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How to do Pull-ups without a Bar

Bhavesh Aggarwal FOLLOW CONTRIBUTOR Feature Modified 20 Dec 2019, 17:14 IST
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For many people, strength training is primarily centered around calisthenics. One of the most important movements in calisthenics is the pull-up. Unlike a push-up or a squat, however, the pull-up requires a horizontal bar. What if no such bars are available? Let’s take a closer look at how this supposed limitation can be circumvented.

There are a lot of possibilities to do pull-ups at home or out ‘in the wild’.

For the sake of those people who can’t do pull-ups yet, we’ll start with some options for inverted rows/horizontal pulls/Australian pull-ups.

Here’s a video of the author demonstrating them:

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1. Find a bar between chest and hip height.

2. Grab the bar just wider than your shoulders.

3. Keep your shoulders ‘packed’ at all times, i.e. engage your shoulder and back muscles so the upper arms are not pulled out of the shoulder sockets.

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4. Get under the bar, so that your body is completely straight, your legs and feet are together and your weight is on your arms and heels. Lower yourself, maintaining a straight body.

5. Keeping the heels in contact with the ground, pull your body up so that the upper sternum comes in contact with the bar.

One of the most obvious candidates for inverted rows is your dining table, though there are a couple requirements: You have to be able to grip it properly. It may also require a counterweight on the other side. Any other high table is perfectly fine too. If your arms are still strongly bent in the lowest position, however, the table is too low. Naturally, desks also offer a good place to do horizontal pulls.

Another classic method is laying a broomstick across two chairs or tables. The above limitations apply. Be sure that the broom can hold you, and that it doesn’t roll around. Use a barbell instead if you have one.

Many people underestimate the sheer number of possibilities you have to do pulls at home. You can use your door handles for some easier variations:

Just grab the handles, and lean back.

So much for being at home. What about the outside? Maybe your neighborhood or town has dedicated bars for horizontal pulls.

But any old horizontal rail will do.

Or not so old

The rail doesn’t have to be perfectly straight, a corner or a round rail can work too.

You might see a mini-carousel. The author sees a pull-bar with an extra challenge for the core.

The occasional low tree branch is also perfectly acceptable.

There are tables outside as well. Use them to your advantage.

Table tennis and inverted rows. Sounds like a fun afternoon.

Once you are competent with horizontal pulls, you can increase the challenge by tucking a solid box (or a really full cardboard box) under your feet. As with a push-up, Australian pull-ups become tougher the higher your feet are in relation to your hands.

Pull-Ups

Now we come to the actual exercise in question. You want to do pull-ups, but there’s no bar at home. The easy fix is to go buy one, they’re not very expensive. But let’s assume you have little to no budget. What options exist?

Instead of attaching a bar to the doorway, you may be able to do pull-ups from the doorway itself.

Maybe your doorways aren’t shaped right. In that case, provided they have strong hinges, your doors themselves can serve as your pull-up bar. You should place some magazines under the door to give it extra support. Throw a towel over it to keep the edges from cutting into your fingers.

WARNING: Some doors either swing wide open or shut very fast when a load is put on top. To prevent accidents, place a heavy object on both sides of the door when doing pull-ups. Try door pull-ups at your own risk.

A closet is often a safer and more stable option. Be careful, however. It might tip and fall on top of you if it’s too light. Ideally, pick a full, well-made, massive wood closet.

Moving outside again, the easiest option is the community pull-up bar.

Failing that, most public property is fair game. Make sure it’s sturdy. If you have a soccer pitch or basketball court in your vicinity, do your pull-ups there.

If you can reach it, the rim itself can be used. On this basket, there’s a crossbar just above 6 feet. Note the rail in the background. Perfect for some inverted rows!

Our ancestors did pull-ups when they moved around in trees. So why can’t we? Only pick trees that are alive and healthy. The thicker the branch is, the more likely that it can hold your weight, but the harder it is to grip.

Select a thick, horizontal branch, or a comparatively thinner branch which is slightly angled upwards. Also make sure the branch isn’t too high above the ground, in case it does break.

The top of a swing is also a great place for pull-ups:

In fact, children’s playgrounds offer a wealth of options for pull-ups. The somewhat imaginative observer should be able to spot quite a few in the following picture:

It doesn’t always have to be a solid bar. Horizontal ropes work as well:

Keep in mind that pull-ups can be done with your forearms facing the front (true pull-ups), forearms facing you (chin-ups) and forearms facing each other (hammer grip/neutral grip pull-ups). While they vary slightly in how much individual muscles are recruited, they all use the same muscles.

Find a fork in a tree, even if the branches aren’t horizontal, and you can do some nifty hammer grip pull-ups.

If you have nothing but dip bars or Australian pull-up bars, you can still do pull-ups from those, simply raise your legs out in front of you.

Hammer grip L-sit pull-ups on dip bars.

Or tuck your knees really high.

The availability of spots depends on a lot of factors. Work with what you have.

There are very few reasons why an able-bodied and willing person can’t do pull-ups. “I don’t have a bar at home.” isn’t one of them.

Published 16 Aug 2018, 19:27 IST Advertisement

How To Exercise Effectively: 7 Alternatives To Pull Ups

Pull Ups are a great exercise that allows you to increase your upper body strength. For example, adding pull ups to your routine improves the biceps, triceps, and the abdomen of your body. But you’ll need to know a few alternative exercises to help build lean muscle within 3 months.

Our goal is to teach you the top 7 alternatives to pull ups. Each of them is scientifically proven to get your muscles in shape. Keep reading if you want to learn some fun exercises that you can add to your daily exercise regimen.

Pull Up Alternatives

Table Bodyweight Row

  • Muscles Used: Upper Back & Biceps
  • Suggested Rep: 3 x 10

This is a pull-up alternative that you can easily do with a sturdy desk or table. Start by laying down on your back with your face placed under the table edge.

If your table is narrow sized, grip either side of it. Or you can grip the table over your face.

Keep your upper back engaged and squeeze the shoulder blades together. You have to pull upwards until the chest reaches the tables underside. Lower yourself a few inches to the floor and repeat.

Towel Row

  • Muscles Used: Back, Triceps, Biceps
  • Suggested Rep: 3 x 15

The towel row is similar to the door knob pull ins, but you have more range of control. Plus, you have the ability to use a longer towel for this exercise. If you want a challenge, try using a larger towel.

