Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Diagonal Cable Pulldown (for the lats & teres major)

I don't really see anyone else doing this exercise, so I thought i'd post it. I used to give this exercise out a fair amount about 8 or 9 years ago, but then stopped doing it, mainly because I didn't have access to the 'old skool' cable crossover machine.  This exercise doesn't seem to work on the narrower dual cable pulley machines, the angles are wrong  and the tension gets lost at the top of the movement. But recently, I've had access to the cable crossover again, and have been giving this exercise out more & more, and I'm liking it more & more as well. Here's why.

Latissimus Dorsi - notice the angle of the fibres

What do the lats & teres major do?

 The main actions of the latissimus dorsi are  – extension, adduction and medial rotation of the humerus. And the teres major assists with these actions. This means they basically bring your upper arm down to your side, extend your arm behind you and internally rotate the shoulder

Teres Major - notice the diagonal angle it pulls at

Most people don’t think of adducting or extending at the shoulder when they do a latpulldown ( and by the way it's not called a lateral pulldown, for all those people who keep using that name, the reason why should be obvious!) or pull up. They kind of just pull themselves up or pull the bar down to their chest or worse behind the head. Most of the time they're struggling to get their chin over the bar and not thinking what the muscle are actually doing.

But if you focus the movement on pulling the upper arms into the side of the body and slightly behind you can target these muscles more effectively.

What I also like about this exercise now is how it mimics the action of the scapula wall slide, but it's weighted. In fact one way I cue clients is to think of it as a scapula wall slide. This way they focus on puffing the chest out and pulling the arms into their sides. So much like the wall slide we’re also helping to set the shoulder blades down and activate the lower trapezius muscles.

Now, to be pedantic we can see that both the lats & teres major help with internal rotation of the humerus, so you could theoretically get more muscle action by internally rotating the upper arms at the end of the movement. But seeing as most people are already chronically rotated and have the janda ‘upper cross syndrome’ of tight pecs and under active muscles in the middle back I would avoid this.

If you're in to anatomy trains you can see the line of pull for the diagonal pulldown matches the upper section of the back functional line.

How to do it

1.    take a tall kneeling position in the middle of the cable crossover, with space between the knees
2.    brace abs, neutral spine, and try and set the shoulder blades down
3.    pull the upper arms down in to your side and even think of the elbows going slightly behind the body to extend the humerus
4.    avoid collapsing into the chest or rotating the arms forward or trying to cheat the final part of the movement with the wrists bending
5.    keep tall & keep the chest puffed out like a scapula wall slide

Simple as that. Do this as part of your upper back corrective work or as an accessory back exercise. It should complement your pull ups & chins and help improve your technique when you do these exercises. And it's going to hit your lats in a slightly different way. Go try it!

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