Lat pulldowns are an effective exercise for building strength and adding size to the back. Although there are several muscles involved, the lat pulldown machine primarily targets the lats, also known as the latissimus dorsi.
The lat is a large muscle that’s responsible for adding width to the back. Arguably, the lat pulldown machine is the most popular lat exercise. However, there are several other exercises you can do to build the lats. Knowing what are the best lat pulldown alternatives is crucial for a number of reasons.
Whether you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine, your progress has stalled, you’re dealing with an injury, or are looking for a new way to isolate the lats in a more functional way, there are a number of lat pulldown alternatives to explore!
Keep reading to learn more!
The 10 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives
- Single-Arm Pulldowns
- Cable Rope Pullover
- Dumbbell Pullovers
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
- Machine High Row
- Close-Grip Cable Row
- Neutral Grip Machine Row
- Machine Lat Pullover
- Band Straight Arm Pulldown
When to perform single-arm pulldowns
A traditional lat pulldown exercise is a bilateral exercise, which means that you’re using both arms simultaneously to move the weight. Bilateral exercises are effective for building muscle mass and strength, but for those that have any kind of strength or muscular imbalance, they aren’t ideal.
If you notice that one lat is stronger or more developed than the other, a single-arm pulldown is a much better alternative. As the name implies, you train one lat at a time. Start with your weaker side, then match the number of repetitions you get with the stronger side. Over time, doing unilateral exercises will help balance out your physique and reduce the risk of injury.
Another benefit to the single-arm pulldown is that you can perform this exercise using a basic cable stack. You don’t need a lat pulldown machine. Single-arm pulldowns target the lat via shoulder extension, so they should be performed near the beginning of a back, upper body, or pull workout.
How to perform single-arm pulldowns
- Adjust the cable pulley to the highest position, attach a D-handle to it, and select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Lay a mat on the ground 2-3 feet away from the base of the cable stack.
- Facing the cable stack, grab the handle using a neutral grip with your right hand.
- Take 2-3 steps back and place the right knee on the ground and the left leg forward.
- Before starting, take a deep breath and brace your core. Your arm should be extended up and out in front of you.
- Begin the movement by pulling the cable down and back into your hip by bending the elbow, retracting the right shoulder blade, and contracting the lat.
- Once you feel a strong contraction in the lat, hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly return to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
- Once you complete your right side, perform the same number of reps with the left arm.
In the video below, John “Mountain Dog” Meadows demonstrates how to properly execute the single-arm pulldown!
Single-arm pulldown tips
- You can perform this exercise using a cable lat pulldown or regular cable stack by kneeling on the ground.
- Start with your weaker side first, and match the number of reps with the stronger side.
- Maintain a neutral grip or semi-supinated grip throughout the movement.
- Focus on driving your elbow back and down to hit the lat.
- Use a slow and controlled tempo.
Cable Rope Pullover
When to perform the cable rope pullover
The cable rope pullover is a lat pulldown alternative that targets the lat muscles via shoulder extension. Since your arm remains relatively straight throughout the movement, it engages more of the lats and less of the biceps.
If you want to further isolate the lat and you’re already performing the lat pulldown or a pull-up, this is a great exercise to add in! Using a rope attachment as opposed to a straight bar will help increase your range of motion, allowing for greater engagement of the lat.
It’s important to note that a long rope attachment works best, but if you don’t have the attachment, you can make one by attaching two ropes to the cable pulley. The cable rope pullover is more of a direct lat exercise, so it’s a good idea to perform this exercise on back, pull, or upper body workouts.
How to perform the cable rope pullover
- Adjust a cable pulley to the highest position, attach a long rope to the cable, and select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Facing the cable stack, grab the end of the rope with a neutral or pronated grip.
- Take 2-3 steps away from the cable and assume a shoulder-width stance. Let your arms extend up and out in front of you. Keep your chest up and maintain a neutral spine.
