The Lat pulldown machine are the go to equipment for most gym rats to build a bigger, wider back. But at home that piece of equipment is often missing. What can you do at home that replaces that exercise and still gets you the results you’re looking for?
The best exercises to replace the lat pulldown are pull ups, band assisted pull ups, band pulldowns, straight arms band pushdowns and barbell/dumbbell pullovers. Those exercises can be done with very little equipment and target the latissimus dorsi in the same way a lat pulldown does.
To find out why those exercises are the best replacements, how to perform them and what you need, keep reading.
How to replace a lat pull-down machine
A lat pulldown machine is a great mass and strength builder for your back. Especially the part of your back that makes it look wide (Latissimus Dorsi). But luckily, using that machine isn’t the only way to accomplish training that part of the body. It’s one of the more popular machines in any commercial gym. But, there are very few people who have one of these at home. So how can you replace this machine with other exercises?
As long as we can find exercises with similar movement patterns and that mainly target the same muscle, we can get good results. Sure the movement might be slightly different but how much does that matter? Almost nobody trains to get strong on the lat pulldown. You either want to grow that muscle or you want to use that strength to use for other exercises. Both goals can be accomplished with other exercises.
Replacement exercises should target at least the latissimus dorsi but if we can involve the other muscles also used in that exercise, that’s even better.
To properly target the lats, you want a deep stretch at the top of the movement. This is done by extending your arms (elbows) overhead. After that the lats should be contracted as far as possible. This is done by moving the elbows from overhead to your waist and as far behind your body as possible.
Finding exercises that mimic this movement are going to have the best results although they aren’t the only ones that work to grow and strengthen the lats.
Of course to get good strength and size gains, the amount of resistance is important. Especially if you’re already trained. So bodyweight is only going to get you so far and getting some equipment might be unavoidable. However, most equipment is a lot cheaper than a lat pulldown machine.
Which muscles does a lat pulldown work?
Although the lat pulldown is usually just seen as a mass builder for the lats, it’s not the only muscle that exercise works. And although it’s one of the main drivers, there are plenty of other muscles used to do a lat pulldown;
- Rear deltoid
As said, the lats are the most important driver of this exercise and we will focus on targeting that muscle with the alternative exercises. I’ve outlined the best exercises to train your Lats with different pieces of equipment. From having no equipment at all to having a barbell setup.
No equipment at all
There are a few bodyweight exercises that do target the lats. Of course with bodyweight you’re always somewhat limited in resistance and therefore how much muscle you can build with them. Some bodyparts are much easier to train with just bodyweight exercises but some like the lats are a bit more difficult.
Here are some of the best options;
- Lying lat pulldown: Take a towel and lay down prone on a mat. Hold the towel a little wider than shoulder width and lay down fully extended. Then pull the towel towards your chest. Try to pull the towel apart and pull your elbows as far behind your chest as possible while lifting your chest on the last part of the repetition.
- Reacher row: Similar to the lying lat pulldown but without a towel. Start by lying down prone and extending your arms as far as possible in front of you. Now pull your elbows back in as far behind your chest as you can while lifting your chest.
- Reverse snow angel: Lay down prone on the mat. Hold your arms next to the body. While keeping your core tight, lift your legs, chest and arms from the floor at the same time. Pull your arms back as far as possible
Pull up bar
By far the best replacement for a lat pulldown machine is a pull up. Instead of pulling the weight down, you move your body up. The movement pattern is very similar and the msucles used are almost the same.
You stretch your arms out above your head which gives a deep stretch of the lats. And then you pull up until your elbows are down and a little bit behind your body. This means you have the same long range of motion you would have when doing lat pulldowns on a machine. The other used muscles like forearms, biceps and core are also the same since you basically perform the same movement.
And all you need is a pull up bar. There are some pull up bars that mount in a doorway that are actually pretty good and very affordable. Alternatively you can find the monkey bars at a local playground (you do run the risk of looking a bit creepy hanging around there) or a tree with a branch that’s low and sturdy enough.
On issue is that many people can’t actually do pull ups. They lack the strength and coordination to even one with good form. And the form is going to be important to activating the lats.
A power rack almost always has a built in pull up bar. Find out more about power racks and their size here.
If you can’t do a pull up, resistance bands are a great piece of equipment you can try out. They don’t cost much, are small and very versatile.
