13 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)

13 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)

The lat pulldown is one of my favourite machines to train my back.

However, if you have had them in your program for a while then maybe they have gotten boring, or your progress is stalling. 

Whether you are no longer making progress, are at a gym without a lat pulldown, or are stuck training at home, there’s alternatives for you.

The 13 best lat pulldown alternatives are:

  • High Row Machine
  • Lat Pullover Machine
  • Narrow Grip Row Machine
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Dumbbell Pullover
  • Single Arm Cable Pulldown
  • Straight Arm Pulldown
  • Cable Row
  • Banded Pulldown
  • Banded Straight Arm Pulldown
  • Pull Up
  • Eccentric Pull Up
  • Inverted Row

These alternatives come from a range of machine, dumbbell, cable, band, and at home variations.

In this article, I will discuss what makes a good lat pulldown alternative, how to perform each of these movements, and share some of my tips on how to make them more effective in your program.

What Makes A Good Lat Pulldown Alternative?

A good lat pulldown alternative needs to achieve one or both of the following:

  • Target similar muscle groups to the lat pulldown
  • Prioritize the latissimus dorsi (lats) as much as possible.

Muscles Used In The Lat Pulldown

The pulldown can be used to target the:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Biceps

A good exercise alternative will primarily target the lats or be able to prioritize the lats more through execution and technique changes compared to other back muscles, which is what I’ll discuss next.

Lat Prioritization

There are two types of “pulling movements” that can prioritize the lats to a greater extent: (1) vertical pulling movements, and (2) horizontal pulling movements. 

During vertical pulling movements (where the weight is traveling in a straight up and down movement pattern), you should aim to drive the elbows straight down while keeping as upright as possible. 

Wider grip movements may give you more room to do this than narrower grip exercises.

With horizontal pulling movements  (where the weight is traveling parallel to the floor), you want to use a narrower grip, and row with your arms close to your side, not pulling beyond the midline on your torso. 

Drive the elbows down and back rather than trying to row the bar.

By performing pulling exercises this way, you increase the pool of exercises you can use to train the lats, and therefore, substitute for lat pulldowns.

Related Article: Interested in getting the most out of your back training? Read our article Are Rows & Pull-Ups Enough For Back And Biceps?

Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Machines

1. High Row Machine

While the high row machine can be a great mid and upper back exercise, by tweaking how you perform it, it becomes a fantastic lat exercise that can replace the lat pulldown.

How To Do It

  • Set the seat at a height that allows a full range of motion.
  • Grip the handle with a supinated (palms facing up) grip.
  • Pull the bar down to the midline of the torso by driving the elbows back and down.
  • Keep the torso stationary throughout and tension through the lats.

Pro Tip

Use straps to minimize the tension throughout your forearms and biceps. This helps me keep the focus on my lats rather than curling the load towards me.

2. Lat Pullover Machine

If your gym has one of these machines, I highly recommend using it as a substitute for the cable lat pulldown. 

This machine completely takes the forearms out of the movement and allows you to focus on pulling through the elbows to target the lats.

How To Do It

  • Set the seat and elbow pad heights to suit your build – you want your elbows to come up towards your eyeline.
  • Use the seatbelt to help hold you still throughout each rep.
  • Push the elbows down against the pads until you reach the midline of your torso.
  • Control the eccentric (upward) phase of the movement.

Pro Tip

Keep the abs and core engaged throughout to maintain the position of the torso – almost like an ab crunch.

This way you’ll work through a consistent range of motion rather than extending the upper back or cheating the movement by using the momentum of your torso moving forward on the way down.

3. Narrow Grip Row Machine

While any narrow grip row machine can be used, I personally love a chest supported row.

These keep me stable and consistent with my torso position which makes it far easier to focus on how I am executing the movement to target my lats.  The more lat engagement, the more specific it will be to a lat pulldown.

How To Do It

  • Pick a machine or attachment with a grip shoulder width apart or narrower – a neutral or underhand grip is preferable. 
  • Set the chest support against your lower chest or set up with a vertical or slightly forward torso lean.
  • Pull the elbows back and down as close to your side as you can – almost dragging your elbows against you.
  • Stop in line with your torso and slowly keep control of the eccentric.

Pro Tip

Rowing movements typically target the rhomboids and trapezius more, as such it can take a couple of sets to figure out your ideal execution to target the lats.

