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5 Lat Pulldown Alternatives at Home

The lat pulldown is one of the few gym machines that as a personal trainer, I actually think is a useful item of equipment. It’s an accessible movement that provides a lot of functional benefits. 

The question is though…

What if you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine? How do you replicate the movement?

There are ways you can replicate the benefits of the exercise without needing the exact same equipment. 

In this article, I’m going to show you a few very effective lat pulldown alternatives that I use with personal training clients. I actually use these exercises daily, because although I own a large strength and conditioning facility, I don’t own a lat pulldown machine so I have to find suitable alternatives.

I’ve got a cable machine (see below), a ton of squat racks, and barbells… but no lat pulldown!

Strong Home Gym Cable machine

Lat Pulldown – what are the benefits?

A lat pulldown is a compound (multi-joint) exercise that engages a lot of muscles across the back, arms and shoulders. It trains a similar movement pattern to a pull up or chin up, without the need for high strength levels. 

Being machine-based, they are easy to manipulate from a resistance point of view, which allows you to refine the technique you use. You can focus on engaging muscles in particular sequences, which helps with rehab, technique and crossover benefits to other exercises.

As with all exercise machines, the technique you need to learn is very limited. This means it’s a very beginner-friendly exercise. Research shows the lat pulldown to be very effective and the various grip options allow the exercise to be challenging in a number of different ways. Switching the grip also changes the muscles worked, as seen in the study.

There are multiple grip options on a lat pulldown…

  • Wide overhand grip
  • Medium overhand grip
  • Close overhand grip
  • Wide underhand grip
  • Medium underhand grip
  • Close underhand grip

Alongside this, there has also been a debate over whether you should pull to the front (chest) or back (behind the neck) with the movement, but recent research suggests that the behind the neck option is dangerous and should be avoided.

Replicating the lat pulldown

The general internet advice when it comes to replicating the lat pulldowns is to simply do a lot of back exercises, but that’s not the point. I think if the goal is to replace the lat pulldown, we need to look at vertical pulling alone. We can play around with grip, but the movement pattern is set in stone.

I’ll start with the obvious lat pulldown alternative exercises, then put in variations further down the article.

1. Pull Ups

The pull up is the obvious alternative for the lat pulldown in that it’s essentially the same movement pattern. The difference between the two isn’t necessarily the muscles used, it’s the strength required. Don’t fret if you can’t do a pull up though – I show you later in the article how to regress this exercise to a suitable level.

The pull up is a much harder exercise to achieve than the lat pull down, plus it requires more in the way of technique. If you have the capability to do a pull up, use this as your go-to lat pulldown alternative. 

Equipment needed for pull ups:

How to do a pull up:

  1. Hold the bar with an overhand grip, at a width of your choosing (wider = more lat engagement, closer = good lat and brachialis engagement)
  2. Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing shoulder blades together as you do
  3. At the top of the movement slowly lower yourself back to the start position
  4. Rep is concluded when your arms are straight – don’t half-rep a pull up
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Pull up muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper and mid back
  • Biceps and brachialis
  • Rear deltoid (shoulders)

2. Chin Ups

Many people are confused between a pull up and a chin up, but the difference is clear. A pull up has an overhand (pronated) grip. A chin up uses an underhand (supinated) grip. In most cases, a pull up has a closer grip too, with the hands much closer together than in a pull up.

Chin ups are easier to do than pull ups on account of more bicep recruitment and a more efficient pulling angle. That doesn’t mean they are less effective though – research shows they still activate the same muscles as pull ups with largely the same intensity, so it’s a different exercise, not an inferior one.

Equipment needed for chin ups:

How to do a chin up:

  1. Hold the bar with an underhand grip, at a width of your choosing (wider = more lat engagement, closer = good lat and brachialis engagement.
  2. Lean back slightly and pull your chest to the bar, squeezing shoulder blades together as you do 
  3. At the top of the movement slowly lower yourself back to the start position 
  4. Rep is concluded when your arms are straight – don’t half-rep a chin up 
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Chin up muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper and mid back
  • Biceps and brachialis
  • Rear deltoid (shoulders)
  • Pectoralis major (start of the movement)

3. Single Arm High Cable Pull Downs

If you have access to a cable machine but not a lat pulldown, you can approximate a version by using the single arm attachment, setting the handle up high and pulling down, replicating the lat pulldown movement. 

In many ways I prefer this exercise because there is no hiding place – both sides work alone so they have to lift the load without help. On a lat pulldown, the dominant side can compensate for the weaker side because a single bar is used. This exercise is the same movement pattern, but doesn’t require the dedicated lat pulldown machine.