- Begin the movement by taking a deep breath before driving your elbows down and back while keeping your arms straight (it’s okay if there’s a slight bend in your elbows).
- Once you feel a strong contraction in the lats, pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly allow your hands to return to the starting position.
- Pause when you feel a stretch in your lats then repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Watch the video below for a complete exercise tutorial on the cable rope pullover!
Cable rope pullover tips
- Using a long rope attachment will increase your range of motion, allowing you to better target the lats.
- Don’t stand too far away from the cable because it will make it harder to perform the movement under control.
- Focus on driving with your elbows and drawing them down and back as far as possible.
The cable machine is highlighted on our list of the best gym machines for the back muscles.
When to perform the dumbbell pullover
Dumbbell pullovers were a very popular exercise amongst old-school bodybuilders, such as Dorian Yates and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s one of the few exercises that equally engages the back and chest! It’s basically a complete upper body exercise that improves shoulder stability, mobility, and strength.
Dumbbell pullovers are a good lat pulldown alternative for those without access to cables or a lat pulldown machine. All you need to perform this exercise is one dumbbell and a flat bench. If you’re stuck in a hotel room or prefer to work out in your home gym, you can still effectively hit the lats!
If you have resistance bands and a training partner, you can add that to the dumbbell to create a more even strength curve, similar to what a cable provides. Dumbbell pullovers can be performed in a chest or back workout, but more often than not, it’s performed as a lat exercise.
How to perform the dumbbell pullover
- Grab a dumbbell, lay with your back flat on a bench, and place your feet on the floor.
- Engage your core, grab the end of the dumbbell with your hands in a diamond formation, and lift the dumbbell above your chest by extending your arms.
- While keeping your lower back flat against the bench, core engaged, and a slight bend in your elbows. (your arms should be relatively straight the entire time).
- Take a deep breath, then slowly lower your arms until your biceps are near your ears and the dumbbell is behind your head.
- Once you feel a stretch in your lats, pause for 1-2 seconds, then exhale as you bring your arms back to the starting position.
- At the top of the rep, squeeze your chest and lat for 1-2 seconds.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Watch the video below from Muscle & Strength for a dumbbell pullover exercise tutorial!
Dumbbell pullover tips
- If you’re not concerned about hitting your chest, stop just shy of the top of the chest then lower the dumbbell back down to keep more tension on the lats.
- Add a band to the dumbbell to create constant tension.
- Use a spotter if you plan to train to failure.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
When to perform single-arm dumbbell rows
A single-arm dumbbell row is a unilateral exercise that effectively targets the lats along with several other muscles of the back. Since it’s a free-weight exercise, you can perform it even if you don’t have access to machines or cables.
Additionally, the single-arm dumbbell row is great for correcting and/or preventing muscular or strength imbalances. It’s important to perform the exercise with your weaker arm first, then do the same number of reps with the stronger side.
Unlike the barbell row, you can limit the amount of lower back involvement by using a bench for support. If you’re going to perform this exercise as opposed to a lat pulldown, focus on pulling your elbow to your hip to engage more of the lat and less of the bicep.
The single-arm dumbbell row is a back and bicep exercise, so we recommend performing it on back, pull, or upper body workouts.
How to perform single-arm dumbbell rows
- To perform this exercise, you will need a dumbbell and a flat bench.
- Set a dumbbell next to the side of the flat bench.
- Place your left knee and hand on the bench, place your right foot on the ground, and pick up the dumbbell with your right hand using a neutral grip.
- Brace your core and focus on maintaining a neutral spine by looking straight down throughout the entire movement. Let your arm hang straight down with the dumbbell towards the floor.
- Begin by taking a deep breath then drive your elbow back towards your hip to pull the dumbbell up towards your torso.
- Once you feel a strong contraction in your lats, pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions then switch arms.
Scott Herman demonstrates how to perform the single-arm dumbbell row in the video below!
Single-arm dumbbell row tips
- If your grip is a limiting factor, consider using lifting straps.
