6 Best Straight Arm Pulldown Alternatives (With Videos)

December 21, 2021

The straight arm pulldown is often used as a lat activation warm-up before a back workout or deadlift session. It ticks all the boxes taking the lats through a full range of motion and drilling the feeling of keeping the barbell close when deadlifting.

Performing the straight arm pulldown without a cable attachment is near impossible. Not just because of the equipment and space needed, but also the loaded stretch and the strong contraction you get when finishing the pulldown.

So, here are the six best straight arm pulldown alternatives that you can do when you don’t have access to a cable column.

Straight Arm Pulldown Alternative At Home

To truly be a straight arm pulldown alternative, the exercise must stretch the lats under load and pulldown with the arms straight to isolate the lats.

Band Straight Arm Pulldown

This is one of the closest straight arm pulldown alternatives replicating the straight arm pulldown. You are sorted if you have somewhere high enough to tie a band. A power rack is your best option if you have one.

Unfortunately, you won’t get the immense lat stretch at the top of the movement as the band tension is reduced. But you will get an excellent lat contraction as you pull the band down due to the increasing band tension. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tie a band above your head onto something sturdy. A power rack is great for this.
  • Grip the band and walk back until there is some tension in the band.
  • Bend over with your arms straight until your arms are close to an overhead position. This is why you must tie the band above your head.
  • Have your arms slightly bent and think about pulling your elbows back. This will give you a better feeling through your lats instead of your shoulders and arms.
  • Keep a big chest as you pull and stop once your hands are by your side. Squeeze your lats in this position.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

A big mistake is not treating this as a pure lat exercise. The goal is to drill the feeling of having the lats keep tension when deadlifting or the feeling of them working during other back exercises.

Standing Band Pullover

I first saw this variation from Strongman Nick Best and thought it was a genius straight arm pulldown alternative. The standing band pullover will give you an epic stretch on the lats that the band straight arm pulldown won’t give you.

The advantage to this straight arm pulldown alternative compared to other pullover variations is you get maximum tension where the movement is most effortless. This specific alternative may be better used when your lats are warmed up at the end of your session. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tie the band to the top of a power rack. It should be high enough to have your arms above your head, and the band pretty well parallel to the floor.
  • Face away from the band with your arms overhead, holding the band. With straight arms, bring your arms in front, finishing when they are by your side.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

The further away from the rack you stand, the more significant stretch you will get at the top. Don’t use a band that is too strong, as you will have trouble finishing the pullover as it stretches.

Dumbbell Pullover

The dumbbell pullover has been a bodybuilding staple for decades. Done light enough, it can be an excellent lat warm-up to open up the shoulders. Done heavier at the end of a back workout can be a great way to restore length in the lats and isolate them.

However, it won’t give the same feeling as the straight arm pulldown. As the dumbbell is lifted, the lats generate less tension until there is nothing at the top, the opposite of the straight arm pulldown.

However, you will get an epic loaded stretch with the dumbbell behind the head and can be a great alternative to the straight arm pulldown since they both train the lats. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie face up on a bench with your head on the edge. Place your index fingers and thumbs over each other and around the dumbbell handle. This is how you will support the end of the dumbbell over your head.
  • With your arms slightly bent, slowly lower the dumbbell behind your head. Stop once you feel a stretch that is too intense.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.

One pro-tip is to stop the dumbbell once it gets to your forehead when raising it. This will keep the tension on your lats for the whole set, giving you a lat burn like never before.

Barbell Pullover

The barbell pullover allows you to use heavier loads compared to the dumbbell pullover. However, it requires good shoulder mobility and can be very uncomfortable as your arms are fixed in place. This is an exercise you would reserve for the end of your workout when your lats are thoroughly warmed up.

The setup for the barbell pullover is the same as the dumbbell pullover except for the grip. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie face up on a bench with your head on the edge. Grip the barbell with a width that aligns your wrists and elbows. Be aware that this requires your shoulders to have good external rotation mobility.
  • With your arms bent, slowly lower the barbell behind your head. Stop once you feel a stretch that is too intense.
  • Slowly bring the dumbbell back to the starting position.

You will bend your arms to a greater degree than the dumbbell pullover. So, think about moving your elbows forward and back instead of the barbell.

Horizontal Band Dumbbell Pullover

This is as close as you will get to a straight arm pulldown using the pullover exercise. I would rate this as your best straight arm pulldown alternative. So, if you have the means to do this exercise, use it. You alter the strength curve because you have band tension, so you get peak tension at both length and contraction.

It’s like a pullover on steroids. The weight of the dumbbell creates enormous tension on the lats in the stretched position, and the band allows huge tension to pull the dumbbell forward toward the legs. Here’s how to do it:

  • Tie a band around the dumbbell handle, then set up as you would for a dumbbell pullover.
  • Have your training partner hold the other end of the band. As you lower the dumbbell, you should have no band tension. However, as you pull the dumbbell forward, have your partner hold the band tightly, so the band stretches as you pull the dumbbell to your stomach.

Use this exercise at the end of your workout when your lats are adequately warmed up.

Nautilus Machine Pullover

This is a rare machine, and you won’t find it in most modern commercial gyms. But it is touted as the best pullover machine ever made. If you have access to one, use it religiously for building a massive back. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit in the machine and place your elbows behind the pads with your hands on the bar. Use your foot to raise the stack to get into position and have a loaded stretch.
  • Pull your elbows down like you would a pullover.

It’s crucial that you always move slowly into the stretch to avoid potentially injuring yourself.


These six straight arm pulldown alternatives will give you similar activation and growth to build a wide back and improve your shoulder mobility. Most of these you can do at home with minimal equipment.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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