Start by grabbing the ends of the towel with both of your hands. Make sure to bend at your knees and sit with your thighs and hips parallel to the floor.

Your elbows need to be locked into place and your arm must remain stiff throughout the exercise routine.

Then, start pulling your body slowly to towards the pole via keeping your back engaged.

Your arms and shoulder blades have to stay together to give your muscles a proper workout. Return back to the starting position and repeat the repetition.

Bicep Plank

  • Muscles Used: Upper Back and Bicep
  • Suggested Rep: 4 x 8

Third on our list is the Bicep Plank. This is like the high plank, but you have to turn your hands where your fingers are placed towards the knees. Keep your core tight and keep your back straight.

After that, you’ll want to shift your body in a forward direction until the hands are under your hips.

Hold this pose for a few seconds. Get back to the starting position and repeat until you reached your rep goal or until failure.

Alternatives Using Barbells And Dumbbells

Dumbbell Lat Pulldown

  • Muscles Used: Arms & Upper Back
  • Suggested Reps: 3 x 15

The Dumbbell Lat Pulldown is like doing an overhead press. It trains the shoulders, back, and arms to prepare for pull ups.

Begin the exercise with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise both of the dumbbells over your head with your hands facing forward.

Start with control and at a slow speed. Lower the dumbbell and keep your back engaged until they reach about shoulder height. Raise them back up quickly and continue to repeat the exercise.

Renegade Row

  • Muscles Used: Shoulders, Back, Arms, Abs
  • Suggested Reps: 4 x 10

The renegade row will put your muscles in shape quickly. Begin the exercise by standing in a high plank position.

A dumbbell needs to be on both hands before starting the rep. Tighten each of the muscles at the core to brace yourself for the row.

Pull the dumbbells slowly to your chest and keep your elbows towards your body. Lower the dumbbell and switch to the other hand. Keep alternating sides until you’ve fully completed your desired amount of reps.

Barbell Row

  • Muscles Used: Arms & Back
  • Suggested Reps: 5 X 5

This exercise will give our body the energy and strength it needs to make a traditional pull-up.

Start nice and slow and keep your muscles in locked in a tense position.

Begin with the barbell on the floor placed right in front of you.

Position your hips at a 90-degree angle, keep the knees soft, and grab the bar in palms down grip. The hands have to be shoulder width apart. With your back pointed to the floor and remaining parallel, pull the bar up towards your chest and bend the elbows. Lower the arms until they’re straight and repeat the until your set is finished.

Assisted Pull Ups

  • Muscles Worked: Arms, Upper Back, Shoulders
  • Suggested Reps: 3 x 5

Last on our list is the assisted pull ups. To correctly do this exercise, you’ll need a band to assist and support your weight each time that you go up. We suggest that you get a band whose resistance and weight is equal to your fitness level.

If you’re a beginner, you should get a band with lighter resistance. This allows you to get your upper back aligned and not become too exhausted from using too much weight.

By using a smaller resistance, you get the most of the workout while reducing the chance of injury.

But if you’re experienced, increase the resistance level. Doing this helps you maximize the muscles in your core and the upper body.

To do a successful assisted pull up, place the resistance bands safely on the pull-up bar. Wrap one knee inside of the loop. Pull your body up and go until your chin goes past the bar. Finish the rep by lowering yourself and repeating if necessary. Overall, this is a great workout that will help you grow lean muscle in no time.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to get your muscles growing, you need do different exercises each time. We hope that our advice has helped you diversify your exercise routine. If you have any experiences or comments about any of the exercises, share a comment below.

Resources:

NeatStrength

Shape

LiveStrong

Pull-ups are my favorite exercise of all time.

But what if you can’t do a pull-up yet?

The answer: read this ultimate guide on getting your first pull–up ASAP!

We have helped hundreds of Online Coaching Clients get their first pull-up, and we’ll cover our exact strategies below!

We help people get their first pull-up, and we’re really good at it. Learn more:

As part of our Strength Training 101 series, we give you an exact plan to follow leading you to your very first full pull-up:

  • Tips on how to start doing pull-ups.
  • Level 1 Pull-up Workout: Bent Over Dumbbell Rows
  • Level 2 Pull-up Workout: Inverted Bodyweight Rows
  • Level 3 Pull-up Workout: Assisted Pull-ups
  • Level 4 Pull-up Workout: Negative Pull-ups
  • Level 5: Doing Your First Pull-up or Chin-Up
  • Level 6: Advanced Pull-up Moves

If you can already do a pull-up (woot!), you might want to check out our article on proper pull-up form, although we’ll cover a lot of the same material here.

Let’s do this thang.

Tips on How to Start Doing Pull-Ups

Before we get into exercises to progress into a pull-up, let’s chat about some general strategies:

#1) This should hopefully be obvious, but the more you weigh, the more you have to lift in order to complete a pull-up.

If you’re truly serious about completing a pull-up, start by getting your diet under control.

As we say here at Nerd Fitness, 80-90% of weight loss comes down to what you eat (#4 in the Rules of the Rebellion).

Here are some resources to help you with weight loss:

  • Tried to lose weight in the past without success? I hear you, weight loss is super tough. Learn why in our article “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?” for a deep dive into the subject. We also have the 5 Rules of Weight Loss to help you get going.
  • Not sure what a proper diet looks like? Check out our guide on healthy eating for a full lesson on nutrition.
  • Wondering if Paleo, Keto, or Veganism can help you with weight loss? They might. Read our guide on determining the perfect diet (for you).
  • In the above guides, you’ll find me stating that losing weight comes down to eating fewer calories than you burn. Not sure how many calories you need? Check out our guide on calculating your daily caloric requirements.

#2) MAKE YOUR “PULL” EXERCISES A PRIORITY. A lot of people do every other exercise before doing any back-related exercises, if they do any at all.

After warming up properly, your first exercise should always be the stuff that you want to work on the most – in this case it’ll be your back muscles.

Until you get your first pull-up done, focus on the back exercises detailed in the levels and workouts below.

#3) The progression below is a path that works for most people, but does NOT need to be followed to a T.

I give sample sets and reps and when to move up, but if you feel like you can progress sooner or want to try doing full pull-ups sooner than I recommend, that’s OKAY.