- Don’t bend your arm too much or your bicep will be more engaged than your lat.
- You can also perform this exercise standing as long as you have something to support yourself, such as the dumbbell rack.
Machine High Rows
When to perform machine high rows
Machine high rows are a good lat pulldown alternative if you don’t have access to a traditional lat pulldown, hit a plateau, or want to add more volume to the lats. Depending on the machine, you may be able to perform this exercise one arm at a time, which will also help correct any muscle or strength imbalances.
Most machine high rows are plate-loaded, so they mimic free weights. Since you’re more secure, they allow you to better focus directly on the lat. If you’re using one that’s pin-loaded and utilizes a cable, it places constant tension on the lats.
The machine high row is great for beginners because it is easy to learn. If you’re not strong enough to do a pull-up yet, you can still work the lats with the machine high row.
What’s more, the machine high row is a hybrid between a vertical and horizontal pull, so it works slightly different muscles than the lat pulldown due to the angle of pull. The machine high row is a compound back exercise, so it’s a good idea to perform it on back, pull, or upper body workouts.
Keep in mind that the exercise instructions provided below will vary depending on the machine you’re using.
How to perform machine high rows
- Adjust the height of the seat to where your knees are secure under the pads with your feet planted firmly on the ground. Add an appropriate amount of weight onto the machine or select the appropriate weight with the pin.
- Sit down on the machine and grab the handles with a pronated or supinated grip. Try both to see what feels most comfortable to you.
- Take a deep breath then pull the handles towards your torso. Focus on driving your elbows down and back.
- At the bottom of the rep, retract your shoulder blades, squeeze the lats, and hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly return the handles to the starting position.
- Once you feel a good stretch in the lats, repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
For a short exercise demonstration on the machine high row, watch the video below!
Machine high row tips
- If you have a muscle or strength imbalance, perform this exercise one arm at a time.
- Experiment with a pronated (overhand) and supinated (underhand) grip to see what’s most comfortable for you.
- Focus on pulling with your elbows, not your biceps.
- Use lifting straps if your grip is a limiting factor and you want to minimize forearm involvement.
Close-Grip Cable Row
When to perform close-grip cable rows
Unlike lat pulldowns, a close-grip cable row is a compound exercise that’s classified as a horizontal pull. It still effectively targets the lats, but it also works the rhomboids, traps, biceps, forearms, and teres minor/major.
The lat pulldown exercise is great for adding width to the back, but the close-grip cable row is better for adding thickness to the back. If you want a thicker back, the close-grip cable row may be a superior lat pulldown alternative.
Compared to traditional barbell rows, your lower back and core are less involved because you’re in an upright position, which is a plus for anyone with lower back pain. Furthermore, the cable provides constant tension on the back muscles.
In order to better emphasize the lats, focus on pulling the bar into your belly button and keeping your shoulders down and back. If you pull the bar into your chest, you’re working more of the middle and upper back. Use a neutral grip as opposed to a supinated or pronated grip.
Close-grip cable rows are usually performed during back, pull, or upper body workouts.
How to perform close-grip cable rows
- Adjust the cable machine pulley to the lowest setting, attach a v-handle close-grip to it, and select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Sit upright on the floor facing the cable stack.
- Lean forward and grab the handle with a neutral grip. Keep a slight bend in your knees and extend your arms forward.
- Lean back until there’s tension on the cable. It’s normal to lean slightly forward and backward as you perform the movement, but try to maintain a neutral spine.
- Begin by taking a deep breath and bracing your core. Pull the bar into your torso by drawing your elbows, shoulders, and shoulder blades down and back and leaning back slightly.
- Once the cable touches your torso, pause for 1-2 seconds and focus on squeezing your back.
- Exhale as you return the bar to the starting position by extending your arms and leaning forward slightly. At the bottom of the rep, you should feel a stretch in your lats.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
To see how to perform the close-grip cable row correctly, watch the exercise video demonstration below!
