Alternative to Lat Pulldowns

Back view of strong muscular sportsman doing pull ups in gym
Pull-ups are a great stand in for lat pulldowns. (Image: Julenochek/iStock/Getty Images)

Lat pulldowns are the go-to exercise for building strong and toned latissimus dorsi muscles. But if you don't have the necessary equipment, you're out of luck, right? Wrong. There are plenty of other exercises that work the lats, including pull-ups, pull-overs and inverted rows, so don't sweat it.

Lat Pulldown Variations

Lat pulldowns often refer to the cable machine station used to perform them, and not the exercise itself. Many people don't consider that the exercise can be performed without a cable machine. You can mimic a lat pulldown with a simple exercise band attached to a high pull-up bar. The bar needs to be high enough and the resistance band firm enough that it's taught when your arms are extended straight over your head.

How to: With your arms extended straight overhead, bend your elbows and pull down until your hands are at chest height. Then return to your starting position with control.

While you won't be able to stack the weight on like you would with a cable machine, a tough resistance band will be enough to give the lats a good workout.

Pull-ups

Pull-ups mimic lat pulldowns almost exactly, except you're pulling your body weight up instead of pulling a weighted bar down. There are a variety of ways to do them with different equipment for the beginner and more experienced. If you can't yet do an unassisted pull-up, start with an assisted version.

Pull-Overs

Pull-overs are an isolation exercise that target the lats, with other muscles, including the triceps, working as synergists. You can do these a couple of ways, with a barbell on a bench and seated in a cable machine.

Barbell Pull-Overs

Load up a barbell with an appropriate weight. Lie down perpendicular on a weight bench so that your upper back is square across the middle. Have your feet on the floor hip-distance apart and flex your hips slightly. If you're working with a heavy load it's best to have a spotter place the barbell in your hands when you're in position. Otherwise, get into position while holding the barbell, or reach for it on the ground behind you when you're lying on the bench.

How to: Start with your arms extended over your chest, elbows slightly bent. With control, lower the bar over and beyond your head until your upper arms are just about parallel with your chest. However, don't force your range of motion. Just go as far as you can without stressing your shoulders. Return to your starting position with control and repeat.

Inverted Rows

Inverted rows are a great alternative to cable rows if you're lacking a cable machine. They're a compound exercise that targets the whole back, including the lats, as well as the biceps, and even the hamstrings, glutes and abs. That's a whole lot of bang for your buck.

You can do these with an empty barbell set up in a squat rack. You can even do them with a sturdy table. Set up the barbell about arm's length from the floor and lie underneath it with your chest directly under the bar and your legs extended. If you're using a table, position your body underneath the table with your chest under the table edge.

How to: Reach up and grab the bar or table edge with a wide overhand grip. Firm up your core -- you'll need that stability to keep your body in one solid plank throughout the exercise. Bend your elbows out to the side and pull your chest up to the bar or table edge. Return almost to the starting position with control, but don't touch your body down to the ground in between reps.

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