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Straight Arm Pulldown [Exercise Guide]

Straight arm pulldown

Straight arm pulldowns are a great exercise that often isn’t used as much as classic pullups or barbell or t-bar rows. This exercise can help you achieve your ultimate goal of developing wider and stronger back muscles. What is a straight arm pulldown? Are there any variations of this exercise? What are the benefits of daily doing these exercises in a gym? Read on to discover the answers to these questions and more.

What is a Straight Arm Pulldown?

A straight arm pulldown is a variation of the classic lat pulldown and is one of the best exercises for your back. This exercise will train major muscles in your upper back latissimus dorsi or lats, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles in your mid/upper back as well as your triceps. These muscles are important for shoulder extension movement, posture, and stability.

Advantages of a Straight Arm Pulldown

There are many advantages to performing straight arm pulldowns:

  • Improved strength. The straight arm pulldowns are a great way to train your back muscles. A great range of motion in this exercise will allow you to have a strong contraction of the lats at the bottom of each rep.
  • Improved core stability. The straight arm pulldown will engage your core and help you develop more stability through your core.
  • Improved stability on deadlifts. One of the pillars of a deadlift is pulling the weight tight to your body with straight arms, similar to the straight arm pulldown. The ability to keep the bar tight to your body on a deadlift will result in more strength and a safer way to perform the exercise.
  • Increased mid-muscle connection. Compared to other back exercises like pullups or classic lat pulldowns, this exercise will force you to use your back muscles and not rely on your biceps. This will help you build a better mind-muscle connection with your lats which will result in more strength and muscle gains.
  • Better posture. Hours of sitting in a bad position will result in a worse posture and lower back pain. Although a straight arm pulldown is probably not the #1 exercise to fix these issues, it will certainly help as it will train your back and core muscles which typically become weak due to long hours of sitting.

How to Perform the Straight Arm Pulldown

  • Step 1. Stand in front of a high pulley cable machine with your feet in a shoulder-width apart stance. Grab the handle of the cable machine with your hands and palms wider than your shoulders.
  • Step 2. Bend your torso forward 30 degrees while keeping your elbows relatively straight and extending your arms straight out in front of you. This is your starting position.
  • Step 3. Without bending your arms, begin to exhale as you pull the bar straight down until it touches your thighs. Inhale as you reverse the motion and return to your starting position.

5 Straight Arm Pulldown Alternatives

Here are some of the straight arm pulldown variations you may want to try.

Straight Arm Dumbbell Pullover

The straight arm dumbbell pullover is a great alternative to the straight arm pulldown that will primarily work your lats but also your chest and serratus anterior muscles.

To perform the exercise, you will need a bench and dumbbells. Put a dumbbell on the bench and then lie your shoulders flat down upon the bench with your hips below and your legs bent in the knees. Take the dumbbell and hold it over your head. Then lower the weight down behind you without bending your elbows. Return the dumbbell to the initial position by engaging your lats.

Headbanger Pullups

This is an advanced bodyweight exercise that will engage your lats, your mid-back, biceps, and your core.
To do the exercise, get under a pullup bar and perform the first half of a pullup. Once you’re at the top, engage your core, and try pushing yourself away from the bar while keeping your head level with the bar. Then pull yourself back to the bar. That’s one rep.

Front Lever Raises

This is another advanced bodyweight exercise that works your lats in a very similar way as the straight arm dumbbell pulldown.

To start the exercise, get below a pullup bar. Engage your core and your quads, and then try pushing the bar down and away from you while simultaneously bringing your lower body up. Your body has to remain straight throughout the movement, which means that your low back and your knees have to remain straight. After you reach the top position, slowly lower your body down while maintaining a straight low back and without bending your knees.

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown is another exercise that partially targets the same muscles as a straight arm pulldown but in a different way.

To perform the exercise, grab the bar with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart. Then pull the bar down to your chest while trying to keep your chest in front and shoulders retracted back. Slowly release and let the bar go up in a controlled manner.


Pullups are one of the most classic exercises ever. They work on a variety of muscles like your lats, biceps, mid-back, forearms, and your core.

In order to perform the exercise, start by hanging from a bar with your hands facing away from you (overhand grip). Keep your shoulders retracted and pull yourself up to the bar. Then lower yourself slowly down.


How many straight arm pulldowns should I do in a workout at the gym?

While there is no limit, you should try to incorporate 3 – 4 sets of 10 – 12 repetitions of this exercise. As you become more comfortable with the exercise, try increasing the weight or using this exercise in a dropset or a superset with another exercise like pullups.

What Muscles Are Worked With the Straight Arm Pulldown?

The straight arm pulldown primarily works your latissimus dorsi (lats) muscles. These are the broadest muscles of your back and the largest muscle in your upper body. The exercise also works the trapezius and rhomboid muscles in your mid/upper back. The trapezius is the kite-shaped muscle in your upper back. The rhomboids are key muscles in the mid/upper back that squeeze the shoulder blades together and provide stability for the shoulder complex. The rhomboids are very important when it comes to posture as they will tend to become weakened for people who sit for long periods of time.


Now that you are more familiar with the straight arm pulldown, you can try incorporating this exercise into your daily gym regimen. The exercise helps with strengthening your back muscles, decreasing chronic back pain, and improving posture and stability. There are variations and alternatives that can be tried in the gym that can offer gym enthusiasts different ways to strengthen their back and improve overall health.