15 Best Compound Back Exercises (As Rated By Powerlifters)

15 best compound back exercises (as rated by powerlifters)

Training to build muscle mass and strength in the back area is an important part of a powerlifter’s program. Most powerlifters will use various compound back exercises, which are multi-joint exercises that activate numerous muscles at the same time.

Here are the 15 best compound back exercises as rated by powerlifters:

  1. Chest Supported Row
  2. Braced Dumbbell Row
  3. Meadows Row
  4. Cable Rows
  5. Dumbbell Row
  6. Underhand Forward Lean Seated Cable Row
  7. Wide Grip Behind the Neck Pulldown
  8. Chest-Supported Pulldown
  9. Landmine Row and Reach
  10. 3 Point Dumbbell Row
  11. T-Bar Row
  12. Pendlay Rows – Russel Orhii
  13. Thoracic Lat Cable Pull Around
  14. Iliac Lat Pulldown
  15. Lumbar Lat Pull Around

In this article, I will go through how to execute the compound back exercises, why they are great exercises, what the pros and cons are, and tips to make the most out of them.

Before we get into each of these exercises, learn why it’s important for powerlifters to train the back in How Do Powerlifters Train Back? (3 Must-Do Workouts).

The Goal of Compound Back Exercises

Pendlay Row

The goal of performing compound back exercises is to:

  • Increase muscle mass 
  • Increase muscular strength
  • Reduce injury risk

Increase Muscle Mass 

Whether you are a powerlifter or not, compound back exercises allow you to train different areas of your back muscles in large ranges of motion. This is good for increasing muscle mass in the back muscles. 

If you are a powerlifter, increasing muscle mass in your back muscles will increase your potential to build strength in your back and, ultimately, your main powerlifts. Having more back muscle is useful for having a good shelf for performing back squats or keeping a stable base for bench pressing.

Increase Muscular Strength

You may also want to increase muscular strength around your back muscles to make sure you can maintain rigidity of your torso and correct posture during the execution of your powerlifts.

Having a rigid torso and good posture will allow your primary muscle groups to work properly in other compound lifts, such as the overhead press

Learn more about how a strong back can help your bench press in Does a Strong Back Help Bench Press? (Yes, Here’s How).

Reduce Injury Risk

Training your back muscles with compound exercises is useful for keeping a muscular balance between your pulling and pushing muscles.

If you are a powerlifter who trains the bench press a lot, you will also need to train your back to keep your shoulders healthy.

We discuss more ways to prevent powerlifting injuries in How To Avoid A Powerlifting Injury (Complete Guide).

What Makes a Good Compound Back Exercise?

T-Bar-Row

An exercise is a good compound back exercise if it can accomplish a combination of one or more of the following features:

  • Strengthens the posture you have in the powerlifts
  • Focuses on a specific back muscle
  • Avoids interference with the performance of the powerlifts

Strengthens the Posture You Have in the Powerlifts

A good compound back exercise can replicate the posture and positioning that you may put yourself in for one of the main powerlifts.

For example, a compound back exercise may put your whole body in a position that replicates your back angle at the start of a deadlift position.

Focuses on a Specific Back Muscle

A good compound back exercise may also focus on a specific portion of your back muscles. You may want to focus on a specific back muscle if you need to increase muscle mass in that area. 

For example, you may want to prioritize the rear delts, which need to be big enough to support a bar for back squats. You may also want to focus on a specific back muscle just to keep a healthy shoulder joint.

Avoids Interference With the Performance of the Powerlifts

A good compound back exercise should also avoid interference with how well you can perform your main powerlifts.

For example, you may want to choose a compound back exercise that minimizes lower back activation. Having a fatigued lower back may interfere with squats and deadlifts.

Powerlifters Who Rated These Exercises

Jason Tremblay

Jason Tremblay is the president and co-founder of The Strength Guys, a team of coaches who provide nutrition and coaching services to powerlifters. He has coached numerous international competitors, including world champions.

