One of the drawbacks of a home gym is missing out on some of the specialty equipment that most commercial gyms have that might be a bit pricy or just too big for home gym spaces.
One piece of equipment I particularly miss is the Lat Pulldown machine. Whether you prefer the Hammer Strength pulldown machine, or any cable machine with a high pulley and a wide grip bar, its a very effective way to target the latissimus dorsi (lat) muscles while also engaging the biceps, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles.
As a Certified Personal Trainer, I often get asked to create a workout program for a client that doesn’t have access to every type of equipment. When I started primarily workout out in my home gym, I also needed to change things up in my personal routine to make sure I was getting the same quality workout at home as I was in the commercial gym.
Here’s a quick look at the lat pulldown machine alternative exercises if you don’t have time to read the whole thing:
What Muscles Does a Lat Pulldown Machine Target?
Before getting into a list of lat pulldown machine alternative exercises, it’s important to know what muscles are being targeted so we can find suitable replacements.
The primary muscles targeted by the lat pulldown machine are the Latisimuss Dorsi, or lats, the largest muscle in the back. The other muscles that are also engaged when working your lats are your Biceps, rear Deltoids (delts), Rhomboids, and Trapezius muscle (traps).
When using a Lat Pulldown machine, you are pulling the weight down vertically. The old bodybuilding adage states that vertical pulling will add ‘width’ to your lats while horizontal pulling like bent over rows will add ‘thickness.’
There isn’t any scientific reasoning that backs that claim, but there are studies that show horizontal pulling exercises target the lats just as well as vertical pulling movements.
Read on to find a list of five Lat Pulldown alternative exercises that target your lats with vertical and horizontal pulling exercises that can be done at home with basic home gym equipment or no equipment at all.
The basic equipment needed for a few of the exercises are:
Pull-ups and Chin-ups
Pull-ups (palm forward grip) and Chin-ups (palm backward grip) are the exercises that closely mimic the Lat Pulldown machine. They are vertical pulling exercises that use your body weight as resistance.
The problem with these exercises is they require a pull-up bar to be completed. You can purchase the type that fits in most doorways like the one here, or if you are the least bit handy you can get your DIY on and build something like this.
The movement remains the same regardless of which option you choose for a bar. To complete a Pull-up you:
- Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip, with your palms facing forward
- Hang all the way down. If you are in a shorter doorway, bend your knees to keep your feet off of the ground and allow your body to hang from the bar.
- Pull your body up towards the bar focusing on keeping your shoulders back and down throughout the movement. Imagine you are trying to put your shoulder blades in your back pockets. This will help reinforce the proper form to maintain
- Avoid the CrossFit ‘kipping’ that uses momentum to hammer out a few more reps.
Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps. If you are on the heavier side (like myself) you may need a resistance band for assistance to get into the higher rep ranges. A resistance band can be choked around the pull-up bar and stepped into, or cradled around your knee so that it assists with the movement and essentially takes some of the weight away. This video demonstrates how to attach the bands:
Banded Lat Pulldown
The Banded Lat Pulldown is another exercise that very closely resembles the motion when using the Lat Pulldown machine. The banded lat pulldown requires a resistance band and a method of attaching it to a high anchor point.
The resistance band can be choked around a pull-up bar or attached to an anchor like the one here that wedges behind a closed door, or this one that also is secured to a closed door with high and low anchor points.
To perform a banded lat pulldown:
- Attach your resistance band to the high anchor point
- Kneel on the ground and grab the resistance band with your palms forward and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
- Brace your core and bring your shoulders back and down (try to put your shoulder blades in your back pocket)
- Pull the band down until it reaches down to your chest level, pause briefly while you squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.
Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. The resistance can be increased by using a thicker band or grabbing higher up the band.
Bent Over Row
The bent-over row is a horizontal pulling exercise that can be done with a barbell, resistance band, or equal free weights in each hand.
The method described below is done with a loaded barbell:
- Place a barbell on the floor or in low racks and grab it slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip, palms facing toward you.
- Bend your legs slightly and bend at your hips until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor, with your back perfectly straight. The barbell should be hanging straight down below your chest.
- Brace your core and row the barbell straight up into the lower part of your chest. Pause briefly, and slowly return to the starting position.
The movement is exactly the same if you have dumbbells or weight plates instead of a barbell. If you are using a resistance band, you need to anchor the band to the floor by standing on it.
The single-arm row is a horizontal pulling exercise that works only one side of your back at a time. They can be done in a variety of ways depending on what equipment you have at home.
The most common version of the single-arm row is done with a weight bench for support, and a free weight like a dumbbell with enough weight to get to failure with 3 sets of 8-12 reps. If you don’t have a bench, you can use a chair or any other sturdy piece of furniture for support.
To perform a Single-Arm Row:
- Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, bend over and place your left knee and left hand on the weight bench for support. Your right hand will hang down and your shoulders should be directly over top of your hands.
- Tighten your core to ‘brace’ your back, and pull your shoulders back and down (try to put your shoulder blades in your back pocket). Maintain this posture throughout the exercise.
- Bend at the elbow and pull the dumbbell up to your back, as high as you can without rotating.
- Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position.
Aim for 3 sets of 8 – 12 reps, and select an appropriate weight to make that possible.
If you don’t have dumbbells but have resistance bands then some modifications can be made to your form to complete the exercise shown below.
If you don’t have dumbbells or resistance bands you can find anything laying around the house to be a weight. Some examples are:
- A heavy textbook in a bag
- A jug filled with water
- A duffel bag packed with whatever you can find
The goal when using these makeshift weights is to do enough weight to get to failure with proper form. This study shows that total effort, not load, can increase muscle mass. As long as you are working to failure, you can use lighter weights and higher reps and still gain muscle.
The inverted row is another horizontal pulling exercise that can be done in a variety of ways depending on the equipment you have in your home gym.
The most common method and the one described below is done with a barbell in a low rack position:
- Place a barbell into a low rack position.
- Lay on the floor with your chest under the bar and grab it with an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- The bar should be high enough that when you grab the bar and extend your arms, your back should be off the ground. The lower the bar, the more parallel your body is to the floor which will make the exercise harder.
- Brace your core and pull your shoulders back and down (try to put your shoulder blades in your back pocket). Pull your chest up until it touches the bar. Pause briefly while you squeeze your lats and slowly return to the starting position.
Aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps. If you are struggling to hit 8 reps, rack the bar into a higher position making the exercise easier the more perpendicular to the floor you are.
If you don’t have a barbell or a way to rack it at various heights, you can use TRX straps or even a towel or bed sheet to do this exercise.
The video below shows how to do this exercise with a bed sheet wedged into a closed door.
I hope these exercises help you crush a lat workout in your Home Gym without the convenience of a Lat Pulldown machine.
If you go the DIY route on a pull-up bar, be sure you test it before fully committing to a routine! I have witnessed first-hand a pull-up bar crashing down mid-workout. Yes, it was me, and thankfully the only injury was to my pride.