Try setting the seat higher on the machine you are using to help reinforce pulling your elbows narrower and lower than you usually would.

Related Article: The Most Effective Pull-Up Warm Up (Science Backed)

Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Dumbbells

4. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

The single arm dumbbell row is a staple exercise in many training programs, but with a tweak to execution to target your lats more, you can make them an effective alternative to the lat pull down.

How To Do It

  • Support yourself with the opposite arm on a box, bench or rack, and use a dumbbell slightly lighter than you usually would.
  • Start with the rowing arm fully extended out in front you.
  • Pull the elbow back and close to your body until you reach the midline – almost as if you are swinging the dumbbell backwards.  I like to think about pulling my “hand to the hip”
  • Control the eccentric and fully extend before starting the next rep.

Pro Tip

These typically suit lower reps due to tendencies to cheat reps and return to a more traditional rowing execution as the reps go on. 

If you feel the load shifting to your mid or upper back, you may want to drop the reps or drop the load.  

Of course, it’s okay to target your mid or upper back with this movement, but not if you want to use it as a replacement to the lat pulldown.

Related Article: 9 Lat Exercises With Dumbbells (With Pictures)

5. Dumbbell Pullover

While a pullover machine is ideal, the dumbbell pull over is a great option for those without access. 

Many lifters find these easier to perform too due to not being restricted to the range of motion the machines allow.

How To Do It

  • Lie flat on your back on a bench, with your head towards the end of the bench.
  • Hold a single dumbbell above your chest with both hands and your arms fully extended.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back over your head keeping your arms straight.
  • Control the weight downwards until your arms are straight above your head, or until your mobility no longer allows.
  • Pull the weight back up over your chest.

Pro Tip

If you struggle to feel your lats, try to limit the top end range of motion.

Rather than bringing the dumbbell back over your chest, stop when it is over your neck or chin. 

This will help keep constant tension in the lats throughout.

As well, if you’re feeling this movement in your triceps, it’s because you’re bending your arms.  Remember, keep your arms straight through the execution of this movement.

Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Cables

6. Single Arm Pulldown

One of the easiest and best replacements for a lat pulldown is the single arm cable pulldown.

The position of these naturally forces you to pull vertically and prevents you from cheating rep to rep or shifting load to the rest of your back.  The load is kept in your lats, which is exactly where you want to feel this exercise.

How To Do It

  • Set a single handle at the top of a cable machine.
  • Hold the handle and sit with your back to the machine.
  • Pull your elbow straight down, keeping the arm close to your side.
  • Control the load back up until your arm is fully extended
  • Alternate arms and repeat.

Pro Tip

Given that these are very hard to cheat, I recommend performing this for higher intensity sets closer to failure, drop sets, or minimizingrest periods.

7. Straight Arm Pulldown

The cable version of the straight arm pulldown offers the best parts of the machine pullover and dumbbell pullover.

You get the constant tension and more natural feeling of the machine, but the freedom of the dumbbell options.

How To Do It

  • Take 2-3 steps back from the cable stack and lean forward by 45 degrees.
  • Keeping your arms straight, pull the bar/rope down towards your thighs.
  • From here slowly control the load back up as far as your mobility allows.

Pro Tip

Keep your torso angle consistent – this keeps you pulling through the same range of motion each rep, helps keep tension in your lats, and stops you from trying to cheat the movement.

8. Cable Row

These are a fantastic alternative to the lat pull down as you can tweak the set up and execution to help target the lats most, by using my points below.

How To Do It

  • Attach a narrow grip attachment to the cable, either an underhand or neutral grip.
  • Sit or stand in front of the cable stack, leaning your torso slightly forward.
  • Pull your elbows back and down, keeping them tight to your sides, until they reach the midline of the torso.  The lower your elbows are to the body, the more your lats will be engaged.
  • Control the eccentric back to full extension of the arms.

Pro Tip

Drops sets are a great option with these cable exercises to add intensity and volume to a workout.  You can perform 8 reps with a load that gets you close to failure, followed with a 20-30% load drop and repping another 5-8 reps.

This is especially helpful for stronger individuals who may use the full weight stack on certain cable machines.

Related Article: Close vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: Which Is Better?

Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Bands

9. Banded Pulldown

A quick and easy replacement for a traditional lat pulldown machine is a banded pulldown.

These are a good option for those with minimal equipment that cannot manage to do multiple sets of pull ups yet.