Bryce Lewis

Bryce Lewis is the founder of The Strength Athlete, a team of powerlifting coaches. He is a 3-time national champion in the US and has competed internationally numerous times. He was also a former world champion in the 105kg weight class. 

Chris Fudge

Chris Fudge is a high-level coach and has worked with powerlifters, award-winning fitness models, and professional athletes. He has been awarded Personal Trainer of the Year across Canada and is a nationally ranked powerlifter.

Steve DeNovi

Steve DeNovi is a 93kg powerlifter who coaches with his brand, PRs Performance, and owns a YouTube channel of the same name. 

Jennifer Thompson

Jennifer Thompson is an 11-time World Powerlifting Champion powerlifter and was in the IPF Hall of Fame in 2019. She is also known to have one of the strongest female bench presses.

15 Best Compound Back Exercises

1. Chest-Supported Row

The chest-supported row is a machine-based compound exercise that trains the lats, traps, and biceps.

The handles in the chest-supported row may vary from machine to machine and can come in different angles. A more horizontal-angled handle will activate the upper traps more, whereas a more vertical-angled handle will activate the lats more.

How To Do It

  • Set up the height of the chest-supported row, so the pad of the machine is at your ribcage level, not your abdominal level.
  • Select the appropriate weight and adjust the distance of the pad, so your back is stretched when holding onto the machine handles.
  • Grab onto the handles and keep your head tall so you do not slouch over.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale when you row your elbows back until they stop by the side of your torso.
  • Inhale as you slowly return the handle until your arms fully extend and your shoulder blades stretch forward.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

According to Jason Tremblay, the progression is measurable and difficult to cheat.

“I like chest-supported rows because the progressions are measurable, it’s difficult to cheat by using momentum, and it removes the strain of stabilizing the weight using the spinal erectors.

For these reasons, we include the chest-supported row in our streamlined and highly-specific training programs trusted by champions such as Taylor Atwood, Lya Bavoil, and Eli Burks.” – Jason Tremblay

Pro Tip

Because it is hard to cheat this exercise, you can push closer to failure if you want to train your back muscles harder.

I recommend training most of your sets to about 1 to 3 reps short of failure, but then failing on your last set to finish off.

2. Braced Dumbbell Row

The braced dumbbell row is a free-weight compound back exercise focusing more on the traps and rear delts. This makes it useful for building a big back for shelving a barbell for back squats.

How To Do It

  • Set up an incline free-weight bench, so the bench angle is roughly 30 to 45 degrees from horizontal.
  • Lie on your stomach on the bench, so your head is above the end of the long pad of the bench and onto a pair of dumbbells.
  • Make sure the bench incline is high enough that the dumbbells do not make contact with the ground.
  • Allow your shoulder blades to stretch downward while keeping your head stacked in line with your spine.
  • Avoid lifting your chin and extending your neck.
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale as you row your elbows back and up.
  • Pinch your shoulder blades back together at the top.
  • Inhale as you slowly return the dumbbells back down to the floor.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

It prevents overtraining the spinal erectors (the muscles responsible for straightening the back and rotating the torso from side to side).

As Bryce Lewis says:

“I tend to treat back work as muscle-building rather than passing on any motor patterns to the main movements.

And if we think about it like that, it’s pretty clear to me that the erectors get plenty of work from the amount of forward lean inherent in their normal squat and deadlift positioning. The actual latissimus dorsi and related upper back muscles are perhaps activated less.”

Pro Tip

You can change the angle of the bench to change the emphasis on your back muscles. The more horizontal the bench angle is, the more you will target your lats. The higher the bench angle, the more you target your upper traps.

You may want to target your lats more if you are performing this exercise for deadlifts, but you may want to target the traps more if you are performing this exercise as assistance for squats and bench press.

We talk more about why strong lats are important for deadlifts in Do Deadlifts Work The Lats? (Yes, Here’s How).

3. Meadows Row

The Meadows row is an exercise made famous by the late John Meadows. It is a variation of the single-arm landmine row. This compound back exercise has a particular focus on the rear delts and upper traps.