Close-grip cable row tips
- Pull the bar into your belly button to target the lats better.
- Use a neutral grip.
- Exaggerate the stretch at the bottom of the rep to further work the lats.
- Avoid shrugging your shoulders.
- If two D-handles feel more comfortable on your wrists, try that instead!
Neutral Grip Machine Row
When to perform the neutral grip machine row
The neutral grip machine row is similar to close-grip cable rows and barbell rows except you are using a machine and your chest is supported by a pad. Compared to a lat pulldown exercise, the neutral grip machine row is a horizontal pulling exercise, so it’s better for adding thickness to the back.
This is a great addition or replacement for lat pulldowns, depending on what equipment you have available and your goals. Not only does it work the lats, but it also trains the rhomboids, traps, teres minor/major, forearms, and biceps.
Using a machine instead of free weights might be better for beginners because it’s easier to learn and much harder to cheat by using momentum. To target your lats more, use a neutral grip and set the seat high so that you’re pulling the handles into your belly button.
Program this exercise on back, pull, or upper body workouts.
How to perform the neutral grip machine row
- Before starting, adjust the seat and chest pad to an appropriate height. The chest pad should be positioned near the top/middle of your chest with your feet planted on the floor. and you should be able to easily grab the handles. After the set-up is complete, choose an appropriate amount of weight.
- Sit down on the bench, plant your feet on the floor and brace your chest against the pad. Your chest should stay on the pad at all times.
- Reach forward and grab the handles with a neutral grip.
- Take a deep breath, then pull the handles towards you by flexing your elbows, and retracting your shoulder blades.
- Once you feel a strong contraction in your lats/mid-back, pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you return the handles to the starting position by extending your arms and letting your shoulder blades go back to neutral.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
In the video below, My PT Hub shows you how to perform a neutral-grip seated machine row!
Neutral grip machine row tips
- Keep your chest pressed against the pad at all times.
- Focus on pulling with your elbows as opposed to your biceps.
- Avoid shrugging your shoulders, keep them down and back at the top of the repetition.
Machine Lat Pullover
When to perform the machine lat pullover
The machine lat pullover is more of an isolation movement that directly targets the lats via shoulder extension. Unlike the other back exercises we’ve discussed so far, other than the cable or dumbbell pullover, the machine lat pullover removes the involvement of the bicep.
It’s quite common among gym-goers to have the biceps take over during back exercises.
Furthermore, some people have a hard time connecting with their lats. Doing this exercise first will help you build up your mind-muscle connection before doing other lat exercises.
Lat pulldowns train the lats via shoulder adduction, whereas the machine lat pullover trains the lats from a different angle. This exercise is great for those that want to bring up their lats without having other muscles take over, such as the upper and mid-back muscles.
The only downside to this exercise is that not every gym has a machine lat pullover. If that’s the case, performing band straight arm pulldowns or cable rope pullovers are great alternatives. Since this exercise directly targets the lats, perform it on back, pull, or upper body workouts.
How to perform the machine lat pullover
- Adjust the height of the seat so you can easily grab the handle while your arms are resting on the support pads. Once the set-up is finished, select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Sit down on the machine and place your upper arms on the pads. Grab the handle with a pronated (overhand) grip.
- Take a deep breath, keep your chest up, and pull the handle down towards your waist using your lats.
- At the bottom of the rep, hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly return the bar to the starting position until you feel a deep stretch in your lats.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Jared Feather and Dr. Mike Israetel go over how to properly perform the machine lat pullover in the video below!
Machine lat pullover tips
- Hold at the top and the bottom for 1-2 seconds.
- Focus on keeping your chest up.
- Don’t go too heavy to ensure that you can use a full range of motion.
- If your machine has a seat belt, use that to secure your body to the seat.