This is the slower progression method, where some people will want to do fewer reps and progress to the next levels sooner – that’s okay.

I recommend moving up to the next level when you can do 3 sets of 8 reps of a particular exercise. If you want the accelerated path, move on up as faster as you can do 3 sets of 5 reps. You do you boo.

Want someone to build you a custom made progression plan for doing your first pull-up? Our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program will do just that, plus your coach can review your movements through our app so you’ll know your training correctly and safely.

You’re not alone on this journey. Let our Online Coaches help you conquer your first pull-up!

Level 1 Pull-up Workout: Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

We’re going to start with bent over dumbbell rows, the most basic of back exercises, in case you’re starting from ABSOLUTELY square one.

Level 1 Pull-up Workout:

  • Bent over dumbbell rows: 8 reps each arm (or as many as you can do)
  • Rest for a 2-minute break
  • Do another set
  • Repeat until you hit 3 sets

What weight should you start out with initially?

Whatever allows you to get to at least 5 reps a set.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps (each arm), it’s time to pick up a heavier dumbbell.

This will allow you to get stronger and stronger.

Make sure you give yourself at least 48 hours until you do the Level 1 Dumbbell Rows again, so you can include these dumbbell rows for your workouts on:

  • Monday
  • Wednesday
  • Friday

As soon as you can do 3 sets of 8 reps, it’s time to move up to a heavier dumbbell.

  • Once you can lift a 25-pound (10kg) dumbbell or heavier, consider moving up to the next level.
  • If you are a little bit bigger than the average bear, you might want to stick with this step until you lose a little bit more weight and get stronger – maybe go to 35 or 40-pound (18kg) dumbbells.

Want help designing your own workout routine? I’ve got two options for you.

The first is to head over to “Build Your Own Workout Routine” and get your hands dirty. Our guide will walk you through building a full body exercise program in 10 simple steps.

The second is to have a Nerd Fitness Coach do all the heavy lifting for you (not really, you still have to lift stuff), by having them build you a tailor-made workout routine:

Level 2 Pull-Up Workout: Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Body weight rows are the PERFECT precursor to pull-ups – they work the same muscles, and have you lifting your own bodyweight, just at a different angle.

For this level, we’ll provide you with two options: You can also make adjustments.

OPTION A: IF YOU HAVE ACCESS TO A GYM OR WANT TO JOIN A GYM:

You can follow the rest of this workout as part of our 6-Level Gym workout guide, which will help you go from total gym newbie to pull-up progressing badass!

At your gym, find your Smith Machine and set the bar at about chest height.

A higher bar makes the exercise easier to start:

And as you get stronger, you can set the bar lower:

Here’s a whole post I did on inverted bodyweight rows.

Here’s how to do an inverted bodyweight row (here is a video demonstration with gymnastic rings, but you can start with a bar as displayed in the images below).

  1. Set the bar at a height where it’s challenging for you to complete 3 sets of 8 reps with two minutes of rest between sets.
  2. Clench your butt and keep your abs tight and body straight throughout the exercise.
  3. Pull your shoulder blades down and back towards each other (like you’re trying to pinch a pencil between them behind your back).
  4. Focus your mind on PULLING with your arms.
  5. Pull until your chest touches the bar (not your neck).
  6. As soon as you can complete all 3 sets of 8 reps, set the bar heigh lower to make the exercise more difficult.

If you need to make the exercise less challenging, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground:

Level 2 sample workout routine:

  • Monday – 3 sets of 8 reps of overhand bodyweight rows
  • Wednesday – 3 sets of 8 reps of underhand bodyweight rows (hands reversed)
  • Friday – 3 sets of 8 reps of overhand bodyweight rows

(And then go underhand, overhand, underhand the following week)

As soon as you’re doing bodyweight rows where your body is at a 45-degree angle or lower, you can progress to Level 3.

OPTION B: IF YOU DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO A GYM FOR INVERTED ROWS:

You have 3 paths here:

1) Purchase a door frame pull-up bar, hang a pair of gymnastic rings from them. And then follow the same advice as above!

2) Use your kitchen table for rows (BE CAREFUL):

3) Move up to Level 3 and progress with caution there.

If you are struggling with rows, you’re not sure you’re doing them correctly, or you’re not sure how to progress to the next level, check out our 1-on-1 coaching program.

It’s the type of program that helped single mom Leslie lose 100+ pounds and start training with gymnastic rings and handstands!

Want to get results like Leslie? Let us help you get your first pull-up ASAP! Learn more:

Level 3 Pull-Up Workout: Assisted Pull-Ups

Okay! It’s time to get to ACTUAL pull-ups here! Personally, I don’t like using the assisted pull-up machine in a gym as it doesn’t give you the full feeling of a pull-up, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Instead, I recommend doing one of these alternatives:

#1) Assisted Pull-ups with chair

Either one foot or two on the chair, depending on your needs. Your feet are ONLY there for support, use your upper body as much as possible.

You can also use a box or similar sized object for the same result:

#2)Assisted Pull-ups with exercise band:

You can get different types of exercise bands with different levels of strength, or a variety pack for easy progression.

Put your foot in the exercise band and pull yourself up.

#3) Assisted pull-ups with a partner:

Have a friend hold your feet behind you and help you complete each rep. Have them use the least amount of help possible to get you through your workouts.

Here’s how to do an assisted pull-up:

  • Clench your butt and keep your abs tight throughout the exercise – try not to swing like crazy.
  • Keep your shoulder blades pinched behind you throughout the movement and focus on PULLING the bar down with your arms.
  • Use the least amount of assistance that you can handle – as soon as you can do multiple pull-ups with both feet on the chair, switch to just one foot.
  • If you’re using an exercise band, try to get a few bands of varying tension so you can decrease the resistance as you get stronger.
  • As soon as you can do 3 sets of 8 with assistance, it’s time to move on to Level 4.

A workout that includes Level 3 pull-up exercises

  • Monday – Assisted Pull-ups – 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Wednesday – Inverted Bodyweight Rows – 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Friday – Assisted Chin Ups – 3 sets of 8 reps

This is probably the TOUGHEST level before getting your pull-ups. If you get stuck on “assisted pull-ups” and “assisted chin-ups”, you’re not alone. This is where most people get stuck.

