Exercise Spotlight: Cobra Pulldown

Hit your lats with a greater ROM than using regular pulldowns

In the time I’ve spent in the industry, I’ve noticed one truth: Most people suck at pull ups. 

I’m not just talking about the basic ability to pull the face over the bar with no assistance. That’s a measure of strength many people have.

I’m talking about the ability to do so while maintaining strict form and engaging the correct back muscles responsible for the task.  As soon as you make this stipulation, the success rates plummet.

That’s why, as a coach, I like programming the pulldown for many of my hypertrophy clients (and even for my strength clients who are looking to improve the quality of their pull ups and chins).  Regardless of the goal, the pulldown is an often underrated development tool that people can receive plenty of benefits from. It creates much more isolation toward the lats and gives the body a fighting chance to achieve correct form without compensatory patterns entering the picture.

Truthfully, I only have one real problem with even well done pull ups and pulldowns as back developers. That is, they don’t hit the lats through their FULL range of motion. Due to the hands’ position on the bar, end range is slightly compromised. You can ameliorate the situation by holding the bar with a narrow grip, but that poses the problem of achieving the correct finishing technique and positioning. Usually, the shoulders will lose their set position and shoulder glide will enter the scene.

Enter the Cobra Pulldown

The cobra pulldown done on a cable setup solves this problem. Since you don’t have a bar and are instead responsible for a single handle, it allows you to reach further overhead and slightly across the body. That equals a massive stretch for the lats, and also introduces the fact that you can manipulate your elbow and wrist position while doing this, making it doubly beneficial.

To add to this, I find that setting up on an inclined bench (the way I am in the video) sets the lifter up perfectly to mimic the slanted or angled pattern the lat fibres travel, for better isolation.

Cobra Pulldown – Coaching Cues

  • Set up a 45 degree inclined bench about 4-6 feet away from a high cable pulley. Do your best to line it up with your angle of force.
  • Kneel on the bench with one or both knees. It’s important to keep the body straight. Avoid “sitting down”.
  • Holding on to the cable pulley in the top arm, reach over the head – not in front of it. If you can see your working arm in your periphery, you’ve let it drift too far forward. It’s okay to wrap the free arm around the back of the bench for bracing and support.
  • Set the shoulder down and back, and pull with the working arm until you feel you’ve reached absolute maximum lat contraction. It’s okay to turn your wrist to find the right position.
  • Pause at the position of full contraction for an instant before returning slowly to start position. Focus on sets of 12-15 reps per arm.

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