Lat pulldowns behind the head force the shoulders to work at an angle they're not designed for, which can cause inflammation and tears in the rotator cuff muscles, says Matthew Richter-Sand, certified personal trainer, sports nutritionist, and owner of NX Fit. The trouble is that [pulling a weighted bar down behind the head]
slowly tears the rotator cuff, so it's hard to realize that you're doing damage. Plus, the only way to avoid smashing your head is to extend your head forward, which puts even more stress on your spine.
Kneeling band pulldowns are a better option because you can keep your body perfectly aligned without worrying about a bar hitting your head. Plus, the band allows a full range of motion and provides resistance throughout the entire movement. Doing them in a kneeling position increases engagement of the thigh muscles, which may not be as active during a traditional, seated pulldown, Richter-Sand adds.
To do the kneeling band pulldowns (pictured), kneel while holding onto ends of a resistance band anchored at a high sturdy point. Hinge forward about 45 degrees from hips, keeping spine naturally straight. Pull band down, pressing shoulder blades down, and bend elbows by sides. Extend arms overhead.