We work hand-in-hand with people like you to get them their first pull-up in our Online Coaching Program. If you don’t know how to fit these movements into your workouts, or you just want somebody to give you the exact workout to follow every day, we got you!

No guesswork. No confusion. Just a workout program that’s customized for you.

Level 4 Pull-Up Workout: Negative Pull-Ups

Okay! We are now DANGEROUSLY close to getting our first pull-up!

The big step at this level is doing a negative pull-up:

  1. Grab onto the bar with overhand grip
  2. Jump so your chest is touching
  3. Slowly lower yourself under control until you’re at the bottom of the movement.

WARNING: This can be very dangerous if you’re very overweight, which is why I’d recommend moving slowly through steps 1-3 first.

However, once you have a decent amount of back strength (which you got from Level 1, 2, and 3), doing negatives is a great way to build arm and back strength.

You have two options for negative pull-ups:

  1. Hop up on a chair to get above the bar and then lower yourself back down. The name of the game is “in control.”
  2. Jump above the pull-up bar, and then begin to lower yourself back down IN CONTROL.

You don’t need to lower yourself so slowly that one repetition destroys you…lower yourself in a controlled speed – Counting to “three Mississippi” during the movement is a good tempo.

Here are the exercises you can include for your Level 4 Workout Routine:

  • Monday – Assisted Pull-ups – 3 sets of 8 repetitions
  • Wednesday – Body Weight Rows – 3 sets of 8 repetitions
  • Friday – Negative Pull-ups – 3 sets to failure – capped at 5 repetitions for each set.

Once you’re doing 3 sets of 5 repetitions on your negative pull-ups, along with your assisted chin-ups and body weight rows…you’re ready to do a pull-up.

As you’ll see above, we’re giving you the “pull” exercises if you are building your own workout. If you want a good beginner gym workout program, these movements will fit in perfectly.

Alternatively, we can do all of the heavy lifting for you (well, not ALL the heavy lifting) – we’ll create a specific workout so all you have to do is log into your NF Coaching App each morning and do the workout your coach prescribed!

Never wonder what to do next. Learn how our coaching app can tell you exactly what to do every day!

Level 5 – Doing Your First Pull-up or Chin-up

OH BOY! My dear Rebel, it’s time for a…

At this point you have two options:

A chin-up is when you grab the bar with an underhand grip with your palms facing towards you.

Many find chin-ups slightly easier than…

A pull-up is when you grab the bar with your palms facing away from you. Seeing as this is a pull-up guide…

HOW TO DO A PULL-UP, STEP-BY-STEP:

  1. Grab the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with your hands facing away from you.
  2. Start from a dead hang.
  3. Engage your shoulders, pull them down and back towards each other (like you are pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades!)
  4. Flex your stomach, pull your body until your chest touches the bar.
  5. Slight pause, yell out “I’m a champion!”
  6. Lower yourself all the way back down to a dead hang.

We cover all of this and more in our post “How to Do a Proper Pull-Up,” but the above will get you started

Depending on your weight, your level of fitness and strength, and how far along you are in these progressions, you might be able to start with even more than one pull-up.

At this point, you can be a full Gym Class Hero by following a Gym Workout with these movements in there for your “pull” exercises:

Level 5 routine set up for a week:

  • Monday – Chin-ups – 3 sets for maximums repetitions
  • Wednesday – Inverted Bodyweight Rows – 3 sets for max repetitions
  • Friday – Pull-ups – 3 sets for maximum repetitions

Congratulations! You’re now doing pull-ups. Make sure you watch that video above to make sure you’re doing pull-ups with proper form. Nearly everybody does them incorrectly, with bad form.

Want to make sure you have proper form with your pull-ups? Check out our 1-on-1 Coaching program! Our spiffy mobile app lets you send video of your pull-ups directly to your coach, who will provide feedback so you can perfect your technique.

They’ll also build a workout program that’s custom to your situation, which will have you doing sets of 10 pull-ups in NO time!

Level 6 – Advanced Pull-up Moves

Once you’re able to do 3 sets of 10 pull-ups or chin-ups, you have a few options:

OPTION #1: Continue to get better at doing more reps – 3 sets of 12, 3 sets of 15, 4 sets of 20, etc.

OPTION #2: Start doing other types of pull-ups

WIDE GRIP PULL-UPS (grab the bar WAY out with both hands):

SIDE TO SIDE PULL-UPS

RING PULL-UPS

TOWEL PULL-UPS (Great for grip strength)

OPTION #3) Add weight with a weight belt and do weighted pull-ups or weighted chin-ups:

Personally, my favorite thing to do in a gym is weighted pull-ups; if you’re at this level and interested in doing so, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get a weight belt. I bought this one on Amazon and it’s worked out incredibly well for me. I’ve tried doing the whole “put weights in a backpack” and it certainly works, but the angle of the weights hanging off your back is weird. With a weight belt, the weight hangs down between your legs (not a euphemism) so it feels more natural.
  2. Add small amounts at a time. Most gyms will have 2.5 lb (roughly 1kg) weights; you might feel stupid putting on a big weight belt and only hanging a tiny weight off it, but you need to start somewhere.
  3. Consistently add more weight. I’ll warm up with two sets of 5 pull-ups with no extra weight, and then do 3 sets of 5 weighted pull-ups. If I can complete all 3 sets of 5 reps (with my chin over the bar for every rep), I’ll make a note to add 2.5 or 5lbs (1 or 2kg) to my weight belt for the next time.

Here’s how to incorporate these Level 6 exercises into your gym workout routine:

  • Monday – Weighted Chin Ups – 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Wednesday – Elevated Feet Body Weight Rows – 3 sets of max repetitions
  • Friday – Wide Grip Pull-ups – 3 sets of maximum repetition
  • (The following week, I’d alternate by doing the chin-ups without weight, and then doing weighted pull-ups

Where do you go from here? How about working towards one of the most impressive exercises of all time? The MUSCLE UP (warning: uber advanced)!

We have a 20-level Gymnastic Rings Course that will help you get your first muscle-up, including telling you exactly how to get there.

You can learn more about our course by clicking on the box below:

Get your first muscle up by following our Beginner Gymnastic Rings Course!

