How to Do a Straight-Arm Pulldown: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do a straight-arm pulldown exercise to help improve upper body strength, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: May 1, 2023

Embracing more strength training in your workout routine lately? If so, that’s great news. Whether your primary goal is to build strength or manage muscle and joint pain, strength training plays an important role. 

One exercise that has been gaining popularity among gym-goers and those with chronic pain alike is the straight-arm pulldown. From building upper body strength to improving posture, the straight-arm pulldown offers numerous benefits for your workout routine and physical health. Read on to discover the advantages of this versatile exercise and how it can help reduce pain and improve mobility in your upper back and shoulder area

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Straight-Arm Pulldown?

A straight-arm pulldown is an exercise that primarily targets the upper back muscles. It also works the upper arms and shoulders. It’s a variation of the classic lat pulldown exercise. It puts your upper back muscles, in particular the latissimus dorsi muscles, through a large range of motion, so it’s a great movement for focusing on development of those muscles specifically.

What Muscles Do Straight-Arm Pulldowns Work?

Straight-arm pulldowns help to improve strength in your back, core, and arm muscles. More specifically, they target: 

  • Latissimus dorsi muscles (commonly known as “lats”), which are large muscles located on either side of the back. The lats are responsible for a wide range of movements involving the arms, back, and shoulders, including pulling your arms toward your body and extending your shoulders.

  • Triceps (backs of upper arms), which are primarily responsible for helping you extend your elbow during everyday activities. During the straight-arm pulldown, the triceps are challenged as you work to keep your arms straight. The triceps also act as stabilizers, working to keep your shoulder joint stable and supported. This helps to prevent injury and improve overall shoulder health.

  • Posterior deltoids, which are located at the back of the shoulders. They are important for activities like reaching behind your back, carrying a bag, pulling motions, and sitting upright. Challenging these muscles during the straight-arm pulldown helps with maintaining good posture and shoulder joint stability in everyday life. 

Straight-Arm Pulldown Benefits

Straight-arm pulldowns strengthen some of the muscles you use to lift and carry items, so it can make daily activities like carrying groceries or using your arms to stand up from the ground easier. Strengthening the upper back and shoulder muscles with the straight-arm pulldown also makes it more comfortable to sit and stand upright. This is because our rounded-forward lifestyle can lead to weak upper back and shoulder muscles. This exercise helps to counteract that rounding and improve your posture. So whether you sit at a desk, drive around all day, or are on your feet for 12 hours at a time, straight-arm pulldowns can help prevent and treat back and shoulder pain or discomfort. 

Straight-Arm Pulldown: Exercise and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Straight-Arm Pulldowns

Straight-Arm Pulldowns

Straight-Arm Pulldowns

Straight-Arm Pulldowns

To do a straight-arm pulldown: 

  • Secure a resistance band by opening a door, wrapping the band around the handle opposite of where you’re standing, and then closing the door. Gently tug on the band to make sure the door is securely closed. 

  • Grip the resistance band with both hands and raise your arms to chest height. 

  • Take a few steps back from the door so the band has some tension in it. 

  • With your arms straight, move your hands toward the floor, stopping when your hands reach the sides of your legs. 

  • Keep your chest open and shoulders down.

  • Hold this position for a few seconds before relaxing your arms back to your starting position. 

Everyone is different and it’s important to listen to your body, which is why you may need to modify the straight-arm pulldown to meet your needs. 

To make straight-arm pulldowns easier:  

  • Use a lighter resistance band to make the pulling motion easier. 

  • Step closer to the door to reduce tension in the band. 

  • Use lighter dumbbells instead of a resistance band to decrease the weight you need to move. 

To make straight-arm pulldowns harder: 

  • Use a heavier resistance band to make the pulling motion more challenging. 

  • Step further away from the door to increase tension in the band. 

  • Use heavier dumbbells instead of a resistance band to increase the weight you need to move. 

You can apply one of the above modifications to make the exercise easier or harder, or multiple modifications at once. 

Learn More About Hinge Health for Pain Relief  

We’ve got a full team of clinical experts to help you move past your pain. Click here to see if you’re eligible to join our free digital clinic for back and joint pain.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Latissimus Dorsi Muscle. (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from

  2. Sutton, B. The Biomechanics of the Lat Pulldown: Muscles Worked, Grips, & Form. National Academy of Sports Medicine.