Lat pulldowns are one of the most classic and best back exercises to train major muscle groups in your upper back. However, not everyone has access to a gym or a lat pulldown machine but may still want to build their lats. Below, we’re going to take a look at what a lat pulldown is, how to perform it, and the best lat pulldown alternatives.
What Is A Lat Pulldown?
Lat pulldowns are a classic bodybuilding exercise that focuses primarily on your lats, but also on your biceps, forearms, and mid-back muscles. The exercise pattern is similar to pullups and works the same muscles. That’s why it is often used by people who can’t do pullups with their whole body weight.
But the lat pulldowns aren’t just for beginners. You can use a lot of weight on the machine and make them even harder than regular pullups.
How To Do Lat Pulldowns?
First of all, in order to do lat pulldowns, you will need access to a lat pulldown machine.
- Step 1. Sit comfortably on the seat with your feet comfortably on the floor.
- Step 2. Grab the handle with a wide overhand grip
- Step 3. Pull the bar down to your chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together
- Step 4. Slowly let the bar return to the starting position in a controlled manner
Pullups are probably the best bodyweight exercise as they work most of your upper back muscles that can be done almost everywhere. They’re very similar to lat pulldowns because they mimic the same vertical pulling pattern which ranks them #1 among lat pulldown alternatives. Just like with lat pulldowns, you can pull-ups with different grip variations and different width placement.
To perform this exercise, you will need a vertical bar. Hang on a bar with an overhand grip at about shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and start pulling yourself towards the bar until it reaches your upper chest level. Pause for a second, and then lower yourself down slowly.
2. Seated Row
The seated row can be performed with a barbell, a machine, or a dumbbell. It’s a great exercise to build upper back width and strength. Sit down on the machine with your back straight and your arms straight out in front of you. Pull the handle to your stomach (your arms should be bent at about a 75-degree angle). It’s important to keep your back straight while performing the exercise.
Chin-ups are another great exercise for building upper back strength. While they involve your biceps more than pullups, don’t underestimate this exercise. Because of the underhand grip, your lats will stretch out even more at the highest point of the exercise. This can help achieve a better lat activation throughout the movement.
4. Bodyweight Row
Bodyweight rows are another great way to build upper back strength. Unlike pullups or chin-ups, this exercise will target your mid-back muscles like rhomboids and lower traps more than your lats. You will train a horizontal pulling movement rather than a vertical one. However, this doesn’t mean that this exercise is ineffective and most of the muscles worked overlap with lat pulldowns.
To perform the exercise, find a bar that is at about your hip height and get under it. Grab it with an overhand grip, tense your quads and your core, and start pulling yourself towards the bar. The bar should meet your body at about below chest height.
5. Single-Arm Bent Over Row
Single-arm rows are an excellent exercise for building upper back width. The main 2 variations of this exercise are dumbbell and kettlebell rows, but you can also do this exercise with a resistance band or a even a cable machine.
To perform a single-arm dumbbell row, lean forward so that your upper body is about parallel to the ground. Rest your opposing knee on a bench. Pull the dumbbell to the side of your back at a low back level. Slowly lower it back down and repeat.
6. Barbell Row
Barbell Rows is a compound exercise that will help you train your back in an effective way. It primarily works your traps, rhomboids, lats, rear delts, biceps, and forearms. In order to perform the exercise, place a barbell in front of you. Then, hinge your hips back a bit and lower your upper body until it’s about parallel to the ground. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent to maintain better stability. Also, make sure to engage your lower back muscles to keep your lower back straight throughout the whole movement.
Once you’re all set, grab a bar with an overhand grip and pull it up to your lower chest area. Then, slowly lower the bar down. That’s one rep. Keep going until you reach your desired number of reps.
7. Straight Arm Cable Pulldown
Straight arm cable pulldowns are one of the best exercises to train your straight arm scapula strength while training your lats and triceps. In order to perform this exercise, you’ll need access to a cable machine. Grab the bar of the cable machine with an overhand grip and bend forward a bit at about 30 degrees. Pull the cable to your waist while keeping your arms locked in your elbows.
8. Dumbbell Pullover
A dumbbell pullover is yet another exercise that works your lats in a similar way to a straight arm pulldown in that it also works your straight arm scapular strength. It primarily works your lats, triceps, and even your chest muscles.
To do the exercise, you will need a dumbbell and a bench that is about hip height. Put a dumbbell on a side of a bench and lay your upper back on a bench. Engage your glutes so that your lower back is parallel to the ground. Then, grab a dumbbell with both your arms under one side. Extend your arms so that the dumbbell is above your face. Then, while keeping your arms almost fully locked in elbows, slowly lower the dumbbell behind you. Once the dumbbell is lowered lower than the level of the bench, pull it back up with your lats till the dumbbell is above your face again.
9. T-Bar Row
T-Bar rows are another great lat pulldown alternative exercise that will help you build muscles and strength of your upper back.
In order to do a t-bar row, you will need a barbell and a handle. Place put a plate on one end, and place a barbell in a landmine set up or in a corner to keep it from moving. Stand over the bar and position the handle right under the collar under the plate. Assume a wide stance with your hips back and your chest up. Lower your torso at about 45-60 degree angle while keeping your arms straight. Pull the weight towards your chest while retracting your shoulder blades back and flexing the elbows. Lower the bar slowly to return to the starting position.
10. Pendlay Row
Pendlay rows will help you build strength and muscle in your mid and upper back areas. Assume a narrow stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hinge your hips back and lean your torso forward until it’s almost parallel to the ground. Bend your knees slightly. Then grab the bar with both hands with an overhand grip a bit wider than should-width apart. Keep your core braced and pull the barbell towards your chest area while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then lower the bar slowly.
11. Renegate Row
Renegade rows are a somewhat unusual row variation that helps you work your core a lot as well as your back muscles. In order to do the exercise, you will need 2 dumbbells. Put both dumbbells at about shoulder-width apart and assume a plank position while gripping both dumbbells. Then, do a row movement with one dumbbell while keeping your other hand on the dumbbell on the ground. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position and then do a row movement with another hand.
As you can see, there many great exercises that you can do to substitute the lat pulldowns while still building your lats and back. Try these out and see how effective they can be for you.