Lift Yourself Up (A Life With Pull-Ups)

No matter your starting point, you CAN do pull-ups.

And you WILL do pull-ups with this guide.

You don’t need to follow the progression above exactly – it’s merely one path that you can take in order to reach the promised land…where the pull-ups flow like wine and the women instinctively flock like the Salmon of Capistrano.

Just ask Christina, who can now do multiple sets of pull-ups – her story is incredible:

Or Bronwyn, who lost 50+ lbs and now does chin-ups with her daughter on her back!

For people looking for the next step, we’ve built 3 options that might float your boat:

1) If you are somebody that wants to get results like the women above and follow a tailor-made pull-up strength program that designed around their life and goals, check out our popular 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.

You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself, check your form, and program your workouts and nutrition for you.

2) Good at following instructions and want a blueprint to follow? Check out our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy.

The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles, meal plans, a questing system, and supportive community.

Learn more about the Nerd Fitness Academy!

3) Join our free community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, and we’ll send you our free Strength 101 Guide, which you can get when you sign up in the box below:

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!

  • Everything you need to know about getting strong.
  • Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
  • How to find the right gym and train properly in one.

Follow the path that works for your schedule, your experience, and your level of comfort with this movement – there’s no shame in going slowly and progressing safely.

And if you’re gung ho about pull-ups, ready for negatives and trying to squirm for that first rep, feel free to go for it. Just be safe.

When you DO finally do a pull-up, I want to be the first to know – email me at [email protected] and tell me about it!

For the Rebellion,

-Steve

PS: Check out our other two articles on pull-ups:

  • How to Do a Proper Pull-up (Correct Form)
  • 5 Common Pull-Up Mistakes

PPS: Want to learn more? Read the rest of Strength Training 101 series:

  • Strength Training 101: Beginner Strength Workouts
  • 6 Gym Workouts for Beginners
  • How to Find a Good Personal Trainer
  • Strength Training 101: Inverted Rows
  • Strength Training 101: How to Squat
  • Strength Training 101: The Press
  • Strength Training 101: The Deadlift

One common thing you might notice among the workout routines I’ve designed (and really the vast majority of the intelligent workout routines designed by any other sane human) is that they almost always contain some form of vertical pulling exercise.

And, more often than not, the vertical pulling exercise of choice is either pull-ups or chin-ups.

The primary difference between the two of course is that pull-ups are done with an overhand grip, while chin-ups are done using an underhand grip. They both train the muscles of the back – particularly the lats – as well as the biceps secondarily.

I think most people (including myself) will agree that these are potentially both excellent exercises for a variety of goals, and exercises that should be a part of most people’s training programs.

Well, assuming of course you can actually do them.

As it turns out, many people can’t.

Why Can’t You Do It?

In my experience, there tends to be 3 main reasons for why a person can’t do the pull-ups or chin-ups I’ve prescribed in one of my workouts. These reasons are as follows:

  1. They physically lack the back/biceps strength needed to lift their body weight and actually do the exercise.
  2. They work out at home (or possibly a really shitty gym) and don’t have access to a pull-up bar.
  3. They have some type of injury (most often involving the shoulder or elbow) that prevents them from doing the exercise without pain/worsening the injury.

These are all extremely common and completely legitimate problems. But, before we can find their solutions, we need to first determine why they need to be solved in the first place.

Why Do You Want To Do It?

Okay, so pull-ups and/or chin-ups are exercises you want to do. Cool. And, you have a good reason for why you can’t do them, or at least can’t do them as well as you need or want to be doing them.

Gotcha.

The next question that needs to be answered is this: why would someone who can’t currently do these exercises still want to do these exercises?

In my experience, there are only 2 reasons:

  1. They just want to be able to do pull-ups/chin-ups. That, in and of itself (and regardless of any other related reason), is the goal. There is an exercise that cannot be done to the degree they want to be doing it, and their goal is to do whatever is needed to change this. Simple as that. Improvement at the exercise is the reason for wanting to do the exercise.
  2. They have some other goal in mind – most often to build muscle, gain strength or both – and pull-ups and/or chin-ups are exercises they are considering using (or exercises that were prescribed in the workout routine they are considering using) to meet that goal. Therefore, being able to do the exercise isn’t the specific goal itself, but rather the exercise is something they want to use as a tool for reaching their specific goal.

Now, sure, there is obviously some overlap between the two reasons. But, I need to make an important and slightly subtle distinction between them for the purpose of giving the recommendations I’m about to give in this article.

What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

And that distinction is this…

Reason #1 will require that pull-ups/chin-ups be done. THEY are the goal. So, they must be done. Which means, in those cases, the person would need to seek out ways to improve at those exercises. To go from 0 reps to 1 rep. Or 3 reps to 5 reps. Or 5 reps to 10 reps. Or 10 reps with body weight only to 10 reps with additional weight strapped to them. Or whatever else. The primary goal is to improve your performance at the exercise.

Reason #2 however does NOT require these exercises to be done. I mean, they certainly can be. The person can still focus on improving their performance at these exercises just the same as Reason #1 people are, because doing so would eventually allow them to have pull-ups/chin-ups as potential options they can use for whatever their specific goal (e.g. building a bigger, stronger back) may be.

BUT, the distinction here is that they don’t actually have to do this.

Since muscle/strength is the goal rather than improvement at the exercise itself, a second option now exists: find alternative exercises that will still be effective for meeting their muscle/strength related goal.

With me so far? Awesome.

What This Article Is (And Isn’t)

Now, if you’re a Reason #1 person, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the rest of this article isn’t really for you. It’s for the Reason #2 people. But the good news is that a full guide to improving at pull-ups/chin-ups (including an entire workout program designed with this goal in mind) is definitely on my to-do list. Stay tuned.

As for Reason #2 people… there are two things I want to get across to you.

One is a list of alternative exercises that you can do in place of pull-ups/chin-ups.

The other is to address the voice in your head that just screamed…

“But I Thought Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups Are The Best Exercises For Building A Bigger, Stronger Back And MUST Be Done And Cannot Be Replaced!”

Well, you thought wrong.

But hey, it’s not just you. The people who think squats are the king of quad exercises and MUST always be done by everyone who ever expects to build bigger, stronger quads are just as wrong, too. Just like the people who think the bench press is the king of chest exercises and MUST be done. And the people who think conventional deadlifts MUST be done.