You will need to use a barbell and, ideally, a landmine mine station for the barbell. If you do not have a landmine station, you can position the barbell in the corner of a room.

How To Do It

  • Stand next to the barbell secured to a landmine station or positioned in a corner of the room.
  • Make sure you are facing perpendicular to the direction that the barbell is pointing and stand with the end of the barbell by the outer side of the foot.
  • With a wider-than-shoulder-width stance, bend at your hips and knees with your outer elbow bracing onto your thigh and the other hand grabbing the end of the barbell.
  • Ensure your shoulders are over the end of the barbell, and row the barbell up by leading with your elbows.
  • Slowly lower the bar as your elbows return to full extension.
  • Repeat for the required number of repetitions.

Benefits

It activates your core muscles to stabilize the movement. Your hip and trunk musculature will fully activate to stop your torso from rotating during the rowing movement.

The key core muscles that are activated are the abdominals, obliques, back extensors, glutes, hip flexors, and adductors.

Pro Tip

As this exercise recruits other parts of your body to stabilize, it is easy to cheat and use momentum to complete repetitions. As a solution, choose a slow tempo in your repetitions and avoid training close to failure with this exercise.

Rather than rowing explosively, aim for a count of 2 seconds as you row the barbell up and take 4 seconds to lower the barbell back down.

A good rule of thumb is to leave at least 3 to 4 repetitions in reserve to maintain quality technique during execution.

4. Cable Rows

Cable rows are one of the most popular compound back exercises among different types of exercisers and athletes. You can perform the cable row with a purpose-built seated cable row machine or use a dual adjustable pulley machine.

How To Do It

  • Attach a V-grip cable handle attachment to the cable machine and set the desired load in the cable stack.
  • Sit in front of the cable machine while holding onto the cable handle.
  • Position your feet against the foot pad. If you are using a dual adjustable pulley, set your feet against the floor or cable stack to stabilize.
  • Set your torso angle at a 90-degree angle from the floor and allow your arms to remain fully extended in front of you.
  • Keep your torso and head tall while letting your shoulder blades stretch forward.
  • Row the cable handle towards your lower ribs by pulling your elbows back and pinching your shoulder blades.
  • Once the cable handle reaches your trunk, control the handle back to the starting position until your arms fully extend, and your shoulder blades come forward again.
  • Keep your torso position and posture stationary throughout the execution.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

The useful thing about the seated cable row is that there is a moderate activation of your spinal erectors. These muscles run along the side of your spine along your whole back and stabilize your posture during the execution.

You may want to train your traps and lats as well as your spinal erectors if you want to improve your ability to keep your posture more extended. This may be useful for beginners who have relatively underdeveloped back extensors.

Pro Tip

The cable row is versatile, as you can use different cable handle attachments. The two main cable handle attachments that I recommend using for the seated cable row are the V-grip handle and the straight bar handle.

However, the straight bar handle or lat pulldown handle is a good choice if you want to prioritize your rear delts or lower and upper traps to improve your upper back strength for your bench press. When you use the straight bar or lat pulldown handle, focus on flaring your elbows out and bringing the cable handle towards your sternum.

The V-grip cable handle is preferred if you want to focus on training the lats more. You may want to focus on your lats more if you want to improve their muscular endurance when training deadlifts.

If you don’t have access to a seated cable row machine or want to add variety to your training, check out these seated cable row alternatives.

5. Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is one of the most commonly performed free-weight compound back exercises done by bodybuilders and powerlifters. 

How To Do It

  • With a neutral grip (palm facing in), hold a dumbbell in one hand and support yourself by using the other hand to brace against the free-weight bench.
  • Set your torso angle, so it is parallel or close to parallel to the floor.
  • Allow the dumbbell to hover below your shoulder with a fully extended arm and relaxed shoulder blade.
  • While maintaining the position and posture of your torso, row the dumbbell up and back toward your hip by leading with your elbow.
  • Stop when your upper arm is in line with your torso.
  • Slowly descend the dumbbell back to the start position, allowing your shoulder blades to go down again and your arm to fully extend below your shoulder joint.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

The dumbbell row is modifiable for individual body types and circumstances.

