Want to do a lat pulldown at home? If you don’t have a cable machine, it actually gets pretty difficult. What can you do if you want to train the same muscles with dumbbells? Let’s find out.
To replace a lat pulldown machine with dumbbells, you’ll need a pair of dumbbells and a decline bench. The decline dumbbell pullover is the closest dumbbell alternative to the lat pulldown. Other dumbbell back exercises that target the lats are; One arm dumbbell row and flat pullover.
Keep reading to find out exactly what you need, how to set everything up and how to perform the exercise as well as some of the best alternatives.
What does a lat pulldown train?
A lat pulldown in the gym is usually done on a separate machine. This machine has a weight stack on a cable/pulley system that attaches to a bar. This bar rests above your head after sitting down on the machine. From there you pull the bar down to your chest.
This trains a few muscles;
- Latissimus Dorsi (lats)
- Biceps + Brachialis
- Rear deltoid
- A few smaller stabilizing muscles like the Teres minor/major.
So you can see it’s a pretty complete back exercise that targets lots of different muscles. However, while all of these muscles have to be used to complete the exercise, the most important muscle is the latissimus dorsi also known as the ‘lats’. These are the muscles on both sides that give you the wide looking back.
The lat pulldown on a machine has a bar and resistance that pulls up. This is pretty much the opposite of what dumbbells do. Because there is no pulley system in a dumbbell, it’s just being pulled down by gravity which is the other way. And one of the defining characteristics of a dumbbell is that it’s held with only one hand while a bar is held with two hands.
That said, we can find a great replacement exercise that trains the lats and some of the other muscles also used in a lat pulldown.
What do you need to do a lat pulldown alternative with dumbbells?
You only need two things to replace a lat pulldown at home.
- Pair of dumbbells: All you need is a pair of dumbbells. However, the dumbbells should be of appropriate weight and there should be pairs of dumbbells of other weights so you can move up in weight after a while. Adjustable dumbbells are a good way to accomplish this but a full set of fixed dumbbells is good too.
- Decline bench with leg lockdown: Most home gyms will have an incline bench. But because the resistance of dumbbells goes the other way than on a lat pulldown machine, we have to inverse the seating position. It’s not possible to sit completely upside down but, a decline bench will get you most of the way there. The leg lockdown is necessary to stay on the bench while lying down on the bench.
So a replacement exercise with dumbbells is always going to be a bit different than on a lat pulldown machine but here’s how you can train the lats in a similar way;
How to do a ‘lat pulldown’ with dumbbells (Decline dumbbell pullover)
To replace the lat pulldown with dumbbells, the best exercise to do is a decline dumbbell pullover.
- Set the bench to a decline position. Start with the middle position and work your way up to steeper angles during later workouts.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells. Start light
- Lay down on the bench. Hold the dumbbells close to your chest to make it easier to maneuver.
- Push the dumbbells up from your chest. Your arms should be perpendicular to the floor in the highest position.
- Tighten your back. Pull the shoulder blades down and together.
- Let the dumbbells go down to above your head until your arms are fully extended above your head.
- Pull the dumbbells back to above your chest. Keep your back tight during the movement.
You should feel a burn in your lats and possibly your chest after a few repetitions. Usually the pullover is performed with a single dumbbell. Doing this with two lighter dumbbells focuses a little more on the lats but you can lift less weight.
This exercise will target the trapezius and biceps much less than the traditional lat pulldown. However, this does target the lats pretty hard. If you’ve got a set of dumbbells those muscles are pretty easy to target separately or by doing the exercise above in combination with other back exercises.
Too complicated? You can actually buy a lat pulldown machine for a home gym easily. They aren’t even as expensive as you might think. Check them out here.
The exercise described above isn’t possible to do for everyone. What are some slightly easier exercises that target the same muscles?
One arm dumbbell row
The best dumbbell exercise for the lats and back in general is the one armed dumbbell row. To do this, you need a flat bench. One knee and one hand rest on the bench The other leg is on the floor but off to the side to stabilize the body.
From there, grab a dumbbell and let it hang down until it’s under your shoulder. You can even push it slightly further forward than the shoulder. From this position, pull the dumbbell next to your waist. Focus on pulling your elbow as far back behind your body as possible.
Do this movement in a very controlled manner. It’s quite easy to use ‘body English’ to lift more weight than you actually should. Keep your back in the same place and don’t ‘throw’ the dumbbell. The contraction of the lats on top of the repetition when the elbow is behind the body is where a lot of the benefits are and that’s what you cut out when lifting too heavy.
The exercise described above is basically a modified decline pullover. The decline part is quite difficult to accomplish but gives a bigger range of motion. It’s of course possible to do a normal pullover. This will also target your Latissimus Dorsi however, the range of motion is smaller. Since there is only a resistance on the lats up to the point where your arms are perpendicular to the floor. So because on the normal pullover you’re lying flat, you’ve only got a range of motion of about 90 degrees.
You can extend this a little bit by letting your elbows sink further down than just shoulder height. However, not everyone is flexible enough for that.
Non dumbbell alternatives
- Barbell pullover: The same exercise you can do with dumbbells can also be done with a barbell and is also very effective.
- Pull up: The pull up is the closest alternative to the lat pulldown. A pull up bar that goes in the doorway is cheap and available for almost everyone. Not everyone is strong enough to do a proper pull up however. Band assisted pull ups can help you get there.
- Resistance band pulldown: Bands can easily be used to do pulldowns as long as you’ve got a wall or door anchor.
- Functional trainer: If you’ve got a functional trainer, you can do great lat pulldowns as well as a ton of other exercises. Read more about doing a lat pulldown on a functional trainer here.