Favoured by my sporting hero Frank Zane – Mr. America, Mr. World, 3 time Mr. Universe, 3 time Mr. Olympia – Stiff-Arm Pulldowns are the only true way to isolate your Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) – the major muscles of the back – by performing their primary function of drawing the arms into the sides of the body against resistance.
For me, Stiff-Arm Pulldowns performed correctly are the perfect complement to any resistance training for the back, allowing full-stretch and contraction of the Lats. However, Stiff-Arm Pulldowns are probably the most common incorrectly performed exercise. Simply, if you do not feel your Lats working and in control throughout the full range of movement, you are performing Stiff-Arm Pulldowns incorrectly! This will likely apply to 99% of readers.
Common mistakes to avoid are: using too much weight, allowing elevation of the shoulder complex, assuming the wrong stance, and failing to understand the function of the Lats muscles.
Now, here’s how to perform Stiff-Arm Pulldowns correctly and reap the benefits:
- Select a weight that allows you to perform the exercise in a strict manner. Attach a straight bar cable handle to a high cable pulley (alternatively, this can be performed using resistance bands and a door wedge at home).
- Hold the straight bar at approximately shoulder-width and ever-so-slightly bend your elbows and lock this “Stiff-Arm” stance. Step back from the cable machine (or door), allowing your upper body to assume the ‘Start Position’, and take resistance on to your Lats with your arms parallel to the floor. This should feel identical to a correctly performed Lat Stretch (do not allow elevation of your shoulder complex!).
- Exhale and in a controlled manner pull the bar down until your arms are near parallel to your thighs, allowing full contraction of your Lats. This is the ‘Mid-Position’.
- Inhale, as your arms return to the ‘Start Position’ and you feel the stretch on your Lats.
With many experiencing wrist or elbow discomfort using a straight bar, you should review Globe Gripz to perform straight bar exercises with improved comfort. Frank Zane writes “I put them (Globe Gripz) on a pulldown bar and they work good for stiff arm pulldowns - making the grip more comfortable!"
Here's a video demonstration of Stiff-Arm Pulldowns being performed correctly with the aid of Globe Gripz...
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