10 Straight Arm Pulldown Alternatives For Lat Development


Cable Straight Arm Lat Pulldown Alternative

Straight arm pulldowns are a strength training exercise that targets the muscles in the back, specifically the latissimus dorsi or “lats” muscle.

This exercise is performed using a cable machine with a straight bar attachment and involves pulling the bar down towards the hips while keeping the arms straight. Straight arm pulldowns are an effective way to build strength and hypertrophy in the back and can be incorporated into a variety of workout routines.

However, sometimes you may need an alternative for Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns.

The most obvious reason is that you don’t have access to a cable pulley machine. For many of us working out at home, anything using a cable machine just isn’t an option. Or, maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your training program.

Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place. I’m going to share with you 10 of my favorite alternatives for Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns.

Alternatives for Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns

I’ve tried to include as much variety in this list as possible. There are exercises that use a variety of equipment from barbells to dumbbells to medicine balls. There are beginner-friendly movements as well as exercises that will challenge advanced lifters.

My goal is, no matter what equipment you have access to or what your level of experience is – at least one of these alternatives for Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns will work for your situation.

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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.


Medicine Ball Slams


Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball (it’s literally in the name)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Grab a medicine ball and stand tall with feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the medicine ball high overhead.
  • Using the core, pull the body down – hinging forward at the hips.
  • Follow through with the arms and release the ball.
  • Let the ball slam into the ground, catch it off the bounce and repeat for the designated number of reps.

Coaching Points

First and foremost, test how ‘bouncy’ your medicine ball is before starting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen athletes almost have their face smashed by a medicine ball bouncing much harder and rebounding much faster off the ground than they were anticipating.

The biggest mistake I see with Med Ball Slams is athletes not utilizing the core and simply throwing the ball down with their arms. The bulk of the force should be generated by aggressively using the core to hinge forward. If done correctly, it should almost (and actually might) lift your feet up off the floor.


Medicine Ball Overhead Throws


Equipment Needed

  • Medicine Ball
  • Partner or solid wall

How To

  • Find a partner or solid wall and stand a safe distance away*.
  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the medicine ball overhead and brace the core.
  • Now, throw the ball as hard as you can – aim for maximum distance.

Coaching Points

*If throwing with a partner for Overhead Throws, stand far enough away so that the ball will bounce before it reaches your partner. Catching a medicine ball out of the air can lead to a jammed wrist or finger. If throwing against a wall, allow enough space so the ball bounces once after it hits the wall before you catch it.


AB Roll Outs


Equipment Needed

OR

  • Barbell with Bumper Plates on each side

Muscles Worked

  • Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques Externus Abominis)
  • Back (Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major)

How To

  • Start on your knees with your hands on the Ab Wheel handles.
  • Brace the core hard and begin rolling the wheel forward.
  • Roll out until you feel you’re about to fall and then begin pulling the wheel back.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Don’t allow your hips to stay behind you as you begin to roll forward when doing Ab Rollouts. Hips should stay relatively in line with the knees and shoulders, similar to a Plank.


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.


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.


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

Cable Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns are a solid exercise for lat development, however, sometimes Straight Arm Pulldowns are just not possible. You may not have the proper equipment or you may just want something a little different to add some variety to your training program.

In these situations, you’ll need a Straight Arm 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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