Pull-ups are probably the best exercise for sculpting your lats and widening your back. It has a ton of benefits you may not even be aware of. Yet, since you might not have a pull-up bar available to you at home or at your gym, pull-ups might be no good for your situation.
So, we’re going to review seven of the best pull-up exercise alternatives so you can hit your lats without needing access to a pull-up bar.
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Table of Contents
1. Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is undoubtedly the most similar exercise to an actual pull-up. But, rather than working against your body weight, you’ll be using the same exact muscles to pull weight downward instead.
All you need is a lat pulldown machine (or cable machine). There are a few grip variations for this exercise, with a wider grip being more difficult.
- Sit facing the weights with your knees secured under the padded rolls in front of you.
- Grip the hanging bar with your palms facing away from you at about shoulder-width apart.
- With your feet planted and back complete straight, bring the bar straight down until it’s at about your shoulder level.
- Slowly extend your arms upward until you’re in your starting position.
If you’re into the idea of this exercise but don’t have access to a machine, you can check out the 7 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (For a Wide Back).
2. Assisted Pull-up (Machine)
The assisted pull-up machine allows you to get pull-ups into your routine without an actual pull-up bar. Even better is the fact that you can work on pull-ups using your body weight, but only a percentage of it at a time.
You just need to check to make sure that your gym has an assisted pull-up machine. Keep in mind that the weight setting is the opposite of normal machines, so a higher weight means less resistance.
- Face the machine, grab onto the bars with your palms facing away from you, and rest your knees on the knee pads.
- Allow your weight to slowly drop so your arms are nearly fully extended.
- Act as if you’re pulling the bar downward to bring your body up.
- Once your chin is above the bar, begin to lower yourself.
3. Underhand Pulldown
We all know that chin-ups are much easier than pull-ups, so why not work those muscles too? With a reverse grip during the underhand pulldown, you can hit the lats while also targeting the biceps and forearms.
Since this exercise is very similar to a regular lat pulldown, all you’ll need is a lat pulldown machine or a cable machine.
- Face the machine and put your knees under the padding in front of you.
- Grip the bar with your palms facing toward you instead of away from you.
- Pull the bar downward while keeping your feet on the floor and your back straight.
- Stop once the bar is at about your chin level or below.
- Slowly reduce the tension in your back to return the bar to the starting position.
4. Dumbbell Pullover
There seems to be a lot of debate over whether the dumbbell pullover works the chest or the lats. Well, it actually seems to work both, meaning you can get some chest and back training in all at once.
Just one dumbbell and a bench are all it takes. But, you can switch it up a little bit and use a barbell, though this might be more difficult.
Wanna do these at home, but don’t have the equipment? We recommend the Topeakmart 66 lb Adjustable Dumbbell Set since they’re very durable and have nice grips to prevent your hands slipping. And a solid bench is the Bowflex 5.1 Bench since it’s fully adjustable and event has a nice leg brace for decline positions too.
- Rest your upper body perpendicularly against a bench and plant your feet on the ground.
- With one dumbbell gripped between both hands, allow the dumbbell to slowly lower behind your head.
- Use your upper body momentum to bring the dumbbell up and forward.
- Stop once the dumbbell is at your chest and then return to the starting position.
5. Iron Cross
It’s not that we don’t think this is a good lat exercise – it’s more because most gyms don’t have iron cross machines anymore. Using this machine is great for focusing on your lats, but also some upper back and chest muscles too.
Since this is a machine-based exercise, all you need is a gym that has the iron cross machine.
- Stand on the base of the iron cross and grab onto the handles above you.
- Keeping hold of the handles, bring your hands to your sides (around your hips).
- Reduce the tension and begin returning your hands upward.
6. Bent-over Dumbbell Row
Though you won’t be hitting strictly the lats with the bent-over dumbbell row, every routine should have rows in it. This exercise is truly perfect if you’re looking to add some mass to your back and improve your physique.
The bent-over dumbbell row only calls for one dumbbell and a bench (for balance). However, you can switch it up and use two dumbbells by performing alternating rows instead.
- Grab a dumbbell in one hand, plant your opposite knee and hand on a bench, and put your other foot on the floor.
- Allow the dumbbell to dangle so your arm is fully extended downward.
- Use the force in your back to bring the dumbbell straight up to a point where your upper arm is parallel to your upper body.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell back down.
- Remember to switch arms between sets.
7. Inverted Row
When you just don’t have the upper body strength to do a pull-up at all, inverted rows are a solid option. With only the use of some of your body weight, you can begin building strength in your back and work up to more intense back/lat exercises.
All you need is a low bar (like on a Smith machine) where you can plant your heels on the floor and not be too high off of the ground.
- Lie under a Smith machine like you were going to do a bench press, but remove the bench so that your heels are on the floor.
- With your hands on the bar about shoulder-width apart and your entire body completely straight, bring your upper body up until it touches the bar.
- Return to the starting position.
Wrapping Up Pull-up Exercise Alternatives
Pull-ups can be pretty tough for beginners and not having a pull-up bar leaves your lats empty-handed. That’s why you should try to work some other lat exercises into your routine to help you reach the perfect upper body physique.
Again, I would say that lat pulldowns are the most closely-related exercise to pull-ups, but what if you can’t do them? Check out these 7 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (for a Wide Back).