December 11, 2021 9 min read
If you want a wide upper back and broader shoulders, lat pulldowns are the way to go. Nothing targets the latissimus dorsi quite the same way. Best of all, a lat pulldown machine isn’t required for this exercise.
Read this guide to find out what makes the lat pulldown so effective and how you can include it in your home workouts without investing in an exercise machine.
The widest muscle in the upper body, the lats stretch from the mid- to low-back out to either side, wrap around the torso, and continue up beneath the armpits to the upper arm bone beneath the biceps. The trapezius muscle partly covers it while the pectoralis major and teres major are on either side of the higher part of the latissimus dorsi.
This is a superficial muscle, which means you can sculpt it and get visible results.
The lats’ primary functions are to move the thoracic (middle) region of the spine and to move the arm. Together with the teres major and pectoralis major, the lats move the upper arm toward the body’s midline and rotate it inward when the elbow is at a 90-degree angle.
Lats also extend that upper arm bone, which is what happens when your arms swing behind you. Whenever your torso moves forward and upward while your arms are overhead, the lats are at work. Climbing and exercises like pull-ups are good examples of this sort of movement.
The lats aren’t the only muscle worked in lat pulldowns. Naming every single muscle in this compound exercise is challenging because it occurs across so many joints.
But for our fitness purposes, it’s enough to know the following muscles are worked in a lat pulldown:
The lat pulldown is incredibly useful for building strength and muscle mass in various back muscles. In addition to pull-ups and chin-ups, they’re some of the best exercises for lat activation.Not only that, but they help increase the range of motion at two key joints: the shoulders and the elbows. Functional strength as well as sculpted muscle mass result from lat pulldowns.
Many beginners use this exercise to build up to their first pull-up, while more seasoned bodybuilders use lat pulldowns at higher weight levels to overcome plateaus in their pull-up count.It’s also a very versatile exercise in terms of the muscles you can target. Simply changing up your grip width can change how the stress of the weight hits different muscle groups.
A wide grip causes greater lat activation during the eccentric phase, which is the second half of the exercise when you’re returning the bar to the starting position. A medium or close grip targets the biceps more.All in all, you’d be hard-pressed to get a ripped barn-door back without including the lat pulldown in your workout routine. But what if you don’t have a lat machine or a cable machine? Let’s take a look at some great lat pulldown variations you can use instead.
The closest you can get to a regular lat pulldown exercise without a machine is this banded version. All you need is a high anchor point and a resistance band to replicate the pulley system on a cable machine. Tube bands with handles are the most convenient but therapy bands and loop bands work as well. You won’t be able to increase the difficulty with weight plates, but you can advance to a more resistant band.
For an anchor point, one of the easiest for most people is to close the resistance band in a door near the top of the frame. You can also buy specific attachments that allow you to slam part of the resistance band in a door. Hooks, pull-up bars, and vertical bars also make great anchor points.
Here’s how you can perform resistance band lat pulldowns at home:
If you don’t have a way to establish an anchor point or you’re worried about the band breaking loose, you can perform nearly the same exercise lying down. You’ll still need to find a strong bar to wrap the resistance band around. The leg of a heavy piece of furniture like a couch should work just fine. Some people do this exercise lying on their back while others lie on their stomachs.
For the sake of variation, we recommend alternating between the two throughout your routine or even between sets.
Follow these steps to do lying lat pulldowns:
You only really need one single piece of equipment for this exercise. Any kind of freeweight, be it a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a small medicine ball works fine. This is more of a lat pulldown alternative than a variation, but it still hits the lats and triceps while also showing your pecs some love.
Some research indicates that it targets the pectoralis major more, so don’t over-rely on it if your goal is to build strong lats.
Here’s how to execute dumbbell pullovers at home:
Many lifters love this pulldown alternative exercise that they use it more frequently than the real thing.
But be careful - although face pulls work the rear deltoids, rhombus, and the middle traps, the latissimus dorsi doesn’t do nearly as much with this exercise as it will in a pulldown. Still, it’s a nice back exercise that you can easily execute from any home gym setup. If you can establish a low pulley system with a resistance band, you don’t even need the home gym setup. Just make sure you have a heavy-duty band that won’t snap or disconnect from your anchor point.
Follow these steps to do banded face pulls at home:
Target your lats, rhomboid, traps, erector spinae, and biceps with this move. All you really need is a set of dumbbells. The form is a bit trickier with this exercise, but it’s well worth learning how to do, especially if you want a ripped back and can’t hit the gym too often.
Follow these steps to do bent-over dumbbell rows:
If you want a full-body workout, you’ll have to have plenty of hard-hitting back exercises in your arsenal. With these lat pulldown variations and alternatives, you won’t have to rely on expensive gym equipment to bulk out your wing muscles and build unstoppable power in your back muscles.