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Cable pulldowns are a classic lat exercise.
The latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats, cover a broad swath of your back, running from the top rim of your pelvis and your lumbar spine to your upper arms. The lats are responsible for pulling your arms down and back. Your gym may have several machines that target the lats, including cable pulldowns, lever pullovers and assisted pull-ups.
Often referred to as lat pulldowns, cable pulldowns target your latissimus dorsi muscles. To use the machine, select an appropriate weight by placing the pin in the weight stack. Sit on the padded seat with your knees under the padded support. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, placing your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Lean back slightly without over-arching your back. Starting with your elbows straight, pull the bar down until it touches your chest, then return to the starting position.
Lever pullovers also work your lats. Adjust the height of the seat so that the lever axis is in line with your shoulders and select an appropriate weight. Sit on the seat and push the foot lever to lower the bar. Grasp the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip, resting your elbows on the padded supports. Release the foot lever and place your feet on the floor or platform. Pull the lever down until your elbows are alongside your waist, then return to the starting position. To exit the machine safely, push the foot lever before releasing the bar, then release the foot lever to reset the machine.
The pull-up is a great lat strengthener, but for many people, a full body weight pull-up is too challenging. Assisted pull-ups effectively reduce your body weight, making the exercise more approachable. Place the pin in the weight stack to select the level of assistance you need. The heavier the weight, the easier the exercise. Step up to grasp the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your feet on the foot bar or your knees on the padded support. Starting with your elbows straight, pull yourself up until your chin reaches the bar, then return to the starting position. Follow the machine's instructions for safely dismounting.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training two to three days per week. To develop strength, the organization suggests choosing a resistance that allows you to perform two to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions with good form. Rest two to three minutes between sets and at least 48 hours between strength training sessions. To stretch your lats, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width. Reach your right arm toward the ceiling and bend to your left until you feel a stretch in the right side of your back. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then repeat with the left arm.