10 Lat Pulldown Alternatives (that still work great)


Lat Pulldowns are an excellent upper-body exercise that will help build and develop a strong back. Lat Pulldowns can also add a good bit of variety to a strength program because of the variety of different Lat Pulldown attachments that can be used.

However, as good as Lat Pulldowns are, there may be situations where you need an alternative for Lat Pulldowns.

The most obvious reason is that you don’t have a Lat Pulldown machine. Lat Pulldown Machines are great, but if you’re working out at home, they may be a convenience that you just don’t have in your home gym.

Whatever the reason you’re looking for an alternative, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you some of my favorite Lat Pulldown alternatives.

Lat Pulldown Alternatives

I’ve tried to include a wide variety of exercises including exercises that use different pieces of equipment. I’ve also included both beginner and advanced movements.

Ideally, you’d like to replace a vertical rowing exercise (an exercise where you pull from high to low) with another vertical rowing exercise. That’s why you’ll find vertical rowing exercises listed below first.

However, there is a limited amount of vertical rowing exercises as a whole and many also require specific equipment and/or a certain level of strength. This is why you’ll also see horizontal rows as well, which may not mimic the exact same movement pattern but will still help develop back and biceps strength.

Hopefully, no matter what equipment you have access to or what your level of experience is, one of these alternatives will work for you.


Pull-Ups


Pull-up Alternatives and Variations

Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • For modification purposes:
  • Lifting Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Lifting partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)
  • Bench (To help reach the bar if it’s too high)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing away).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Later in the article, I will talk about variations, alternatives, and modifications where the supinated (palms facing in) grip will be discussed.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see with Pull-ups is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.


Towel Pull-ups


Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Pair of towels

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Wrap two towels about shoulder-width around a pull-up bar.
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Grab the towels, engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar*.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

*When doing Towel Pull-ups, there is a good chance that you’ll be gripping the towels too far below the bar to then be able to get your chin over the bar. In this case, try to pull your chin higher than your hands at the top of the rep.

Make sure to test the integrity of your towels every time before using them. Towels can and will rip, especially if they are cheap and/or older towels. (Which is oftentimes the case for towels that are relegated for the gym)


Chin-Ups


Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)
  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • For modification purposes:
  • Resistance Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing toward you).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see in the Chin-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.


Rope Climbs


If you have access to a rope and have the strength and ability to rope climb, it makes an excellent alternative for Lat Pulldowns.

Having said that, Rope Climbs can be very dangerous and should only be done by those who are already proficient in their rope climbing technique and ability or under the supervision of a qualified coach who can help them get started.


Dumbbell Pullovers


Dumbbell Pullovers (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell
  • Bench

How To

  • Lay on a bench with the top of your head all the way to the edge of the bench.
  • Make a diamond shape with your hands and place them on the inside of one of the heads of the dumbbell.
  • Press the dumbbell to arm’s length straight up over the chest.
  • Now, reach the dumbbell overhead (allow some bend in the elbow) until your hands are about even with the height of the bench.
  • Finally, pull the dumbbell back to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Dumbbell Pullovers will give a deep stretch to the chest and triceps on the lift’s eccentric (lowering) phase. Stay slow and controlled and focus on the stretch followed by the strong contraction as you raise the dumbbell back to the start.


Straight Arm Lat Pulldown


Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Lat Pulldown Machine (or similar cable pulley machine)

OR

  • Resistance Band and a high anchor point (like a pull-up bar)

How To

  • Hook a long straight bar attachment to a Lat Pulldown Machine
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip
  • Stand tall, brace the core and place a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Now, keeping the arms straight, pull the bar down to the thighs.
  • Slowly return the bar back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Keep a slight bend in the elbow when doing Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns, do not completely lock out the arm as this puts unnecessary strain on the joint.

Stay vertical. It may be tempting to lean forward in order to move more weight, but then you’re compromising the movement intention. Stay vertical and pull through with the lats.


Inverted Row


Inverted Rows with Gym Rings
Photo Credit: Mariia Korneeva / shutterstock.com

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell*
  • Squat Rack

*I generally do Inverted Rows with a barbell in a rack, but if you have rings they work great as well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start by placing a bar on the rack about waist height.
  • The higher the bar is placed, the easier the rows will be. The lower the bar is placed, the harder the rows will be. (Just make sure to leave yourself enough room to fully extend your arms at the bottom of the rep)
  • Set the bar on either the J-Hooks or the Safety Bars
  • Lay down underneath the bar.
  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip, brace the core and make sure your body is fully extended – including your legs.
  • You should be positioned to where when you pull yourself up towards the bar, the bar touches the same spot on the chest as it would for bench press. Slide up or down to adjust accordingly.
  • Now, keeping your body in a straight line, pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

You should think of the Inverted Rows like a reverse bench press. Keep your head back, chest out and pull your chest directly to the bar. Pull the shoulder blades down and back at the top of the rep and squeeze the back.


Barbell Bent Over Row


Barbell Bent Over Rows

Equipment Needed

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
  • Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
  • Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
  • Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
  • Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).

Coaching Points

The initial setup and stance for Barbell Bent Over Rows should be specific to the lifter’s deadlifting and Olympic lifting goals. Having identical setups and grips will be great for the lifts to carry over to the compound movements.


Band Lat Pulldown


Equipment Needed

  • Resistance Band
  • A Pull-up Bar (or equivalent) to anchor the band

How To

  • Take a resistance band* and loop it around a pull-up bar.
  • Grab the band with a shoulder-width grip and sit on a bench or assume a kneeling position below the bar.
  • Very slightly lean back and then row the band to the top of the chest.
  • Try to pull the band apart slightly as you pull it down.
  • Control the band back to the starting position and repeat.

Coaching Points

Depending on the size and number of bands you have, looping two bands around the bar to do Band Lat Pulldowns – one for each hand – can be a very good option as well.


Dumbbell One Arm Row


One Arm Rows without a Bench
Just do NOT brace yourself on an actual dumbbell on a rack as they WILL flip off the rack on you.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells
  • Bench (optional)

A bench is helpful, but not totally necessary. Bracing one arm against the rack or even on your leg can work as well (as shown above).

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a dumbbell and a bench*.
  • Place the dumbbell next to the bench and set yourself up.
  • If rowing with the right arm, place the left knee and left hand on the bench. Keep the right foot flat on the ground.
  • Make sure the back is flat (neutral) to slightly arched.
  • Brace the core and pick the dumbbell up.
  • Row the dumbbell up, keeping the elbow close to the body as the dumbbell raises.
  • Squeeze the back at the top of the rep and then lower the dumbbell down until the arm is fully extended.
  • Repeat for the designated number of reps and then switch sides.

*One Arm Rows do not have to be done with one knee on a bench. You can keep both feet flat on the ground and lean forward and brace yourself with your off-hand on something sturdy. You can even lean your off forearm on your leg for support if necessary.

Coaching Points

The most common mistake I see my athletes make when doing One Arm Rows is not maintaining a flat back. The back should stay engaged and slightly arched – similar to the starting position of a Power Clean. Do not let the back round as this can cause unnecessary stress on the spine.

Also, do not twist and turn while rowing. You’re not starting a lawn mower. If you need to use your whole body to twist and rock the weight up then the dumbbell is too heavy. Lower the weight and maintain proper form.

Finally, make sure to give yourself enough room to ‘spread out’ and get into a good position.


Final Thoughts

Lat Pulldowns are an excellent exercise for developing a strong back, however, sometimes you may need a substitution for them.

In these situations, you’ll need a Lat Pulldown alternative and I hope that at least one of the alternative exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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