Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises which strengthen your upper body. When doing a traditional pull-up, you start by hanging on a pull-up bar with your palms facing away, and your body fully stretched. You then proceed to pull yourself up until your chin reaches above the bar. Pull up and chin up are different since, with chin-ups, your hands and palms face toward you. 

You work different muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms when doing a pull-up exercise. This includes the primary muscles (latissimus dorsi, biceps brachii, forearms, lower traps), secondary muscles (rear deltoids, rhomboids, levator scapulae, and pectoralis major/minor), and stabilizer muscles (rotator cuff muscles, triceps, obliques, and erector spinae).

Most bodyweight routines would include pull-ups in the mix since it’s one of the best upper body exercises. However, if you don’t have a Wall Mounted Pull Up Bar at home, the upper body strength to do a pull-up, or your muscles are looking for a new variation, you can replace it with pull up alternatives that replicate the same benefits! Here are some pull-up alternatives that you can do even at home!

An excellent alternative should target the same muscle group as the original exercise. pull-ups work your forearms, biceps, scapular retractors (rhomboids and traps), scapular depressors (lats and trees), and core. These upper body muscles should appear in the substitutes that you’ll try. Thankfully, they do in these 10 pull-up alternatives we recommend!

1. Back Bridge Push-Ups

At first look, you may think that this pull-up alternative is easy. But the back bridge push-up is way harder than it looks. Instead of doing a regular push-up position, you’re doing a reverse! If you’re a beginner with bodyweight training and you find this hard, start with progressions. Spend more time practicing, do a standard bridge and use the walls to work your shoulders. 

The back bridge push-ups are a great pull-up alternative since they target your triceps, glutes, and hamstrings. Also, since this is a calisthenics exercise, you don’t need any equipment. Just your body and enough space so you can lie down on the floor. However, you can use a weighted vest to step up the difficulty once you push yourself up.

How to do it

  • To proceed to the starting position, begin by laying down on your back with your body straight. Now, bend your arms and put them on the ground right beside your ears while keeping your forearms in a straight line with the floor. 
  • Bend your knees and bring your feet towards your glutes. Drive through your hips while pressing your shoulder and triceps to raise your body off the floor.
  • Then extend your elbows while pressing your body up and pushing your head through your arms until both your arms are almost on lockout.
  • Hold your exact position for one to two seconds.
  • Carefully and slowly lower your body back to the starting position by bending your elbows. This count as one repetition.
  • Repeat as many times as you can. Just don’t over excerpt your back to avoid injuries.

2. Barbell Bent-Over Row

This next pull-up alternative is one of the best muscle-building exercises for the back. The Barbell Bent-Over Row works your lats, traps, rhomboids, and delts, which are the central muscles the pull-ups target. When doing a barbell bent-over row, all you need is a barbell. However, ensure that the weight is not too heavy that you sacrifice your form.

Pro tip: Push your hips back when doing a barbell bent-over row instead of folding to the front. It will encourage you to keep your spine in a neutral position while you do the movement. A curved spine may put unnecessary pressure on your spine. It will throw off the weight and may cause a severe injury. 

How to do it

  • Stand behind the Barbell with your back flat, legs shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hinge at your hips to grab the bar with an overhand grip at roughly shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bend your upper body and maintain a 45 – 65 degree angle. Pull your shoulder down and back. Then drive your feet into the ground as you lift the bar. 
  • Keep your hips high, your torso almost parallel to the floor, and arms extended in front of you. Maintain a stable torso position as you pull the bar up. Your elbow needs to remain tight to the sides of your body and will point towards the back. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder baldes together when you reach the top. 
  • Extend your arms back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat as many reps as you can.

3. Kneeling Lat Band Pull Down

The kneeling lat band pull down, also known as resistance band pull-down, helps improve your posture and strengthen your back. It’s a great pull-up alternative because it has a similar range of motion and targets the lats and biceps. Also, since you’ll be using resistance bands, you can easily customize and progress depending on your fitness level.

When performing a kneeling lat band pull-down, the best grip is a neutral grip. The overhand or an underhand grip is suitable for an overhand athlete who doesn’t have any existing shoulder injuries and has good shoulder mobility. 

How to do it

  • Attach your resistance band on an elevated door frame or hook and kneel or sit on the floor.
  • Grab your resistance band with your palms facing forward and your arms fully extended upward.
  • Prepare your core, guide your shoulder blades down and back, and pull the resistance band down until it reaches almost chest level.
  • Pause momentarily at the bottom, tighten your lats, and slowly go back to the starting position. 
  • Continue keeping your core tight and repeat as necessary.

4. Inverted Row

Inverted Row is an excellent pull-up alternative as they target the same muscles. Aside from that, you can tweak it to make the exercise more or less difficult. Standing up taller using a taller bar makes this workout less demanding. However, the more you move your feet out under the bar, the more demanding it becomes.