As Chris Fudge says:

“…most lifters will benefit from stronger and bigger lats ie supporting the bar for squats, assisting the descent in bench press or to stabilize the spine on deadlifts any row that can maximize length of a lat and a downward and around motion will maximize lat contractile ability.

For this reason I love the single arm DB row. Unlike machines or barbells, the single arm DB row can be modified for the individual doing it by optimal grip, support height, length, tension and quality control.”

Pro Tip

You can add more range of motion and more of a contraction if you bend your core to the side where you are holding the dumbbell when you raise the dumbbell. Then when you lower the dumbbell, bend to the opposite side.

By doing this, you lengthen the distance between where the lats are attached to the back of your skeleton, which can make it a superior stimulus for increasing muscle mass.

6. Underhand Forward Lean Seated Cable Row

The underhand forward lean seated cable row is a variation of the seated cable row that uses a long cable handle attachment. You should use a purpose-built seated cable row machine for this exercise, but you can get away with using a regular dual adjustable cable pulley.

How To Do It

  • Attach a lat pulldown or straight bar cable handle attachment to the seated cable row machine and set the desired load in the cable stack.
  • Sit in front of the cable machine while holding onto the cable handle with a supinated (underhand) grip.
  • Maintain a shoulder-width or slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, as this will maximize the stretch in your lats.
  • Brace your feet against the foot pad. If you are using a dual adjustable pulley, set your feet against an exercise step by the cable stack to stabilize.
  • Set your torso angle to about 45 to 60 degrees from the floor with a flat back.
  • Allow your arms to remain fully extended in front of you while holding them at about 135 degrees from your spine.
  • Keep your torso and head tall while letting your shoulder blades stretch forward.
  • Pull the straight bar cable handle towards your sternum by driving your elbows down towards the side of your hips.
  • Once the cable handle reaches your chest, return it until your arms fully extend and your shoulder blades upwardly rotate.
  • Keep your torso position and posture stationary throughout the execution.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

According to Steve DeNovi, this exercise provides superior lat engagement when compared to seated rows and lat pulldowns.

“From a biomechanics perspective, the typical seated cable row and lat pulldown does not effectively target the lats, and in reality involves more of the upper back musculature.

That is where the Underhand Forward Lean Seated Cable Row saves the day, and directly targets the lats. The key with this movement is to maintain a forward lean and neutral back at all times without any momentum, and then from there pull your elbows to your hips.” – Steve DeNovi

The angle your arm is at when fully stretched is also when your lats are stretched the most. If your arm gets any higher above your head, your shoulder girdle shifts back, and your lats re-shorten.

The underhand element also puts your lats in a longer muscle length, which is superior if the purpose is to increase muscle mass.

Pro Tips

Performing this exercise with two independent cables with single-hand attachments is beneficial.

First, there is the comfort of allowing your wrist to be positioned at the most comfortable angle. The straight bar forces you to fully supinate your forearms and wrists to the point of potential discomfort.

Secondly, it allows you to rotate your wrists during the execution. The best way to do this is to keep an underhand grip when your arms are straight, giving your lats the most stretch. Then when you pull down, rotate your hands into an overhand grip.

7. Wide Grip Behind The Neck Pulldown

The wide grip behind the neck pulldown is a variation of the lat pulldown that Jennifer Thompson is a big fan of. “[You] put [your] hands out as far as possible,” she says, adding that it “builds your outer upper back for a good bench base.”

How To Do It

  • Attach a long bar lat pulldown cable attachment to the lat pulldown machine.
  • Select the desired weight you want to train with.
  • Grab onto the ends of the long bar attachment and sit your legs underneath the leg pad
  • Maintain a flat back and an upright torso angle and face forward.
  • Exhale as you pull the long bar down towards the back of your head.
  • Inhale as you slowly control the barbell back up until your arms are straight.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

Research suggests that the rear delts and biceps show higher activity during the behind-the-neck lat pulldown variation. If your lats are fatigued, you can do this variation to recruit the other main muscles used during a pulldown-type exercise.

