A lat pulldown is a popular exercise in any gym. But can you do a proper version on a functional trainer? Let’s find out.
It’s possible to do a lat pulldown on a functional trainer as long as you have a bar attachment and a weightlifting bench. There are several variations possible that are all slightly different but target the same muscles. Since there is no leg lock, the weight you can lift is limited.
Keep reading to find out what you need exactly, how to set up your equipment and what the alternatives are.
Just looking for a functional trainer with built in Lat pulldown? Check out the Inspire FT2 on Amazon.
Can a functional trainer be used for lat pulldowns?
A lat pulldown machine is a piece of gym equipment where you pull down a bar that’s located above you. This trains the latissimus dorsi muscle also abbreviated to ‘lats’, hence the name; lat pulldown. The bar is attached to a cable and pulling on it lifts the weight stack. The person who does the lat pulldown sits on a bench and wedges their legs under two foam pads to keep them seated.
It’s a great exercise and has a place in pretty much everyone’s workout routine. So you’re wondering if you can do the same exercise with a functional trainer. Let’s see.
A functional trainer is in essence a double pulley gym machine. You can attach any cable attachment to the cable you want. Putting a bar on the pulley is pretty easy and gets you half the way there. However, we still have the problem of sitting and staying in place while pulling.
So if you want to mimic a lat pulldown machine as closely as possible with a functional trainer, you need the following things;
A lat pulldown is usually done sitting down. While most functional trainers don’t include a bench, getting a weightlifting bench is the obvious solution. Some functional trainers come with a bench that connects to the frame of the trainer. That won’t work for our purposes. You need a separate bench.
A weightlifting bench with a backrest that’s adjustable in angle (adjustable bench) is the best. The adjustable angle is also useful for many other exercises and the adjustable benches are often a bit heavier which is good for doing lat pulldowns as we’ll see later.
A bench that doesn’t have its legs sticking out too far in front is useful because it will help you get closer to the ‘real’ lat pulldown position. More on that later. The bench you can see below is great because the legs will actually go around the upright post and the foam rollers are detachable. On top of that it’s a super solid bench with plenty of adjustability and high load limit.
The problem with using a bench in a functional trainer is that most benches don’t have a leg lock down like a dedicated lat pulldown machine. This becomes a problem when pulling heavier weights.
Once the weights get too heavy, your body won’t stay put in the place you sat down because the weight you’re trying to lift is actually lifting you. For very light lifts this isn’t really a problem but once you start getting near lifting your bodyweight, it will become an issue especially on the way up.
On a dedicated lat pulldown machine you’ll have two rollers you can wedge your legs under and this will keep you down. Most weightlifting benches don’t have this which has as a result that you can’t keep yourself down on heavier lifts.
There are a few things you can do;
- Wedge your feet under the bench
- Wedge your feet under the functional trainer
- Get a bench with leg lock down
Wedging your feet under other things isn’t the most elegant solution but it’s effective. A bench with leg lockdown is an option but will only work but the problem is that those things get in the way on other exercises. A bench that has an easily removable leg lock is the best option.
If you’re wedging your feet under the bench and you’re still being pulled up, you can try putting some heavy weight plates on top of the legs. Don’t put the plates on the bench. You don’t want your foot to get hit by a falling plate.
To replicate the lat pulldown as closely as possible, you want a solid bar. This bar can be angled at the ends. There are two varieties you can make work. One bar is used for a single pulley. The other type has a cable attachment on both sides.
The bar with cable eyelets on both ends is also as a cable barbell. It’s not only good for lat pulldowns but also allows you to do barbell exercises in your functional trainer. Most functional trainers come with both attachments but if you’re missing one, I’ve selected the best options in the chart below.
Now let’s see how you can set up your equipment. There are two ways you go about it;
Functional trainer lat pulldown option #1:
The first option involves using one pulley a normal bar attachemnt and a simple bench without leg lock.
Simply push up the bench to where the edge is under the pulley. (Put the pulley in the highest position before pushing up the bench). You want to be able to sit pretty much exactly under the pulley/bar so the bench has to get up to the upright post the pulley slides on pretty closely.
