Endlessly pulling down on a lat machine can be a great way to build strength in your back – but did you know that lat pulldown alternativesare essential to your strength development?
Strength works through a variety of principles, but the most important is overload.
Overload describes a system by which you continuously load the muscle with a variable stimulus– a fancy way of saying you lift heavier and complete more complex movements.
Getting stuck on a lat pulldown machine could hinder your success due to a lack of overload.
Instead, diversify your back program with the best lat pulldown alternatives you can do at home, with a barbell and with a dumbbell.
Here are 9 alternatives to lat pulldowns to strengthen your back.
Free WeightLat Pulldown Alternatives
Free weights are any dumbbell, kettlebell or resistance device that can be moved through space freely. In many cases, the free weight section is where most people spend their time when they are working out.
In order to find great lat pulldown alternatives with a free weight, we need to isolate the back into pulling movements like rows, reverse fly and extension exercises.
Check out our top 3 favourite free weight lat pulldown alternatives:
#1 Quadruped Birddog Single Arm Dumbbell Row
This is probably the hardest exercise to get right, but the most effective exercise for developing total body strength and balance. You don’t need to go heavy on this exercise but you do need to create a near-perfect form on each rep to strengthen your back muscle groups.
Imagine a plank combined with a row. The quadruped single-arm dumbbell row should be performed on a strong and sturdy surface.
Line yourself up so that you extend your hip and row the weight in with the opposite arm.
Squeeze and hold your top starting position, maintain extension at the hip, and lower the dumbbell down for a rep. Nice job, that’s 1 rep! Now complete 8-12 with each arm.
#2 Alternating Rows (Renegade Rows)
The perfect exercise for building rotational strength while you condition the body.
While alternating dumbbell rows or renegade rows may not be the best exercise for developing strength (like lat pulldowns would) it is perfect for building power-endurance.
Power enduranceis a type of strength where you exert your energy over a long period of time. Think of this as cardio training, but with resistance or free weights.
Top Tip:Instead of counting reps on this exercise, set a timer and try to maintain perfect form throughout the duration of the time. Your goal should be to maintain a consistent rep speed and focus on holding a strong hip hinge.
Start with 20 seconds and 20lbp dumbbells (in each arm) and increase the weight or duration of time as you grow stronger.
#3 Bent-Over Reverse Fly
Largely forgotten by the brosin the gym, the bent-over reverse fly isn’t exactly a glory exercise – but they are essential to your strength development.
Most gym-goers will only be able to do about 10 pounds to start with.
This does not mean you are weak, but rather the main muscles being trained (rhomboids, scapula retractors) are not well developed in conventional workout programs.
Periodization Guidance:For those of you who are trying to strengthen your upper back with lat pulldown alternatives, you may want to try this exercise sitting down. Sit at the front of a bench and bring your torso between your legs, hanging your arms down in front of you. In this way, you will not have to hold a hip-hinge (while standing) and you can load more weight on – faster.
Free weights aren’t your style?
You want to lift something heavier – we completely understand.
All the barbell bros in the room should check out the list of barbell alternatives below.
Barbell Lat Pulldown Alternatives
There is something truly primal about lifting a bunch of weight from the ground. Barbells afford you the luxury of lifting heavy while providing a versatile tool for great lat pulldown alternatives.
Train the same muscles, strengthen your back and improve your strength variability with our three carefully selected lat pulldown alternatives with a barbell.
#1 Barbell Row
If the pullup is the king of back exercises, the barbell row is the prince.
The barbell row is a great exercise for developing strength in the back – especially when you need to develop a strong hip-hinge for advanced exercises like cleans and jerks.
Your focus when completing a barbell row should be to start the bar on the ground and with your back nearly parallel to the ground, pull the bar straight into your belly.
This method may seem a little old-school, but it is the most effective for developing the latissimus Dorsi muscle (the V-Taper muscle).
Have fun, this is an exercise where you can lift heavy with lower rep schemes. Try a 5×5 methodand move into heavier lifts from there.
#2 Barbell Rack Pulls
The lat pulldown is a great exercise for developing the lat muscle and some of the scapular retractors, but developing the back as an entire system is essential and comes from rack pulls.
