The cable machine at the gym doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Seriously, can you think of another machine at the gym that allows you to….
- Swap in different attachments in seconds?
- Get unrivaled support and control during lifts?
- Focus on minor muscles optimally for maximum growth?
- Perform dozens of exercises for nearly every muscle group in the body?
But on that last point, we’ve got a new one for you to try: The straight arm cable pushdown. So let’s review everything there is to know about this exercise.
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What is the Straight Arm Cable Pushdown?
The straight arm cable pushdown is an exercise with many names. So you might know this one better as the “straight arm cable pulldown” or the “straight arm lat pulldown.”
Very different-sounding, but all the same!
The straight arm cable pushdown is a basic lat pulldown alternative.
Instead of pulling the bar attachment down vertically and parallel to your body, you’ll be keeping your arms extended and straight in front of your body.
In terms of the movement itself, everything else is the same!
This is an awesome exercise for upper-body strength training and makes a great alternative to the dumbbell pullover.
The Benefits of Straight Arm Cable Pushdowns
Now you might be wondering, “Why should I do a straight arm cable pushdown when I can just stick to lat pulldowns or dumbbell pullovers?”
Good question, and here are your answers:
- Direct Focus on the Lats: Regular lat pulldowns are great for upper-body mass, but the lats’ emphasis isn’t supreme—the biceps and middle back get far too involved. Straight arm cable pushdowns isolate the lats to give you that coveted V-shape.
- Range of Motion: The ROM on the lat pulldown stops once the bar reaches your collarbone. With the straight arm variety, you’ll nearly double how far you push your lats. This extra work will help to build serious back muscle and strength.
- Constant Resistance: Dumbbell pullovers are convenient, but your lats’ tension dies down once you start lowering the dumbbells toward your torso. Cable machine exercises are all about a consistent amount of resistance throughout for max growth.
- Upper-Body Focus: The thing about this exercise is that you’re hitting nearly every muscle group in the upper body. That includes your lats (upper back), forearms, pectorals (chest), triceps, and biceps.
And of course, the other key benefit:
It’s different than the exercises you’re already doing. So it can help you to spice up your current routine or bust through plateaus on the lat pulldown.
Muscles Worked by Straight Arm Cable Pushdowns
The straight arm cable pushdown is somewhat of an upper-body powerhouse. You’ll be hitting nearly every upper-body muscle in some way or another, including:
- Lats (upper back)
- Abs (specifically to hold good posture)
- Deltoids (shoulders)
- Upper back and middle back muscles
- Pectorals (chest)
Not all of these muscles are targeted directly or intensely. The major focus is the lats, and the majority of the other muscles targeted are used to stabilize the entire movement.
How To Do a Straight Arm Cable Pushdown
One thing worth pointing out before knocking out the straight arm cable pushdown is that it’s very different from the lat pulldown. And we mean that in the sense that it’s more difficult.
So choose a lighter weight than you would for the regular pulldown. If you need the support of a weightlifting belt like this, then you’re going too heavy.
Now, here’s how this exercise is done!
- Install the bar attachment on the cable machine and adjust the cable height to well-above your head.
- Get into the starting position: Facing the cable machine, palms face down gripping the bar, arms shoulder-width apart, feet the same distance apart, and slightly leaning inward.
- With arms straight, use your upper-body strength to bring the bar down and in toward the body (basically, bring your arms to your sides).
- After bringing the bar to your waist, slowly begin returning to the starting position.
Keep your back as straight as possible during this exercise, or else other muscles will take over to compensate for the poor form.
5 Tips for Straight Arm Cable Pushdowns
The straight arm cable pushdown is pretty straightforward. But to make sure you’re using perfect form and getting the most out of it, there are a few extra tips you might want to know.
Here are five tips for straight arm cable pushdowns:
- Start with a low weight to lock down the form first and keep your back and core stiff to maximize lat activation.
- Stick with a shoulder-width grip for optimal range of motion.
- Don’t lean too far into the machine. Otherwise, you’ll be using momentum and your bodyweight to help you crank out reps.
- Skip this exercise entirely if you have pre-existing joint injuries (shoulders, elbows) or get doctor approval before giving her a go!
- Breathe out as you’re lowering the bar and breathe in as you’re returning it to its starting position (for maximum power).
The perfect straight arm cable pushdown is in your future. Just follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a massive and shredded back!
Okay, so the straight arm cable pushdown might not be for everybody. So what are you supposed to do if this isn’t the exercise for you or if you don’t have access to a cable machine?
Well, you’re in luck.
Here are a few alternative exercises that work the same or similar muscles:
- Lat pulldown (and close-grip or wide-grip varieties)
- Straight arm pushdown with a rope attachment
- Dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell pullovers
- Pull-ups or chin-ups
- Close-grip pulldown
- Iron Cross (if your gym has gear from decades ago)
Don’t feel like you have to pick just one of these exercises when it’s lat day. Keep it interesting by swapping the above exercises in and out.
And if you want to stick to the straight arm pulldown, but make it a little more interesting, you can also switch your grip (wide or narrow) or use different attachments (rope or handles).