8 Lat Pulldown Alternatives

When it comes to bodybuilding and strength training, a lot of exercisers focus way too much on the muscles they can see in the mirror, namely their chests, biceps, and abs. While these muscles are undoubtedly important, the muscles you CAN’T see in the mirror are equally vital.

Spending too much time on your mirror muscles could hurt your appearance and posture and could even increase your risk of joint pain and injury. For these reasons, it’s generally best to follow a balanced workout that pays the same amount of attention to the front and the back of your body.

There are lots of different exercises you can use to train the back of your body. Pull-ups and chin-ups are good options, as are deadlifts. However, lat pulldowns are probably the most popular back exercise in the gym.

On the downside, if you do this exercise too often, it will soon start to lose some of its potency. Your body is very good at adapting, and the more often you do something, the sooner your body will get bored with your chosen exercise.

Use these lat pulldown alternatives to keep your workouts fresh, interesting, and, above all, productive.

8 Lat Pulldown Alternatives

What Is a Lat Pulldown

woman doing Wide overhand gripLat (short for lateral) pulldowns are a strength training exercise done using a lat pulldown machine.

The machine usually has a high pulley with a seat below. You can do lat pulldowns using several different handles and grips, including:

  1. Wide overhand grip
  2. Narrow underhand grip
  3. Narrow neutral grip
  4. Neutral medium grip
  5. Single-arm
  6. Behind the neck*

*Generally not recommended because of the increased risk of shoulder and neck injury.

Lat pulldown machines usually have selectorized weight stacks, but there are plate-loading models too. Some lat pulldown machines have lever arms instead of cables. Regardless of design, all lat pulldown machines work the same major muscles.

What Muscles Does a Lat Pulldown Work

Lat pulldowns are a compound exercise, which means they involve several muscles and joints working together. The main muscles involved in lat pulldowns are:

Latissimus dorsi – known as your lats for short, these are the agonist or target muscles of lat pulldowns. Located on the side of your upper back, the lats extend and adduct your shoulders. When well-developed, your lats give your back its width and contribute to a V-taper shape.

Biceps brachii – usually just called your biceps, this is the muscle on the front of your upper arms. The biceps flex your elbows and are strongly involved in all lat pulldown variations and alternatives. In many cases, it’s the muscle that fails first, as the biceps are smaller and weaker than the lats.

Trapezius and rhomboids – known as the traps for short, these muscles work together to pull your shoulders back and down during lat pulldowns. This provides your shoulders with a solid platform from which to work.

Forearms – lat pulldowns, especially if you use heavy weights, require and develop a strong grip. While your forearms aren’t a large muscle group, they play an important role during lat pulldowns.

8 Alternatives to The Lat Pulldown

No lat pulldown? Or just bored of this popular exercise? No problem! The following exercises are every bit as effective. Use them anytime you can’t do lat pulldowns or need a different way to work your back.

1. Pull-up

man doing pull upPull-ups are the bodyweight equivalent of wide grip, overhand, lat pulldowns.

However, you need to be strong to do pull-ups, as you’re going to have to lift your entire body weight using just your arms.

Therefore, this is an exercise for intermediate and advanced lifters only.

How to do it: 

  1. Hang from a bar using an overhand, wider than shoulder-width grip. Pull your shoulders down and back and lift your chest upward.
  2. Without swinging or kicking with your legs, bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar.
  3. Descend smoothly and under control and repeat.

2. Chin-up

Where pull-ups use an overhand grip, chin-ups use an underhand grip. This puts your biceps in a mechanically favorable position, so you may find it easier. Pull-ups are a little more lat-centric than chin-ups, but this benefit will be negated if you can do more chin-ups than pull-ups. Try them both to see which one you prefer.

3. Barbell bent-over row

Barbell bent-over rows might not look much like lat pulldowns, but they work the exact same muscles. As an added benefit, this exercise also involves your legs and lower back, and all you need to do it is a barbell.

