11 Best Lat Pulldown Dumbbell Alternatives for Mass

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Lat Pulldown Dumbbell Alternative

Don’t have a gym membership and don’t want to fork over a fortune to buy a bulky piece of equipment?

Or maybe your progress has plateaued?

No worries, a good lat pulldown dumbbell alternative (like the 11 I’ll show you) targets the rhomboids, lats, and traps at a fraction of the cost.

There’s also a distinguishable resistance curve to switch things up.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dumbbell pullovers and weighted pull-ups are best for working the lats in their lengthened position.
  • Row variations are particularly effective for targeting them in a contracted range.

Keys to Finding a Great Lat Pulldown Alternative

There are a few must-have similarities when scouring for GREAT dumbbell alternatives to a lat pulldown machine.

Lat Emphasis

You want the exercise to emphasize the lat muscles.

The vast majority of alternatives will be horizontal (eg: bent-over rows) pulling movements.

You can also do a vertical pulling movement, but with DBs the options are limited to the weighted chin/pull-up or pullover.

These are all the gold standards as they work the lats through a stretched and contracted position.

Regardless, there are various technique adjustments that impact the efficacy of targeting them.

Let’s discuss the optimal grip and movement patterns correlated with these two pulling variations with prioritization of the lats in mind.

Grip Position and Movement Pattern

In terms of grip position for the former, narrow grips (supinated or neutral) are ideal as they allow you to keep the elbows tucked by your sides.

You should row the weights up and back kind of like a swinging motion, instead of straight up.

Conversely, overhand grips are well-suited for vertical movements as long as the hands are spaced at or passed shoulder width.

The elbows should drive towards the hips while the lower back remains neutral.

Tension Level

The lats are receiving constant tension from the cable machine during regular pulldowns.

This provides a nice stretch reflex before contracting.

This becomes tricky with free weights since there’s no pulley system constantly pulling eccentrically however, resulting in less TUT (time under tension).

Pullovers and pull-ups are the most effective exercises to replicate this with DBs.

Who Should Do an Alternative to the Lat Pulldown?

Consider doing lat pulldown alternatives if you:

  • Have trouble getting the mind-muscle connection.
  • Work out at home on a budget.
  • Can’t reach your arms overhead.
  • Lack scapular mobility.

11 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives With Dumbbells

1. Decline Dumbbell Pullover

Decline pullovers are a fan-favorite lat pulldown dumbbell alternative.

They work the lats in a stretched position as I mentioned earlier, while as an added bonus improving shoulder mobility.

Pullovers are truly an isolation exercise where your lats act as a primary mover without many other muscles being involved.

Before starting:

  • Adjust a bench to a comfortable decline angle.
  • Prop a dumbbell next to where your head will be when lying down for easy access to grab once you’re in position.
  • Lay supine with your legs secured.

How it’s done:

  1. Grab the DB with your palms facing the ceiling.
  2. Extend your arms straight over your chest with a slight bend in the elbows.
  3. Flex your shoulders toward the floor until your arms are directly overhead, parallel to your torso.
  4. Contract your lats to move the weight back to the start.

Advice: Your core needs to stay engaged the whole time to keep your ribs held down.

This provides spine stability.

2. Weighted Pull-Ups

Every time I discuss pull-ups I stress the fact that you should have an actual bar or overhead beam.

But then during my demonstrations, I do them on a door because I live in an apartment and can’t drill holes in the wall ;(.

I know it’s contradictory, but ideally, you’ll use a bar.

If a door is your only viable option however, make sure it’s strong and wedge something underneath so it doesn’t swing or break.

Anyways, weighted pull-ups are an amazing vertical pull exercise to develop upper body strength and muscle mass.

Before starting:

  • Set up a chair or box below the bar. This is what you’ll stand on to grab it without having to jump.
  • Make sure it’s far enough away so your feet don’t bump during the eccentric phase of your pull-ups.
  • Wedge a door block, flattened cardboard, or a paper stack underneath if using a door.

How it’s done:

  1. Pin a DB in between your upper thighs and cross your ankles.
  2. Overhand grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and core.
  4. With your arms straight, begin pulling yourself in a straight line, engaging the back and depressing your shoulder blades.
  5. Pause once your chin is over the bar.
  6. Return to the extended position and repeat.

Advice: For novices, it can be difficult to actually focus on engaging the lats and as you fatigue you may catch yourself using leg drive to get over the bar.

Two major form cues to be mindful of are: keeping your elbows pointed at the ground and sticking your chest up to create a slight arch in your back.

Remove the external poundage and consider setting a chair in front of you to place your feet on if it’s still too difficult.

This removes some of your body weight from the exercise to sharpen up your technique.

