lat pulldown alternative
Fitness

Lat Pulldown Alternatives: 12 Of The Best Alternate Exercises

The Lat Pulldown is one of the most ubiquitous exercises for the upper body there is in the gym; the lat pulldown may even be a central part of your programming. There is a good reason for the popularity; it’s an amazing upper body workout for your entire back.

What muscles does the LAT pulldown work?

The major muscle worked in the lat pulldown is, you guessed it, your latissimus dorsi; or lats for short! However, being that it is a compound exercise, it will also target your traps, rhomboids, delts, and biceps all in this one exercise.

While the lat pulldown is an amazing exercise that hits your entire back, it’s a good idea to have some other alternatives to use in your regime. Having more exercises to choose from can allow you to add variety to your program which allows you to hit the muscles a little differently which can aid in constant progression.

Today, we will go through the top lat pulldown alternatives with a video demonstration of each so that you will have plenty of new movements to start using today!

1. Lat Pulldown w/ Resistance Band

Being in the current pandemic we are in now, let’s start this list with some exercises you can do at home using just a resistance band. This is a great lat pull down alternative since it is essentially the same movement as the lat pulldown with the same biomechanics. This movement is also perfect for a beginner due to its ease of use.

Equipment: Resistance Band with an anchoring system

How to perform:

  • Anchor the band above your head
  • Depending on the height, decide whether you need to stand or kneel
  • If you are using a continuous band, place your hand inside with your hands about shoulder-width apart. If you have ones with handles, grab the handle and place with your hands shoulder-width apart
  • Pull down on the band by pulling your elbows down and out. Pull until your hands get to shoulder level
  • Make sure you keep a straight back and keep your scapula (shoulders) pulled back
  • Allow your arms up in a controlled manner. No Bouncing!

Sets and Rep: 3x 8-12

2. Bentover Pulldown

Here is one more exercise that you can easily do at home with just a resistance band. This movement will have the same biomechanics as the lat pulldown, except it will be done while bent over. This makes it another great lat pulldown alternative as it will work your lats, traps, and biceps in the same manner as the lat pulldown.

Equipment: Resistance band with an anchoring system

How to perform:

  • Anchor the resistance band at a height of approximately chest level. The height will vary due to your situation but anywhere between your belly button and shoulders will suffice.
  • Stand back so that there is some stretch in the band. Don’t allow the band to go slack. You can also stand back for more resistance or closer for less.
  • Bend over so that your back is parallel with the band. Your back, extended arms, and the band should make a straight line
  • Pull your elbows down and out. Make sure to keep your elbows out wide as in a lat pulldown.
  • Pull your elbows down until your hands get to shoulder level
  • Allow your arms up in a controlled manner. No Bouncing!

You can also do this same movement with a cable pulley system at the gym. 

Sets and Reps: 3x 8-12

3. Pull-Ups

Now let’s look at some bodyweight movements. Pull-ups are a great all-around upper body movement. These are a great lat pulldown alternative as all you need to do them is a bar or something to hang from.

The pull-up is the most obvious lat pulldown alternative as the biomechanics are identical making it one of the best. The difference is that, with the pull-up, your lower body hangs freely as you pull yourself up. What most people don’t realize is that your body free-hanging creates significant activation in the core. The free-hanging also creates more activation in general to your stability muscles as they are needed to keep your body supported.

Equipment: Pull-up Bar

How to perform:

  • Grab a pull-up bar with hands pronated, slightly greater than shoulder-width apart.
  • Embrace your core and retract your scapula
  • Pull your body up to the bar by pulling your elbows down to your side
  • Come back down in a slow and controlled movement

Set and Rep Range: Because this is bodyweight, reps will be a little different. We will use a “Reps in Reserve” or RIR. A 2RIR means your workout until you think you could do 2 more reps.

4 sets of 2 RIR

If you can do 10 solid pull-ups, add weight so that you can do 6 pull-ups

4. Chin up

Another great bodyweight lat pulldown alternative. The chin up is just like pull-ups except with your palms facing towards you. The benefits will be similar but you will get more activation in your biceps and traps. You definitely want to add some chin ups in your program.

