Farah Rarugal
Published by Farah Rarugal
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 13, 2021

Working out in your home gym or elsewhere without access to the costly commercial lat pulldown machine?

No worries!

There are plenty of effective alternative exercises that can help strengthen your lats, develop firm shoulders, and build a broad, sculpted back.

We’ve selected the best lat pulldown alternatives you can do in the gym and at home for you to check out.

Benefits of Lats Exercises

man doing a lat pulldown

Whether you’re a beginner unaware of the importance of the latissimus dorsi (the largest upper body muscle) and its surrounding muscle groups or you’re seeking alternatives to vary your workouts because you got bored with lat pulldowns over time, don’t neglect your lats.

Why?

Because by properly doing lat pulldowns and other equally effective alternative exercises, you can reap significant benefits:

  • Isolate your latissimus dorsi and target them effectively to build strength, unlike with many other exercises
  • Perform many key movements (deadlift, bench press, back squat) easily and without injury due to strong lats
  • Strengthen the surrounding muscles (including delts, traps, pecs) to get the desired perfectly sculpted V-shaped torso
  • Correct poor posture, ease the pain associated with it, and avoid a common bodybuilder hunch
  • Enhance your elbow and shoulder flexibility
  • Improve your ability to lift, pull, catch, throw, or swing everyday objects
  • Have fun and prevent stagnation
  • Enjoy other benefits of strength training like increased metabolic rate, reduced risk for various diseases, etc.

“[...] The more lean muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate. Strength training is the best way to [...] help reduce the amount of lean muscle tissue you lose, and also help you develop new muscle tissue.” Rebecca Washuta, Licensed Dietician/Nutritionist

Now that you know why it’s not wise to skip the lat pulldown exercise, let’s see the compound exercise alternatives you can perform without the lat pulldown machine and other fancy gym equipment.

Our Top Lat Pulldown Alternative Exercises

1. Barbell Bent-Over Rows

man doing barbell bent over rows

Bent-over barbell rows work your lats and back safely and effectively, involving what you do on the lat pulldown machine, just in reverse.

When doing bent-over rows, make sure you’re activating your lats to control the ascent while raising the bar instead of controlling the descent when pulling down on the lat machine.

Why It’s Important

The bent-over row is a great exercise alternative to lat pulldowns and deadlift variations as it’s best for building back mass and strength and developing a mind-muscle connection. [1]

It engages the whole back, symmetrically activating large muscles from the upper to lower back [2], plus core, arms, glutes, and hamstrings as stabilizers.

Instructions

  1. Standing up straight, bend forward at the waist, with your back straight, head up, chest forward, shoulders back, knees slightly bent, and feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip just outside your feet in front of you.
  2. Pull the barbell up towards your chest, keeping your arms and elbows close to the body and squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage the lats.
  3. Lower the barbell slowly until full arm extension. Repeat.
  4. Make sure you start with light weight and gradually load the bar with heavier weight plates. Don’t round your back to avoid injury.

Equipment: A barbell and weight plates

Recommended Sets and Reps: 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench-Supported Rows

man doing single arm dumbell rows

This is another row movement that may work as a great lat pulldown alternative exercise.

It doesn’t require lots of equipment, and the bench provides additional support, enabling you to lift more weight.

Why It’s Important

Not only does the bench-supported single-arm row isolate and develop your lats, but it also hits your other upper and lower back muscles like traps, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, teres major and minor.

Unlike other rowing exercises that might place substantial pressure on your lower back, this single-arm row variation done with a single dumbbell at a time leaves you a free arm to support your upper body.

It helps improve your stability, spot, and fix muscle strength imbalances.

Instructions

  1. Hold a dumbbell hanging in one hand and bend over, placing your other hand directly under the shoulder and your knee under the hips to rest on a flat bench.
  2. Keep your back flat and brace your core to stabilize the spine.
  3. Pull the dumbbell up towards your chest without torso rotation, keeping your arm close to the body, and retracting your scapula to engage your lat muscles to the maximum [3].
  4. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position with a slow, controlled movement. Repeat.
  5. Then, switch sides.

Equipment: A flat bench and a dumbbell

Recommended Sets and Reps: 4 sets of 6-12 reps

3. Incline Dumbbell Rows

man doing Incline Dumbbell Rows

The incline dumbbell row is one of the lats pulldown alternatives suitable for beginners and intermediate athletes.

It’s ideal for adding variety to your back workout program and building up a mind-muscle connection.

Why It’s Important

The incline dumbbell row mainly targets your traps, lats, and biceps brachii.

This fantastic stable exercise takes the stress off your back and hip extensors. It also allows you to lift heavy weights and still stay in control.

Instructions

  1. Set the adjustable bench to a high enough incline (around 45 degrees) so that the dumbbells don’t touch the floor when your arms are fully extended.
  2. Sit on the incline bench, laying your chest and abs against the bench and grinding your feet into the ground. Let your head hang off the bench end.
  3. Take a dumbbell in each hand in a neutral or underhand grip to engage lats and lower back more, or in an overhand grip to emphasize upper back.
  4. Lift the weights to your chest height, squeezing your shoulder blades together while moving your elbows up and back as much as you can.
  5. Lower the weight back slowly, stretching out your lats.
  6. Repeat.

