Best Vertical Pulling Exercises To Build Back Lats

8 Best Vertical Pulling Exercises To Build Back Lats

Your back consists of some of the largest muscles in your body and plays a huge role in your everyday life, as well as your performance in the gym. 

This is why the latissimus dorsi – and upper back muscle – is such a major muscle to be focused on in your upper body strength training.

While horizontal pulling exercises can help develop your lats, they can’t hold a candle to a good vertical pulling exercise. So, here are our top picks for smashing your lats and building a huge back.

1. Lat pulldowns

How to

  • Sit at a cable machine or pulldown station so that you’re under the bar. Extend your arms up and take hold of the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
  • Bend at the elbows and pull the bar down until it comes to the top of your chest. 
  • Extend your arms back up and return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

Your lats work as the primary muscle in this movement, meaning they’re doing the most work. This exercise also allows you to lift heavy weights. You can adjust it into wide grip pulldowns for more of a challenge.

2. Straight-arm pulldowns

How to

  • Stand in front of the cable machine and set the pulley to its highest point with either a bar attachment, handles or rope attachment.
  • Step back and lean forward at the hips slightly, holding the attachment with both hands, ensuring they’re above your head.
  • Keeping your arms straight, pull the attachment down toward your waist. Hold for a second, then lift your arms to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps.
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Why it works

The muscle activation of your lats is at its max here; you should really feel them working as you pull the weight down and then raise it back up under control. Your arm muscles aren’t doing much to assist, meaning your lats are worked even harder.

3. Wide grip pull-ups

How to

  • At a pull-up bar or station, take hold of it with a wide grip – hands wider than your shoulders – with your palms facing away from you. 
  • While hanging with your feet off the floor, bend at the elbows to pull yourself up until your chin rises above the bar.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat for 8-10 reps.

Why it works

Using a wider grip further activates the muscle fibers in your lats, plus the time under tension is much longer as you are always supporting your entire body weight, making this a great upper back builder.

4. Reverse shrug

How to

  • Sit on a flat incline bench under a pulldown station and take hold of the bar with a wide grip, arms straight.
  • Let your shoulders lift up toward your ears, keeping your arms straight, then lower them back down as far as you can while keeping your back straight. 
  • Repeat for 15-20 reps.

Why it works

This is an excellent move for beginners and works as a lat builder to help set you up for more challenging vertical movements like the lat pulldown. 

5. Meadows row

How to

  • Stand over a landmine bar with your legs staggered, your front leg bent. Hinge at the hips and lean forward, resting your non-working arm onto your front leg.
  • Take hold of the end of the bar with your other hand, take a deep breath, and pull it up toward your chest. 
  • Lower back down to the starting position and repeat for 10-12 reps.
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Why it works

This variation of the landmine row isolates one side of your back at a time, making it a great addition to your training program. Unlike other rowing exercises, the weight is moving away from your body as you pull it up, making this more challenging.

6. One arm cable pulldowns

How to

  •  Kneel on one knee underneath a cable machine and take hold of a D-handle attachment with one hand, arm extended up.
  • With your core tight, pull the handle down by bending your elbow until the handle is just above your shoulder, ensuring your elbow stays flared out to the side.
  • Let the weight rise back up and repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

Like a single-arm row, this exercise isolates one side at a time and is a great activation exercise for your lats, and can also help with grip development.

7. Deadstop row

How to

  • Set up as you would for regular bent-over rows. Stand over a loaded barbell with feet hip-width apart. Bend forward at the hips with a slight bend in your knees and take hold of the bar.
  • Bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar up to your torso. 
  • Lower the bar back down to the floor, letting the weight be taken by the ground for a second, before taking it back up and repeating the rowing movements again.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps.

Why it works

This movement works most of your upper body but it pays particular attention to various sets of muscles in your back. Resting the weight back down on the floor between reps allows you to perform heavy lifts and reset each time to ensure your form is always correct.

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8. Underhand grip bent-over rows

How to

  • Stand in front of a bar with your feet hip-width apart. With a supinated grip, take hold of the bar in both hands and stand up straight.
  • Hinge forward at the hips and allow the bar to hang against the upper part of your knees. 
  • Bend your elbows and pull the bar up to your torso. Hold for a second, then lower back down.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps.

Why it works

By using an underhand grip, you’re actually engaging the lower part of your lats; a section that is often overlooked.


These vertical pulls will all help you to build your lats and develop an impressive back. Including some of them in your workout routine should lead to noticeable results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get big lats from pull-ups?

Pull-ups will target your lats, especially if you use a wide grip. However, they are still a bodyweight exercise; to build truly big lats, you’ll also need to perform resistance exercises like lat pulldowns and bent-over rows.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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