling exercise commonly placed on back days (if following a traditional bodybuilding split) or pull days (if following a push/pull/legs split).
This cable-based machine exercise primary targets the latissimus dorsi and biceps (brachii, brachialis). Unlike wide-grip lat pulldowns, this exercise also heavily taxes the biceps, a muscle comprised of two heads that run along the top part of the upper arm. Bulging biceps are a crucial component of a well-rounded physique.
Building the lats, often known as “wings”, contributes to the aesthetic X-physique by increasing the illusion of broader shoulders and a narrower waist. In addition to hitting the lats and biceps, the reverse grip lat pulldown also involves the forearms (brachioradialis), triceps (long head), posterior/rear deltoids, rotator cuff (teres major), middle back (rhomboids), middle and lower trapezius, pectoralis (major – sternal head, minor) and rear neck (levator scapulae) muscles. 
Compared to the wide-grip lat pulldown, this exercise hits the lower lats harder, involves the pectoralis major (sternal head), but doesn’t involve some of the rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus or teres minor). Unlike a chin-up, this exercise is performed seated which eliminates the possibility of kipping or using leg momentum to complete a repetition.
MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner explains how to perform the reverse grip lat pulldown.
How to Perform the Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
Begin by approaching the lat pulldown machine and selecting the appropriate working weight. If this is your first time performing the exercise then pick a conservative weight that you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions. Even if you can perform 8 to 12 full range-of-motion of chin-ups, the working weight will typically be less than your bodyweight.
Once you’ve selected your working weight, while standing, take a supinated grip about neck-width. A supinated grip is one in which your palms are facing towards body; you should NOT be able to see your knuckles. A neck-width, rather than shoulder-width grip, will increase the exercise’s range-of-motion.
Once you’ve grasped the bar, slowly sit down and slide your legs underneath the thigh pads. Adjust the height of the pads so they’re snug but not uncomfortably tight.
Now that you’re holding on to the bar and safely secured beneath the thigh pads, slightly arch your back away from the pulldown machine. Initiate the pull by flexing your lats, retracting your shoulder blades, and pulling your elbows towards the ground.
It’s important to initiate and perform the movement with the lats and biceps rather than your shoulders. While your biceps are more involved performing reverse grip rather than wide grip pulldowns, use your arms as levers for transferring power from your lats to the bar.
At the bottom position of the movement, the bar should be pulled to your upper chest. It doesn’t have to touch your upper chest to be considered a complete rep. Shoulder mobility and arm length may limit or prevent the desired range-of-motion.
Hold the bar at the bottom position for 1 to 5 seconds to increase intensity and to recruit maximal muscle fibers in the lats. To complete the repetition, allow the bar to raise back to its original position. Don’t let the bar fly upwards; ensure this rise is controlled.
There is no one universally recommended rep scheme for reverse grip lat pulldowns. This exercise can be performed using straight sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, partial reps, forced reps, slow negatives. As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk in to the gym.
Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown Form Tips
There are a number of tips and practices you can implement to improve the involvement of the appropriate muscle groups and ensure the performance of high-quality repetitions.
Strap Up – If your grip gives out before your back and biceps then don’t be afraid to use straps. Reverse grip lat pulldowns are a back and bicep-building rather than a grip-building exercise.
The focus of this exercise should be to work the lats, biceps, and appropriate supporting muscles. Popular strap options Versa Gripps, Valeo, and Spud Inc.
Go Thumbless – Some people find they’re able to improve lat and bicep engagement, decrease shoulder involvement, and pull more weight using a thumbless grip. To perform a thumbless grip wrap your thumb over the top of the bar, alongside the rest of your fingers, instead of underneath the bar.
Avoid Momentum – Control pulling and raising of the bar during each repetition. Don’t allow momentum to make the movement easier unless you’re performing an advanced technique like forced reps. Avoid rocking back during the pulling portion of the exercise otherwise the emphasis will move off the lats and on to other back muscles.
As you become more advanced and proficient in your technique, feel free to explosive with an explosive pull to the upper chest followed by a slow raising of the bar. Regardless of which repetition tempo you choose, you should remain in-control of the weight at all times.
Pack Your Shoulders – Throughout the entire repetition keep the shoulders down and packed. While they don’t have to be fully retracted at the top of the movement, they should be fully retracted when the bar is at or slightly above your upper chest. Failure to pack your shoulders will move the emphasis away from the lats and biceps, on to shoulders.
One cue to reinforce this practice is to maximize the distance between your ears and shoulders. This cue will likely lead to a slightly arched back, slightly raised upper chest, and packed shoulder blades.
Chest Up – There’s no reason to pull the bar below your chest or behind-the-neck. In both instances your chest will slightly or significantly cave-in. Pulling the bar below your chest, with the goal of maximizing the range of motion, works against you if your goal is to maximize lat engagement.
To reach this below-the-chest position, your shoulders will have to unpack and cave-in to compensate for the desired range-of-motion. This not only minimizes late engagement but also reinforces poor technique which may not be corrected for the remainder of the set or rep. After performing a set with unpacked shoulders you may experience arm and shoulder fatigue instead of a wicked pump in the lats.
1. Griffing, James, et al. “Cable Underhand Pulldown.” ExRx.net. N.p., 2015.