Equipment: An adjustable bench and a pair of dumbbells

Recommended Sets and Reps: 3 sets of 8-15 reps

4. Kroc Rows

man doing kroc rows

This challenging exercise is a sort of bent-over dumbbell rows typically done with heavier weights.

Since Kroc rows take plenty of strength, they’re perfect for pushing muscles past your limits when it comes to building up your lats.

Why It’s Important

Without requiring any machines from the gym setting, Kroc rows are a beneficial exercise and customizable lat pulldown alternative that helps you build back and grip strength.

Kroc Rows target your lats, trapezius, biceps, and obliques.

Instructions

  1. Stand bent over with your chest at a 15-degree angle to the floor and shoulders higher than the waist.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in one hand just below your chest level and rest the other arm on an adjustable incline bench, a weight stack, or another stable object at your waist height to stabilize your body.
  3. Pull the dumbbell towards your rib cage in a straight line, retracting your scapula and pulling your elbow up and back as much as possible at the top to ensure full muscle contraction.
  4. Lower the dumbbell, letting your shoulder drop to stretch your lats and middle-upper back completely.
  5. Repeat. Then, switch hands.

Equipment: Heavier dumbbells and a sturdy object

Recommended Sets and Reps: 4 sets of at least 20 reps per arm

5. Pull-Ups

man doing pull ups

Pull-ups are one of the best lat pulldown alternatives because they use the same pulling movement.

They are gentle on the joints, and require no weights or pricey machines. A stable tree branch would suffice for pull-ups, so they’re ideal for home workouts.

Why It’s Important

Pull-ups may enhance your forearms and grip strength. They work almost every upper body muscle group, including biceps brachii, lats, trapezius, and others responsible for the perfect masculine V shape.

Some people increase the tension by slowly performing pull-ups to grow muscle size, whereas speeding up and doing more reps helps improve endurance.

To add variety while reaping the same benefits, you can do any similar pull-up variation such as the machine-/band-assisted pull-up or even the chin-up as a substitute exercise.

Instructions

  1. Grab the bar with both hands shoulder-width apart. Hang with your elbows facing out. Brace your abs to stabilize the spine.
  2. Pull yourself up with your elbows so that your chin gets level with the bar, holding your back firmly, squeezing your shoulder blades, and engaging lats without tensing the neck too much.
  3. Slowly lower your body until your arms are fully extended. Repeat.
  4. For a proper pull-up form, make sure you don’t jump when lifting yourself. To emphasize strengthening your lats, grab the bar with an overhand grip.

Equipment: A pull-up bar

Recommended Sets and Reps: As many sets as needed to reach 100 reps

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6. Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

man doing Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

The decline dumbbell pullover is a simple and effective lat pulldown alternative that works your lats and triceps by extending the dumbbells over your head while lying on a bench.

Since it’s considered a chest isolation exercise, it depends on your technique and precision on how much you’ll benefit from it.

Why It’s Important

Although this type of dumbbell pullovers mainly targets the chest, it engages your back (the pectoralis major and minor).

It’s one of the great lat pulldown alternatives for gaining muscle mass and strength, developing a mind-muscle connection, improving scapula and trunk stability, and shoulder mobility.

Instructions

  1. Lie on an incline bench with your head close to the floor and feet hooked at the upper end, holding a dumbbell in each hand right above your chest.
  2. Keeping your rib cage down, bring your arms back behind your head slowly so that you feel a full stretch in the lats.
  3. Raise the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.

Equipment: A declining bench and dumbbells

Recommended Sets and Reps: 3 sets of 8-20 reps

7. Resistance Band Lat Pulldowns

man doing Resistance Band Lat Pulldowns

This fantastic home exercise mimics the lat pulldown using elastic resistance bands, body weight, and an anchor point (a doorway, tree branch).

Why It’s Important

Resistance band provides a lot of resistance as you perform these pulldowns to strengthen your lats.

It also works your biceps, shoulders, and other muscles in the back.

Anyone can do this lat pulldown exercise anywhere, no matter a person’s fitness level, and customize it by narrowing or widening the grip.

Instructions

  1. Secure the band overhead by shutting it into the top of a door or using an anchor.
  2. Kneel facing the door, with your chest up and out, and arms extended up towards the band midpoint/anchor until you feel mild tension. Hold a resistance band handle/end in each hand.
  3. Pull your hands in a downward motion in front of you, with your elbows pointing to the floor.
  4. Release the band slowly and repeat the lat pulldown.

Equipment: An elastic resistance band and a foam anchor (optional)

Recommended Sets and Reps: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps

Lat Pulldown Alternatives Wrap-Up

If you’ve found the suggested lat pulldown alternative exercises interesting, don’t hesitate to incorporate them into your upper body strength workout to vary your muscle development routine a bit.

Let us know how they work for you.

And feel free to share other useful lat pulldown alternatives you like with us.

Any lat pulldown exercise variations that closely mimic the lat pulldown movement, target the same body muscles, and provide the same benefits as lat pulldowns are welcome.


References

  1. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/certified/april-2018/6959/ace-sponsored-research-what-is-the-best-back-exercise/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19197209/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531475/

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