4 Lat Pulldown Alternatives You Can Do at Home—Because You Don’t Need a Gym To Build Upper-Body Strength

Photo: Getty Images/ Djordje Krstic
The lat pulldown machine is the most popular exercise for toning and sculpting your back. However, if you don't have access to a gym, there are several alternatives you can do at home using simple equipment like dumbbells and resistance bands. These lats exercises can help you strengthen the muscle effectively.

To build larger back muscles, you need to perform a vertical pulling motion. Exercises like pull-ups and chin-ups are good examples, but not everyone can do these exercises.

“Lat pulldowns are great as an alternative to pull-ups. It’s an exercise that mimics the movement without having to lift your body weight,” says Alfonso Moretti, CPT, a certified personal trainer based in Beverly Hills, California, who has trained celebrities including Matthew McConaughey and LL Cool J.

Experts In This Article

What are your lats and what do they do?

“‘Lats’ or the latissimus dorsi muscles are the largest muscles in the upper body,” Moretti says. “They help stabilize the spine, assist in developing a strong core, and contribute to shoulder and low back strength and stability.”

Additionally, your latissimus dorsi muscles move your arms and is even considered a respiratory muscle that helps you breathe, according to StatPearls Publishing1.

“Strong lats are critical for overall health and exercise performance,” says Andrew Peak, CPT, certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, and founder of Garage Gym Greatness. “Strong lats are going to aid in any pulling movements, whether it be in the gym or in daily life. People don't often realize that they also play a big part in pushing movements.”

Lat pulldown muscles worked

The lat pulldown works the muscles in your upper back, shoulders, arm, and forearm, according to a 2019 article in the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal2. For those who like specifics, here are all the muscles worked in this upper- body move:

  • Latissimus dorsi (middle and lower back)
  • Teres major (shoulder)
  • Pectoralis muscles (chest)
  • Infraspinatus (shoulder)
  • Subscapularis (scapula)
  • Rhomboids (upper back)
  • Middle and lower trapezius (upper back)
  • Biceps brachii (upper arm)
  • Brachialis (upper arm)
  • Brachioradialis (forearm)
  • Flexor muscles of the wrist
  • Abdominals (midsection)

Lat pulldown benefits

Lat pulldowns are a favorite exercise for trainers for many reasons—mainly because they are effective. This one move offers the following benefits.

1. It develops upper-body strength

As mentioned above, the lat pulldown not only strengthens the latissimus dorsi, but many muscles of your back, shoulder, and arm. It also helps build up grip strength.

“If you struggle to perform pull-ups or chin-ups, lat pulldowns will help develop the strength you need,” Peak says. “You can use a weight lower than your body weight and work up the strength.”

2. It improves athletic performance

“Strong lats are crucial to athletic performance and for injury prevention,” Moretti says. The lat pulldown improves strength with pulling and pushing, along with overall upper-body strength. This translates to improved performance in sports including swimming, wrestling, and gymnastics, per the above the American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Journal article.

3. It strengthens your core

In addition to your upper body, lat pulldowns work your core muscles because they must stabilize your body throughout the movement. A notable 2013 study in Sports Biomechanics found that lat pulldowns actually works your core better than pull-ups do.

4. It promotes good posture

Lat pulldowns strengthen the muscles in your back, helping to support the natural curves in your spine. They help prevent the slouched posture that often develops from sitting in front of a computer all day.

“Strong lats are critical for overall health and exercise performance. Strong lats are going to aid in any pulling movements, whether it be in the gym or in daily life.” —Andrew Peak, CPT

Lat pulldown alternatives you can do at home

If you don’t have access to a lat pulldown machine, several exercises can give you similar results. If you can do pull-ups or chin-ups with good form, these two exercises are a great way to work your back, shoulder, and arm muscles. Most people can’t do these with proper form – or are only able to do a couple of repetitions.

The following exercises are great lat pulldown alternatives – and also help build up strength for pull-ups or chin-ups.

1. Banded lat pulldown

For this exercise, you'll need a resistance band. “These will work your lats and are a staple in most bodybuilding routines,” Peak says.

