While you might be thinking that pull-ups are the way to go when it comes to upper body pulling movements, I think it depends on what goal you're after and whether your skill level on pull-ups matches that goal.
If your goal is more pull-ups or you're limited on equipment, then yea pull-ups might be the way to go. However, you may not have the capacity to do enough pull-ups to express your intent, so pulldowns are likely a better go-to exercise for you. If you're looking for more upper back muscular development, this "easier" path might be the one to head down.
It doesn't have to be an either-or. Each has its place. It comes down to your goal. With that said, here are 5 variations of pulldowns you can add to your training.
Side Lying Cobra Pulldown
One key to gaining and growing muscle is taking it through its full range of motion. No place is that more evident than in this variation. By laying on our side, it allows the lats to go through its full range of motion, and get into a "loaded stretch" position.
Once we're in that loaded stretch at the top of the movement, the lats have to work a bit harder to pull, leading to a bigger contraction and more gains.
Alternating Cable Lat Pulldown
This Cable Lat Pulldown is all about keeping tension for as long as possible. More time under tension means that we increase how hard the muscles have to work. More work, more gains.
We're working on an alternating pulldown with an isometric contraction on one side. Plus as a bonus, a double-arm pulldown in between. All meant to get more out of the exercise.
Chest Supported Pulldown
Using a bench, we can keep our body in a better position for the pulldown. One thing that I've noticed with pulldowns is that the shoulders tend to dip forward as we get to the end of the pull. By lying on the bench, we avoid that, and can get a good amount of T-spine extension too.
Additionally, with the cable handles, we can change our hand positioning easily, keeping it neutral, or going to a wider grip.
All Fours Pulldown
If there's no access to a machine, we can switch over to bands and get just as effective a workout. From a quadruped or all fours position, we can reach out and do a pulldown like movement, hitting the same target muscles that we did with the cable variations.
One key is to make sure the hips and core stay stable as you do them.
Tall Kneeling Band Pulldown
Adding in bands makes for a unique challenge that cables don’t give you. As the band stretches, the tension gets a little harder. If you don’t have access to a cable Pulldown, or pull-ups just aren’t your thing, here is a good place to turn to.