This means you need the seat of the bench to touch the upright post. This is why you can do this on a bench without the foam pads. The foam pads stick out in front which means you have to sit too far back.
Now simply sit down as far under the pulley as you’re comfortable with (your face and privates will be pretty close to the upright post), grab the bar, sit down and do the exercise.
If you need to be held down, see where you can wedge your feet. Alternatively you can try to squeeze the upright post with your legs but you’ll likely also restrict the movement of the cable.
Functional trainer lat pulldown option #2
The second option is similar, we’re doing the same movement after all, but the setup is a little different.
Instead of pushing a bench up to a single pulley, you put the bench in between the pulleys. This allows you to have a bench with some detachable foam leg locks because you don’t need to be really close to the upright post.
The trick to be able to now do a lat pulldown is in the attachment you use. Instead of a bar that only attaches to the cable in the middle, you need a bar that attaches to two cables, one on each side. This allows you to pull down while not sitting being pulled to one side.
The exercise will use the same muscles but the load will feel a little different since you’re using two weight stacks instead of two. The balancing will feel a little different because of that but, in the end you’re using the same muscles and performing the same movement.
You can actually use a barbell attachment that only has a single eyelet. It involves simply attaching both cables to the same eyelet. However, this means you’ll have to lift the weight stacks a little to get enough cable length. Lifting a heavy stack with one hand without an attachment and then connecting it to the bar is pretty difficult. With two people it can be done though.
Don’t have a bench? Here are some other ways you can perform pretty much the same movement. The muscles used are very similar but because the position or the attachment is different it will feel a bit different. You can also use these alternatives as variations for when the lat pulldown has gotten boring.
Don’t have any cable machine? Click here to find a solution: How to do a Lat pulldown at home without any machines
Without a bench the best way to work out the same muscles is to simply kneel down in the place where you would sit on the bench. Having a soft pad for your knees will make this a whole lot more comfortable and prevents rug burn on your knees.
Depending on which bar attachment you have you can still perform the same variations as above (single vs. double pulley). However, the double pulley version is going to be a bit more comfortable because it won’t have your face close to a metal pole.
The only problem with the kneeling pulldown is that you’re limited in weight. There is no way to hold yourself down except having someone actually holding you by the waist and holding you down.
Half kneeling pulldown
Very similar to the kneeling pulldown but instead of two knees, you only kneel on one knee. The other leg can be used to brace yourself so this version makes stabilizing yourself a little easier. Otherwise it’s exactly the same.
D handle pulldown
Of course you don’t need to necessarily use a bar if you don’t want to or have one. It’s what I described above since it replicates the regular gym machine the closest.
The normal D handles can be used perfectly fine. You simply attach two handles to two pulleys (one on each side). From there you can sit down on a bench or perform the kneeling alternative as described above. Both work.
This means that both weight stacks will move completely independently. Also, the path of resistance is a bit different. With a bar, the resistance is straight up and down. However, when using D handles, the cables and therefore resistance will be at a slight angle.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it will just target your muscles slightly differently. For that reason this alternative is a good exercise to do sometimes even if you have a bar.
Can’t find anything that works for you in the suggestions above? Why not do pull ups and chin ups. Those are much more difficult to do than lat pulldowns but the movement pattern is largely the same. Almost all functional trainers have pull up bars built into them so you don’t need anything extra.
It can be a bit difficult to start doing pull ups if you aren’t able to perform a full repetition now. There are ways to build up to getting there for most people though. However, this is not an option that’s viable for everyone.
So finally your options are;
- Single pulley pulldown with bar
- Double pulley pulldown with barbell attachment
- Single pulley kneeling pulldown with bar
- Double pulley kneeling pulldown with barbell attachment
- Double pulley half kneeling pulldown with barbell attachment
- Double pulley half kneeling pulldown with D-handles
- Double pulley D-handle pulldown
- Double pulley kneeling pulldown
I’m sure you can find one variation that works with the equipment you have.
If that all sounds a little too complicated, why not get a real lat pulldown machine. They’re smaller and cheaper than you might think. Click here for more information.