Note: This exercise does require you to have a squat rack
This can be a hard exercise to get right. Sometimes locking down an exercise requires you to have a connection from the mind to the muscle.
Standing with your feet at shoulder width (or wherever your deadlift stance is) bring the barbell directly into your thigh. Your mental cue is to push your hips forward as you stand – not pull back.
Have a friend record you while you complete this exercise and make sure you are not leaning back but instead pushing your hips forward when you stand up.
#3 Decline Barbell Pullovers
Sometimes seen as a chest-dominant exercise, the decline barbell pullover is a great lat pulldown alternative. This exercise goes down in the books as one of the favourite exercises from the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This exercise is all about creating a stretch in the muscle and developing strength through a complete range of motion. Unlike the barbell rack pull – which has a small range of motion – the barbell pullover requires a massive range of motion overhead.
Work into this exercise slowly with an 8×3 or 12×3 rep scheme.
If you’re like me – you might like bodyweight exercises more. They feel more naturaland most people will recover faster when paired with a complete nutrition program.
Keep reading to learn about our favourite bodyweight lat pulldown alternatives.
Bodyweight Lat Pulldown Alternatives
Bodyweight strength is essential for all athletes. No, we’re not saying you should be like those crazy bar-star athletes, but having control of your own body weightis important to strength and athletic development.
From a practical standpoint, relative strength(lifting your own bodyweight) is more important than absolute strength (lifting as much weight as possible).
Check out three of our favourite lat pulldown alternatives using only bodyweight:
The king of all lat pulldown alternatives. The pullup is not an easy exercise, but a very rewarding exercise to complete when you get it right.
With a wide assortment of hand positions like pronated, neutral and supinated – the pull-up will help you to strengthen your back and gives you a great lat pulldown alternative.
Most people who complete a pull-up think about getting their heads over the bar. If you want to develop strength in the back (through a complete range of motion) your goal should be to pull the bar across your clavicle (upper chest).
Imagine pulling your elbows to your hip and raising your chest to the bar – trust us, you’ll feel the latissimus muscle working overtime with this cue!
#2 TRX Row
Most gyms have access to suspension trainers and they are a great tool for developing a wide assortment of strength but are especially great at developing strength in the back.
The TRX row can be performed at any strength level by lengthening the straps or by moving your feet closer to the attachment point.
Expert tip:For those of you that find a conventional TRX row to be too easy – grab yourself a chair or a box and place it underneath the TRX. This way you can elevate your feet and use more of your body weight on each row, making the exercise more difficult and increasing the strength in your back through each repetition.
#3 Tucked Front Lever
Perhaps the hardest exercise on this list, the tucked front lever is an advanced bodyweight exercise that builds dynamic strength around the scapula.
Those looking for a challenge need to look no further.
Starting Guide: Beginners should start this exercise by performing a static hold. Try to hold a tucked position for about 5-10 seconds at a time (this will be challenging enough).
If you can progress to holding the tucked lever for 30 seconds you can start to progress into one set of reps-to-failure – alternating through 2 workouts a week (static holds or reps to failure).
Although the tucked front lever does not simulate the same movement pattern as lat pulldown, it is a great alternative and is sure to increase the thickness of your back.
Conclusion: Building Your Back
Strengthening your back will take a smart approach to workout training and a wide assortment of lat pulldown alternatives. Don’t get stuck on the lat machine – move into different areas of the gym, (or your home gym) and complete different exercises to create overload stress on the muscle tissue.
Make the most of your back workouts with these essential elements:
a) Train 2-3x Each Week
Creating a strong back will require you to train your back using multiple workouts each week.
Note: 4 workouts a week is too much as you will not allow enough time for it to recover.
Try your best to hit the back 2-3x a week.
b) Roll the Muscles
Modern life tends to make us slouch, developing poor posture and tight/stiff back muscles. Take time to roll your muscles (using a foam roller) before and after each workout.
You can even try to incorporate this into your morning routine!
c) Focus on Rotational Mobility
d) Build Posture
Posture is essential to strength. Make sure you are using this list of lat pulldown alternatives withexercises that build posture.
Your workout program should have around 5-7 different back exercises that you rotate through every week.