The other main muscles that are used are the lower traps (triangular-shaped muscles that run along the back of the neck and shoulders), rhomboids (upper back muscles that are responsible for movement of the shoulder blades), and brachialis (a muscle that lies beneath the biceps and aids in the bending of the elbow).

Pro Tip

Make sure you use a long bar attachment. The wide grip behind the neck pulldown can be stressful on the shoulder joint if you do not have mobility. Using a long bar handle can help minimize shoulder joint and rotator cuff stress.

8. Chest-Supported Pulldown

The chest-supported pulldown is one of my preferred bilateral (both arms together) lat exercises. The chest support with a free-weight bench allows you to isolate your lats and biceps without involving your back extensors.

How To Do It

  • Set up a free-weight bench and position it into a lat pulldown machine or a regular cable machine.
  • If you are using a regular cable machine, set up the cable to stem from the top of the machine.
  • Attach a medium to long bar cable attachment to the lat pulldown or cable machine.
  • Set the free-weight bench incline so that it is completely upright.
  • Sit on the free-weight bench so your chest is against the bench pad.
  • Grab the lat pulldown handle and make sure your arms are roughly 30 degrees from vertical.
  • Keep a flat back and avoid overextending your lower back by tucking your pelvis under.
  • Pull down and direct your elbows toward the side of your pelvis.
  • Slowly control the lat pulldown handle back up.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

The chest support from the free-weight bench allows you to let your lats relax and stretch them more at the top. It also allows you to relax your back extensors. This is useful because most people over-extend their back in a traditional lat pulldown, which shortens the lats to a certain extent. 

If you can relax your back extensors, you can let your lats stretch more. Research has shown that training muscles through a longer muscle length is superior for increasing muscle mass.

Pro Tip

Use a neutral grip cable attachment. This will allow you to rotate your arms outward more. This external rotation of your arms puts your lats in a more stretched-out position, which can enhance the stimulus for muscle mass.

9. Landmine Row and Reach

The landmine row and reach is a great compound back exercise that trains one side of your body at a time. You will need to use a barbell and, if available, a landmine attachment to stabilize it. If a landmine is unavailable, you can jam the barbell into the corner of a room or anchor it with a dumbbell on a weight disc.

How To Do It

  • Load the desired weight onto the end of the barbell.
  • Stand with your feet next to the end of the barbell and face in the same direction as where the barbell is pointing.
  • Bend at your hips and knees until you can reach the end of the barbell.
  • Keep your shins vertical, your back flat, and your shoulder over the end of the barbell.
  • Initiate the movement by rowing the barbell up and back while simultaneously reaching toward the ground with your free arm.
  • Keep your head stacked in line with the rest of your spine and the rest of your torso and legs stationary.
  • Lower the barbell until your arms are straight while simultaneously bringing the elbow of your free arm up and back.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and change sides to repeat the same process for your other arm.

Benefits

This is a great exercise for you if you have an asymmetry between the left and right shoulder in terms of posture and strength. If you have an asymmetry in your shoulders, you are also likely to have asymmetry in your hip strength and mobility, which this exercise may be useful for.

This exercise also activates the abdominals, obliques, legs, and hip musculature and replicates a similar position you may be in for deadlifts. This makes it a good accessory exercise for improving your deadlifts.

Pro Tip

The standard execution of this exercise can target the lats well, but if you want to change it so you can activate the rear delts and traps more, you can turn yourself to face perpendicular to the direction of the barbell. In this setup, the barbell would stem from the side of you.

10. 3-Point Dumbbell Row

The 3-point dumbbell row is a great horizontal rowing compound back exercise for someone without access to many machines or equipment.

You may use a free-weight bench, but you do not need to. You just need access to something you can brace one arm onto that is roughly knee height.