Or literally any other exercise you can possibly think of.

Basically, unless you’re some type of strength athlete (e.g. competitive powerlifter) who is required to do a certain exercise (e.g. powerlifters are required to bench, squat and deadlift because those are the exercises used in competition), then there is no such thing as a required exercise that must be done.

Which means, if you’re just a typical person who trains for the purpose of building muscle, losing fat, gaining strength, looking awesome, being healthy or anything similar, literally every single exercise in existence – regardless of how “amazing” and “required” and “the best” it’s supposed to be – can very easily be replaced by another similar exercise without sacrificing anything whatsoever.

Pull-ups and chin-ups are no different.

Which is the entire point of that distinction I made earlier.

If you can’t do pull-ups or chin-ups, you don’t… actually… have… to.

You certainly can, and by all means feel free to do what’s needed to become capable of doing them (again, an article on “what’s needed” will be coming eventually).

And hell, I’ll be the first person to admit that pull-ups are probably my favorite exercise of all time. But I’ll also be the first person to tell you how not-required and easily-replaceable they are.

This is a point I stress throughout all of the exercise recommendations I give in Superior Muscle Growth.

As a bonus (or would this be the opposite of a bonus?), I actually have the firsthand experience of removing them completely from my training at various points for significant periods of time due to injury. My back and biceps didn’t fall off. In fact, they still managed to grow and get stronger despite having no pull-ups/chin-ups in my routine at the time.

Turns out all it takes is finding a suitable alternative exercise to do instead. Speaking of which…

The 4 Best Alternative Exercises

  1. Assisted Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups
    Probably the most obvious “alternative” exercise for someone who can’t do pull-ups or chin-ups is to simply add some form of assistance to the movement. If you have access to an assisted pull-up machine, that’s one way to do it. Another is getting a band and doing the band assisted version (example here). This is actually part of the Reason #1 overlap I mentioned before, as doing an assisted version and progressing so that less and less assistance is being used over time is all part of the necessary process of both progression and being able to actually do them with your own body weight.
  2. Lat Pull-Downs
    This is probably the most commonly used alternative as well as the exercise I most often used in place of pull-ups whenever I had to take them out of my training. Lat pull-downs are really a perfect, equally effective, alternative exercise. Wait, what’s that you say? How dare I compare a machine exercise like lat pull-downs to a body weight exercise like pull-ups when everyone knows “machines are nowhere near as effective for building muscle and gaining strength?!?” Ohh, you silly imaginary people and the silly imaginary stuff that I imagine you saying after some of the sentences I write. That idea is nonsense. The truth is, your muscles don’t know nor give the slightest of shits whether you’re grabbing a pull-up bar or the bar of a lat pull-down machine. They only know tension, fatigue and damage, and your back and biceps will grow just the same regardless of the equipment being used to provide that tension, fatigue and damage. This is a point I’ve made before on AWR Facebook page.
  3. Band Pull-Downs
    Don’t have access to a lat pull-down machine? The band pull-down (example here, ideally a bit slower) is a nice option to consider.
  4. Rows With Elbows Tucked Close And Weight Pulled Low
    And finally, if you either A) have some sort of injury that prevents you from doing any form of vertical pulling movement (a situation I’ve personally been in before) or B) are just unable to do any of the previously mentioned alternative exercises for whatever reason, then the next best choice would be some type of rowing movement. However, to place more emphasis on your lats (like vertical pulling exercises would), keep your elbows tucked in close to your sides and pull the weight more toward your hips/lower stomach rather than your upper stomach/chest. For me, the seated cable row with a narrow neutral grip was/is my row of choice for this purpose. Any other horizontal rowing movement (e.g. bent over dumbbell rows) can work just fine, too.

Summing It Up

So, if you can’t do pull-ups or chin-ups for whatever reason but realize your goals/needs/preferences require you to be able to do them… then you should focus on training for the purpose of making that happen (again, future article to come). Shocking, I know.

If you can’t do them for whatever reason BUT realize your goals/needs/preferences don’t actually require you to be able to do them… then you can feel free to simply replace them with a suitable alternative exercise instead (or, optionally feel free to work on being able to do them if you just happen to want to be able to do them).

The end.

6 Chin Up Alternatives – No Bar? We Got You Covered!

Chin Up Alternatives And Pull Up Alternatives (Video’s Included)

Chin Ups! Can you feel these two words strike fear into your muscle fibers? Most people know the value of chin ups and know they should be doing them but there is only one problem…they’re so damn hard to do. This is why many people search for chin up alternatives and pull up alternatives. The other reason why people search for alternatives is because they don’t have a chin up bar at their disposal.

Click Here To Quadruple Your Number Of Pull Ups In Under 30 Days

But I am here to tell you to never back down from doing chin ups and pull ups even if your gym doesn’t have a chin up station. Chin ups and pull ups are one of the most powerful upper body exercises of all time and in this post I’m going to show you 6 alternative ways to do them so that you never have to miss out on the power that these exercises offer.

But before I get into that, why chin ups anyway? What’s so damn good about them? Like I already mentioned, chin ups are one of the most powerful upper body exercises that exist in building both strength and muscle mass. The muscles of the back (latissimus dorsi and trapezius) are the primary targets. Your abs will also get a solid workout because they will be used to stabilize the movement. And as an additional bonus, chin ups also hit your forearms, biceps, and even work your pecs at certain angles. Chin ups really are the cream of the crop when it comes to upper body exercises.

Chin Ups & Pull Ups For The Confused

Now, if you are scratching your head wondering what the difference is between chin ups and pulls ups I will keep the definition real basic, the movement is the same all that needs to be changed is the grip:

  • Chin Ups – Palms facing towards you (supinated grip) or palms facing each other (semi-supinated grip).
  • Pull Ups – Palms facing away from you (pronated grip).

Now that we have the definitions out of the way, lets get on to the alternative exercises.

If you work out at home or a gym that does not have a bar, then you may have struggled to find an alternative exercise to replace chin ups or find a pull up substitute. You will often hear that pull-downs are a good substitute but in my opinion they are not in the same league as full blown chin ups. So I would not even call them an alternative for chin ups. If your stuck at a gym without a chin up bar, I would change gyms, I’m not kidding either. I say the same thing about gyms that don’t have a squat rack.

