How does a Towel Pull Down (using two towels draped over the bar) differ from a Lat Pull Down in terms of muscle activation?
This depends on a few factors:
- I've diagrammed two grip width options below - wide and narrow. The Latissimus Dorsi and the Rear Deltoid provide the majority of the effort throughout the entire ROM in a standard wide-grip pull down which occurs relatively in the frontal plane (Diagram A). The starting point of this particular width is what's known as a "closed-pack" position, which is basically the position that a synovial joint is when most taut. All synovial joints have a closed-pack position.
- As the grip is narrowed (Diagram B), the Latissimus Dorsi becomes the primary provider of effort until nearing its end range (posterior upper arm flush with the posterior rib cage), where the Rear Deltoid then plays a greater role once again.
- In "pulling" exercises, the load is supported ultimately by the fingers, unlike pushing exercises where the load is easily supported by the palm and thus the bones/joints of the wrist, arm, etc. A grip diameter too wide may fatigue the forearm muscles prematurely to the upper back muscles, which is not necessarily a bad thing depending upon the goal. A grip diameter too narrow may cause pain and a "cutting" sensation on the fingers.
- In this case, the use of two towel handles - depending on how they are gripped, tied or how tacky/smooth the towels are - can provide for a change in neuromuscular exertion similar to using a grip diameter that is something "other than optimal." If this is the case, it will force the body to focus on its weakest link during the movement - the grip - expending an increased amount of neurological effort to maintain that grip. For anyone bored with their normal regimen of pull ups, I suggest wrapping a towel around the bar, increasing the bar's diameter. I guarantee a new level of intensity will be achieved during the exercise!
OTHER FACTORS DETERMINING MUSCULAR ACTION:
- Width/size of the anatomical pulley(s)/shoulders
- Length of the levers/arms
- Direction or resistance
- Load intensity and technique
- Injury history, orthopedic health, neuromuscular integrity
- ROM limitations due to the above
- Quality of instruction/coaching/training
- Please don't be fooled by trendy gimmicks in the fitness industry. The main ideas to keep in mind here are:
- Only training within the available ROM limitations of the subject's joint(s) as determined by the musculoskeletal screening process.
- Proper posture and mechanics to maintain joint integrity and hopefully to improve it (i.e., awareness of proper cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal positions/curvatures relative to the exercise as well as ensuring adequate glenohumeral and pelvofemoral rhythms).
- Proper progression from simple to complex (i.e., isolation--->integration), incorporating the many general motor programs we all need in life (i.e., squat, lunge, bend, push, pull, twist, walk-jog-run).
Founder - "FOUR HEALTH" Consulting