While the pull up is still my favorite vertical pull exercise, the lat pull down is pretty darn cool too.
And for those that are not yet strong enough to perform a chin up (palms facing you) or pull up (palms facing away), the lat pull down is an excellent way to build strength/develop the upper back.
Although too often I still see people doing the behind the neck variation of this exercise.
Behind The Neck Lat Pull Down….Bad.
The problems with this variation start at the neck as it is flexed too much, the shoulders are forced into a position at the extreme end of external rotation and the shoulder is also hyper-extended; all of this puts the shoulder at a mechanical disadvantage.
What does this mean? Bad for your shoulders, neck and spine. By pulling the weight in front of your body, not only is it safer, but you will be able to do more weight/reps.
In Front Lat Pull Down….Good.
In the videos my hands are a little wider than my shoulders but not excessively wide to work my "outer lats". An overly wide grip does not work the outer lats, but can increase shear forces at the glenohumeral joint (Brooks 2001). I did super wide grip pull ups and pull downs for years, and I don't think it is worth the risk because of little if any reward.
Think of it this way, when you use an overly wide grip it is harder and generally you can do less reps/external weight. When do you get stronger using less weight?
These days I usually pick the exercise/variation that allows for the most weight to be used, to overload the muscle and burn more total calories. There are a ton of different grips/handles that you can choose from and I would recommend to try them all.
Brooks, Douglas.Effective strength training: analysis and technique for upper-body, lower-body, and trunk exercises. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2001