The best exercises for posture are face pulls, glute bridges, overhead squat holds, internal and external rotation drills and the Cuban press.
The Emperor of all back strengthening exercises is the deadlift.
Learn the fundamentals of a deadlift and use a FREE sample programto build back strength and size with our Deadlift Program.
What is the Best Single Arm Lat Pulldown Alternative?
The single-arm supported bench row or the quadruped row are great exercises for building strength in the back and simulate the same movement as a one-arm lat pulldown.
These exercises are great alternatives because you can load the dumbbell heavy and build massive strength.
How Can I Create a Lat Pulldown Alternative with Dumbbells?
Creating a lat pulldown alternative with dumbbells can be done by using a reverse fly and row exercise. Both a row and reverse fly exercise will help to strengthen the back and create a similar motion as the lat pulldown machine.
What is the Best Close/Wide Grip Lat Pulldown Alternative Exercises?
Pull-ups will always be the best and most complete way to source an alternative to a lat pulldown when you need multiple grips like a close or wide grip.
For those that cannot complete a standard pull-up be sure to use assistive strength bands or a supported pull-up machine.
It should take you about 3-5 seconds to lower your body weight and lengthen your arms. Complete 5-8 reps by 2-3 sets.
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The study concluded that when the primary objective of a lat pull down is considered the front of the head is a better choice than behind the head.What is an alternative to lat pulldown with a barbell? ›
- Chest-Supported Pulldown.
- Single-Arm Cable Pulldown.
- Single-Arm Machine Row.
- Lat-Biased Dumbbell Row.
- Underhand Cable Row.
- Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Pulldown.
- Machine Chest-Supported Pulldown.
- Thoracic Lat Pull-Around.
The study concluded that when the primary objective of a lat pull down is considered the front of the head is a better choice than behind the head.What is an alternative to lat pulldowns? ›
The barbell row is one of the best lat pulldown alternatives that you can do in the gym or at home. You can adjust your form and grip to suit your needs and target the upper back muscles from different angles.
If you've got a barbell home gym, chances are you've got a squat rack with a chin-up bar. That gives you a near-perfect alternative to the lat pulldown. In fact, if anything, chin-ups and pull-ups are better than lat pulldowns for building muscle in our biceps and upper back.How to simulate lat pulldown? ›
- Dumbbell Pullovers. ...
- Cable Straight Arm Lat Pulldown. ...
- Pull ups. ...
- Single arm low cable row. ...
- Lat-focused one arm dumbbell rows. ...
- Lat-focused barbell rows. ...
- Lat-focused one arm landmine rows. ...
- Plate loaded single arm row.
Best lat exercises
The most common lat exercise is probably pull-ups, but if you have yet to master the pull-up or simply want to construct a more well-rounded lat workout with several lat exercises, there are other exercises that either target the lats specifically or strengthen the entire back, including the lats.
Drawbacks of Using the Lat Pulldown:
You need to develop complete control. A lat pulldown is not going to build the foundation for a muscle up by itself. Lighter loading?: the loading in a lat pulldown isn't likely to have the upward range that a pull-up or chin up would.
Lat Pulldown vs Pullups: The winner
Both of the exercises are great for your back, and particularly your lats; that goes without saying. Overall though, the pull up is a better exercise in terms of muscle activation, real strength building, and a better range of motion and muscles used.
Both exercises work your upper body in almost the exact same way. From the waist up, both the pulldown and pull-up should appear visually indistinguishable. The primary muscles at play are your lats, traps, scapular stabilizers, and biceps.