When to perform pull-ups
Pull-ups are a compound exercise that’s very similar to lat pulldowns because they are both vertical pulling exercises. In fact, many people debate which exercise is better – lat pulldowns or pull-ups? If you can properly perform a pull-up, they are great because you can do them anywhere! No machines or fancy equipment is required; all you need is a pull-up bar and your body weight.
However, most people perform them incorrectly because they aren’t strong enough. If this is the case, try banded pull-ups or use an assisted pull-up machine. On the other hand, if body weight pull-ups are quite easy, add weight to make them more challenging.
Either way, if you’re stuck at home, traveling, and don’t have access to a lat pulldown, you can still target the lats with the pull-up. It’s also important to note that pull-ups are more functional and are often used in various physical fitness tests. If you’re an athlete or training for a specific event that includes pull-ups, you’re way better off doing actual pull-ups versus lat pulldowns.
Pull-ups can be performed on back, upper body, or pull-workouts, as pull ups work a wide range of muscles. It’s a challenging exercise, so save them for the beginning of the workout!
How to perform pull-ups
- Set a box underneath a pull-up bar so you can easily grab the bar with a pronated grip.
- Reach up and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Move your feet off the box, bend your knees, and cross your legs behind you.
- Take a deep breath and begin the movement by engaging your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down and back.
- Pull yourself up until your chin reaches above the bar.
- At the top of the rep, squeeze your back and hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
If you want to see the best way to perform a pull-up, watch the video below from Jeff Nippard!
- Focus on pulling your upper chest to the bar to target the back better.
- Use chalk or grips if you find it difficult to hold onto the bar.
- If you can only do 1-2 pull-ups, use a band or assisted pull-up machine.
Band Straight Arm Pulldown
When to perform band straight arm pulldowns
Band straight arm pulldowns are a great at-home exercise because minimal equipment is needed. All you need is a band and something to secure it too! They are also a fantastic way to warm up your lats before bench pressing or performing other compound movements, such as pull-ups.
Similar to the machine lat pullover, band straight arm pulldowns are the closest you can get to isolating the lats. You can do these in addition to lat pulldowns or as a lat pulldown alternative because it trains the lats in a different plane of motion.
If you want to increase your mind-muscle connection with the lats, this exercise should be a staple in your routine, even if you just use it as a warm-up! You can perform this exercise in back, upper body, or pull workouts.
How to perform band straight arm pulldowns
- Secure a resistance band to the top of a door frame or squat rack.
- Grab both ends of the band with a pronated (overhand) grip.
- Take two-three steps back and assume a shoulder-width stance. Allow your arms to lift forward and up so that your biceps are near your ears. There should be just a slight bend in your elbows.
- Lean forward slightly and push your hips back. Maintain this position throughout the movement.
- Take a deep breath. Pull the band down towards the top of your legs while keeping your arms relatively straight.
- Once your elbows are behind your body and you feel a strong contraction in your lats, hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Exhale as you slowly let your arms return to the starting position. There should be a stretch in the lats at the top of the rep.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
To see how to do the straight arm pulldown using bands, watch the video below!
Band straight arm pulldown tips
- Keep your chest up.
- Drive your elbows back.
- Don’t use too heavy of a band so you can perform a full range of motion.
Reasons to choose a lat pulldown alternative
The lat pulldown is a very effective exercise for adding width to the back. It directly targets the lats through shoulder adduction. With that said, there are several reasons why you may want to choose a lat pulldown alternative.
Here are a few reasons:
- You want to increase the thickness of your back.
- You’ve been performing the lat pulldown for a while and have hit a plateau.
- You don’t have access to a lat pulldown because you work out at home, are traveling, etc.
- You are looking to further isolate the lat.
- One of your lats is stronger and/or bigger than the other.
- You have a poor connection with your lats.
- You’re an athlete who needs to be able to do pull-ups, not lat pulldowns.
We are not saying that the lat pulldown is a bad exercise, but depending on the person, it may not be best for you. Regardless of what’s written on your exercise program, you still have the option to swap exercises. The ones listed above are the best lat pulldown alternatives to consider!
