Straight-Arm Pulldown vs. Decline Cable Pullover

January 9, 2013

By: Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS; Photography by: Kevin Horton / Ralph DeHaan; Models: Mark Antonek / Dan Decker

Straight-Arm Pulldown

A classic exercise, the straight-arm pulldown is a great pre-exhaust movement for lats or as a finisher at the end of a brutal back workout. It completely isolates the lats while also calling into play the core musculature. You’ve probably felt your deep abdominals hard at work during a grueling set of these pulldowns, and that’s absolutely critical and expected. The exercise requies considerable stabilizer activity, especially the heavier you go. If you’re stopping the bar on the upward phase when your arms approach parallel, your lats and core are under extreme tension. Many guys allow the bar to travel too high, causing a loss of tension in the lats. The two keys for this exercise are to hold the peak contraction for a count at the bottom with the bar directly in your line of sight, and pulling it all the way into your body at the bottom of the rep as you squeeze your lats.

Decline Cable Pullover

This lower-lat exercise takes a little trial and error in terms of bench placement. You have to place the bench far enough away from the stack to allow your arms full extension at the start of the rep without letting the plates touch down. You might have to do a couple of trial reps to ensure you’re set up correctly. Unlike the straight-arm pulldown, the decline pullover requires minimal stabilizer activity. If you’re thinking the pullover is a chest move, you’re correct, but it’s even more so when performed in an incline or flat position. The decline pullover is an excellent lat exercise whose key is a shoulder-width grip and completely straight arms throughout the movement. Opening and closing the angle of the elbows will automatically involve triceps and chest.

Advantage: Decline Cable Pullover

Even though your head is lower than your legs, with the cable gravity doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of the exercise as you pull the bar into your lower body; therefore, your lats remain involved longer. Because the bar travels closer to your legs, you can squeeze your lats as you would during the straight-arm lat pulldown; however, the angle of your body causes the lats to be engaged through a greater range of motion. In contrast to the straight-arm pulldown, which requires you to stop the bar to keep tension, the decline cable allows you to reach back overhead while maintaining that necessary tension in the lats. The fact that you don’t have to worry about balance makes the decline cable pullover the clear winner in the race toward building incredible lower lats.