Modifying your pulldowns can offer positive effects but you may want something else. Discover some alternatives to straight arm pulldowns with similar benefits.
Depending on how wide you hold your elbows, straight arm pulldowns will mainly isolate either your latissimus dorsi back muscle or also work your lower chest muscles a nice amount.
In turn, that means that straight arm pulldowns can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy straight arm pulldowns, you want a more at-home friendly option, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to straight arm pulldowns can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Dumbbell pullover
For the dumbbell pullover, you preferably want a flat weight bench or something similar to lie on and a compact weight like a dumbbell.
Once you have the required gear, take the following steps to do a dumbbell pullover:
- Lie on a weight bench with your head on the end of the bench. Hold a dumbbell in both of your hands.
- Extend your arms upward until they are slightly less than stretched and point them up.
- Slowly move back your arms as far as comfortable. To engage your lat muscles more instead of your lower chest bring your elbows somewhat more away from your body. Your arms stay slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
Dumbbell pullovers are basically straight arm pulldowns but with a different type of weight and at a different angle. This means you can target the exact same muscles with this straight arm pulldown alternative.
The downsides of dumbbell pullovers are that your shoulders move at an angle with a slightly higher injury risk, you can drop the dumbbell on yourself, and your muscles are generally under tension for a shorter amount of time.
The upside is that the dumbbell pullover is more inexpensive when it comes to equipment at home. Cable machines can also be occupied often in the gym. You also need to use your core muscles less during dumbbell pullovers.
2. Straight arm kickback
To really isolate your lats you can use an incline weight bench for this next exercise. Bent-over is the other alternative. You will also need some type of resistance.
Take the following steps to do an incline bench straight arm kickback with two dumbbells:
- Put the incline bench at about a 45-angle degree. Grab 2 dumbbells of the same weight. Lie down with your front on the weight bench. Let your arms hang down for now.
- Keep your arms slightly less than stretched and slowly bring them somewhat more back than in line with your upper body. Keep them close to your body.
- Let gravity do its work on your arms in a controlled motion until they are back into starting position.
The tricep kickback is an exercise that is done to isolate your triceps. By keeping your arms straight you shift the focus to your lats similar to a straight arm pulldown.
You can also do the straight arm kickback bent-over. This version still isolates your lats a relatively high amount but you do engage your core muscles more compared to the incline bench version.
3. Cable crossover
For the cable crossover exercise, you will need to attach single-grip handles to each side of a double-pulley cable machine at about shoulder level. After that, take the following steps to do a cable crossover:
- Grab 1 handle, walk towards the other handle and grab it with the other hand. Stand in the middle between the two cables.
- Put one foot a small distance backward and the other foot forward for balance. Slightly tilt your upper body forward while keeping your back straight. Keep your arms slightly less than extended throughout the exercise.
- Slowly bring your hands to the center and downward. Instead of stopping when right before your hands touch each other, you let one arm go above the other to go a little further.
- Slowly go back to starting position.
- When doing multiple repetitions switch between which arm goes above.
Make sure your arms really move from an up to a down position in the exercise. This movement makes it so you engage your lower chest muscles more compared to a sideways-only movement.
One potential downside or upside of this straight arm pulldown alternative depending on your local gym or budget is that you preferably want a double-pull cable machine.
In case you only have a single-pulley cable machine available you can also do the cable crossover with each arm at a time but this will be challenging for your oblique muscles.
4. Bent-over row
Bent-over rows are generally done with a barbell so this exercise may seem out of reach at home. However, you can also other back exercise equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.
Even if you don’t have more traditional fitness equipment you can use a backpack with heavy books or any other suited weights you can find at home.
Take the following steps to do a bent-over row with resistance bands:
- Anchor the resistance band(s) under your feet which are at about shoulder width.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight.
- Grab the resistance band with stretched arms at a point where you experience a small amount of resistance. Point your hand palms backward.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Bent-over rows are a straight arm pulldown alternative in the sense that they will engage your latissimus dorsi a good amount.
This exercise is different in that it also targets other muscles like your lower back, erector spinae, rhomboids, trapezius, legs, and core.
5. Decline chest fly
For this next straight arm pulldown alternative, you preferably have a decline weight bench. You will also need some type of one-handed resistance.
Take the following steps to do a decline chest fly with dumbbells on a weight bench:
- Sit on the decline weight bench and secure your legs under the pads with a dumbbell in each hand. After that, lie down.
- Keep your arms with the dumbbells slightly less than stretched and pointing up. Your hand palms should face each other and your hands should be as close together as possible.
- While keeping your arms slightly less than stretched slowly lower the dumbbells down sideways until your arms are about horizontally to the ground.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
An actual decline bench is helpful but you could also do a decline chest fly at home without a weight bench by doing a floor variation in a bridge position.
The chest fly is a relatively standard chest exercise. By changing the upward angle in relation to your body you engage your lower chest muscles more compared to the regular chest fly.
This makes the chest fly a great alternative to the lower chest straight arm pulldown variation.
The pull-up is a classic compound back exercise that can be a good alternative to straight arm pulldowns.
It is true that you need something to do the pull-up on but even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive.
Take the following steps to do a pull-up:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
- Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.
Pull-ups are an exercise that can definitely help you train your lats. Where they are different from the straight arm pulldown is that pull-ups also engage other muscles like your biceps, core, rhomboids, and deltoids.
If regular pull-ups are currently too hard you can do the assisted variation or other exercises. On the other hand, bodyweight pull-ups become too easy. At that point, you can do weighted pull-ups.
7. Chest dip
The dip exercise mainly helps you train your triceps if you keep your body straight, but also your lower chest if you tilt your upper body forward. You will need dip bars or something similar for this chest exercise.
Take the following steps to do a lower chest dip:
- Place your hands on the dip bars. Start with your arms in an extended but not locked position. You will likely need a step up to get into this position. Your upper body should slightly tilt forward.
- Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until these are at a 90-degree angle.
- Raise yourself back up again into starting position in a controlled motion.
By tilting your body you engage your chest muscles a bit more but you will also still engage your tricep muscles.
Chest dips are definitely an exercise with a different focus than the straight arm pulldown but they can be a good choice for certain training goals.