I know we all love a cable pullover - it's an effective, old-school move for targeting the lats and building a strong back.

Still, sometimes we have to change certain exercises, whether we want to kickstart muscle growth after hitting a plateau, train around an injury, or adapt to the conditions in a new gym.

Today, I will share with you my top-notch suggestions for cable pullover alternatives.

Don't worry; these ideal alternatives are equally effective (if not more) as the classic cable pullover.

There are many more than eight exercises that will undoubtedly help you target back muscles (especially the upper back.)

However, in my experience, the following exercises are supreme when you're looking to substitute a cable pullover. During my workouts and sessions with clients, I felt these ones were far more productive than some other seemingly similar movements.

1. Cable High Pulls

Man Doing High Pulley Cable Curls

I have to clarify one thing regarding this exercise.

I heard that some of my colleagues consider the "Cable High Pull" to be an exercise for traps when you put the attachment on the lowest pulley and pull it up while keeping your elbows on the outside. As far as I know, it is a "Cable Upright Row" and not a "Cable High Pull."

And now let's talk about Cable High Pulls - one of my favorite exercises. It is so important for your back, whether you are a bodybuilder or an average gym goer.

A sedentary lifestyle and hours spent looking at a computer or phone screen make our shoulders almost constantly rounded, leading to deformities. The Cable High Pull, similar to the Face Pull, is an exercise that forces you to do the opposite movement and strengthen your back.

Cable High Pulls should not just be a Cable Pullover alternative but a regular part of your back workout routine.


  • Improves your posture
  • Suitable for all levels
  • Low risk of injury

How to do it:

  1. Attach the rope handle to the highest pulley position on an adjustable pulley machine.
  2. Take the rope with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Move a few steps away from the machine to create bigger tension.
  4. Engage your core and straighten your back.
  5. Pull the rope towards your neck, pushing your elbows outward.
  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
  7. Slowly return to the starting position to feel a stretch in your upper back.

Tips From A Trainer!

To increase your range of motion (and thus, stress on muscles), try this alternative as a kneeling cable pullover with high pull. 

2. Cable Rows

Man Doing Standing Cable Rows In The Gym

The possibility to do this exercise in many different ways is its most significant advantage.

You can do Cable Rows standing or sitting, allowing you to hit the muscles at a different angle. Plus, you will find at least one suitable machine in practically every gym.

Cable Rows are an exercise that involves almost the entire back.

Compared to the Cable Pullover, this exercise targets the lats (wing muscles) less and more of those muscles along the spine, especially if you squeeze spinal erectors at the top of the movement. I always advise my clients to do this because these muscles are responsible for the stability of the spine.


  • Simple and safe
  • Numerous variations
  • Great for the erector spinae muscles

How to do it:

  1. Attach the V-handle either to the seated row machine or to the pulley machine (adjust height approximately just below the sternum). Make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Pull the handle towards the stomach.
  3. Keep your elbows close to your body and core engaged.
  4. Pause and squeeze at the top of the movement
  5. Return to full stretch while keeping the back straight

Tips From A Trainer!

Exclude any momentum because swings make this back cable exercise far less effective. 

3. Seal Row

Man Doing Lying Bench Seal Rows In The Gym

The Seal Row is a truly unique exercise.

No other cable pullover alternatives give you the opportunity to target your upper back and lats with heavy weights while keeping your lower back safe.

You can't "cheat" and use your legs and core - only back muscles. Since the stabilizing muscles do not have to work, you can aim for higher volume.

By changing the angle of your elbows, you can tailor this exercise to emphasize different muscle groups. For example, if you want to emphasize lats, put your elbows at approximately 30 degrees, and for upper and mid-back - 80 degrees is perfect.


  • Even heavy weights are safe for the lower back
  • Easy to maintain proper form
  • Highly effective for muscle building

How to do it:

  1. Put a loaded barbell under the flat bench.
  2. Lie on your stomach on the bench.
  3. Grasp the barbell.
  4. Engage your back muscles and squeeze the shoulder blades together to bring the barbell toward your chest.
  5. When the barbell almost touches the bench, hold for a second and return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Never raise your chin and chest from the bench. Otherwise, you will get the exact opposite of what you want - excessive strain on the lower back. Trust me on this one! 