How to do it: 

  1. Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand or overhand grip. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly, brace your abs, and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Without rounding your lower back, lean forward until your torso is just above parallel the floor.
  3. Bend your arms and row the bar into your abdomen.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

4. Single-arm dumbbell row

Single-arm dumbbell rows work your upper back, one side at a time. This provides the opportunity to identify and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances. Also, with one arm free for support, this exercise is easier on your lower back than barbell bent-over rows.

How to do it: 

  1. With a dumbbell in one hand, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Lean forward and place your other hand on a knee-high bench. Flatten your back, brace your abs, and let the weight hang down from your shoulder.
  2. Bend your arm and pull the dumbbell up and into your lower ribs.
  3. Extend your arm and repeat.
  4. Use the same weight and do the same number of reps on the other side.

5. Renegade rows

woman ding Renegade rowsThis challenging exercise works your back and your core at the same time, delivering a very time-efficient workout. Go light; renegade rows are more difficult than they sound!

How to do it: 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and squat down. Put the weights on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back and into the push-up position. Brace your abs.
  2. Keeping one arm straight, bend your elbow and row the weight up and into your ribs.
  3. Put it back on the floor and then repeat on the opposite side.
  4. Keep alternating sides for the duration of your set.

6. Chest-supported rows

Like lat pulldowns, chest-supported rows are very lower back-friendly. In fact, with next to no stress on your lower back, they’re a very safe and comfortable exercise for anyone with back pain. And, with your back fully supported, you’re free to focus on working your lats.

How to do it: 

  1. Set an adjustable bench to about 30-45 degrees. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie face down on the bench with your arms hanging down from your shoulders.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the weights up and into your lower ribs.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

7. Dumbbell pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is an isolation exercise, which means it involves just one joint. This exercise works your lats and pecs but doesn’t involve your biceps or triceps.

How to do it: 

  1. Lie on an exercise bench with a single dumbbell in your hands. Raise and hold it over your chest. Your arms should be slightly bent but rigid.
  2. Lower the weight back and over your head until your arms are next to your ears.
  3. Pull the dumbbell back up and over your chest.

8. Seated cable rows

woman doing Seated cable rows Seated rows work your lats like pulldowns but, instead of moving in the vertical plane, you pull in horizontally.

Rowing exercises like this are an effective way to make your upper back thicker and not just wider.

How to do it: 

  1. Sit on the bench with your legs extended in front of you, knees slightly bent. Grab the handle and sit up tall and straight. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Bend your arms and pull the handle into your midsection. Keep your upper arms close to your sides.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

Are Lat Pulldowns Necessary

As good as lat pulldowns undeniably are, they aren’t compulsory. Even if you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine, you can still build a back you can be proud of. All of the exercises in this article are every bit as effective as lat pulldowns.

So long as you train with intensity and your efforts are consistent, it doesn’t really matter all that much how you train your back. You can use lat pulldowns or many other exercises to increase back muscle size and strength.

Bottom Line

Lat pulldowns are a very popular exercise. Easier than pull-ups and chin-ups and with less back strain than bent-over rows, they’re a staple of most people’s back workouts.

They’re suitable for beginners, and intermediate and advanced exercisers can do them too. Most gyms have at least one lat pulldown machine and usually have several different handles and bars to make your workouts more varied.

However, despite the obvious appeal of lat pulldowns, there are lots of other exercises you can use to build a bigger, more muscular back.

Ultimately, your body finds it tough to differentiate between doing lat pulldowns using a state-of-the-art machine and pull-ups from a tree branch. It just knows work. So long as you train hard and often, your body will respond by getting stronger.

So, don’t feel you HAVE to do lat pulldowns; they aren’t the only back-building exercise. That’s good news if you work out at home and don’t have a lat pulldown machine or are just bored of this classic exercise and feel like you need a change.

Whether you do pull-ups, bent-over rows, pullovers, renegade rows, or seated rows, the important thing is to train your back muscles and not ignore them. Just because you can’t see your back doesn’t mean you should forget it! Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for exercise alternatives!


Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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