If you don’t want to change gyms or you workout at home then you just need to get a little creative. I have been traveling extensively over the past years and moved residence quite a bit so I do not always have the luxury of a nice regular gym or being able to cart around a chin up station so I had to look through new eyes at my environment to come up with alternative ways to do chin ups.

Chin Up Alternatives/Pull Up Alternatives No Bar! – 6 Creative Solutions Exposed

1. Hanging From Roof Rafters.

This is perhaps the easiest way to do chin ups if you don’t have a bar. If you have a porch, carport, or any type of roof covering outside you should be able to hang from the wooden rafters and use them to do chin ups. The trick is to find wooden beams that are strong enough to take your weight. Depending on the size of the rafters it will usually be easier to do pull ups rather than chin ups but experiment with both.

Towels can be your best friend when it comes to doing chin ups and pull ups in unusual places. They will protect your hands from splinters and give you a tighter grip. You can also throw two towels over the wooden beam in a loop and grip one in each hand which can make the movement easier, and increase hand strength.

The video below shows a guy using a pinch grip to do roof rafter pull ups. This is seriously tough and you will need to have some amazing grip strength to do this. If you are a beginner then I would suggest holding the top of the rafters to do this exercise.

2. Two Ladders And A Barbell

I have used this alternative before a few times and it works a treat. If you have two ladders lying around, prop them up and space them about a meter apart from each other. Lay down two towels on the second to last step (not the very top step as it can be dangerous) and then slide a barbell through so it balances horizontal to the ground.

To do chin ups and pull ups using this method you will probably have to bend your knees and stick out your legs as you will be pretty close to the ground. The towel will stop the barbell from wobbling around and lock you in to the movement.

Check Out The Ultimate Pull Up Domination Program

3. Pull Ups On A Staircase

This is a good alternative for pull ups but it will not work for chin ups because of the hand position. The way to do this is to find a high enough ledge that will support your weight, ideally a staircase ledge.

The position may be a bit weird but it is possible to do pull ups by facing the wall and hold onto the ledge and use it to do the movement. It is not a perfect way of doing pull ups since it is quite uncomfortable and you will get a bit of leverage from your forearms so it will not be as powerful as regular pull ups but I have successfully used this exercise many times while backpacking through Asia.

Alternatively, if you find a staircase like the one in the video below, you can do regular pull ups. Maybe skip the stair jumping though…unless you feel like a challenge!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEMgy4iFpZU

4. Ropes

If you have a thick and strong rope lying around or you want to buy one for a few dollars then you can tie a rope around two objects to make a horizontal chin up and pull up bar alternative. I have made this work before by tying the rope between branches on a tree. If you put on your thinking hat, I am sure there are many ways to turn a rope into a bar. You could also use some type of strong metal pipe in combination with the rope and loop it over a support to create a chin up bar.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRsXALuRFxA

5. Pull Ups On A Bookshelf Or Door

This is similar to doing pull ups on a staircase ledge. If you have a strong bookshelf you can use the side of it to do pull ups. The same can be done using a solid door frame or you can actually use the door itself. Just wedge something under the door like a few books or magazines to close the space under it and make it strong so the hinges don’t bust and presto instant pull up station!

The video below was the only one I could find of someone demonstrating how to do these type of pull ups. Try to sqeeze out more than one rep though!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9f_PRWRoOo

6. Chin Up And Pull Up Alternative At The Playground.

Too many people complain that they cannot do chin ups because their gym or home gym doesn’t have a bar. But how often do people drive past playgrounds on their way home from the gym, without the thought of parking and jumping out of the car to squeeze out a few sets on the play equipment? Far too often.

The playground can help transform you into this guy who is nicknamed “The Chin-Up Master”. Watch the video below to see this freak in action…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZOjNz6bjIs

Now you are armed with 6 alternative exercises for chin ups and pull ups. I discovered these exercises out of necessity because I knew the value of chin ups and pull ups, and I refused to abandon them because I didn’t have a bar available at certain times during my life. If you move houses a lot, backpack, or travel frequently then some of these alternatives exercises will be a god send to you. I hope you enjoyed this post and you have found some creative ways to do chin ups and pull ups. Now you can never have the excuse of not doing them again!

If anyone has any other chin up alternatives and pull up alternative exercises I would love to hear about them below in the comment section.

All the best,

Alex Siddy

The Inverted Bodyweight Row is one of the BEST, simple, most effective exercises you can do for your “pull” muscles.

If you’re trying to get to your first pull-up, or even if you are already doing pull-ups, adding bodyweight rows to your workout routine is a great idea!

This is one of our favorite exercises to program for our Online Coaching Clients, and we use this exercise as a stepping stone to help people get their first pull-up!

A custom workout program designed for your goals. Learn more:

When you do proper bodyweight rows, you build strength and muscle in your back, your biceps, your forearms, your grip, and even your core.

As part of our Strength 101 series, this guide will cover everything you need to know about this awesome exercise:

  • What is an inverted row or bodyweight row?
  • How to do an inverted bodyweight row properly (with video).
  • When should I do inverted rows in my workout?
  • How to do bodyweight rows at home with your kitchen table.

What is an Inverted Bodyweight Row?

You’ve probably heard of the regular barbell row. You pick up a barbell, bend over at the waist (keeping your back straight), and pull the weight up towards your chest.

This can be a great exercise, but improper form could cause complications or you might not have access to a barbell and plates.

Luckily, the bodyweight row (or inverted row) takes care of all of that.

By the way, I’ll be using “bodyweight row” and “inverted row” interchangeably in this article.

To-may-to, To-mah-to.

When doing this movement, you only need a bar to lean back from and your body weight. There’s also no extra stress on your back, like with a traditional barbell row.

As an added bonus, you get a decent core workout too.

Think of it like this: “bench press” is to “pushing” as “inverted row” is to “pulling.”

Balance FTW!

Why the inverted bodyweight row is so great:

I’m a huge fan of compound exercises (like the squat and deadlift, pull-ups and push-ups), and I’m also a huge fan of exercises that don’t require expensive machines or lots of extra bells and whistles.

An inverted row works all of your pull muscles:

  • All of your back muscles
  • Your biceps
  • Your forearms
  • Your grip
  • All the stabilizer muscles in between that make those muscles work together.

