A question we see a lot of new home gym owners ask is whether or not they need a lat pulldown machine. The lat pulldown is one of the best exercises for building strong and thick upper back muscles. It works the lats extremely hard and destroys the biceps, making it a core element in many pull day and back day splits.
Unfortunately, there are no free-weight exercises that will perfectly replicate the lat pull down. There are, however, exercises that are very similar and will have the same effect overall.
This article is going to explore the different alternatives that you can use to work out your lats in the comfort of your home gym.
Table of Contents
- Why it is Important to Train your Lats
- The Lat Pulldown: Broken Down
- 10 Lat Pulldown Alternatives (To Do at Home)
- Cost-Effective Lat Training Equipment
- People Also Ask (FAQs)
Why it is Important to Train your Lats
When people sign up to the gym or start lifting, you often see them creating complex, varied workouts to improve the size of their biceps or their chest. These "show muscles" are the ones we think of when we think of the perfect physique.
The lats are a lot less glamorous, but potentially they are a lot more important.
Your lats control how your arms rotate and extend. They also help support your neck and head. Training them will prevent you from slouching and will stop you from looking like a hunchback after years of training.
The lats are fundamental in supporting your other lifts too. If you want to be a deadlift king or squat impressive weights, you will need to make sure you don't neglect your lats.
The Lat Pulldown: Broken Down
The lat pulldown has several variants. You have the shoulder-width underhand grip. This engages all of the same muscles that a chin-up would. This is used by lifters who want to max out their weight and utilize their biceps more.
The traditional overhand wide grip reduces the activation of your biceps, forcing your lats to take over. This will give your forearms, rear delts, and even your abs a solid workout too. This style is the king of the lat burnout and will lead to substantial size gains.
So, in the alternatives we are going to be giving you, we will be looking for exercises that target the same muscles.
10 Lat Pulldown Alternatives (To Do at Home)
The first alternatives will be for those that already have power or squat rack with a chin-up or pull-up bar attached.
The pull-up is very similar in mechanics to the lat pulldown and works your lats nearly as hard. Most people are actually stronger in the pull-up too, and the whole exercise gives you a brutal burn in your abs and core.
The only downside to this move is the base level of strength you will need to complete a full rep and set range.
By utilizing a pull-up bar, you will have the closest match to a lat pulldown in terms of effectiveness.
The only problem with pull-ups and chin-ups (next on the list) is the fact that you will have to work with your body weight. For those of you who struggle with this, you might want to invest in a good resistance band to help you out.
The chin-up is one of those super exercises that works an incredible amount of different muscles. You get a huge engagement in the spinal erectors and will put a massive pump on your lats, biceps, and core.
Chin-ups are easier to do than pull-ups, so if you are struggling to complete the whole set of a pull-up workout, then you should consider trying chin-ups instead.
For those of you who are more advanced, you might find that bodyweight pull-ups and chin-up are no longer challenging enough to give you a solid burn and workout. For these people, you might want to look at purchasing a good weighted belt.
What are the benefits of a weighted belt?
As you become more competent in a bodyweight exercise, your body adapts. After a certain point, it no longer needs to as your body is capable of performing the movement with ease. This means that specific exercise will no longer cause enough stress to your muscles to inhibit growth and won't cause enough stimuli to signal to your brain that you need to be stronger in that specific area.
That response is what you need to achieve in order to progress and build muscle. Pull-ups utilize your body weight, so unless you are packing on the pounds, there is a limit to how much weight you can lift (your bodyweight). A weight belt adds weight to your body, allowing you to continue with the progressive overload necessary for rapid growth.
If you don't have a full power rack or squat rack or a pull-up bar, these next exercises can be completed with just a simple, high-quality bench and either a barbell or some dumbbells.
3. Barbell Pull Over
This exercise requires a barbell and is executed by lying down flat, keeping your arms stiff and lifting the bar back and over your head, and then returning it to the original position. It is similar to a skull crusher, but you move your whole arm instead of flexing at the elbow.
When you extend, try and settle back, so you feel a nice stretch in your lats and keep your movements controlled and steady to avoid over-extending your elbow joints.
4. Bent-Over Barbell Row
The bent-over barbell row is a firm favorite for many lifters who want to improve the size and strength of their upper backs. It is also one of the best possible exercises you could use to strengthen your grip. With an emphasis on your hip hinge, holding this position under tension gives you a huge burn in your upper and lower back and will allow you to build endurance.
