The lat pulldown is a popular upper-body exercise targeting the latissimus dorsi muscles, but improper form or overloading may contribute to shoulder discomfort or injury.
In this article, we’ll explore common reasons for shoulder pain during lat pulldowns and provide practical tips to ensure a safer and more enjoyable workout experience.
Why Do You Get Shoulder Pain During Lat Pulldown?
Shoulder pain during lat pulldown is typically caused by using an incorrect technique and using too much weight.
When you use an improper technique, your shoulders are placed in an unnatural position. This, combined with a heavy load can aggravate your shoulder joints resulting in sore shoulders.
By enforcing the correct technique and using a weight suitable to your current fitness levels, you’ll be able to prevent shoulder soreness from this exercise.
How To Prevent Shoulder Pain When Doing Lat Pulldown
By following the 7 tips below, you’ll be able to avoid shoulder pain when doing lat pulldown:
- Change Your Grip
- Tuck Your Elbows In
- Maintain A Neutral Spine
- Pull The Bar Down In Front Of Your Head
- Use A Sensible Weight
- Keep Your Forearms Vertical
- Retract Your Scapula
Let’s explore these in more detail.
Change Your Grip
I often see people using a wide grip when doing lat pulldown, however this can put additional pressure on your shoulder joints.
By narrowing your grip by a couple of inches, you’ll still work your lats effectively while putting less strain on your shoulders.
Another grip variation that can help is replacing an overhand grip with an underhand grip.
While this puts more focus on your biceps, it still activates your latissimus dorsi while keeping your shoulders in a more natural position.
Tuck Your Elbows In
Another technique error people do with this exercise is flaring their elbows out to the side and bringing their elbows towards their torso.
But by doing this, your shoulder joints and rotator cuff are placed under a lot of pressure.
Instead, you should pull your elbows vertically downwards so that they touch your ribcage during the concentric part of the lift.
This will help remove any unnecessary strain on your shoulders and rotator cuff and will help engage your lats more effectively.
Maintain A Neutral Spine
Many people lean back when doing lat pulldown, but this is poor technique. Not only does it reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, but it can place your spine and shoulders in an awkward position, which can cause injury and discomfort in some cases.
Your spine should be straight and upright throughout the whole movement.
(Just like when performing a pull-up.)
By maintain a neutral spine, the right muscles will be working, and your shoulders are in a more natural position, reducing shoulder ache and preventing injury.
If you’re unsure of your spinal tilt, then ask a gym buddy to watch you do a few reps, and they’ll be able to advise on whether you need to change your posture.
Pull The Bar Down In Front Of Your Head
If you’re susceptible to shoulder pain or have poor shoulder mobility, then you should never do behind-the-head lat pulldowns.
Not only does this place additional stress on your shoulder joint and rotator cuffs, but it can also irritate your neck.
Instead, you should focus on pulling the weight down infront of your face so that your spine and neck are upright, and your shoulders are pulling in a vertical plane.
While it might seem insignificant, it makes a huge difference to the safety and effectiveness of the exercise.
Use A Sensible Weight
One of the most common causes of poor technique with any exercise is using too much weight.
If you’re lifting excessive weight during lat pulldown, you’re forced to lean back so other back muscles can help, and your shoulders are aggressively pulled away from you during the eccentric part of the movement.
Both these factors can cause serious shoulder pain.
By reducing the weight by 25% and lifting with perfect form, not only does the exercise become safer but you’ll work your lats more effectively.
Keep Your Forearms Vertical
Your forearms should be vertical and parallel to your neck and spine when pulling down the bar.
Any forearm tilt, whether it be towards or away from your torso, will result in shoulder joint rotation.
If you’re putting a heavy load on your shoulders while they’re rotating, they can be easily hurt and injured, so you need to avoid this at all costs.
Retract Your Scapula
The key to any effective lat exercise, whether it be pull-ups or lat pulldown, is to retract your scapula (shoulder blades) at the end of the concentric part of the lift.
Not only does this help activate your lats but it takes excessive strain off your shoulders.
When pulling the lat pulldown bar down vertically, the aim is to squeeze your scapula like it owes you money.
Then, when you return your arms to starting position during the eccentric part of the lift, your scapula should remain retracted.
Return the bar to the top of the movement in a controlled fashion, rather than letting the weight pull your arms upwards.
Can Lat Pulldown Hurt Rotator Cuffs?
If done incorrectly, lat pulldown can hurt and even injure your rotator cuffs.
If you’re leaning too far back and your forearms are angled towards your body, your rotator cuffs are under a lot of pressure which puts them in a vulnerable position.
This is why using the correct technique is vital, and you should always warm up your rotator cuffs before doing lat pulldowns.
Why Do Your Shoulders Click During Lat Pulldown?
If your shoulders are clicking during lat pulldown, it could be a sign that your shoulder joints are under pressure, and the clicking sound is gas being released from the joint.
As long as your shoulders are pain-free, this usually isn’t a huge cause for concern and it happens with a lot of exercises.
Can You Do Lat Pulldowns With A Shoulder Impingement?
Any exercise which has the potential to place your shoulders in a vulnerable position, like lat pulldown, should be avoided with a shoulder impingement.
Your shoulders are involved in nearly every upper body exercise, so it’s vital that you let them fully recover before attempting any exercise which can make them worse.
As always, speak to your medical professional who will advise the best course of action for recovery and when you can start doing lat pulldown again.
- Lat pulldown causes shoulder pain when you do the exercise incorrectly with too much weight.
- By doing lat pulldown correctly with a suitable weight, you’re unlikely to get sore shoulders.
- If you have a shoulder impingement, you should wait for it fully recover before attempting any exercise which can cause further injury.
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.