What is the difference between lat pushdowns and pulldowns? The obvious difference between the two lats exercises is the motion involved. Both involve a bar on a cable pulley, but one is a wide-grip lat pull-down exercise and the other is a push-down exercise.What is the difference between a lat pull up and a lat pulldown? ›
The pull up has greater muscle activation than the lat pulldown in the key muscle groups like the lats, but also in the core. So, if you were going to use both in a training programme, you may use the pull up for your higher intensity work and a lat pulldown for your higher volume work.Is reverse lat pulldown bad? ›
Are Reverse Grip Pulldowns Good? Yes, they are an effective exercise. They can significantly improve strength and stimulate hypertrophy throughout the back, biceps and shoulders. The exercise will also enhance stability in the upper back.What is a pull up alternative to dumbbells? ›
Reverse fly. It is considered to be one of the most common pull-up alternatives. Stand, bend you hips forward and make sure that your back is straight while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lift them to your elbows while moving the shoulder blades towards each other.Is the lat pulldown a back or shoulder exercise? ›
The lat pulldown (short for latissimus dorsi pulldown) is one of the most popular exercises used to strengthen the muscles of the back.What muscles are trained in lat pulldown? ›
The lat pulldown works the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in the back, as well as your biceps, rear delts, rhomboids and traps.Do chin ups target lats? ›
What muscles do chin-ups work? Chin-ups work your upper back and arm muscles, specifically the biceps, forearms, shoulders, and latissimus dorsi, or "lats." Like pull-ups, chin-ups also engage your abdominal muscles throughout the move.What muscles does the lat pulldown work? ›
The lat pulldown is a fantastic exercise to strengthen the latissimus dorsi muscle, the broadest muscle in your back, which promotes good postures and spinal stability. Form is crucial when performing a lat pulldown to prevent injury and reap the best results.Is lats easy to grow? ›
You may be using the wrong exercises to train your lats. In this article, I cover the 2 lats exercises you need to know - and how to perform them. One of the most difficult muscles to grow is the lats. This is unfortunate since they're key to creating a wider looking back.Why are my lat pulldowns so weak? ›
Note that one of the biggest mistakes is pulling the bar down too low. If you're pulling down to your stomach or feeling yourself lean backward to pull it down you're doing it wrong. In this case you may be using too little weight or too much, respectively. Another dangerous mistake is pulling the bar behind the head.
Start at a weight that you can pull 10-15 times. Add weight each week. Once you can do a lat pulldown with the amount of weight that's close to your bodyweight, you should be able to do a pull-up/chin-up.What is the single most best exercise? ›
1. Walking. Any exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. And walking is something you can do anywhere, anytime, with no equipment other than a good pair of shoes.Can you train lats everyday? ›
Unlike other muscle groups, the upper back can be trained frequently without negatively affecting your performance in the gym. In fact, if you want to get really strong, really fast, you should train your upper back every time you step into the gym.What is the #1 best glute exercise? ›
1. Barbell Hip Thrusts. Why this is one of the best exercises for your glutes: Hip thrusts aggressively target the gluteus maximus (upper glute muscles) and gluteus medius (lower glute muscle) and recruit the hamstrings as secondary movers, making this one of the most effective exercises for your backside.Should you go heavy on lat pulldowns? ›
Use Less Weight for Better Results
I know it's too heavy because, in order to get that weight down past their chin, they have to rock their torso backward due to the fact that the load is too heavy to pull straight down. The purpose of doing a lat pull-down is to widen your lats and strengthen your serratus.
Start by programming three to five sets of 10-15 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads OR two to four sets of 15-25 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure, keeping rest periods of 45-90 seconds. You can include heavier lat pulldowns on a third training day to have a fully-developed back.Are rows better than pulldowns? ›
When subjects did seated cable rows, muscle activity of the lats was more than 40% greater than when they did wide-grip pulldowns. Rows appear to be a better exercise for stimulating more of the lat muscle fibers and, therefore, helping to build a bigger back.Can pull-ups build a wider back? ›
Building muscle requires just as much focus on exercise selection, as it does exercise execution. Chin-ups can help you build both back thickness and width arguably better than any other exercise, providing you select the right type and execute them in a specific way.Does lat pulldown improve posture? ›
Lat pulldowns can be effective at correcting the rounded-back, forward-head posture we often see today. They train our body to depress (bring down) and adduct (bring together) our shoulder blades. Over time, this will improve shoulder function and discourage the poor posture that comes from too much sitting.Are lat pulldowns better than pull-ups for hypertrophy? ›
Lat Pulldown vs Pull Up: Which Is Best For Muscle Mass? The lat pulldown is better for building muscle mass in the lats because you can isolate your lats and biceps more than pull-ups. You can also keep your repetitions more consistent and rely on lower weights and higher reps if that is what you respond best to.