This translates to the perfect supporting exercise for both deadlifts, pull-ups, and squats.
To do the bent-over barbell row, you simply grab a loaded barbell with a wide grip and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold your elbows at a 45-degree angle and row the barbell until it hits your stomach. Hold for a second, then lower the barbell back down with control.
Benefits of the Bent-Over Barbell Row
5. Seated Low Cable Row
The seated low cable row is the perfect exercise to add to your routine if you want an exercise that works your entire back but also gives you an insane bicep pump at the same time. It even works your glutes too. By engaging your abs and utilizing your legs, you can also take away some of the strain, making this the perfect exercise to finish your workout on.
Benefits of the Seated Low Row
6. Dumbbell Pull-Over
If you struggle with shoulder mobility or only have dumbbells knocking around, you can also do a dumbbell pullover. This is done by cradling a single dumbbell in between both your palms. You then extend and bring the dumbbell behind you before moving back to the original position while lying on a bench.
If you are struggling to keep your arms straight, you can bend your elbows slightly. The goal here is to take your arms back as far as possible to really stretch out those tough muscle fibers in your lats.
7. Dumbbell Row
The dumbbell row is different from the other lifts so far in a fundamental way. This exercise isn't as hard on the lats as the other exercises, but it still works well.
The tricky thing with the dumbbell row is getting the right form. By driving our elbows further back than normal and using a low rowing motion, you can target your lats with a very pinpointed burn.
When it comes to building a huge upper back, the hardest thing is to keep committed to the same old boring exercises.
Doing pull-ups and pull-overs gets tiring for even the most experienced lifter. The dumbbell row is a great exercise to throw in when you want some variety.
If you are stuck at home or are traveling and do not have access to any free weights or a gym, here are some great replacement exercises that don't require equipment. These are best done in a tri-set for maximum results. That means do all 3 in one workout.
8. Super Man 3 Sets / 30-60 seconds
The Superman is one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for destroying your lower and upper back without weights.
To do it correctly, you need to lie face down on the floor with your arms and legs fully stretched out ahead and behind you.
Now lift your arms and legs off the floor as much as possible and hold when you feel the full-body stretch for a few seconds before releasing. Rinse and repeat.
Try and keep your gaze neutral, as looking up too much can be uncomfortable.
9. Plank Row 3 Sets / 30-60 seconds
The plank row is a great twist on the traditional plank. To do it correctly, you will need to start in the standard plank position.
Next, lift one arm, starting with your elbow and following through before lowering it again.
Alternate this on both sides for the 30-60 seconds.
10. Pushup 3 Sets 10-15 Reps
The OG of bodyweight exercises, pushups are incredible at building strength and mass in your triceps, shoulders, and upper back.
Make sure you engage your core and keep a straight, sturdy form throughout every single rep.
Cost-Effective Lat Training Equipment
If you have just started building your own home gym and are still deciding upon which pieces of equipment are the most cost-effective.
If you want to keep it simple, you should consider buying a pull-up bar. They are cheap, take up barely any room whatsoever and give you access to one of the most effective exercises you can use to train your upper back.
Buying a good barbell or a good set of dumbbells is the next step. These may cost a lot more than a pull-up bar, but you get a lot more versatility here as they can be used for many other muscle groups.
Finally, if you have space and want the most effective lat building machine, you should consider purchasing an actual lat pulldown machine. While they cost a fair amount for a single exercise, the weighted lat pulldown is the most effective way to work out your lats.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
What is the best wide grip lat pulldown alternative?
The best alternative to the traditional wide grip lat pulldown is the pull-up and the chin-up.
What is the best close grip lat pulldown alternative?
The best alternative for a close grip lat pulldown is the pushup, as it works the most similar muscle groups.
What is the best single-arm lat pulldown alternative?
The best alternative to the single-arm lat pulldown is the one-arm dumbbell row. This is a great way to train isometrically.
What is the best reverse grip lat pulldown alternative?
The reverse grip lat pulldown places a large amount of strain on both your biceps and your lats. Two good exercises to replicate this are the chin-up and the pushup.
Now you are armed with the correct knowledge, and there should be no reason to avoid training your lats. These muscles are so important in everything that we do, both inside and outside the gym, so make sure you give them the time and attention they deserve.