Equipment: Pull-up Bar

How to perform:

  • Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing towards you at approximately shoulder width
  • Embrace your core and retract your scapula
  • Pull your body up to the bar by pulling your elbows down to your side
  • Come back down in a slow and controlled movement

Set and Rep Range: Because this is bodyweight, reps will be a little different. We will use a “Reps in Reserve” or RIR. A 2RIR means your workout until you think you could do 2 more reps.

4 sets of 2 RIR

5. Bent Over Barbell Rows

Now we’re getting into some free weights. The bent-over row is just as, if not more popular than the lat pulldown for guys who are trying to build a monster back. This free weight alternative will hit the latissimus dorsi a little differently due to the mechanics but it will still add some serious mass and strength.

How to perform:

  • Take a loaded barbell and stand in the middle with your feet hip-width apart (natural stance)
  • Grab the bar with a pronated grip (overhand) shoulder or slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
  • Pick up the bar so you are standing straight up
  • Allow a slight bend in your knees so that you can drop your torso down. Think you’re about sticking out your butt and dropping your body out in front of your toes.
  • Drop until your body gets below 45-degree angle
  • Your hands should be able to hang straight down while being in from of your knees. The key is to allow your body to come out in front of your toes
  • Brace your core and pull the bar up by focusing on driving your elbows up
  • Keep your elbows close to your side. Do not let them flare out
  • Pull the bar up into your belly button
  • Allow the bar to come down in a controlled manner
  • Make sure not to bounce! Keep your torso in the same position

Set and Reps: 3x 6-12

Equipment: This exercise is great with a barbell. However, you can do a variation of it if you are at home with resistance bands as well.

6. ISO Lateral High Row (Weight Loaded)

The Iso-Lateral High Row is the first and only machine exercise on this list. The greatest benefit of using machines is the ability to take out the need for stabilization muscles which allows for full concentration on the back muscles. What makes the ISO Later High Row a great lat pulldown alternative is that unlike other machine exercises which pull in a horizontal manner, it mimics the lat pulldown by pulling in a more vertical manner.

Equipment: ISO Lateral High Row and plates

How to perform:

  • Load the bar with the chosen weight
  • Set the seat to a height so that you can almost reach the handles sitting down
  • Stand up, grab the handles, and sit down. Make sure your chest is firmly in the chest pad
  • Push your chest into the pad while pulling your elbows back down towards your ribs
  • Stop at full contraction.
  • Allow the weight back up in a slow and controlled manner

Sets and Reps: 3x 6-12

7. Kneeling Cable Crossover Lat Pulldown

Kneeling Cable Crossover Lat Pulldowns are a great lat pulldown alternative that can be done with cable pulley machines. This movement is similar to a wide grip pulldown except now, instead of the path of resistance coming from straight above, it is coming in from an angle.

Equipment: Cross-over cable system with single handles

How to perform:

  • Raise the cable to the highest level
  • Stand in the middle of the cross-over cables and grab both handles
  • Kneel down with your arms extended
  • Pull your elbows in and down to your side while rotating your hands to palm up
  • Allow the weight to come up slow and controlled

Set and Rep: 3x 8-12

8. Swimmers or Straight-Arm Pulldown

Athletes known for having a great back are swimmers. That’s why this single-joint movement, sometimes known as swimmers, is on our list. It uses the flexion and extension of the shoulder in a movement that looks very similar to performing a freestyle swim-stroke.

Equipment: Cross-over cable system w/ straight bar

How to perform:

  • Place the pulley at a high-level
  • Grab the bar and stand back from the pulley
  • Bend your knees slightly while bending over to about 30 degrees
  • While keeping straight arms, pull the bar down to your thigh. Make sure to hit your thigh!
  • Allow the weight to come up in a slow and controlled manner.

Sets and Reps: 3x 6-12

Again, here is an alternative that you can do with resistance bands

9. Dumbbell Pullover

The second isolation movement on this list is dumbbell pull-overs. This movement is normally associated with being a chest movement but it actually works your lats as well, especially with a little tweak. The movement is actually quite similar to Swimmers except now you are laying with your face towards the sky.