Muscles worked by the lat pulldown
The lat pulldown primarily works the lats, also known as the latissimus dorsi. It also works the biceps, rear delts, middle traps, rhomboids, forearms, infraspinatus, and teres minor/major.
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Rear Delts
- Middle Fibers
- Lower Fibers
- Biceps Brachii
- Teres Minor
- Tere Major
Frequently Asked Questions
What actions does the lat perform?
The latissimus dorsi primarily performs shoulder adduction, shoulder extension, and internal rotation of the shoulder. Since the lat performs so many different actions, it’s important to do different exercises that are executed in various planes of motion to fully develop the lats.
For example, it’s a good idea to do a pull-up (shoulder adduction) and cable pullover (shoulder extension) because they each train the lat differently.
Is a lat pulldown the same as a pull-up?
The lat pulldown and pull-up have a lot of things in common, but they are not the same exercise. They both train the lats through shoulder adduction. However, with the lat pull-down, you’re pulling the bar to your body. With the pull-up, you’re pulling your body to the bar.
Although you can use both exercises to build and strengthen your lats, the pull-up is a more functional movement. Plus, more muscles are involved when performing a pull-up compared to a lat pulldown. If you need or want to get better at pull-ups, you should be performing pull-ups, not lat pulldowns. On the other hand, if you just want to target your lats, lat pulldowns are just fine.
How can you do lat pulldowns at home?
If you want to perform a lat pulldown at home but you don’t have a lat pulldown machine, you can do resistance band lat pulldowns. All you have to do is secure a resistance band to the top of a door frame or squat rack, sit on the floor, and perform a lat pulldown as normal. Alternatively, you can pick some alternative exercises listed above.
The lats are a rather large muscle group that contributes to various shoulder movements, proper posture, and aesthetics. A lot of people struggle to grow their lats because they can’t properly engage them even with exercises that directly target the lats, such as the lat pulldown.
Finding exercises that help improve your mind-to-muscle connection is for lat muscle hypertrophy. If you’ve been doing lat pulldowns for a while and they are starting to get stale, or maybe you don’t really feel them in your lats, it may be worthwhile to try a different exercise.
Lastly, since the lats perform so many different movements, doing a variety of exercises is likely better than only focusing on one. Although we just covered the best lat pulldown alternatives in this article, consider trying a few of them to see which ones may work best for you!
Other Alternative Exercises
If you enjoyed this post, check out our other roundups of the best alternatives for other exercises.
About Heather Jacques
Heather Jacques is a former collegiate athlete that graduated from Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training. Along with writing content for Lift Vault, Heather works for one of the fastest growing sports nutrition companies, Axe & Sledge Supplements, as their product specialist. Heather is an avid lifter, snowboarder, and outdoor enthusiast. She was born in Colorado, raised in northern Michigan, and currently resides in Pennsylvania. Heather's primary goal is to help others achieve their health and fitness goals through education, motivation, and inspiration.
The best barbell and dumbbell alternatives to the lat pulldown are barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and the dumbbell pullover. Make sure to use a full range of motion during each lat pulldown alternative to stimulate a high level of lat activation.What is a good substitute for lat pulldowns? ›
The best barbell and dumbbell alternatives to the lat pulldown are barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and the dumbbell pullover. Make sure to use a full range of motion during each lat pulldown alternative to stimulate a high level of lat activation.What is a good substitute for lat pulldowns at home? ›
Feet-Supported Pull ups. The exercise can be performed easily at home with a minimal kit, making them a great alternative to lat pulldowns. All you need is a straight bar - which can be a barbell in a rack or a pull-up bar - and somewhere to put your feet.What is the most effective lat pulldown? ›
Wide-Grip Lat Pull-Down
The wide-grip variation is an excellent choice if you're looking to increase the width of your back and want to improve overall strength. This variation will also help you with your pull-up strength, allowing you to work your lats with good form through the entire range of motion.