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A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns
Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down
Summary of original research from Signorile, J.F., A.J. Zink, and S.P. Szwed. “A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down”, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(4): 539-546, 2002.
Summary: Lat pull down and pull up exercises are particularly relevant for climbers, but also are useful for swimmers doing front crawl, breast stroke or butterfly, gymnasts on rings and uneven bars, basketball players pulling down rebounds, volleyball players involved in spiking, as well as wrestlers and paddlers. This study investigated the effects of four commonly used hand positions in the lat pull down exercise to see which movement registers the most electrical activity (EMG) from the latissimus dorsi, the powerful pulling muscles on the outer sides of the back, in addition to the shoulders, pectorals and triceps. This has significance not only for healthy individuals wanting maximum results from their training, but also for people with cervical spine or shoulder injuries wondering how to best continue their training.
Specifics: The four positions tested were 1) close grip with palms facing each other on a fixed-width V-bar (CG); 2) supinated (SG) or reverse grip with palms facing the chest; 3) wide grip anterior (WGA) with hands wide and pulling down to the chest; and 4) wide grip posterior (WGP), pulling the bar behind the neck. Grip widths for 2, 3 and 4 were all based on normalized body dimension parameters for each of the ten men participating in the study. Lift order was randomly assigned, and subjects were given 2 minutes rest between lifts. Subjects performed three repetitions using weights equivalent to their 10 repetition maximum (10RM).
Results: A) Statistically greater EMG activity was detected for the latissimus dorsi during the WGA position compared to the other three, whereas the CG hand position recruits more activity from the pectoralis major (heavily involved in pushing movements). B) On average the weight used for the WGP (behind the neck) position was ten pounds less than that for the other three front-of-body positions, suggesting that pulling weight to the chest offers added mechanical advantage compared to pulling to the back of the neck.
Relevance: To get the most activity from the muscles involved with downward pulling (the latissimus dorsi) it is important to use the appropriate hand position. The WGA (pulling with wide grip to the chest) recruits more motor units and requires more work from the lats than the other positions, bringing into question the need to use the WGP position which can increase the potential for injury to the cervical spine as well as the shoulder joint.
Body Results Suggests: To train most effectively for climbing, think about where your arms will be while you’re on the rock – in front of you, pulling down to your shoulders – just like the lat pull to the chest and pull-ups with varied grips in front of you. If you have any shoulder problems, you are still doing lat pulls behind the neck, but you want to maximize your back development, switch to one of the three pulling grips in front of your body and you may gain even greater training benefits!