To mimic a lat pulldown with resistance bands, you need to be able to mount the band somewhere high. If you have a door anchor, that’s perfect. Mount the door anchor on top of the door and attach the right weight band. Then you can sit down on a stool facing the door. Grab the band with two hands and perform a lat pulldown as usual. If the bands are too long, you can fold them in half before attaching to the anchor. That halves the length and doubles the resistance so you might want to use a lighter band. Alternatively, you could sit on the floor instead to account for the extra length.
The exercise described above comes the closest in movement pattern and feel to the lat pulldown machine. There some other band exercises to target your lats with resistance bands
- Mini band deadlift: Only have short mini bands? Try a mini band deadlift. Grab one side of the band and put your foot on the other side. Now do a deadlift and focus on keeping your hands back. This doesn’t take the lats through their full range of motion but will still give a good contraction.
- Straight arm pushdown: Mount your band at the top of the door. Put your back against the door, raise your arms up and grab the band. Now move your arms down while not bending at the elbow. Move your arms in front of your body and then get your hands next to your hips. If you’re tall, you might have to perform this exercise kneeling.
- Band assisted pull up: If you can’t do a pull up by yourself, band assisted ones are a great way to get started. Tie one end of a loop band to the pull up bar and let the other end hang down. Now hang from the bar and put your feet in the hanging part of the band. This way the resistance bands takes part of your weight making pull ups easier. Start with heavy bands go lighter over time.
With some creativity you can replicate almost any cable exercise with a resistance band. Which is why they’re super useful to have around. A set of resistance bands is a lot smaller and cheaper than a cable machine so there’s little reason not to get a set.
Barbell and bench
Barbells are good for training pretty much every muscle in your body but you have to know how to do it. When replacing a lat pulldown, we’re thinking about getting resistance that pulls up and we have to pull it down. It’s in the name after all.
With a barbell you’re never going to get resistance from above because they’re subject to gravity. Barbells only go down. So how can we replace a lat pulldown with a barbell? Here’s how;
The barbell pullover is the best barbell alternative for a lat pulldown.
Here’s how you do it;
- Lay down on a weightlifting bench while holding a barbell with appropriate weight.
- Hold the barbell above your chest with straight arms like you would in the starting position of a barbell bench press.
- Now while keeping your arms straight, let the barbell go backwards behind your head until the bar is slightly lower than your body.
- Now reverse the movement until the barbell is back above the chest.
While this movement doesn’t have the same full range of motion as a real or resistance band pulldown but it’s close and it’s basically the only barbell movement where you can get the stretch in the lats because your elbows are next to your head.
If you’ have a bench that can decline, this can help you extend the range of motion quite a bit at the top of the movement but might limit it at the bottom because the weight plates can hit the floor.
There are other barbell exercises that target the lats like all the variations of a barbell deadlift or barbell row. Those are also great exercises but lack the stretch in the lats a lat pulldown machine gives you.
Heavy deadlifts are targeting your lats quite heavily. However, this is not a good isolation exercise for just the lats. You shouldn’t do a lot of volume with heavy deadlifts but you do want to get some volume to grow your lats. So while deadlifts are good, they’re not great for our purposes.
Dumbbell and bench
If you don’t have a barbell but you do have a dumbbell and bench. It’s possible to do a dumbbell pullover. It’s pretty much the same exercise with the same benefits as the barbell pullover but you just hold a different type of weight.
You can choose to use a single heavy dumbbell held with two hands or a lighter dumbbell in each hand. Both will work. Find out here which dumbbells are best for a home gym.
Of course if you don’t have any barbells or dumbbells but you do have a kettlebell, it’s possible to do pretty much the same exercises and they work the same. However, if you have a kettlebell, you probably don’t have a weightlifting bench so what can you do?
Well, all you need is something to lay down on and have enough space to reach back with your arms and let your hands go a little lower than the rest of your body. A bed can do this job in most cases. Will this look a bit funny? Maybe, but who cares. You’re in your own bedroom after all. Just put a towel down on the bed before doing this to catch any sweat. This tip also works perfectly fine for dumbbells.
Don’t have a lat pulldown machine but do have another cable machine with a high pulley? Lucky you! With a cable machine like a functional trainer, you can replace almost any selectorized gym machine. Just put the pulley in the highest position and attach a bar. Put a bench as close under the pulley as you can and pull. The only downside is that you aren’t being held down like a ‘real’ lat pulldown machine. To prevent lift off, see if you can wedge your feet under the bench or machine.
Alternatively, it’s possible to attach a D-handle instead of a bar and just do single arm pulldowns with half the weight.