Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Lat Machine

by Mark Rippetoe | August 23, 2022

lat machine at wichita falls athletic club

If you are operating a bare-bones garage gym, a lat machine is probably not on your equipment list. It is too expensive, too tall, takes up too much room on the floor, and is not absolutely necessary if you're not training that many people. But when it comes time to build an actual gym, a lat machine has a place on your floor.

Chins are a perfectly normal human movement pattern – pulling in or down towards the body – and as such we train them as the first non-barbell assistance exercise in the program. We use the supine close-grip version because it uses more muscle mass, and provides some biceps work. While everyone can benefit from the loaded movement pattern, not everybody starts off strong enough to do a bodyweight chin-up. This is what the lat machine is for. Your mom needs to strengthen her pulling-down just like she needs to strengthen her pushing-away, and the lat machine – just like a light bar and small plates – allows her to incrementally strengthen this movement pattern.

The lat machine at Wichita Falls Athletic Club was purchased from Mike Graham at the Texas Athletic Club (note the pattern) in about 1985, and was probably fabbed in Mike's shop in the late 60s. Famous bodybuilders have trained on this machine, Dave Draper for sure. As an interesting aside, Mike used a piece of kernmantle rope (look it up) on the machine instead of the customary wire rope/cable. I bought the machine with that rope on it, and it's still in use right now.

Most selectorized (plates in a stack riding a rail, set with a pin) machines are calibrated in 10-pound increments. Ours has a 250-pound stack. If your mom is going to effectively use it to get to a bodyweight chin-up, you'll need to get some magnets for the stack so that it can be loaded in less-than-10-pound jumps. These are available several places online.

The lat machine is good for warming up the shoulders, arms, and back muscles before chin-ups if you're sore, old, or tired. If you're my age, you may find that the lat machine allows you to get warm enough to chin, whereas you couldn't do it otherwise without hurting something. When you use it, make sure you know that for strength training purposes the lat machine is not a substitute for the chin-up – rather, it facilitates the chin-up, either by warming it up, rehabbing an injury, or allowing a detrained client to gradually develop the strength to head in the direction of a bodyweight chin.

Make no mistake here: chin-ups are better, because it's always better to have to use and control more of your body than less of it. More muscles, more joints, more nerves, and more control is always better. Your whole body moves in a chin-up, while you're sitting in the lat machine. But when it's not possible to chin, you get as close as you can, and the lat machine has a purpose in your gym.

Discuss in Forums

Starting Strength Weekly Report

Highlights from the StartingStrength Community. Browse archives.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.