Whenever I see someone performing behind the neck pull-downs, I advise them to stop and cite a study that proved them as ineffective. When I first started training I performed them too; if old school bodybuilders did them, it must be good a exercise right? Wrong. Although some people still arrogantly persist in doing them and try to argue ‘form’, the reality for the wise is that they are an ineffective way to hit your back.

A study done in Brazil back in 2009 dubbed “Electromyographic analysis of three different types of lat pull-down.” analyses and compares front, rear and specialized v bar (that most gyms don’t have) performed pull-downs with muscle activation scans. The findings? The the front (neck) pull-downs best activates back muscles (latissimus dorsi) and the v bar a second best while the behind the neck pull-downs just subject shoulders to potential injuries with nearly non-existent back activation.

J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Oct;23(7):2033-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b8d30a.

Electromyographic analysis of three different types of lat pull-down.

Source

Biomedical Engineering Program, COPPE/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. ssperandei@hotmail.com

Abstract

The purpose of this work was to evaluate the activity of the primary motor muscles during the performance of 3 lat pull-down techniques through surface electromyography (EMG). Twenty-four trained adult men performed 5 repetitions of behind-the-neck (BNL), front-of-the-neck (FNL), and V-bar exercises at 80% of 1 repetition maximum. For each technique, the root mean square from the EMG signal was registered from the pectoralis major (PM), latissimus dorsi (LD), posterior deltoid (PD), and biceps brachii (BB) and further normalized in respect to that which presented the highest value of all the techniques. A series of two-way repeated measures analysis of variance was used to compare the results, with Tukey-Kramer as the post hoc test and alpha = 0.05. During the concentric phase, PM value showed the FNL to be significantly higher than V-bar/BNL and V-bar higher than BNL. During the eccentric phase, FNL/V-bar was higher than BNL. For LD, there was no difference between techniques. PD presented BNL higher than FNL/V-bar and FNL higher than V-bar in the concentric phase and BNL higher than V-bar in the eccentric phase. BB exhibited BNL higher than V-bar/FNL and V-bar higher than FNL in both concentric and eccentric phases. Considering the main objectives of lat pull-down, we concluded that FNL is the better choice, whereas BNL is not a good lat pull-down technique and should be avoided. V-bar could be used as an alternative.

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Source of study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19855327