How To Do It

  • Set up a free-weight bench in front of you or stand in front of something you can brace your arm on.
  • Stand in a wider-than-shoulder-width stance and bend at your hips and knees until your back is parallel or just above parallel to the ground.
  • Grab a dumbbell and brace your other arm on the free-weight bench in front of you.
  • Row the dumbbell by driving the elbow back and down toward your hip.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back down until your arm is straight and your shoulder blade rounds forward.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and repeat the same process for the other arm.

Benefits

The 3-point dumbbell row activates your abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles to help stabilize your torso and stop it from rotating during execution.

This can be useful if you want to strengthen your back muscles for squats, particularly if you have uneven back and shoulder mobility and, therefore, an uneven squat.

Pro Tip

It is easy to speed up and rep out your set and cut your range of motion short at the bottom. To guarantee that you do not cheat, add a momentary pause at the bottom of the repetitions. This bottom portion is particularly important because it is when your lats and traps are most stretched out in this exercise.

11. T-Bar Row

The T-bar row, or landmine row, is popular among bodybuilders and powerlifters. This exercise requires a barbell and a V grip/double D cable handle.

Ideally, you would also have a landmine station, but you can create a makeshift station for this exercise by loading one end of the barbell in the corner of a room.

How To Do It

  • Set the barbell into a landmine station and load it with your chosen weight.
  • Position the V-grip handle under the end of the barbell shaft before the sleeve lip.
  • Straddle the barbell and stand a foot behind the V-grip handle above the middle of the barbell.
  • Stand up while grabbing the V-grip handle with both hands.
  • Hinge your hips and keep a soft bend in your knees with vertical shins.
  • Lower the barbell until the plates nearly touch the ground, so there is tension through your body from the weight.
  • Exhale as you row the barbell towards your torso with your elbows tucked close to your obliques.
  • Pinch your shoulder blades back at the top but keep a flat back and stationary posture throughout the execution.
  • Lower the barbell until you fully extend your arms.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

The T-bar row is a useful assistance exercise for deadlifts as it can replicate the bottom position of the deadlift.

During the T-bar row, you need to hold yourself in a fixed bent-over position throughout execution. This makes it a great exercise to improve muscular endurance in your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and back extensors.

Pro Tip

Try using weight plates in smaller increments or those with smaller diameters when you perform this exercise. You can row the barbell closer to your torso without your weight discs hitting you.

If you have long arms, you can also elevate your feet by standing on a pair of weight discs, so there is more room to lower the barbell.

If you’re unable to do T-bar rows due to a lack of equipment, try these T-bar row alternatives.

12. Pendlay Rows

The Pendlay row is a barbell row variation that was made famous by American weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay.

It is also one of competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder Russell Orhii’s favorite back exercises that he does in his deadlift training workouts. He likes to train up to 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions in the Pendlay row.

How To Do It

  • Set up a barbell loaded with your chosen weight.
  • Stand with your mid-foot underneath the bar and keep your eet hip-width apart and parallel to each other.
  • Hinge your hips while keeping your shins vertical until your back is parallel to the floor.
  • Keep a soft bend at the knees throughout.
  • Hold the barbell with an overhand grip with a width that allows you to keep your arms straight.
  • Breathe in and forcefully exhale as you row the barbell vertically upward.
  • Bring the barbell towards your lower chest. If you have shorter arms, you may raise the barbell to higher up on your chest.
  • Slowly lower the barbell back down and return it to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Benefits

The Pendlay row trains you in a more hip-dominant position than the starting position of the deadlift.

If you have poor muscular endurance maintaining a good start position and posture in deadlifts, you will benefit from adding Pendlay rows.

Pro Tip

This exercise was designed to be trained with more explosive intent. For this reason, you should execute the lift powerfully and avoid training close to failure.

You may also want to go for lower rep ranges. Training the Pendlay row with sets of 4 to 8 repetitions is a good place to start.

Learn about the differences between Pendlay rows and barbell rows in Pendlay Row vs Barbell Row: Differences, Pros, Cons.