Equipment: Bench and one dumbbell

How to perform:

  • Position the bench so that your middle/upper cross it with your body perpendicular.
  • Bring a dumbbell up to your chest and cusp one end with both your hands.
  • Bring the dumbbells up above your head
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head keeping your elbows in and arms straight.
  • Lower the dumbbell until it gets just a little below your head level
  • Hold for 2 seconds while really concentrating on stretching your lats.
  • Bring the dumbbell back over your head by concentrating on bringing your elbows forward. Really make a mind-muscle connection with using your lats to bring the dumbbell overhead rather than your chest.

Set and Reps: 3x 6-12

10. Chest Supported Incline Dumbbell Row

Bent over rows are an amazing exercise. Yet, if you really want to isolate the back, use a bench to support your chest. This will prevent the need to use your core for bracing as well as eliminate any type of momentum with your chest. Doing this will allow you to concentrate on your back.

Equipment: An adjustable bench and set of dumbbells

How to perform:

  • Set a bench at a 45-degree angle
  • Pick up a set of dumbbells and sit on the bench and lay your chest down on the bench pad
  • Brace by pushing your feet into the ground
  • Allow the dumbbells to sink fully beneath your head. Let your arms come to full extension and stretch your back
  • Retract your scapula and pull your elbows back while simultaneously pushing your chest into the bad
  • Let the dumbbells go back slow and controlled.

Set and Reps: 3 sets of 8-12 reps

11. Kroc Rows

Kroc rows are the black-sheep brother of dumbbell rows. They’re heavier, less technical, and allow for a bit more body movement. That’s makes them great for getting in a ton of volume for your entire back musculature. Plus, you just need one piece of equipment, 1 dumbbell! You are just going to find something to place one hand on and lean over. Then, you will attempt to knock out as many reps as you can. And as mentioned, a little body movement is perfectly ok with kroc rows.

Equipment: 1 Dumbbell and some item for support

How to perform:

  • Find your dumbbell and bring it over to some type of support to rest your hand i.e. bench, box
  • Set the dumbbell on the ground so that you can set-up
  • Place one hand on the support, and alter your legs so that the leg on the side of your lifting arm is forward and the lifting leg is back
  • Lean over so your back is relatively flat at around 45-degree angle. (Setup is not as important. You can alter this exercise by altering the angle)
  • Reach down and grab the dumbbell
  • Bring the dumbbell up by bringing your elbow back and the dumbbell comes up to the rib cage
  • Let the dumbbell come back down

Special notes: Remember, when you do these reps, use some momentum with your body to allow for more reps. Kroc Rows are a heavy, high-rep movement

Sets and Reps: 3x 12-20

12. T Bar Row or Landmine T Bar Rows

The T-Bar Row is a classic back movement that will allow you to use some heavier weight than a bent-over row due to its stabilization. However, you will still be bent-over which will require you to brace your core. The T-Bar Row will work your lats, spinal erector, traps, delts, and biceps – a perfect lat pulldown alternative!

Equipment: T-Bar Row and plates

How to perform:

  • Stand over the T-Bar with your feet on the feet placements.
  • Bend down and grab the handlebar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Make sure to bend down using your legs!
  • Stand up fully erect
  • Now bend over be slightly bending the knees and allowing your torso to come down until it’s lower than 45 degrees
  • Pull the weight up by pulling your elbows back, keeping them close to your body.
  • Pull the weight up until the weight comes up to your chest
  • Lower the weight slowly and smoothly

Sets and Reps: 3x 6-12

Final Word

The most common problem for almost every back exercise is using the bicep and forearms too much. It’s impossible to completely take out the arms in these movements, however, we want to use the back as much as possible. Therefore, instead of concentrating on moving the weight, concentrate on moving the elbows. Really use a mind-muscle connection with your back to fully activate the muscles.

You also will notice that the exercises have a range of reps to use. Heavier weight with lower reps will maximize strength while lighter weight with high reps will maximize growth. Alter the weight and rep range you use with your exercises to get the best of both worlds.

With these 12 Lat Pull-Down alternatives, you will have plenty of exercises to start using to get massive gains in size and increase upper body strength.

Garett Reid

Garett Reid is a sports and performance consultant. He has over 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry and has worked in virtually every field; strength & conditioning coach, gym owner, educator, and consultant. Garett also has extensive experience working in the international sector in China and Thailand. Garett currently has his Masters in Exercise Science and holds his NSCA CSCS and CISSN certification. He will begin work on his Ph.D. this year.

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