Personal trainer demonstrating banded lat pulldown
Photo: Alfonso Moretti, CPT

  1. Anchor a resistance band to a high point, such as a doorframe.
  2. Get down on both knees. You can place a pillow under your knees or a thick mat for cushion.
  3. Grab each side of the band with both hands.
  4. Tighten your core as you pull the band down, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the end of the motion.
  5. Return to the starting position, with your arms straight in front.
  6. Repeat 12 to 15 reps.
  7. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

2. Prone banded lat pulldown

This exercise strengthens your back muscles in a slightly different way. Your back extensor muscles kick in as your body works hard to fight gravity.

Personal trainer demonstrating prone banded lat pulldown
Photo: Alfonso Moretti, CPT

  1. Anchor your resistance band to a sturdy lower point near the ground.
  2. Lie on your stomach and place your forehead on down on your mat.
  3. Grab both ends of the band and pull down, moving your elbows down toward your side.
  4. Keep your legs and hips still throughout the movement.
  5. Once you perfect this move with your forehead down, lift your head and chest to further challenge your back muscles.
  6. Return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat 12 to 15 reps.
  8. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

3. Dumbbell bent-over row

All you need is a pair of dumbbells for this exercise that strengthens and builds up your back muscles. “This will hit your lats, as well as the lower and mid back,” Peak says.

Personal trainer demonstrating dumbbell bent-over row
Photo: Alfonso Moretti, CPT

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms down at your sides and palms facing in.
  2. Keeping your trunk straight and your head in line with your body, lean forward by hinging at your waist.
  3. Draw your elbows up toward your ribs and pull the weights up alongside your lower abdomen, squeezing your shoulder blades at the end of the movement.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 12 to 15 reps.
  6. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

4. Dumbbell pullover

This is another lat-strengthening move that only requires dumbbells. It also helps improve and maintain shoulder range of motion.

Personal trainer demonstrating dumbbell pullover
Photo: Alfonso Moretti, CPT

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while your arms are resting on the floor.
  3. Keeping your palms facing each other and your arms straight, pull both arms up over your head at the same time.
  4. Stop just before the dumbbells touch the floor.
  5. Keep your core contracted and don’t let your midsection come off the floor.
  6. Return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat 12 to 15 reps.
  8. Perform 2 to 3 sets.


1. Is it necessary to do lat pulldowns?

Lat pulldowns are a great exercise for those wanting to strengthen and build up the muscles in the back, including the large latissimus dorsi muscle.

Using a lat pulldown machine is very effective, however you can also work your back muscles at home using dumbbells or resistance bands. Exercises including banded lat pulldowns, prone banded lat pulldowns, dumbbell bent-over rows, and dumbbell pullovers (all demonstrated above) also strengthen your back muscles.

Pull-ups or chin-ups are also effective exercises if you have the strength to lift your body weight.

2. Can I do a lat pulldown without a machine?

If you don’t have access to a machine, you can mimic the lat pulldown motion and strengthen the same muscles using a resistance band.

Anchor the resistance band to a high point and pull down in that same motion. The only difference is you'll be able to use heavier weights (and build muscle mass more quickly) using a pulldown machine versus using a resistance band.

3. Can I do a lat pulldown with dumbbells?

You can strengthen similar muscles as the lat pulldown machine using dumbbells at home. The dumbbell bent-over row and the dumbbell pullover are two exercises that strengthen the muscles in your back, including your latissimus dorsi.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Jeno SH, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. [Updated 2023 Mar 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/
  2. Ronai, Peter M.S., FACSM, ACSM-CEP, ACSM-EP, EIM Level III, CSCS. The Lat Pulldown. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 23(2):p 24-30, 3/4 2019. | DOI: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000469
  3. Doma K, Deakin GB, Ness KF. Kinematic and electromyographic comparisons between chin-ups and lat-pull down exercises. Sports Biomech. 2013 Sep;12(3):302-13. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2012.760204. PMID: 24245055.

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