3. Weighted Chin-Ups

Chins are a good intro to building the necessary strength for number two.

The biceps are activated to a higher degree with scarcely less back and shoulder reliance.

You may find the underhand grip more comfortable in general.

So there’s nothing wrong with making these your primary vertical exercise in replacement of the aforementioned.

Before starting:

  • Put a high box or chair below the bar for comfortable reachability again.

How it’s done:

  1. Clasp the DB between your thighs.
  2. Cross your legs.
  3. Assume an underhand grip on the bar shoulder width apart.
  4. With your elbows extended, tighten your back, core, and glutes to pull yourself up under control.
  5. Actively squeeze your shoulder blades in the contracted phase to feel the lats.
  6. Stop and reverse when your chin is above your hands.

Advice: Assume a thumbless grip on the bar to decrease bicep fatigue.

4. Incline Dumbbell Row

Incline rows take advantage of an incline bench to remove the dependency on your hamstrings, glutes, a lower back for torso stability.

Henceforth, letting you better isolate the mid-upper back using lighter weights.

Before starting:

  • Adjust your incline bench to 45 degrees.
  • Grab a DB in each hand so the palms are facing you.
  • Lay prone with your chest on the edge and legs straight.
  • Allow your arms to hang with the scapula protracted.

How it’s done:

  1. Row the weights toward your hips, drawing your shoulders together.
  2. Slightly raise your chest during the upward portion as well.
  3. Release towards the floor and replicate.

Advice: Maintain a neutral neck and spine and keep the elbows tucked by your sides.

5. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Struggling with one of your lats being bigger than the other?

Don’t fret, just do the single-arm row, and be sure to train the weaker one first!

Before starting:

  • Flatten your bench.
  • Lay a dumbbell parallel to the side you wish to work on first.
  • Prop your nonworking hand on the bench along with that same knee.
  • Kick your opposite leg out with the foot planted behind your glutes.
  • Neutral grip the DB.

How it’s done:

  1. Position your torso parallel to the floor.
  2. Fully extend your arm and protract your scapula and hold the weight below and slightly in front of your shoulder.
  3. Drive your elbow up and back, aiming the DB at your hip.
  4. Contract your lat and shoulder blade.
  5. Lower your arm down and forward to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for reps before switching.

Advice: Don’t squeeze the DB in your hand, rather imagine your hand as a hook to mitigate bicep and forearm exhaustion.

6. Dual Bent-Over Row

These are a bit more time efficient as you’ll be rowing both sides simultaneously unlike the previous version.

The negative is that you won’t have a knee and arm for mounting.

You’ll get a decent spinal erector workout on the bright side.

Before starting:

  • Place two dumbbells in front of you.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend down to grab the DBs with a neutral grip.
  • Stand upright to reset yourself and engage your abs.
  • Push your butt back and lean forward to parallel.
  • Straighten your arms.

How it’s done:

  1. Row the DBs up and slightly back per usual.
  2. Tighten your lats and retract your scapula at the top.
  3. Reverse the motion into elbow extension.

Advice: Squeeze your glutes to reduce lumbar pressure.

7. Kroc Row

Kroc rows will be your jam if you’re someone who likes to clang and bang weights.

You have an honest excuse to go heavy using SOME momentum to acquire meaty mass and big forearms.

Before starting:

  • Retain the same setup that you had for the single-arm row.
  • Set your free hand on the front of the bench with the corresponding knee on the rear.
  • Plant the foot of the working side on the floor.
  • Neutrally grab a single dumbbell and angle your torso to 15 degrees (the shoulders should be higher than the hips).

How it’s done:

  1. Let the lat and shoulder stretch downward.
  2. Pull the weight upward toward your outer chest, guided by your elbow.
  3. Emphasis scapula retraction in the concentric, but don’t pause for very long.
  4. Reverse to the eccentric and explode back up.

Advice: These should be performed with heavier weights and at a faster pace than normal.

But not so heavy that the form becomes flawed.

8. Yates Row

The Yates row is currently my primary compound exercise on back days.

Dumbbells work fine, but I prefer a barbell.

Choosing an overhand, neutral, or underhand grip is totally up to your discretion.

There will be distinguishing differences among the three, with overhand hitting more upper back and neutral hitting more of the mid back/biceps.

Underhand is better for lat activation with greater bicep involvement on the other hand.

Having a 45-degree torso angle in relation to the floor is the one constant.

The intent is to remove excessive loading on the lower spine, in turn helping the exerciser maintain a flat back.

Before starting:

  • Set two DBs on the floor or a table in front of you (a table won’t require you to bend down as far).
  • Space your feet at hip width.
  • Grab the weights with your choice grip.