Equipment needed for single arm high cable pull downs

How to do a single arm high cable pull downs

  1. Set the cable high up and sit down on the floor 
  2. With the arm at full extension, engage the lats and pull the handle towards you, squeezing your shoulder blade in as you pull
  3. When the handle is level with your chest, squeeze the shoulder blade in fully
  4. Slowly return the arm to the start position
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Single arm high cable pull down muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper and mid back
  • Biceps and brachialis
  • Rear deltoid (shoulders)
  • Pectoralis major (start of the movement)

4. Rope Pull Ups

This is a pretty advanced exercise, but there is a really good way to regress it if you can’t do full rope pull ups – simply put your feet on the ground or sit on the ground and you’ll only be lifting part of your body weight.

I like this exercise because it’s different, it’s challenging and it pushes your grip strength to new levels, which impacts other aspects of your fitness.

You’ll need a battle rope and a sturdy spot to loop it over, but a power rack would be ideal. It’s a low maintenance set up and the results are excellent. It’s the same movement pattern as a lat pulldown, but you’ll do this in a neutral (palms facing each other) grip.

Equipment needed for rope pull ups

How to do rope pull ups

  1. Loop the battle rope over the top of the power rack, making sure it’s well balanced
  2. Grip the rope tightly, pulling yourself up. Pull your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together
  3. At the top of the movement, pause and slowly lower yourself down
  4. Repeat as many times as required

Rope pull ups muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper and mid back
  • Biceps and brachialis
  • Rear deltoid (shoulders)
  • Pectoralis major (start of the movement)
  • Forearms

5. Feet Supported Pull Ups

This is a similar version to the previous exercise, but it’s easier for a couple of reasons. The first one is that the bar is fixed and stable, unlike the rope which moves more and poses more of a challenge. The other reason is because much of your body weight is on the floor, so you’re only lifting part of your weight.

This is an easier exercise than many of the others here, but it’s still effective and can be a perfect entry point for beginners. It’s also a great way to practice technique and movement patterns for the more advanced exercises.

Equipment needed for feet supported pull ups

How to do feet supported pull ups

  1. Place the barbell on the power rack, making sure it’s secure. It should be set low enough that you can reach the bar with your feet/butt on the floor.
  2. Grip the bar with the grip of your choosing – over or underhand. 
  3. Pull your elbows back and down, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull
  4. At the top of the movement, pause and slowly lower yourself down 
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Rope pull ups muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper and mid back
  • Biceps and brachialis
  • Rear deltoid (shoulders)
  • Pectoralis major (start of the movement)

Why I haven’t added some traditional back exercises…

If you search the internet for lat pulldown alternatives, you find pages and pages giving you back exercises. That’s not what you’ve asked for! Instead, I’ve shown you how to replicate the movement pattern of a vertical pull, which is what a lat pulldown is.

If I just showed you different row variations and back exercises, you probably already know them, and you’ll likely appreciate it’s a totally different movement pattern.

But if you do want back exercises, check out our T bar row alternatives article.

My goal here is to give you the tools to make your home workout experience as effective as possible and part of that is showing you how to replicate the exact movement patterns, without having to head out and buy any unnecessary equipment.

There’s no pull overs in here either…

I’ve got a slight issue with pullovers as an exercise. Whilst I appreciate their effectiveness, I’ve got to write this article with my personal trainer hat on and I just don’t think they’re suitable for the vast majority of people.

Most of us have a pretty stiff thoracic spine (upper back, just below the neck), and tight latissimus dorsi muscles. This combination usually causes us to arch our lumbar spine (lower back) excessively during overhead movements.

This is known as lordosis. 

The movement required in a pullover is a recipe for disaster for many people – they force their arms backward under a heavy load, which causes excessive arching of the lower back. This hyperextension can cause serious injury over time and frankly, the risk doesn’t outweigh the reward.

I’d hate for you to hurt yourself based on poor advice from me.

Moreover, research suggests that the exercise works your pecs more than your lats. So it really isn’t the best lat pull alternative!

Lat pulldown alternatives – the bottom line

A lat pulldown is a great exercise machine – I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best around. Despite this, you don’t need one to still enjoy a great back workout. There are plenty of available options with regular home gym equipment. These exercises will challenge you and give you a bigger, stronger, and more robust back.

A lot of the variations I have included in this article are pull ups or variations of pull ups. However, not everyone can do these, or you may not have access to a pull up bar. If that’s you then check out our pull up alternatives article to see what I would recommend. 

by Steve Hoyles
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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