Looking to step up your lat workout? You are on the right track, because the lat pulldown isn’t the only exercise you can do for your lats.
Whether you are bored of lat pulldowns at the gym or just want bigger, stronger cobra lats like Bruce Lee, we have listed the best lat exercises for you to try for your next back day.
To cover all bases, we have included gym exercises as well as exercises for home that require little to no equipment.
So, with that said, whether you have a gym membership, a pull up bar exercises or a few dumbbells lying around at home, we guarantee you are going to find something new to try from the following lat exercises.
Ready? Strengthen your lats with these great lat pulldown alternatives!
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown
First up, let’s give this exercise a quick mention, because if you are not doing straight arm lat pulldowns, you are missing out on serious lat gains. Already doing them? Then go ahead and skip this one.
The straight arm lat pulldown works your lats to a greater degree than regular lat pulldowns. Why? Simply put, maintaining straight arms throughout the pulldown forces your lats to work harder. More of the lat muscles are activated, meaning the more muscle growth you are going to get from the exercise.
How to Do a Straight Arm Lat Pulldown?
To do a straight arm lat pulldown, you can use a cable fly machine or pulldown machine at the gym, or a home setup using a resistance band and some kind of pole attachment, like a rolling pin or broom. In this case, fasten the resistance band to a pull up bar or doorway with a resistance band anchor.
The exercise involves standing up straight and pulling the bar down to hip level, while keeping your arms straight throughout the movement. Not only does the straight arm lat pulldown target your lats, but also your triceps, teres minor and teres major muscles, and core.
You can also perform a straight arm lat pulldown at home with one of the best home pulley systems add an affordable cost. You can add one of these cable systems to your home gym to accommodate your workout routine for your back.
If you think about it, pull ups are identical to lat pulldowns in relation to arm movement. The exercise is the same, with the main difference being that lat pulldowns are performed sitting down, while pull ups are performed while hanging from a bar. Because of this, pull ups require more muscle activation and more technique.
Pull ups are an invaluable compound exercise and arguably the best back exercise you can do. While they are a lot harder than lat pulldowns - due to the fact that you are required to pull your entire body weight in a vertical plane - there are many ways that beginners can build strength to be able to do pull ups.
How to Do Pull Ups?
To do a pull up, hang directly underneath the bar with your shoulders depressed (dead hang position). Initiate the pull by pushing your chest out, retracting your shoulder blades and pulling your chestline to the bar. You should aim to bring your elbows back as far as possible.
Throughout the movement, engage your core and quads to maintain a straight body and prevent swinging.
For a regular pull up, grip the bar just wide of your shoulders. You can also perform close grip and wide grip pull ups to target different areas of your lats.
The pull up is a difficult exercise that not everyone can do on the first try. However, there are many pull up progressions for building pull up strength. These include pull ups with resistance bands, pull up negatives and Australian pull ups.
Archer Pull Ups
Bored of pull ups or want to make pull ups more difficult? Give archer pull ups a try.
The archer pull up involves pulling up to the bar to one side so that one arm is bent and the other is kept straight - just like firing a bow.
This lat pulldown alternative isolates one side of the back and lat muscles and is one of the best exercises for replicating one arm pull ups. For that reason, they are also a lot harder than regular pull ups.
How to Do Archer Pull Ups?
To do an archer pull up, hang from the bar with a wide grip. From a dead hang position, pull to one side so that one side of your chest touches, or gets close to, your pulling hand. Straighten the other arm.
Return to a dead hang and perform the movement on the opposing side to complete one rep.
The archer pull up is effective for increasing overall pulling strength. This is because you are essentially pulling your whole body weight up with one arm.
If you have not done them before, you will find that you will only be able to complete a few reps at first. By doing them consistently, however, you will vastly increase your pull up strength!
Typewriter Pull Ups
Typewriter pull ups are similar to archer pull ups. The exercise involves hanging from a bar and pulling to one side, except that they are more difficult. Why? Because you have to keep your chin over the bar throughout the exercise!
