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Lat Pulldown Alternatives for a Barn Door Back

The back muscles host the largest muscle in your upper body, the lats. Your back helps support your core and is responsible for good posture. Strengthening these crucial muscles will improve your physique and performance on pulling movements such as deadlifts. Additionally, a weak back often leads to injuries and persistent back pain.

The lat pulldown is a machine-based exercise that effectively builds your back muscles, primarily targeting your latissimus dorsi. This routine also targets your biceps, traps, and rhomboids. As a result, bodybuilders and athletes have it as a staple exercise in their workout programs.

The lat pulldown is a great exercise, but it’s performed on a machine. So here are other alternatives that you can try out if you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine. When choosing an alternative to lat pulldowns, it’s important to ensure they target similar muscles. Below are the eight best lat pulldown alternatives that can help you build your back muscles, just like the lat pulldown.

8 Lat Pulldown Alternatives

The lat pulldown is an exercise that builds the lat muscles and also engages the rhomboids, traps, and biceps. There are a variety of horizontal and vertical rows that target the same muscles. We’ve compiled a list of eight effective alternative exercises.

1. Pull Ups and Pull-Up Variations

Pull-ups are a great bodyweight exercise that can be done from any bar that gives your legs enough space to hang without touching the ground. This movement also works on your upper back, lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, abs, core, and forearms. While you majorly do pull-ups with your body weight, you can increase the load by wearing a weighted belt or heavy backpack. Vertical pulls like the pull up and chin up are the best way to mimic a lat pulldown.

Regular pull-ups are done by suspending your body weight from a bar using an overhand grip and then pulling up and down. However, there are other variations, like the eccentric pullup, where you only focus on the lowering part of the pullup. Chin-ups are also a variation of pull-ups, but they involve using an underhand or reverse grip, which targets more of your biceps.

How to Perform

  1. Set up your rack at the appropriate height, and then grab the bar with your hands facing down (overhand) using a slightly larger than shoulder-width grip, as this increases the activation of your lats (1). This is your starting position.
  2. Pull yourself up while ensuring that your arms stay aligned with your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you do this.
  3. When you get to the point where you feel like leaning back, stop.
  4. Lower your body back to starting position to complete the rep.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.

2. Bent-Over Barbell Rows

The barbell bent-over row is are a great alternative for people who want to increase their upper size and strength since the barbell allows the lifter to use heavy weights. This exercise is also ideal for your upper arm and grip strength. Barbell bent over rows build your lats, traps, rhomboids, and spinal erectors.

When doing the barbell bent over row, your hinge is important and allows you to work on overloading your lats while stabilizing your body. This exercise is an excellent substitute for lat pulldowns where the machine is occupied, or you don’t have one. It also helps strengthen your hinge, which carries over to exercises like deadlifts and squats.

How to Perform

  1. Stand with your barbell on the ground before you with your toes underneath the bar.
  2. Hinge from your hips while keeping your back straight to make your torso form a 45-degree angle.
  3. Grab your barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip and lift it from the floor while keeping neutral. This is your starting position.
  4. Slowly draw the barbell to your stomach and squeeze your lats together when you reach the movement's top.
  5. Lower the bar back to the starting position slowly to complete the rep.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.

3. Bench Supported Dumbbell Rows

Bench supported dumbbell rows use free weight dumbbells to target the lats and are a great lat pulldown alternative. Other muscles this exercise targets include the rhomboids, traps, rear delts, biceps, and core. They don’t allow as much weight as the barbell, but the dumbbells will better help correct imbalances since they better isolate each side of the back muscles.

When doing bench-supported dumbbell rows, ensure you drive your elbows back for a full range of motion. You should also use a low rowing motion to activate your lats when doing this routine.

How to Perform

  1. Set up your flat bench and place your dumbbell on one side.
  2. Put your left hand on the bench in direct line with your shoulders.
  3. Place your left knee but lower than the position of your hand. It should be in line with your hips
  4. Pick up the dumbbell with your right hand. This is your starting position.
  5. While keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell towards your hips. Remember to keep your elbows, as we discussed above.
  6. Slowly return your dumbbell to starting position to complete the rep.
  7. Do as many reps as you desire, then switch sides and repeat steps 1-6.

4. Seated Cable Rows

Seated cable rows effectively build the muscles of your entire back. This exercise is great for your lats, biceps, rhomboids, and traps. The primary movers are your rhomboids and lats.

Try doing the seated low cable row for the best results with this one. This exercise is less complex than the bent-over barbell row above, so beginners can easily try it. It’s a great way to overload your latissimus dorsi with a low risk of injury.

How to Perform

  1. Put a moderate weight on your weight stack and then sit on your machine.
  2. Grab the handle with both hands and adjust your legs such that the tension keeps your knees bent slightly. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your back straight, pull the handle to your chest.
  4. Pause for 1-2 seconds and squeeze your lats.
  5. Slowly return the handle to starting position to complete the rep.
  6. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.

