7 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Dumbbells & Barbells

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 26, 2023
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Working out in your home gym or elsewhere without access to the costly commercial lat pulldown machine? Don't worry.

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

I’ve selected the top lat pulldown alternatives you can do in the gym and at home for you to check out. Additionally, the best lat pulldown alternatives are easy to workout.

Quick Summary

  • The best lat pulldown alternatives you can do at home without a machine include exercises like barbell bent-over rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, and pull-ups.
  • Pull-ups, a bodyweight exercise, are the simplest and most accessible alternative, enhancing grip strength and requiring minimal equipment.
  • According to ACE Fitness, exercises like bent-over rows activate large muscle groups across the back, contributing to a balanced upper body strength.
  • Personally, I find the variety of lat exercises without machinery refreshing and a testament to the adaptability of fitness routines.

Our Top Lat Pulldown Alternative Exercises

1. Barbell Bent-Over Rows

Barbell Bent-Over Rows

Bent-over barbell rows effectively target your lats and back, similar to lat pulldowns but in reverse. Focus on using your lats to lift the bar, ensuring proper muscle activation.

Why It’s Important

It engages the whole back, symmetrically activating large muscles from the upper to lower back [1], 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

Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench-Supported Row

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

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

Why It’s Important

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

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.

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 [2].
  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

Incline Dumbbell Row

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.

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 straight 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 the lats and lower back more, or in an overhand grip to emphasize the 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 possible.
  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

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

Pull Ups

Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups and chin-ups are powerful and convenient for targeting lats, allowing for flexibility in your workout location.

I can't emphasize enough how pull-ups have been a game-changer for me. They mirror the effects of lat pulldowns, but there’s something raw and effective about using your body weight.

Why It’s Important

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-ups as a substitute exercise.

Instructions

  1. Grab the pull-up 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

Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

I remember the first time I swapped the lat pulldown for a decline dumbbell pullover; it was simplicity meeting efficacy. Each extension, each pull, not only sculpted my lats but also honed my triceps.

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 greatest alternatives to lat pulldown 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

resistance band lat pull down

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 lat pulldowns are versatile, engaging not just the lats but also biceps and shoulders. They're suitable for all fitness levels and can be modified by adjusting the grip.

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 straight and extended towards the band midpoint/anchor until you feel mild tension. Hold a resistance band handle/end in each hand.
  3. Pull your hands downward 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

Benefits of Lats Exercises

Man doing a lat pulldown exercise

I was once where you might be now, a novice, underestimating the power of the latissimus dorsi, or perhaps you're a seasoned gym-goer looking for a change from the monotonous lat pulldowns.

I’ve been there, and I’ve evolved. Every alternative exercise I discovered, every variation, was a new chapter in my fitness story, underscoring the mantra - never overlook the 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

By being mindful of the proper form, technique, and avoiding overexertion, you safeguard your muscles and joints.

Every pull, lift, and stretch should be a step towards strength, not injury, making the knowledge of safety protocols as crucial as the exercises themselves.

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.


References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19197209/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531475/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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One thought on “Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives You Can Do at Home Without a Machine

  1. Lat pulldowns with a barbell aren’t a perfect substitute for chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns because they don’t push our lats through as wide a range of motion, but they’re still rather effective! Even if you only have a rowing machine, you can create scary lats.

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