4. Resistance Band Pullover

man doing resistance band pullover

If you want to do a cable pullover at home or on vacation or recently had an upper-body injury, the Resistance Band Pullover is a great alternative that will suit most people.

Like most other exercises that include a resistance band instead of weights, the Resistance Band Pullover is a low-impact exercise good during deload.

There is also a variation of this exercise that is performed in a lying position. Still, the lying-down resistance band pullover emphasizes the pecs more than the back (same muscles as the dumbbell pullover and barbell pullover), so I'll focus on the standing resistance band pullover.


  • Good exercise as part of the injury recovery routine
  • Not taxing on joints
  • Minimal equipment is needed

How to do it:

  1. Attach a resistance band above your head level.
  2. Make a few steps until you tighten the band (you can also kneel).
  3. Bend the elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Pull the band down without changing the angle of your elbows.
  5. Squeeze the lats.
  6. Return to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Try a unilateral Resistance Band Pullover to correct any imbalances in the upper back and lats. 

5. Lat Pulldowns

man in blue doing lat pulldowns

Lat Pulldown - one of the best exercises overall -- truly! It is equally used by bodybuilders and other types of exercisers.

Although lats are the primary muscles worked, it is actually a compound movement that develops the whole upper body. If you do it regularly, you will notice improvement both visually and strength-wise.

One more amazing lat Pulldown benefit is the number of variations you can perform - just change the attachment, and you'll get a completely different angle. You can also do it behind the head lat pulldown, but be careful because shoulder injury is possible in that position.


  • Improved posture
  • Many variations
  • Great for hypertrophy

How to do it:

  1. Set up the attachment you want (straight bar, wide grip pulldown bar, rope attachment, V-handle, etc.).
  2. Adjust the seat height.
  3. Grab the bar with both hands; you can use all three grips - neutral grip, underhand grip, and overhand grip, depending on the attachment.
  4. Push down and retract your shoulder blades.
  5. Pull the bar down until it touches your upper chest.
  6. Hold for a moment and squeeze your lats.
  7. Get back to the starting position in a controlled manner.

Tips From A Trainer!

Volume and proper form should be your priorities, not the weight. Lat Pulldown is not a powerlifting exercise, but your goal is muscle hypertrophy, meaning the number of repetitions is even more important than the weight. 

6. Dual Grip Cable Pulldowns

man assisted by trainer doing double cable neutral-grip lat pull-down

The Dual Grip Cable Pulldown is a rather unique alternative to Cable Pullover.

The first and biggest difference is that both sides of your body work separately.

What I like most about it is the isolation of the lats and range of motion, which you can hardly replicate with most other back exercises.

Apart from lats, you will feel almost all other back muscles as well as biceps and forearms. That's why it's a great addition to your back-bicep day.

Adjust the weight to your fitness level, but don't go too heavy. Cable exercises are not for breaking a personal 1RM record but for higher volume and a proper tempo.


  • Good focus on lats
  • Targets many other back muscles, plus the biceps
  • Safe

How to do it:

  1. Attach two single handles, one on each side. Choose one of the higher positions on the machine.
  2. Place a flat or incline bench in between.
  3. Grab the handles and put your arms in full extension to reach the starting position.
  4. Put your chest forward, core engaged, and back straight.
  5. Squeeze your lats to start the pulling motion, and try not to use your biceps too much.
  6. Once your elbows touch your sides, hold for a moment.
  7. Slowly return to the starting position - arms straight.

Tips From A Trainer!

Instead of sitting on the bench, I like to kneel in the middle of the cable crossover machine. That way, you will stretch your arms and latissimus dorsi even more in the starting position, making the exercise harder. 