How To Do It

  • Hook a band around a rack, pull up bar, or any other stable elevated structure. Trial different bands to find the right tension.
  • Sit below the band hold and underhand grip – this may suit unilateral use due to the limited loading.
  • Drive your elbow straight down by your side until it is in line with your torso.
  • Hold the peak contraction before controlling the band back to the start position.

Pro Tip

Due to bands offering limited load these often require intensity methods to make them more effective. 

Try incorporating drops sets, AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets or sets to failure.

10. Banded Straight Arm Pulldown

For those that find the bands too light for a standard pulldown, straight arm pulldowns often work better.

How To Do It

  • Hook the band around a pull up bar, rack or any other stable structure.
  • Hold the band with a neutral grip about shoulder width apart and step back 2-3 steps.
  • Lean forward 45 degrees and pull the bar/rope down towards your thighs while keeping your arms straight.
  • From here slowly control the load back up as far as your mobility allows.

Pro Tip

If you only have one band available, you can perform a drop set with these by starting further away from the hook point and moving closer to reduce the tension set to set.

Lat Pulldown Alternatives At Home

11. Pull Ups

Pull ups are one of those exercises I always find myself coming back to and are a great option for home training if you’re looking for a lat pulldown alternative.

How To Do It

  • Using a rack, pull up bar, or even a stable railing, take a wide grip (around 1.5x shoulder width).
  • Pull yourself vertically upwards, aiming to keep your arms in line with your torso.
  • Stop pulling upwards when you feel you need to start leaning backwards – this might mean only pulling to your eyeline rather than a full range of motion.
  • Lower yourself back to full arm extension, keep control of the movement throughout.

Pro Tip

You can easily add weight to these when needed by filling a backpack with anything available, using a dip belt and attaching weight, or wearing a weighted vest.

Alternatively, you can increase intensity by performing AMRAP sets or reducing rest periods.

Pull ups can also help your deadlift, read our article Do Pull Ups Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How) to find out how.

12. Eccentric Pull Ups

For those that cannot do multiple reps or sets of pull ups, eccentric training, where you’re only focused on lowering yourself, is the best way to build up and improve your back size and strength at home.

 How To Do It

  • Using a rack, pull up bar, or even a stable railing, take a wide grip (around 1.5x shoulder width)
  • Use a box or step to get yourself up to the top of the movement.
  • From this top position, lower yourself down for 3-5 seconds each rep until your arms are fully extended.
  • Push these close to failure and slow down eccentrics even further if you can towards the end of a session.

Pro Tip

If you can manage to do 3-5 pull ups, even just for 1-2 sets, start with those and then follow up with these. 

Gradually increase the number of full reps you are doing and reduce the eccentric sets.

Can’t feel your lats in the pull-up? Check out my article on How To Activate Your Lats More In The Pull-Up.

13. Inverted Rows

Rowing movements at home are very limited, but inverted rows only need something to hang from – check out my article on suspension strap alternatives to get some ideas..

How To Do It

  • You need a low hanging railing, or to suspend something (a broom stick, pipe, anything stable enough to hold you on) between boxes, chairs or anything else about hip height.
  • Start sitting on the floor underneath the bar with your feet out in front of you.
  • Take an underhand grip just wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Straighten your legs and torso so you are hanging from the bar – almost like an upside down plank position.
  • Row yourself towards the bar by driving your elbows back and keeping them close to your sides.
  • Control the eccentric phase back down to full arm extension.

Pro Tip

Elevate your feet to make these more challenging, or you can add load by sitting weight (back packs filled with tins are an easy option) on your lap.

Other Upper Body Exercise Alternatives

What To Read Next

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Use If I Don’t Have A Lat Pulldown Machine?

If you do not have access to a lat pulldown machine, you can use other vertical pulling machines, or set up a vertical pull exercise using cables or bands. Those without access to any equipment could also perform pull ups, or eccentric pull ups.

Can You Do A Lat Pulldown With Dumbbells?

You cannot do a lat pulldown with dumbbells. However, you can perform a dumbbell pullover or single arm dumbbell row, which are both effective lat exercise alternatives.

How Do You Do A Lat Pulldown At Home?

Unless you have bands, you cannot recreate a lat pulldown set up at home. However, pull ups, eccentric pull ups, or inverted rows, all target the same muscle groups and similar movement patterns making them a great alternative to the lat pulldown.

About The Author

Jacob Wymer

Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.