How to Work Out Your Back Without Pull-Ups

How to Work Out Your Back Without Pull-Ups

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Work your back with lat pulldowns and single-arm rows.

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Pull-ups are a challenging exercise that work the range of muscles that make up your upper back. If you are unable to perform pull-ups or simply looking for alternatives, use resistance-machine or free-weight exercises such as lat pulldowns or single-arm dumbbell rows to target your upper back. Ensure you use correct technique to engage the target muscles and reduce the risk of injury.

Lat Pulldown


Select a weight that allows you to do 10 to 15 repetitions with full range of movement and proper technique. Grasp the lat pulldown bar of the pulley-machine with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Use an overhand palm-facing-away grip. Alternatively, use a shoulder-width, underhand, palm-facing grip, which puts more emphasis on your biceps.


Pull the bar down and sit on the pulley machine bench, ensuring your thighs are secure under the safety pads. Inhale as you return the bar overhead in a controlled manner. Stop when your arms are fully extended.


Exhale as you pull the bar down to the top of your chest. To emphasis your lats, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down. The lat pulldown works a range of other upper-back muscles, including the rhomboids, rear deltoids, middle and lower trapezius, teres minor and levator scapulae.

Single-Arm Rows


Place a dumbbell on the floor to the left of a flat bench. Place your right knee on the bench and lean forward to place your right hand on the bench. Balancing your weight on your right knee and hand, push your hips back to help keep your back straight and roughly parallel to the floor. Grasp and lift the dumbbell with your left hand.


Tighten your abs and core muscles to stabilize your body and keep your back straight. Exhale and row the dumbbell upward with your elbow pointing at the ceiling. Stop when the dumbbell is in line with your chest and roll your shoulder blade upward to engage your upper-back muscles.


Keep your back straight and inhale as you lower the dumbbell in a controlled fashion until your left arm is hanging straight down by the side of the bench with the dumbbell a few inches off the floor.

Things Needed

  • Lat pulldown pulley machine
  • Flat bench
  • Dumbbell


  • Use heavy weights for eight to 10 repetitions if you want to build muscle. Use moderately heavy weights for 10 to 15 reps if you want to improve muscle tone
  • Perform four sets per exercise; one warm-up set with a light weight and three working sets


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