Strengthen Your Lats with These Great Lat Pulldown Alternatives!

The lats are often overlooked muscles that are more important than you may think.

If you already train lats regularly, then you’ll know what I mean. They are the largest upper body muscles, and as a result, they are worth training with the same intensity as any other muscle group.

So whether you already crank out sets of lat pulldowns, or you are just discovering their importance, I’m here to offer some effective lat pulldown alternatives you can do at home!

Especially if you are interested in getting your hands on one of the best home gyms on the market.

You may think you need to hit the machines to get the most out of a lot of movements, but that isn’t necessarily true!

I challenge you to take on some of these alternative exercises to the lat pulldown without breaking a sweat, it’s easier said than done.

man doing lat pulldown exercise at the gym

Why You Should be Training Lats?

Before we get stuck into the various exercises you can do to replace the lat pulldown, let’s see why exactly the lat pulldown is an important exercise to substitute.

First and foremost, training lats is a surefire way to create the v-shape back you’ve always wanted.

While they may not be the most glamorous muscles like the biceps or triceps, the lats play a very important role in the body. Not least of which is how they can prevent you from developing that horrible bodybuilder hunch which is worryingly common.

The lats control the rotation and extension of the arms and ensure you’re not the guy or gal in the gym deadlifting like the hunchback of Notre Dame.

Moreover, the lats play a crucial role in the overall function of the body, and other major muscles. You could think of the lats as an important cog of the machine that is the body, if it is weaker than the others, then the machine as a whole won’t run as smoothly.

In terms of your workouts, training lats means you’ll have a much easier time of training your other key movements such as the squat, bench press, and the deadlift.

Just think, performing a back squat with the bar resting on your strong lats is a much better option than having it rest and put a strain on your poor neck.

woman doing exercise on a lat machine in gym

What’s so Good About Lat Pulldowns?

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, then you must be sold on the benefits of training lats.

However, why is the lat pulldown such an effective exercise for doing so, and why should you seek alternative exercises for it if you don’t have access to the machine?

Well, for one, the lat pulldown is a fun exercise to do. Pulling and feeling the contraction of your shoulder blades is a satisfying feeling in itself.

So when you combine that with the knowledge that you are bulking up your back and lats, it doesn’t get much better.

Aside from how it feels to perform, the lat pulldown is arguably the best exercise out there for training these underrated yet hugely important muscles.

Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits of performing the lat pulldown.

Isolation and Strengthening of the Lats

What’s really great about the exercise is how it isolates and targets the lats to strengthen them in a way not many exercises can.

The higher the load, the more you will work the lats, and the better the results will be.

Strengthening of Muscles Surrounding the Lats

Not only is it important to build strong lats, but also to build up the muscles around them that help them to function optimally.

Examples of such muscles are the delts, trapezius, and pec muscles.

Bigger Biceps

Yes, that’s right. By doing lat pulldowns you can also build bigger biceps, and who doesn’t want bigger biceps?

Being a supporting muscle group, you will need to employ the biceps to perform this exercise, so you can take comfort from the fact that you are also working one of the most aesthetic muscles in the body too.

women working out with home gym machine

Lat Pulldown Alternative Exercises

Bearing in mind the efficiency of the lat pulldown to build huge lats, let’s take a look at some of the best alternative exercises without a machine that you can do wherever you are!

One thing you’ll notice about these alternative exercises for the lat pulldown is how many row variations are included in the list.

This is because the lats require that you perform a specific pulling motion to activate, and rows just so happen to provide the perfect pulling motion for the job.

  • Bent-Over Barbell Rows
  • Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Rows
  • Kroc Rows
  • Pull-Ups
  • Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

Bent-Over Barbell Rows

What

First up on our list of lat pulldown alternatives without a machine, we have the classic bent-over barbell row.

The bent-over barbell rows are a standing movement that requires the use of a barbell.

Why

One of the main reasons you should look to the bent-over barbell row as a good alternative exercise for the lats pull downs is the pulling motion it requires.

With this exercise, you will essentially be doing what you do on the lat pulldown machine, except in reverse. Rather than pulling down and activating your lats to control the descent, with the bent-over rows you will be using them to control the ascent as you raise the bar.

I really like this exercise because you can take your time, and increase time under tension for additional hypertrophy of the muscles. It’s also a safer exercise, in that even if you drop the bar, you won’t be at risk of injury.

For that reason, you can try a heavyweight and really make the most of this excellent last pulldown alternative.

Plus, you have the added bonus of using free weights. This means you will have to use extra muscles to stabilize your body as you perform reps.

By adjusting the exercise, you can also work different muscles. To get the upper body more involved, lift the weight higher to your chest.

Alternatively, lift the barbell towards your waist to engage the mid-back muscles.

How

To perform the bent-over barbell row, stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.

Grip the barbell more or less as you would for a deadlift, bend over with a straight back, and pull it up towards your chest.

Make sure at the top of the movement, when the barbell is close to your chest, you contract your lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together. This will really get them engaged in the exercise.

Don’t go too fast with this exercise as you could cause yourself back problems if you aren’t careful.

Standing Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

What

A very similar exercise to the bent-over barbell row, the standing dumbbell bent-over rows are equally effective at targeting the lats.

As you’d imagine, all that’s required for this exercise is a pair of dumbbells, and maybe a mirror if you want to pay attention to your form.

Why

What’s great about the dumbbell variation of the standing row is how much more range of motion you can achieve.

With two dumbbells you can bring the shoulder blades closer together, and as such, work the lats perhaps even more so than with the barbell.

