6 Best Vertical Pulling Exercises to Build Back/Lats

Back 3 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

These are the lat builders.

Vertical pulling exercises take the lats through a huge range of motion and will hammer them hard.

But that isn’t all.

Vertical pulling exercises work the forearms, biceps, rear delts, and other muscles of the mid/lower back.

1. Reverse Shrug

This isn’t a vertical pulling exercise in the traditional sense because it is more isolation than compound.

But it’s first on this list because if you cannot reverse shrug well you cannot do any vertical pulling well.

Sit on a lat pulldown and grab the bar wider than shoulder-width with a light load on the stack.

With your arms completely straight let your shoulders lift towards your ears. Now pull your shoulders down toward the ground while keeping your arms completely straight. You should feel the lats (the muscles directly under and slightly behind your armpit) working. When you’ve brought your shoulders as low as possible then allow them to lengthen until they’re near your ears.

It is important that you keep your armpits facing forward at all times during this exercise (and every vertical pulling exercise).

2. Lat Pulldowns

If you’ve mastered the reverse shrug the lat pulldown is the next step.

Begin with a reverse shrug and at the end of that exercise begin to pull the bar towards the base of your neck. Don’t try to touch the bar to your chest. Instead, the goal is to keep your forearm in a perfectly straight line with the cable.

You will notice if you pull the bar down low enough to touch chest your elbows will “wing” out behind your body. Don’t do this. Keep your forearms in a straight line with the cable and end the motion when you have pulled it as low as this will allow.

3. Assisted Pull-Ups

I’ve written an in-depth article on why pull-ups are a no-no (for beginners). But assisted pull-ups get a pass because they allow you to adjust the difficulty to something manageable. If you want to learn pull-ups and you’ve mastered lat pulldowns, this is the next step.

These are preferably done on an assisted pull-up machine because it provides constant assistance throughout the lift. Banded pull-ups are a substitute but don’t replicate real pull-ups as well because the bands provide variable resistance.

Use the same mechanics as with your lat pulldowns. They are identical in the motion you will use.

4. Neutral Grip Pulldowns

Neutral grip pulldowns differ from traditional wide grip pulldowns not only in the grip but in how hard your muscles have to work.

Neutral grip pulldowns will typically allow you to use more weight than wide grip pulldowns because they shift more work to the biceps, lower trap, and put the lat in a more advantageous pulling position.

5. Supinated Pulldowns

These are pulldowns with a chin-up grip.

Underhand (palms toward you) grip just outside of your shoulders will put a lot of the load on your biceps to help them grow.

Ensure you use the same mechanics as your other pulldowns. Reverse shrug first. Keep your arms aligned with the cable.


This is the best lat builder on the list for the same reason one arm cable rows are the best exercise for horizontal pulling.

One arm cable pulldowns allow you to put the shoulder joint through a huge range of motion.

Typically in pulling exercises, you reach the end of your range of motion when your shoulder blades touch.

When you do one arm at a time that issue is moot and you can focus on turning your lats into wings for flying.

Need Some Exercises to go with these?

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Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.