Close Grip Pulldowns

The Close Grip Pulldown is very similar in appearance to the Chin-up, using the same vertical pulling pattern.

The Pulldown machine allows you to use weights that are less than your bodyweight, which is useful for beginning trainers. It also allows you to use more than your bodyweight, which is useful for advanced trainers.


How to Do Close Grip Pulldowns:

Sit in the pulldown machine with your hips right up under the pads (they are hip pads, not knee pads). Take a slightly less than shoulder-width, underhand grip (palms facing you) on the bar.

Start with the body vertical, arms straight over your head. Begin the movement by arching your lower back slightly and sticking your chest out.

Top position of the Close Grip Pulldown

Pull the bar down to your lower chest, leaning slightly and smoothly backwards as you pull.

Bottom position of the Close Grip Pulldown

The major muscle in the back that this works is called the Latissimus Dorsi. It is a fan-shaped muscle and the leaning back spreads the load over the whole fan of muscle, giving you a more efficient workout.

Puff your chest up to meet the bar and try to squeeze your shoulder blades together behind your back at the bottom of the movement.

Let the bar up slowly then repeat.


Tricks for Performing Close Grip Pulldowns More Effectively:

1. Two part movement

This movement should be done as a two-part movement to work your back best. Try this little exercise to get a feel for the movement:

  • Start by sitting in the pulldown machine grasping the bar with your arms fully extended overhead.
  • Allow your shoulders to shrug up, letting the weight stretch your shoulders.
  • Now try dropping your shoulder girdle. This is the opposite movement of when you shrug your shoulders; it is the down part. The arms should not bend in this part of the movement. Your shoulders should just drop down a few inches.
  • Practice this short movement a few times.
  • Once you have the feel for that, add this to the pulldown movement by first shrugging down, then pulling the bar down the rest of the way.
  • You should feel a difference in your back immediately as this technique will lock your lats into activation.
  • Repeat this technique at the start of every rep.


2. Knee in the back

A good way to get the feel for the proper technique at the bottom of the movement is to have somebody put his or her knee in your mid-back on your spinal column.

  • This will force you to wrap your back around it, arching the back and puffing out the chest.
  • Focus on trying to squeeze the knee with the shoulder blades to feel the movement.


3. Breathe backwards

It is a little known but important trick that you should breathe backwards when doing pulldowns and chins (especially pulldowns). Here is the sequence.

  • At the top, inhale deeply, hold it and pull down.
  • Exhale as you let the bar up.
  • The reason for this is that the chest should be puffed up when you are pulling down to maximize tension on the lats.
  • When you exhale, you collapse your chest, caving it in and increasing the work on the biceps. This is the opposite of what you want to do.
  • By holding a deep breath, you puff the chest more and arch your back more, greatly increasing the effect of the exercise.


4. Getting into position

If you have trouble getting the weight into position at the start of the rep, try this trick.

  • First, remove the pin from the weight stack.
  • Then, pull the bar down to a level where you can easily reach it from a sitting position under the hip pads.
  • Finally, place the pin back inside the stack at the weight you will be using for your set.

This trick will allow you to get into and out of the pulldown machine without worrying about what is happening to the bar and the weight.

Common Errors in the Close Grip Pulldown:

1. Jerking the weight with the lower back

This error is often made by people who are using too much weight in an effort to use momentum to get the weight moving. This reduces the effectiveness of the exercise by taking tension off the target muscles. It also can potentially damage your lower back.


2. Pulling down in a vertical body position

If your torso is vertical when you do a close-grip pulldown, your biceps will take up much of the work, limiting the work your back muscles get.

Pulling down in a vertical body position

It is important to lean back slightly, puff your chest out and arch your lower back slightly. Be sure not to arch excessively, though.


3. Using too much or not enough weight

You are using too much weight if you must use your lower back to start the weight moving, you lean back excessively, and/or you jerk the weight.

  • Not using enough weight can be just as bad as using too much weight.
  • Not using enough weight will not allow you to lean back sufficiently to use proper form as there is nothing to exert tension on to keep your torso from falling over backwards.
  • If you can pull the bar down to your hips or if you find you must keep your torso vertical or you fall over, you are probably not using enough weight.


4. Leaning too far back

This reduces the effectiveness of the exercise by decreasing the tension on the lats.

Close Grip Pulldown Error - Leaning too far back

Leaning too far back is often a symptom of using momentum from your lower back to pull the bar down.


5. Jerking the shoulders at the top

This error is caused by not controlling the weight on the way up. The weight must then be stopped by the shoulder joints. This can lead to shoulder injury. Going too fast on the way up also reduces the amount of tension on the muscles. Remember, control the weight at all times.


Learn how to perform Wide Grip Front Pulldowns here.



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