Chins & Pull-Ups: The first movement that comes to mind for building the lats is chin-ups or pull-ups (both are pretty much the same). Advanced bodybuilders will be able to perform these with ease and are probably used to using extra weight on a dip belt or with a dumbbell between the feet when performing chins.What builds bigger lats? ›
- Bent-Over Barbell Row: 8-12 reps. ...
- Bent-Over 2-Dumbell Row: 8-12 reps. ...
- Wide-Grip Pulldowns: 12-15 reps. ...
- Underhand Pulldowns: 12-15 reps. ...
- Back Extensions: 20 reps.
- Standing overhead dumbbell press: 4 sets of 5-8 repetitions (2 minutes rest between sets)
- Lateral raise: 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions (rest only long enough to do a set with the other arm)
- Deadlifts: 5 sets of 5 repetitions (2-3 minutes rest between sets)
- Pull-ups: 40 reps in total.
The concept of a superset is to perform 2 exercises back to back, followed by a short rest (but not always). This effectively doubles the amount of work you are doing, whilst keeping the recovery periods the same as they are when you complete individual exercises.What is a lat pulldown alternative? ›
If you've got a barbell home gym, chances are you've got a squat rack with a chin-up bar. That gives you a near-perfect alternative to the lat pulldown. In fact, if anything, chin-ups and pull-ups are better than lat pulldowns for building muscle in our biceps and upper back.What is the most efficient lat pulldown? ›
The study concluded that when the primary objective of a lat pull down is considered the front of the head is a better choice than behind the head.What is the best form for lat pulldowns? ›
Stand up and grab the straight bar with an overhand grip and with hand wider than your shoulder width. Slowly lower yourself into the seat with arms extended above your head. Squeeze your lats and drive your elbows down to pull the bar towards the top of your chest. You may have to lean slightly back as you do this.What is the difference between barbell row and lat pull down? ›
What is this? The same goes for your traps – lat pulldowns will work the lower muscle fibers in your traps, while rowing will work the middle and upper muscle fibers.What is the difference between a lat pulldown and a V grip pulldown? ›
The main difference between the wide grip and close grip lat pulldown is the muscles used. The close grip pulldown will target the trapezius and rhomboids more, whereas the wide-grip pulldown will target the lats more.Are cable rows better than lat pulldowns? ›
In addition, seated rows recruit comparatively more muscles than the lat pulldown or other cable machine based back exercises. This will allow for a more complete training session of the back and biceps, with less accessory exercises needed.
When subjects did seated cable rows, muscle activity of the lats was more than 40% greater than when they did wide-grip pulldowns. Rows appear to be a better exercise for stimulating more of the lat muscle fibers and, therefore, helping to build a bigger back.Is it necessary to do a lat pulldown? ›
The bottom line. The lat pulldown is a great exercise to target your lats, but it also works a variety of other muscles that work together to extend and adduct your arms. It provides an alternative to the pullup when you're not yet strong enough to perform one without assistance. It's also a good adjunct to the pullup.Is bent-over row enough for lats? ›
The bent-over dumbbell row is a great exercise—when done with proper form. It improves your posture, stabilizes your core, and sculpts your upper, mid, and lower back. In particular, you'll work your latissimus (aka lats), trapezius, rhomboids, and erector spinae, along with your biceps.Is bent over barbell row good for lats? ›
The barbell bent-over row works the whole back. But the main muscles activated will be the latissimus dorsi (lats), the traps (both middle and lower), and the rear deltoids. If you execute the bent-over barbell row with proper form, you should mainly feel these areas of your back working as you pull the weight.Should you lean back when doing lat pulldowns? ›
DON'T: Lean back as you pull the levers toward your chest. You won't hit the target muscles this way. Lose control of the weight as you return to the top of the move.Do lat pulldowns work the same muscles as pull-ups? ›
Why do the Pulldown and Pull-Up Compete? The obvious reason that these exercises are framed as competitors is because they're working the same muscles. They're specifically targeting the lats and the muscles of the scapula.What is the best grip for wide lats? ›
Grasp the handles slightly wider than shoulder-width with a closed, overhand grip. Keep your torso and spine in a neutral position with a slight backward lean (approximately 10-15o backward should do the trick). Exhale while pulling the bar down toward the upper chest.