No, pull-up bar? No problem! All you need is a low bar, sturdy table or railing with this exercise. Also, if you compare its difficulty level to doing pull-ups, this workout is more manageable.

How to do it

  • Set up the bar at your desired height.
  • Sit under the bar, reach up, and hold the bar with both hands. Use a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
  • With your hips up and core engaged, move your feet out, so your body is in a straight line.
  • Retract your shoulder blades and pull up until the bar reaches your lower chest. 
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Repeat as many reps as you can.

5. Wide-Grip Lat Pull Down

This pull-up alternative replicates how a pull-up works, but instead of the weight going up with your lats, you’re going to pull it down. Lat pull-downs are excellent in adding extra volume in this range of motion, even after you’re tired from doing pull-ups. This workout really focuses on squeezing and contracting your lats. 

If you still cannot do an unassisted pull-up, then lat pull-downs are perfect since you can manage the weight and resistance depending on your fitness level.

How to do it

  • Set the knee pads at the correct height, sit down on the Lat Pulldown Machine, and attach the pin to your desired weight.
  • Reach up and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Use both hands and keep it wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  • Pull down the bar with your back straight and chest up. Keep lowering until your elbow is at your sides and the bar reaches your upper chest.
  • Slowly release and let the bar go back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat as many as you can.

6. Single Arm Lat Pulldown

This next pull-up alternative exercises the lats and other muscles included in pull-ups. Also, it’s an excellent unilateral workout! With a single-arm lat pull-down, you give your lats a good stretch and train your lower lats more. By doing this exercise, you can assess if there’s any weakness in either side of your body.

If you do notice that there’s an imbalance on either side, you can efficiently work on strengthening it until both sides are equally fit. The single-arm pull-down exercise has a complete range of motion that can help stimulate muscle growth.

How to do it

  • Set the cable machine with a stirrup at the same height as your head and hold the stirrup with a neutral grip.
  • Do a half-kneeling position with your active side’s shoulder in line with the cable. Keep your arm fully extended so you can feel a stretch in your lats.
  • Pull down with your elbow until it reaches your side while tightening your lats at the bottom.
  • Slowly release the cable until your arm is straight again.
  • Repeat as necessary, then switch to the other side. Remember to do the same number of reps once you change arm. Also, you can use an overhand grip for more emphasis on your upper back muscles, or you can use an underhand grip to work your lower lats more.

7. Seated Cable Row

This great pull-up alternative is perfect for your lats as it imitates the movement of the bent-over row. One significant difference here is you are in a sitting position which prohibits the lower back muscles from helping with the lift. So, by doing seated cable rows, you really rely on using your lats to lift the weight.

Although the seated cable row is an easy workout, it’s a brilliant compound exercise that develops your middle back while also giving your arms a good burn. You’ll need a weighted horizontal cable machine with footplates and a bench to do this. 

How to do it

  • Set up your preferred attachment to a pulley.
  • Sit down and hold the bar using an underhand grip. Then push your glutes back to keep your arms fully extended and your knees bent.
  • Pull back using your elbow without rocking or leaning backwards until your hands reach your sides.
  • Slowly release and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat as many times as you can.

8. Towel Rows

If you don’t want to visit the gym, this next exercise is perfect for you! Towel row is a brilliant pull-up alternative that you can do at home. Since it’s a bodyweight exercise, all you need is yourself, a towel, and a sturdy anchor point. When doing this no pull-up bar substitute, ensure that you have a steady grip on the towel. 

This workout focuses on targeting your middle back, but to some degree, it also has an effect on your biceps, lats, and shoulder blade. Using a longer towel will help you move through a more extensive range of motion, making this exercise more challenging.

How to do it

  • Wrap your towel around a sturdy and secure anchor point. Then hold it with both hands using a neutral grip.
  • Place your feet flat close to the bottom of the anchor point. Lean back until your arms are straight and fully stretched.
  • Pull through with your elbow until your hand reaches your sides.
  • Slowly release and go back to the starting position. 
  • Repeat as you see fit. If you want this workout to be more challenging, use a vertical column for the anchor point. Then anchor your towel lower to lean back more.

9. Elevated-foot chin-ups

Another great pull-up alternative that you should be doing is the elevated-foot chin-ups. In this exercise, all you need are gymnastic rings, and you’ll get all the benefits of doing pull-ups. If you’re struggling with chin-ups, this workout is a much easier version since your legs will shoulder some of the weight.

The elevated-foot chin-up targets the arms and trunk while flourishing the critical movement skills you’ll be needing to do regular pull-ups and chin-ups. It’s perfect for strength building, enhancing the physique, and developing pull-up muscles!