The main way in which this alternative for the lat pulldown differs from the barbell variation is how safe it is to perform.

There is much less likelihood of pulling something in your back if you opt for the dumbbells. This makes it a tempting proposition for anyone who has a history of back trouble, or prefers to err on the side of caution.

However, there’s also the fact that you can develop great grip strength, and use more weight with the dumbbells than the barbell.

So it’s worth weighing up in your mind which of the two exercises is better suited to your workout needs, or if you can’t decide, why not integrate both into your upper body workout!

How

To perform the dumbbell bent-over row, grab a couple of dumbbells you are comfortable with and bend forward as you would for a barbell row.

Keeping your body steady (through activation of the core muscles), and making sure your elbows remain close to you, raise the dumbbells up to your chest.

Again, I can’t stress this enough:

Take it slow and focus on activating the lats at the top part of the movement by bringing your shoulder blades together.

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Rows

What

This next lat pulldown alternative without a machine is ideal if you have a bench around the house.

Another row movement, the single-arm dumbbell bench row simply requires a single dumbbell.

Why

The inclusion of the bench with these rows means you will have more support, and so you’ll be able to load up on the weight.

This exercise is fantastic for isolating both of your lats individually and giving them the time they need to work as separate units and develop evenly.

I enjoy this one immensely. The bench gives you a lot of leverage to haul the heavy dumbbell up towards you, and it’s one that’ll make you feel strong.

If you’re in the market for a pair of adjustable dumbbells that’ll make your life easier with this exercise, check out our review of the best adjustable dumbbells.

Finally, with the bench supported one-arm row, you’ll be working not only the lats, but also the lower back and upper back.

So go crazy, flex your muscles, and have fun with this lat pulldown alternative!

How

To do this exercise, position yourself on one side of your bench, with a dumbbell on either side of it.

Place one knee up on the bench, with the other foot on the side of the bench you are going to lift the dumbbell from.

Reach down and pick up the dumbbell and pull it up towards your chest.

And yes, you guessed it, engage your lat at the top of the movement to get the most out of the exercise.

Kroc Rows

What

Ok, this is the last row exercise, I promise!

Kroc rows are different from your typical row exercise. This lat pulldown alternative requires a lot of strength, some heavy dumbbells and an iron will.

So this one isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Why

If you’ve got what it takes to do a set of Kroc rows, then I promise you, you won’t regret it.

By working with such heavy dumbbells, you will be able to build truly impressive lat muscles that’ll be the envy of the gym.

You know how I said it was a rush to up the weight for dumbbell bench rows? Well, Kroc rows are that rush times one hundred!

Based on the idea that doing bench-supported rows is easier with the leverage the bench allows you, this brutal exercise was invented to scratch that itch to go hard and test your mettle.

How

It’s worth repeating, Kroc rows are incredibly tough to pull off, so only attempt these if you are 100% sure you can manage. I’d also recommend you do so with someone nearby to spot you.

To perform this exercise, you are going to raise your bench so that you can hold it while standing.

Bending down to pick up the dumbbell, you are going to perform the same movement as with the standing dumbbell row, and see how many reps you can manage of this killer exercise

Pull-Ups

What

You’re probably aware of this, but if you’re not, pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can do.

A bar is all you’ll need for this lat pulldown alternative. You could even install one in your house, it’s 100% worth the investment for this exercise alone. We’ve reviewed some of the best pull-up bars available, so get on it and purchase your first bar today.

Why

There can be no doubting the benefits of this fundamental calisthenics movement.

We could sit here and discuss the benefits of the pull-up until the cows come home. Like how it targets every muscle group from biceps and traps, and even works the forearms and grip strength.

However, to keep this relevant, we’re going to look at how it can help you specifically to strengthen your lats.

Pull-ups are amazing for building enviable lats since you are relying heavily on them to pull you up over the bar. For the pull-up you will use the same pulling movement as when you are training on the lat pulldown machine.

This will contribute to that v-shape back we all want, and doesn’t require a weight or a machine!

Plus you are only limited by your imagination when it comes to performing this exercise. You can slow it down for more time under tension and build size, or speed it up to pump out more reps and build muscle endurance.

If you don’t feel like the pull-up is the exercise for you, but you are sold on the benefits, then why not try some of these alternative pull-up exercises?

How

To perform a proper pull-up, the most important thing to remember is to try not to jump up with when you pull yourself up.

This is easier said than done.

But if you are able to lift yourself up over the bar without any momentum, you will have the best chance of strengthening your lats and getting amazing results.

A variation you can do to focus on the lats is to grip the bar with an overhand grip. This will place more emphasis on the upper back muscles, whereas the underhand grip will work the biceps more.

Decline Dumbbell Pullovers

What

The last exercise on this list requires an adjustable bench, and a single dumbbell.

Why

The decline dumbbell pullover is a nice lat pulldown alternative since it works the lats and triceps well with the angle.

It works both the chest and the back at the same time, so this exercise is a great addition to any upper body workout routine.

The lats are used in this movement to extend the dumbbells over your head, and that’s why you could benefit from performing this exercise if you’re looking to train the lats.

How

To perform this exercise, adjust your bench so that it is at an incline. Then lay down so your head is closest to the floor, and your feet are hooked under the bar at the other end.

Grab your single dumbbell from over your head, and raise it above your chest.

The extension part of this exercise – when it is behind your head – is the part of the movement which will work the lats the most.

Final Words

I hope you find these lat pulldown alternatives useful, and you can integrate them into your next upper body home workout.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out our review of the best cable crossover alternatives too, to really step up your home workout game.

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