13. Thoracic Lat Cable Pull Around 

The thoracic lat cable pull around is a great compound back exercise that focuses on the upper lats or the thoracic lats. You will need a cable machine and a single-hand cable attachment to do this exercise.

How To Do It

  • Set up the cable machine to start from near the bottom and attach a single-hand cable attachment to it.
  • Select your desired load.
  • Hold onto the cable attachment and stand about 1 to 2 feet away from where the cable stems from.
  • Brace yourself against the machine with your free arm and stand in a way that the arm holding the cable handle is being pulled across your body.
  • Your bicep should physically cross your lower pec.
  • From here, pull the cable across and drive the elbow back and across.
  • Slowly return the cable handle until your arms fully extend.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  • Change the setup for the other arm and repeat the same process.

Benefits

The thoracic lat cable pull around is good at helping you stretch the lat fibers that are attached to your thoracic spine.

This is useful if your lats fatigue first in other horizontal rowing exercises.

Pro Tip

Cue yourself to lead with the elbows instead of your shoulder blades. It is very easy to think about needing to move your shoulder blades back, which will activate your upper traps. This is not what you want. Keep your shoulders relaxed and lead with the elbows.

14. Iliac Lat Pulldown 

The iliac lat pulldown, or single arm supported lat pulldown, is a unilateral (single arm) compound back exercise that activates the lats, rear delts, and biceps. You will need a cable machine, a single-hand cable attachment, and a free-weight bench for the execution.

How To Do It

  • Set up a free-weight bench to be almost completely upright and position it in front of the cable machine about a foot away.
  • Set the cable to stem from the top and attach a single-hand cable attachment to it.
  • Brace your arm against the top of the pad and place the knee from the same side on the bench seat.
  • Hold the single-hand cable attachment with your free hand with your foot on the same side firmly planted on the floor.
  • With a neutral grip, drive your elbows down towards the side of your hips.
  • Do not allow your elbows to go back.
  • Slowly return the cable handle until your arm fully extends.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions and do the same thing for the other side.

Benefits

The iliac lat pulldown is good at helping you stretch the lat fibers that are attached to your pelvis. This is beneficial if you want to strengthen your lats to help you keep your back flat and extended during deadlifts.

Pro Tip

You can add more range of motion if you try to crunch into the obliques of the same side you are training when you pull the handle down. When you let the cable go up to the top, crunch towards the other oblique to let your lats stretch out more.

If you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine or want to train your lats in different ways, check out these lat pulldown alternatives.

15. Lumbar Lat Pull Around

The lumbar lat pull around is another great unilateral (single arm) compound back exercise that activates the lats, rear delts, and biceps. You will need a cable machine and a single-hand cable attachment for the execution.

How To Do It

  • Set up the cable machine to start from about head level and attach a single-hand cable attachment to it.
  • Select your desired load.
  • Hold onto the cable attachment and stand about 1 to 2 feet away from where the cable stems from.
  • Brace yourself against the machine with your free arm and stand in a way that the arm holding the cable handle is being pulled across your body.
  • Your arm should physically cross your whole pec and your posture should be tall and upright.
  • From here, pull the cable across and drive the elbows down and across.
  • Slowly return the cable handle until your arms fully extend without changing your posture or positioning.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  • Change the setup for the other arm and repeat the same process.

Benefits

The lumbar lat pull around is effective at helping you stretch the lat fibers that are attached to your lumbar or lower spine.

This may be useful if you find that your lats fatigue first in other pulldown exercises.

Pro Tip

Try to keep a soft bend in your knees and tuck your pelvis under ever so slightly. This will stop your lower back from overextending so you can lengthen your lats more when you execute each repetition.

Alternatively, you can put yourself in a half-kneeling position with the leg of the side you are training in front of you. By stepping forward with that leg, you stop your back from overextending. 

Looking for even more ways to train your back? We provide several more back exercises in  11 Best Inverted Row Alternatives (With Pictures) and 10 Hammer Strength Row Alternatives (With Pictures).


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com