7. Renegade Row

Man Doing Renegade Rows

The renegade row, also called plank row, is a challenging free-weight variation of cable pullover, and I usually recommend it only to advanced exercisers.

Beginners can include it in the workout too, but it is possible they will not be able to properly execute it even with the lightest dumbbells, therefor, you can try out renegade row alternatives.

You need a strong core, not just the back and arms since the core stabilizes the body during the whole duration of the movement. Also, your hips and glutes are included, other body parts many people have trouble with.

Just note that you must prevent your hips from rotating outwards.


  • Upper body strengthening
  • Core stability
  • Activates the whole body

How to do it:

  1. Take a pair of dumbbells you can easily carry and place them on the floor.
  2. Get in a tall plank position with your hands and feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Take the dumbbells with your hands.
  4. Engage your core.
  5. When you row with your right hand, your weight should be shifted to the left side of your body while keeping your torso and hips neutral.
  6. Row the dumbbell until the elbow passes your body, approximately at the bottom of the latissimus dorsi.
  7. Change the side and complete it again.

Tips From A Trainer!

As with a standard plank, your body must be straight, from heels to head. If you compromise that straight line by moving your butt up in the air, that indicates your core is not strong enough, and you should reduce the weight of the dumbbells. 

8. TRX Row

Woman Doing TRX Or Strap Rows

The TRX suspension trainer makes it possible to do a large number of different exercises at home, including different variations of rows.

So, if you like to workout at home or don't have time for the gym, the suspension trainer is a very handy addition to the home gym.

TRX Row hits all the major back muscles, including the lats and rhomboids, similar to the cable pullover exercise. It is not hard to perform this exercise if you have sufficient core, arm, and back strength; just make sure your anchor is sturdy enough.

You can also do an inverted row with TRX (if you don’t have a Smith machine) to shift focus to the biceps a bit. Inverted row is a great progression toward pull-ups. With every forward step, you will make the TRX row harder, so start with the feet closer to the body and then adjust.

If you don't have access to a TRX trainer, there are affordable TRX alternatives that can be a practical solution to maintain effective suspension training without spending a fortune.


  • Core strengthening
  • Scapular stabilizer muscles engaged
  • Suitable for home workout

How to do it:

  1. Hang the suspension trainer above your head level.
  2. Take the handles and move until you fully extend your arms.
  3. Your body should be at a 45-degree angle but adjust according to your fitness level.
  4. Squeeze your core and glutes.
  5. Pull your body up.
  6. Make a short pause.
  7. Lower slowly.

Tips From A Trainer!

Pay special attention to eccentric and concentric phases. TRX row is a body weight exercise; therefore, you must extend the time under tension. This will also reduce the likelihood of injury, which is possible if you lower too fast. 

Benefits Of Doing Cable Pullovers And Other Similar Exercises

Cable pullovers and other similar exercises offer a plethora of benefits, equally for bodybuilders, athletes, and the general population.

  • Muscle engagement: The most obvious benefit is that cable pullovers effectively engage a wide range of muscles. They primarily target the latissimus dorsi (lats), crucial for back width and V-shape appearance.
  • Strength and hypertrophy: Performing cable pullovers with proper resistance leads to both strength and hypertrophy gains.
  • Improved posture: Often overlooked, but a very important benefit. Strengthening the back muscles through cable pullovers can help correct a muscular imbalance caused by modern sedentary lifestyles, leading to improved posture.
  • Functional fitness: The movements involved in cable pullovers mimic various activities in daily life, such as lifting objects, pulling motions, and reaching overhead.
  • Stretching: During the eccentric phase of the exercise, when the cable is being pulled overhead, the back and chest muscles experience a deep stretch.
  • Mind-muscle connection: Those exercises require a strong mind-muscle connection, as you must focus on squeezing the back muscles to execute the entire movement effectively.[1]

What Muscles Are Worked With Cable Pullovers?

In order to choose alternative exercises that suit you best, you need to be familiar with the main muscles worked during cable pullover.