How it’s done:

  1. Hinge your hips and slightly bend your knees to achieve that 45-degree torso.
  2. Gaze forward about 10 feet.
  3. Initiate the movement by bending your elbows to pull the DBs toward the sides of your navel and flex your back.
  4. Lower the weights and repeat.

Advice: Engaging your glutes and core can assist in locking your upper body into that aforementioned angle.

9. Helms Row

These are your best bet for taking the lats through a full range of motion and developing a mind-muscle connection in terms of lat-focused rows.

The purpose of the chest pad is to enable them to be worked to exhaustion without the lower back fatiguing.

Keeping this in mind, these are best performed with light weights for high reps, ranging from 10 to upwards of 30 per set.

Before starting:

  • Position an adjustable bench to 45 degrees.
  • Set your DBs on the floor beneath the inclined portion.
  • Put something soft on the edge such as a hat or towel to shield your chest.

How it’s done:

  1. Pick up the weights.
  2. Hinge your hips forward and lean your lower chest onto the bench. You want your torso to be parallel to the floor.
  3. Lift your elbows up and back using a neutral grip.
  4. Stop and squeeze your scapula once the DBs are level with your hips.
  5. Fully extend your arms down and forward. Repeat.

Advice: The motion of your arms should look similar to that of a skier using poles.

10. Seal Row

Dumbbell seal rows, or bench pulls, are an isolateral exercise (weights spread apart as you bend your arms up, and move closer together as they release).

Not only is this time efficient, but prevents the stronger side from controlling the load since each arm works independently.

You can do these with or without a dead stop, and they work the majority of your upper posterior pulling muscles.

Before starting:

  • Stack the ends of a flat bench onto bumper plates or step-up boxes.
  • Place a pair of dumbbells on the sides in a parallel direction.
  • Lie face down with your legs in line with your upper body.
  • Dig your chin into the bench and look at the floor.

How it’s done:

  1. Grasp the DBs with palms inwards.
  2. Squeeze your glutes and engage your core.
  3. Pull your hands to your waist with the elbows close to your body. Retract your shoulder blades.
  4. Slowly lower to the floor.

Advice: You want enough range of motion to hold the DBs with reasonably straight arms in the lengthened phase, preferably.

This is why I instructed you to set your bench on weight plates if you have some.

11. Single Arm Pendlay Row

Do you want to get stronger, prevent muscular imbalances, and limit lower back fatigue?

Single-arm pendlay rows are an ideal option to achieve all three if your answer is yes.

These feature dead-stop eccentrics like the former.

This requires the muscles to work harder off the bottom, ultimately sparking gains in power and teaching you how to efficiently “pack” your lats.

The inclusion of keeping your nonworking arm on a bench and coming to a complete halt between reps reduces the isometric load on the spinal erectors.

Making lumbar pain less likely.

There’s a unilateral segment here too to work the lats unequivocally.

Before starting:

  • Position yourself facing the side of a flat bench and set the DB in front of you, favored toward the side of your body you’re pulling on.
  • Kick the leg of your working arm back.
  • Lean your torso above the floor to parallel.
  • Prop your freehand on the bench.

How it’s done:

  1. Grab the weight with a neutral grip.
  2. Tighten your core and back.
  3. Swing your elbow back and up toward your hip.
  4. Allow the DB to come to a complete stop on the floor before repeating.

Advice: Don’t let your torso sway upwards or rotate as you row.

Also, the elbow should be tucked at roughly 45 degrees by your side.

Benefits of Lat Pulldowns

The lat pulldown exercise is effective for working the back through a full range of motion.

Providing the lat muscles with a stretch reflex in the eccentric phase, priming them for better contractions in turn.

They can be utilized at the beginning, middle, or end of a workout to spark hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength gains.

What’s more, there are countless variations of the pulldown to prioritize specific areas of the back or arms.


A noteworthy disadvantage of lat pulldowns is their resistance curve.

The lats are strongest in their stretched position, so ideally this is when they should be under the max load.

Though with pulldowns this isn’t the case, as there is more tension in the downward phase than the upward phase.

A more familiar issue is that many people feel their biceps take over from a lack of mind-muscle connection and/or coordination.

This prevents their ability to overload and fatigue the real prime movers.

Lat Pulldown Muscles Involved

Lat pulldowns are a compound exercise, so naturally, they recruit many muscles simultaneously.

The agonists are the latissimus dorsi (assisted by the biceps) and teres major which are assisted by the upper back: rhomboids, rear delts, lower/mid traps, and scapula.

Core stability and grip strength are also tested.

Anatomical Functions of the Latissimus Dorsi

The lats aid the shoulders in adduction and extension, and scapular medial rotation anatomically.

All of which are associated with pulldowns, and their alternatives.

Back Focused Workout

This is a time saver example consisting of two multi-joint and one single-joint movement focusing on back development.