How to do it

  • Start by placing your feet on an elevated surface at a roughly 90-degree angle in your hips.
  • With an underhand grip on the rings, lower yourself at arms’ length.
  • While keeping your core tight, lift yourself up to the rings by pulling your shoulder blades down and closing your elbow.
  • Momentarily pause on the top before carefully lowering yourself down. 
  • Repeat as many reps as you need.

10. Band pull-aparts

The band pull-aparts is not a direct pull-up alternative. However, they target the same muscles and can build your traps and rhomboid control, which is the key to a successful pulling exercise. Although this workout is not as burning as the others, they’re perfect for warm-ups and cooldowns. Plus, you only need resistance bands, so you can easily do it at home.

Aside from that, this exercise can help enhance control and muscular endurance in the upper back and prevent slouching shoulders. Also, band pull-aparts can help you avoid injuries, condition your muscles, and give you better control.

How to do it

  • Get a Resistance Band and hold it with a shoulder-width grip at shoulder height.
  • Bend your arms a bit and maintain the same position throughout the movement. 
  • Then move your elbows backwards until they’re parallel with your body.
  • Hold for a few seconds before going back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until your muscles are all warmed up, or you’ve cooled down.

Conclusion

Doing your first pull-up can be challenging, but that does not mean you forever chicken out from doing it! Fortunately, these pull-up alternative exercises are more than just adding varieties to include in your workout routine. They can also help build the necessary muscles so you can transition from assisted pull-ups to doing traditional pull-ups.

So, what is the best pull-up alternative? Among the ten alternatives to pull-ups that we recommend, inverted rows and wide grip lat pull-down are the best two. Both train the same muscle group as pull-ups, and they’re easily customizable to suit your fitness level. Aside from that, you can do these workouts almost anywhere, given that you have a well-built table in sight!

Frequently Asked Questions

To improve in doing pull-ups, you need to keep in mind that it’s a process. If you can barely pull yourself up on day one, you won’t suddenly have the strength to do pull-ups on day two! You need to build and strengthen the necessary pull-up muscles to help you lift yourself towards the bar. 

Some strength-building exercises that you can do while preparing to rechallenge the pull-up bar are hanging hollow hold, hammer curl, and kettlebell single-arm row. All of them target your upper arms, which is what you need for pull-ups. Also, try doing negative pull-ups or assisted pull-ups since they can prepare all the muscles required for movement.

Even if you don’t have a pull-up bar, there are many ways for you to do pull-ups. You can use the monkey bars if you have a playground near your home or if you can find a smooth and sturdy fence, that’s also perfect pull-up equipment. 

Aside from finding a substitute for the pull-up bar itself, there are pull-up alternatives that you can do. There’s the towel row where you only need a towel and a sturdy fixing point to attach it. Also, you can do inverted rows where a solid table or a railing is all you need! Either way, pull-up alternatives are as good as the original since they target the upper body.

While pull-ups are not inherently bad for your body, unlike other upper body exercises that place your shoulders in a compromised position, you can still experience rotator cuff injury. The reason behind this is the overhead stance and the movement when doing pull-ups. 

Besides the biological factors (shoulder joint structure), another cause for the rotator cuff injury is repeated stress and motion on the shoulder. It’s specifically true for overhead movements like the motion you do when performing pull-ups. The exercise puts the shoulder joint at risk for external rotation with serious loading on the rotator cuff muscles. 

Although this might be the case, it still doesn’t mean that you avoid doing pull-ups entirely. To prevent any injuries, you can strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. Also, just pace yourself properly and learn to listen to your body when it’s asking for rest.

From our ten recommendations, the pull-up alternatives that don’t need a pull-up bar and are the best pull up alternatives you can do at home are Back Bridge Push-Ups (bodyweight), Kneeling Lat Band Pull Down (resistance band), Inverted Row (low bar, sturdy table or railing), Towel Rows (towel, bodyweight, attachment point) and Band pull-aparts (resistance band).

All these exercises are excellent in working multiple muscles and targeting the same muscle groups as a pull-up. Also, they’re perfect for building your upper body strength which you need to help lift yourself up the bar. 

If you are a seasoned fitness enthusiast who has been doing pull ups for a while and has a healthy body, there’s nothing wrong with doing it every day. However, if you just included pull ups in your workout routine, you need to space your days. Instead of daily, you can do it every other day until you have recovered enough and you’ve built the strength to do pull ups every day. 

Don’t rush it, or you may injure your shoulder blades and slow down your progress. Your body will let you know once it’s ready to take on the challenge. While pushing yourself is good, knowing your limits is also important.

There’s no standard number of pull ups that you should do. It’s solely dependent on your fitness level, endurance, and strength. Also, there’s the biological factor that men have more upper body muscle mass than women. With more upper body strength, you’ll be able to do more pull ups than those with less. 

However, professionals advise aiming for 25 to 50 pull ups 3 times a week. Twenty-five for a beginner and fifty for people who are more advanced. 

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