For this reason, typewriter pull ups are another great lat pulldown alternative that engages all the muscles of your back, including your lats, from start to finish. You have to pull yourself up to the bar and hold that position, while moving from side to side - you guessed it - like a typewriter.
How to Do Typewriter Pull Ups?
To do a typewriter pull up, pull yourself up to the bar on one side as if you are doing an archer pull up - however, you do not have to straighten, or lock out, the other arm. While keeping your chin over the bar, “slide” to the other side of the bar for your second rep, then return and repeat.
As typewriter pull ups involve holding yourself up to the bar, make sure to contract your core and engage your quads to maintain a straight body and prevent your lower body from swinging, which will make the exercise harder.
Just like archer pull ups, this exercise will drastically increase your one arm pulling strength and take your overall pull up ability to the next level.
L-Sit Pull Ups
L-sit pull ups, or l-ups, are one of the best pull up variations for targeting your lats. This is because your legs are extended out straight, your body forming an L shape, which increases the “lever” of the exercise and forces your lats to work harder. This also makes l-sit pull ups super-difficult!
Before you attempt an l-sit pull up, it’s recommended that you are able to hold an l-sit while hanging from the bar. The l-sit is a popular static hold in gymnastics that fully engages the core and increases straight arm strength. If you can hold a 15-second hanging l-sit (at minimum), you can attempt an l-sit pull up.
How to Do L-Sit Pull Ups?
To do a l-sit pull up, hang from the bar in a dead hang position and extend your legs out in front of you so that your body forms an L shape. You can grip the bar with a close grip or regular (shoulder-width) grip.
From here, pull yourself up so that your chin goes over the bar naturally. Make sure to keep your legs extended.
As the l-sit pull up requires you to maintain an L shape, the movement involves a great deal of core activation to keep the legs elevated, which makes the exercise a lot harder. Pulling in the l-sit shape also requires greater lat engagement due to your hip flexors not being able to assist in the exercise.
Explosive Pull Ups
Explosive pull ups, or plyometric pull ups, are also well worth including in your workouts - not just as a great lat pulldown alternative, but as one of the best ways to develop your explosive plyometric pulling power. As a result, this will level up the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your lats and back muscles.
Doing explosive pull ups will transfer to your overall pulling strength, the speed of your pull ups as well as building strength and size in your lats. This makes explosive pull ups one of the best pull up variations and lat pulldown alternatives you can do at the gym or at home.
How to Do Explosive Pull Ups?
To do an explosive pull up, simply perform a pull up as you normally would (with perfect form) but as fast you can, while still maintaining control of the movement. This includes pulling your chestline to the bar, bringing your elbows back and engaging your core and quad muscles to maintain a straight, vertical body shape.
For those attempting explosive pull ups for the first time, a great way to start the exercise is by using momentum. In this case, swing forwards with pointed toes, then use the backwards momentum to pull into an explosive pull up.
This method of performing explosive pull ups is also an important progression when working towards high pull ups and muscle ups.
Weighted Pull Ups
Of course, if you’re looking to build big, strong lat muscles, you want to start, or eventually start, to add weight to your pull up exercises. Not only are you going to get stronger lats from weighted pull ups, but you are also going to grow bigger, wider lats as a result.
Adding weight to your pull ups is the same thing as increasing the weight on a lat pulldown machine. But just like regular pull ups, weighted pull ups involve additional factors such as maintaining good technique and correct form.
There are various ways you can do weighted pull ups. Most commonly, you would wear a dip belt or dipping belt with a weight plate or dumbbell attached. But other methods include wearing a weight vest or even a rucksack filled with books!
How to Do Weighted Pull Ups?
First of all, make sure that your chosen weight is properly fastened, safe and secure. As a rule, you want the weight to be dangling directly beneath your chest in line with your center of gravity.
Once you are set up, perform a pull up as usual from a dead hang, bringing your chestline to the bar and pulling your elbows and shoulder blades back.