5. Inverted Rows with a Barbell/Smith Machine

Inverted rows are one of the best alternatives to the lat pulldown that you can do. They’re a bodyweight routine that requires immense upper body strength that engages various muscles, such as lats, traps, rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres minor, erector spinae, posterior delts, biceps, forearms, abs, obliques, hamstrings, and glutes. As you can see, inverted rows get the whole body involved.

You can do inverted rows using a barbell on a squat rack or a Smith machine. This exercise is a great way to train if you find it hard to perform pull-ups. You can do it using an overhand or underhand grip.

How to Perform

  1. Stand before your smith machine or squat rack and set the bar comfortably. This is around your waist height for most people.
  2. Go under the bar and lie on your back, then reach for the bar with your arms fully extended. If your bar is in the right position, your body will be suspended with only your heels in contact with the floor. This is your starting position.
  3. Contract your glutes and core, and then pull up with your chest leading. Keep your body straight and get close to the bar but don’t touch it with your chest.
  4. Pause for a second, squeeze your shoulder blades, and slowly lower yourself back to starting position to complete your rep.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.

6. Lat Pullovers

Lat pullovers are a great alternative to the lat pulldown you may initially think to work on the chest. However, although this exercise builds your pecs and triceps, it also activates the latissimus dorsi muscles. Many athletes use this exercise as an accessory for more volume on their back day.

Lat pullovers can be done with either barbells or dumbbells. This exercise is similar to the skull crusher, but with the lat pullover, you move your entire arm rather than just flexing at the elbow. If you have a shoulder injury, avoiding it and trying other alternatives is best.

How to Perform (With a Barbell)

  1. Set up a flat bench and then lie on it.
  2. If you’re using a barbell, grab it with an overhand shoulder-width grip and then hold it over your chest with straight arms. This is your starting position.
  3. Sink your shoulder blades into the bench and slowly lower the barbell over your head. Keep your elbows locked the whole time.
  4. Return the barbell to starting position to complete the rep.
  5. Repeat for as many reps as you desire.

7. T Bar Rows

Another good lat pulldown alternative is the t-bar row. T bar rows are excellent for building the muscles in your entire back. They target your lats, traps, delts, rhomboids, biceps, teres minor and major, brachialis, erector spinae, and core. This exercise surpasses the lat pulldown when it comes to intensity.

One bonus of adding T-bar row to your routine is that the stability of the landmine at the anchor point allows you to focus on your mind-muscle connection. This leads to higher hypertrophy in your muscles. Also, you can change the part of your back it focuses on by switching your foot positions.

How to Perform

  1. Step over your loaded barbell and ensure sufficient space between your legs for the barbell to travel.
  2. Secure the opposite end of the barbell by using a landmine attachment. You can also place a heavy object on it.
  3. Put your torso at an angle of 45 degrees and bend forward and grip the bar with both hands. Keep your back neutral and engage your core. This is your starting position.
  4. Pull the bar towards yourself until it is close to touching your chest, then pause.
  5. Slowly return the bar to the starting position.

8. Kroc Rows

Kroc rows name derives from Mathew Kroczaleski, a powerlifter and bodybuilder. It’s a variation of the single-arm dumbbell row that uses lots of momentum to lift heavier loads. Krocs work on your traps, delts, rhomboids, biceps, forearms, and erector spinae.

You can do the Kroc row with a staggered stance or use a bench like single-arm dumbbell rows. The more bent over you are the more this routine targets your lats. Krocs also work on your grip strength and fix muscle imbalances since they’re a unilateral exercise.

How to Perform

  1. Choose a bench around hip height or above, then rest your left hand on it.
  2. Put your feet in a staggered stance about shoulder-width distance from each other
  3. Hold your dumbbell in the other hand and then engage your core. Keep your back neutral with your chest up and shoulders down. This is your starting position.
  4. Drive your hip up and use it to bring the dumbbell up while taking your back and elbows up. Ensure that you retract your shoulder blades to engage your lats fully.
  5. Return the dumbbell to the starting position by straightening your arm and letting your shoulders roll forward to complete the rep.
  6. Switch sides and repeat steps 1-5.


Conclusion

The lat pulldown exercise is highly effective for strengthening your back, especially your lats. However, if you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine in your home gym, there are compact alternatives available that you might consider exploring.

These eight other exercises are great alternatives. They will specifically target your lats, rhomboids, biceps, and traps - just like the lat pulldown! If you don't have access to a machine, these exercises can be a great option to include in your workout routine. You'll discover various options that can be performed using other machines, free weights, or even just your body weight.

References
  1. Andersen, V., Fimland, M. S., Wiik, E., Skoglund, A., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2014). Effects of grip width on muscle strength and activation in the lat pull-down. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(4), 1135–1142. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSC.0000000000000232
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