I walk into gyms all over the world and see people ripping that bar down behind their neck during Lat pull downs. If it weren’t for my superior self-control, the fitness trainer at that club would have that exact bar knocking ever so gently against their head as a quiet little reminder.
You may have been told that you should do it in front of your head, but not been given an explanation as to why…and besides, it doesn’t hurt you, and you’ve also been told that it targets your Lats better if you do it behind your neck. So…
Why Is Doing A Lat pull Behind Your Head So Bad?
Lat pull downs behind the neck are unnecessary and dangerous. From a biomechanical point of view, they are putting your shoulder into a very bad position. The glenohumeral joint (your shoulder joint) is built for mobility, not stability. When the bar is down behind your head, your shoulder is externally rotating, quite severely. This in itself creates risk. You are also putting your shoulder into adduction, extension and abduction (don’t worry if this makes no sense to you, basically your shoulder is in a really abnormal, unnatural and totally crappy position). This places a lot of stress through the front and the back of a joint that really isn’t that stable to begin with.
There is also increased stress on your external rotators (small muscles in the shoulder that play a VERY big role in the control of the joint) to stabilize the your shoulder. Damage to these results in a long and painful rehabilitation in which most upper body exercises are restricted. The position you are putting your shoulder into is pretty bad without weight; add a few kg’s to that and you are really looking at trouble.
Another added risk is your neck safety. Straining forward during a Lat pull behind the neck is common. Necks are delicate, and there is simply no need to be in this position. A lot of people do this exercise ballistically (really really fast and bouncy), and if you get a little over excited, may cause some cervical damage…let’s not even begin to think about what will damage will occur to your neck if the cable breaks (yes, that does happen).
Am I Sacrificing Benefits For Safety?
No. Not one little bit. Really…nothing at all. And yes, it’s proven. Studies have shown that the front Lat pull down works the Lats and the muscles of your back just as effectively as its scary sister, the behind the neck monster. In fact, one study showed that Front Lat pull downs resulted in the greatest Lat activity.
If you are doing Lat pull downs behind your head, stop…it ain’t worth it.