It goes without saying that weighted pull ups are harder than regular pull ups. So, you want to be comfortable with regular pull ups before attempting weighted pull ups. A good requisite is to be able to perform 15 regular pull ups with perfect form before moving on to weighted pull ups.
What is the difference between chin ups and pull ups? And do chin ups work your lat muscles?
First of all, the difference between chin ups and pull ups is simply the way you grip the bar. Pull ups are performed with a pronated grip, which means your knuckles are facing you. Chin ups, however, are performed with a supinated grip - with your fingers facing you. While it may not seem like much, switching between these grips actually hits different muscles.
As the movement is the same, chin ups do in fact target your lat muscles as well as your teres major and teres minor muscles, pectoral muscles and rhomboids. The biggest difference is that chin ups involve more activation of the biceps, while pull ups involve more activation of the triceps.
How to Do Chin Ups?
To do a chin up, grip the bar with your knuckles facing away from you. It is more common to perform chin ups with a close or narrow grip (hands inside of your shoulders, in line with your pecs). From a dead hang, pull yourself up so that your chestline reaches the bar. Bring your elbows back and flex your biceps to complete one rep.
Chin ups are widely considered to be easier than pull ups due to the assistance of the biceps in the exercise. For anyone struggling with regular pull ups, it is recommended in this case to begin with chin ups to develop increased back strength.
Resistance Band Pull Ups
As mentioned earlier on, while pull ups and chin ups are great lat pulldown alternative exercises, they are difficult compound movements that not everyone can pull off on their first attempt.
Thankfully, we can make the exercise doable with the use of resistance bands!
If you are unable to perform your first pull up or chin up yet, resistance bands will help by making your body lighter while assisting with momentum. For that reason, using a resistance band to perform pull ups or chin ups for reps will help to build back and lat strength in working towards achieving your first unassisted pull up.
How to Do Resistance Band Pull Ups?
To do a resistance band pull up, loop a resistance band to a pull up bar, then secure the other end of the resistance band under your feet (so that you are standing on the inside of the resistance band). From here, perform a pull up as normal with good form.
You will find that the resistance band will alleviate some of your body weight, as well as pull you up to the bar as the band contracts. For beginners, resistance band pull ups are one of the best ways to get strong for pull ups, as well as get a feel of overall movement and pull up technique.
Australian Pull Ups
Australian pull ups are an easier pull up variation and one of the best lat pulldown alternatives. This is because anyone can perform an Australian pull up to start building back strength and lat muscle.
Australian pull ups only require a low bar (tall parallettes), or a set of gymnastic rings, to perform the exercise. As the feet are resting on the floor, the exercise is a lot easier in contrast to regular pull ups. Think of the Australian pull up as a regular body weight row, except that you are maintaining a pronated pull up grip.
How to Do Australian Pull Ups?
Grip a low horizontal bar, or hanging gymnastic rings, in a pronated grip with your legs extended (heels on the floor) or knees bent (feet planted on the floor). From this position, pull to the bar with good pull up form: chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together and bringing your elbows back.
In general, Australian pull ups are easier with the knees bent and the soles of the feet planted on the floor. This is the recommended technique for beginners trying the exercise for the first time.
Once the exercise becomes comfortable, you can move on to performing Australian pull ups with the legs extended.You can further increase the difficulty by elevating the legs on a stool, box or pile of books.
Scapula shrugs are an effective way to target the lat muscles and increase strength for the initial pulling movement of any pull up exercise.
The scapulas, or shoulder blades, are responsible for retracting the rhomboids, traps and lats, so it makes sense to train this movement and all the muscles involved for better strength and technique.
In fact, scapula shrugs are a highly recommended beginner exercise for anyone training for their first pull up.
There are also variations of scapula shrugs that increase in difficulty, from standard scapula shrugs to more advanced scapula retraction exercises such as hanging lat pulldowns and front lever raises.
How to Do Scapula Shrugs?
To do a scapula shrug, hang from a bar in a dead hang position. Your shoulders should be depressed (lowered). From this position, pull yourself up slightly so that your shoulders move further away from your ears, while maintaining straight arms.