Weighted Pull-Up45-10
Chest Supported Row48-12
Decline Dumbbell Pullover310-15

Programming Considerations for the Lats

Programming for lat workouts is dependent upon the grand scheme of your training program.

You should include the previously mentioned exercises on pull day if you’re following a push/pull/legs plan for example.

Include them on the former day for an upper/lower plan.

Consider having anterior and posterior chain-focused days, in which, your back training would take place within the latter if you’re running a full body plan.

There are a few more things to consider during the planning phase:

  • Exercise selection/order:

I like to arrange 1-3 compounds like pull-ups and rows at the beginning of my workouts.

They require high amounts of exertion so I want to maximize my performance while I’m fresh.

Towards the middle/end of the session, is when I’ll do 1-2 accessories (pullover variants) for lat isolation.

You might want to program an accessory at the beginning of your workouts if you have trouble feeling your lats with compound exercises

  • Vertical pulling movements:

Pull-ups and chin-ups provide a solid ROM, similar to pulldowns.

Plus, the anatomical processes are matching so the lats are still primary movers.

  • Horizontal pulling movements:

Horizontal pulls, like rows, hit the lats suboptimally in their lengthened range, but provide excellent contractions.

The entire back is also engaged in unison to efficiently move the load.

  • Frequency and volume:

Pick 1-2 compounds and 1-2 isolators to perform at a bare minimum, once per week, up to 3 days per week.

Shoot for ROUGHLY 10 sets throughout the week spread between the chosen exercises initally, and they don’t need to work the lats directly.

Kroc rows largely work the upper back for instance, however, they still stimulate our target area, meaning they’d count towards the weekly total.

Lat Pulldown Alternative FAQ

Can You Do a Lat Pulldown With Dumbbells?

No, you cannot do a lat pulldown with dumbbells.

The pulling motion can’t be replicated and would be considered a pushing movement.

This isn’t adequate for long-term back development since the deltoids are the primary movers.

What Can I Do Instead of a Lat Pulldown?

9 exercises you can do instead of a lat pulldown are:

1. Inverted rows
2. Barbell rows
3. Decline dumbbell pullovers
4. Pull-ups
5. Chin-ups
6. Dumbbell rows
7. T-bar rows
8. Lat pullover machine
9. Assisted pull-up machine

How Do You Simulate a Lat Pulldown With Dumbbells

You can simulate a lat pulldown with dumbbells by performing pullovers.

– Lay on a flat bench with your head hanging partially off the edge.
– Hold a dumbbell in both hands above your chest with your arms straight.
– Lower the weight behind your head to feel a stretch in your lats.
– Reverse until it’s above your face and repeat.

How Do You Train Lats Without Pulldowns?

To train your lats without pulldowns you can do the t-bar row, which will honestly build more muscle in your back as a whole.

Some gyms have a machine version, however, you can rig your own setup with a barbell and corner wall.

Wedge either end of the bar against the base of the wall. Load the other end with plates.

Stand above the loaded end and crouch down with a 45-degree torso angle.

Grab the outer knurling with your hands stacked on top of one other then pull towards your abdomen—lower and repeat.

How Do You Do a Lat Row With Dumbbells?

You can do a lat row with dumbbells by standing with your feet hip-width apart.

Hinge your hips to lean your upper body parallel to the floor.

Grab the DBs with a neutral grip.

Begin pulling toward your hips and squeeze your back at the top.

Go back down until your arms are extended. Repeat.

How To Do Pulldowns Without a Machine?

To do pulldowns without a machine you can do the resistance band lat pulldown.

Fasten the band overhead.

Straighten your arms and overhand grip the handles.

Sit or kneel so the band tension increases.

Stick your chest up slightly.

Initiate the pull by flexing your elbows toward the floor, at the same time depress and contract your shoulder blades.

How Do You Work Lats Without a Pull-Up Bar?

To work your lats without a pull-up bar you can do lat pulldown variations like the:

– Single-arm cable pulldown
– Straight arm pulldown
– Wide grip lat pulldowns
– Resistance band lat pulldowns

How To Activate the Lats Without Equipment?

You can perform an exercise called Superman pulls utilizing your body weight to activate the lats without equipment.

– Lay prone with your legs straight.

– Extend your arms in front of you, elevated 3-6 inches off the ground.

– Pull your elbows toward your lateral torso while simultaneously raising your chest and legs off the ground.

– Hold for 3-5 seconds before returning to the starting position.

Closing Words on These Pulldown Alternatives

Now you know what the top lat pulldown alternatives are and exactly how they’re performed.

Add a few into your routine utilizing progressive overload to gauge your progress and see massive gains!





Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at edecremer@wildnswole.com!