Like most exercises, the cable pullover activates numerous muscles, but I singled out the ones this exercise targets the most.

Latissimus Dorsi

These are the famous lats we all want to develop and have huge wings. This broad, V-shaped muscle extends over almost 2/3 of the back and is exceptionally activated by cable pullovers.

When we look at the points of origin and insertion of latissimus dorsi, it is clear that cable pullovers allow you to go through the full range of motion and stretch lats during the upper portion of the exercise.


Traps are not the primary muscles worked, but I always feel how active they are during this exercise. They have to stabilize the shoulder girdle, ensuring proper form throughout the movement.

That's why my advice is to do cable pullovers before tiring the traps with shoulder shrugs, or you may compromise the whole movement and even increase the risk of injury.

Rear Deltoids

The rear deltoids, also known as the "posterior delts," are actually the back part of your shoulders. Since they are located just above the lats, the rear delts are very much engaged in cable pullovers.


While cable pullovers primarily target the back muscle group, they also activate the triceps to a lesser degree. Just remember the triceps pushdown - these two exercises are a bit similar, at least starting positions, right? As you extend your arms during the movement, the triceps contract, assisting in the motion.

When Should Cable Pullovers Be Substituted?

It is completely normal and even desirable to change exercises in your workout routine from time to time.

These are some of the reasons why you might consider swapping out cable pullovers for alternative exercises:

  • Plateau in progress: Sooner or later, you will hit a plateau despite consistent strength training. Then it's time for a change. Introducing alternative exercises will challenge your muscles in new ways, promoting muscle mass growth, developing strength, and breaking through plateaus.
  • Equipment limitations and training at home: Not all gyms have cable machines or the necessary attachments for pullovers. Also, you almost certainly don't have a cable machine at home. Choosing other exercises targeting similar muscle groups ensures you continue progressing.
  • Health issues: Cable pullovers involve a significant range of motion in the shoulder joint, which can be problematic for individuals with pre-existing shoulder issues or humerus (upper arm bone) injuries.[2] In such cases, substituting pullovers with exercises that place less stress on the shoulders can provide a safer training option.
  • Desire for variety: Even the most dedicated fitness enthusiasts can grow tired of repeating the same exercises over and over. Thankfully, even the best exercises have ideal alternatives.
  • Specific muscle emphasis: While cable pullovers primarily target the lats and chest, alternative exercises can be chosen to focus on specific muscle groups within the back.

Of course, rehabilitation and periodization are also potential reasons. If this is the case for you, work closely with your physical therapist or trainer for the best results.

Common Questions About Cable Pullover Alternatives

What is the difference between cable lat pulldown and pullover?

The key difference between cable lat pulldown and pullover lies in the muscle groups targeted. While the cable lat pulldown primarily focuses on the lats, mid-back, and biceps, the pullover mainly engages the chest, back, and triceps. Both exercises contribute to upper body strength.

What machine is equivalent to a pullover?

A "pullover machine" is designed to simulate a dumbbell pullover. A cable machine with an adjustable pulley can serve as well if your gym does not have a pullover machine. This versatile machine offers similar muscle engagement.

Are rope pullovers primarily for the chest or back?

Rope pullovers primarily target the back muscles, especially the lats, teres major, and rhomboids. This exercise provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen and sculpt the back while engaging the stabilizing muscles for improved overall upper body strength.

What are some tips for good form when doing cable pullovers?

The best tips I can give you for maintaining good form when doing cable pullovers are to stabilize your core, grip the cable handle firmly, and focus on feeling the stretch in your back as you lower the cable handle. Also, avoid using excessive momentum or jerking motions.


If you want to break away from your usual routine and explore other effective back workouts, incorporate at least two of these exercises into your regime.

Don't be surprised if you experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) even though you have a strong back - each new exercise puts muscle fibers under a different type of stress.

As a fitness coach, I'm genuinely excited to witness your progress and achievements, so please let us know whether these 8 cable pullover alternatives made your upper body even more muscular.


  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6733325/
Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website