Push your chest out and you should feel your shoulder blades retract and squeeze together for one rep.
In general, the further you push your chest out and lift your hips and lower body (so that your body moves into a horizontal position) the more you will activate your lats and the harder the exercise will become.
Rows, arguably the most popular back exercise, target your lats as well as your traps, rhomboids and teres major and teres minor muscles. The good thing about rows is that it is a versatile exercise that anyone can do.
Rows can be done on a rowing machine, with dumbbells, a cable fly machine, resistance band or even with body weight. With dumbbells, bands and cable flys, the exercise can also be done sitting down or bent over, depending on preference.
How to Do Rows?
No matter whether you are performing rows on a rowing machine, with dumbbells, cable flys, a resistance band or your body weight, the best form for rows is to make sure you keep your chest protracted (pushed out) and your back arched.
With each rep, retract your scapula or shoulder blades, bringing your elbows back as far as possible.
Believe it or not, the dumbbell pullover is not just a chest exercise! Pulling the dumbbell over your head and controlling the eccentric phase - just like a lying lat pulldown - requires activation of the lats, making it just as much a lat exercise as it is a chest exercise.
As usual, you would aim to perform the dumbbell pullover with a heavy dumbbell. This will ensure full lat engagement for stronger, wider lats.
How to Do a Dumbbell Pullover?
Choose a dumbbell that you can comfortably perform an 8 to 12 rep set with and lie down on a gym bench. Protract your chest as you would in a standard chest press, then bring the dumbbell over your body, lowering it behind your head.
To complete the rep, pull the dumbbell back over with straight arms so that the dumbbell is above your chestline.
The front lever is a gymnastics and calisthenics static hold that demands significant lat strength. For this reason, it is one of the best ways to increase lat strength and grow huge, cobra-sized lats. Due to the demanding nature of the move, it is widely considered a feat of strength.
Essentially, the front lever is a hanging lat pulldown with the body held in a straight, horizontal position above the ground.
Since the front lever is far from easy, it requires months, sometimes up to a year, to achieve depending on the ability and strength of the person training for it. This is done incrementally through progressions, beginning with the tucked front lever.
How to Do a Tuck Front Lever?
To build lat strength for the full front lever, start with the tuck front lever. To do a tuck front lever, hang from a bar, lean back and perform the beginning of a “skin the cat” move so that your knees tuck into your chest. Retract your shoulder blades and hold this position for a set time.
The dragon flag, Bruce Lee’s famous core exercise, is the main reason he had wide cobra lats - a sought-after athletic, or bodybuilding, look also known as a V taper.
Given Bruce Lee’s superman strength and power, it also goes without saying that the dragon flag is not easy.
The dragon flag involves gripping a secure bench, or horizontal/vertical bar, behind your head, then raising and lowering your body in a straight up and down movement - horizontal to vertical and back down - without letting anything past your lower back (including your lower back) touch the bench.
How to Do a Dragon Flag?
Just like the front lever, the dragon flag has to be achieved through regressive exercises, or progressions. In this case, start training for the dragon flag by performing a tucked dragon flag (knees to chest) or straddle dragon flag (legs spread apart) for negative, or eccentric, reps. In other words: performing the lowering portion of the exercise only.
Lie down on a bench and grip the end of the bench with your arms behind your head. Tuck or straddle your legs, then engage your core and raise your body in a vertical position, making sure to keep your back arched and lats retracted.
From here, lower your body, keeping straight form, without letting your feet or lower back touch the bench.
And that’s it: all the best lat pulldown alternatives to do at the gym and at home. Make sure to try these for your next lat workout session!
To summarize, there are many alternative exercises that you can be doing instead of lat pulldowns week in, week out. Plus, many of the above exercises will also challenge and engage your lats in ways you have yet to do.
The bottom line is this: to make sure to always mix up your workouts to continue building muscle and strength week after week.
After all, doing the same exercise over and over again will not only get boring, but unchallenging. And not challenging your muscles means you won’t make any progress!