If you’ve been doing bench presses regularly, start doing an equal amount of work with your pull muscles to stay in balance and away from injury.

Oh, and if you want to eventually be able to do pull-ups THIS is the exercise you need to add into your routine until you can do a full pull-up.

Speaking of which, if you are just getting started with bodyweight rows and want to one day do a pull-up, let us help!

We’ve created custom workout programs for men and women of all ages that have helped them get their first pull-up! And I want to help you get there too! Click in the box below to get the details:

Get your first pull-up ASAP! Work with our amazing coaching program:

How To Do An Inverted Bodyweight Row

Let’s start with the people who have access to a gym (see a no-gym variation here):

How to do an inverted row or bodyweight row:

  1. Set the bar (or your rings) around waist height. The lower the bar, the more difficult the movement becomes.
  2. Position yourself under the bar lying face up. Lie on the floor underneath the bar (which should be set just above where you can reach from the ground).
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width (palms facing AWAY from you).
  4. Contract your abs and butt, and keep your body a completely straight line. Your ears, shoulders, hips legs, and feet should all be in a straight line (like you’re doing a plank).
  5. Pull yourself up to the bar until your chest touches the bar.
  6. Lower yourself back down with proper form.

If this movement is TOO difficult, no big deal, we just need to back up a few steps.

Set the bar higher so that when you lean back, your body isn’t down on the ground; maybe it’s only at a 45 degree angle.

Here’s Staci again demonstrating it at a higher angle:

By setting the bar higher, it takes more of your body weight out of the equation.

As you get stronger (and/or lose weight), you’ll be able to drop the bar until you’re parallel when pulling yourself up.

I grabbed a video of Lead Female Instructor Staci from Team NF demonstrating a bodyweight row with gymnastic rings, but the instruction you’ll get in the video will really be helpful too.

How to do a bodyweight row with explanation:

Here are some tips and tricks for doing a proper inverted bodyweight row:

  • Don’t let your butt sag (squeeze your buttcheeks, flex your stomach, and keep your body rigid from head to toe).
  • Don’t flail your elbows. Grab the bar with your hands a little closer than you would if you were doing a bench press, and keep your elbows at that angle from your body.
  • Pull the bar towards the middle of your chest. Don’t pull the bar up towards your throat, or down towards your belly button. Right in the middle!
  • Keep your abs tight. Keep your abs tight throughout the whole routine. Your body should be a straight line the whole time, and the only thing moving is your arms.
  • Pull your shoulder blades down and back towards each other through the movement. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Imagine you’re trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades to keep it from falling!
  • GO all the way. Don’t half-ass it. Lower yourself until your arms are completely extended, and raise yourself until your chest touches the bar.

Need help getting better at bodyweight rows? Let our coaches check your form!

When Should I Do Inverted Bodyweight Rows?

If you are building your own workout plan, you can mix Inverted Bodyweight Rows in wherever you normally do your pull exercises (pull-ups, pull-downs, rows, etc.).

When I go into a gym, my time is extremely limited, and I’m working towards developing strength.

Here’s a sample two day split for me:

Both days work my full body, I can do a full routine in less than 40 minutes, and I’m building strength.

  • If you can’t do dips on Day 1, you can do push-ups.
  • If you can’t do pull-ups on day 2, you can substitute assisted pull ups.

On the rows, aim for 3 sets of 10. We cover this in our “sets and reps” article, but you can never go wrong with 3 sets of 10!

If you can’t do that, do 3 sets to however many reps you can do, and build your way up to 3 sets of 10.

Once you can do that, put your feet up on a chair, throw some weights in a backpack, put it on reverse (so the bag is hanging in front of you), and then do the rows.

You got this!

Overwhelmed? I personally know how that feels. It can be scary embarking on a strength training practice for the first time.

Are you doing your moves correctly? Should you be lifting more weight or less? What do you eat to reach your goals?

We created the Nerd Fitness Coaching program to tackle these questions directly. Your own coach will get to know you, build a program based on your experience and goals, and check your form on each movement (via video):

HOw to Do Inverted Bodyweight Rows at Home

Just because you don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean you can’t work out your back, you just need to get VERY creative.

Here’s how you can do Inverted Bodyweight Rows at Home:

PATH ONE: Use your kitchen table. Or your desk. Be very careful with this one.

Lie underneath your table so your head and shoulder are sticking out above it.

Grab the table edge with an overhand grip, and pull yourself up (just like it’s explained above).

Warning, don’t pull the table over with you, and make sure you don’t break the thing!

PATH TWO: Get a really thick wooden dowel or pipe, something strong enough to support your weight. Lie it across two of your kitchen chairs, and then lie down underneath it.

Make sure it’s sturdy, and the bar isn’t going to break/move on ya, and pull yourself up.

Don’t forget, you want to stay in balance.

If you don’t have a pull-up bar and gymnastic rings, find a way to do some bodyweight rows whether it’s between two chairs or under a table.

You’re smart, get creative!

This should allow you to start mixing in bodyweight rows into your Strength Training Routine!

Any more questions about the inverted bodyweight row?

Leave em below!

-Steve

PS: Our certified NF instructors can build you a custom plan for your lifestyle and goals. Instead of worrying about what to do next, simply follow the workouts and nutrition your coach has programmed.

PPS: Be sure to check out the rest of the Strength Training 101 series:

  • Strength Training Guide: How to Get Strong
  • Strength Training Beginner Workouts
  • 6 Levels of Gym Workouts For Beginners
  • How much weight should I be lifting?
  • How to do the Deadlift with proper form
  • How to do a Squat with Proper Form
  • How to do the Overhead Press

You can also get the guide free when you sign up in the box below and join the Rebellion!

Download our comprehensive guide STRENGTH TRAINING 101!

  • Everything you need to know about getting strong.
  • Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
  • How to find the right gym and train properly in one.

More Articles

An inclined pull-up, also known as an inverted row or Australian pull-up, is an exercise that targets the upper body. It simultaneously works multiple muscle groups, providing a comprehensive workout that quickly builds strength and burns calories. Different grips allow you to target an even wider range of muscles. Depending on your fitness level, you might need to make a few modifications until your muscles are strong enough to do a perfect inclined pull-up. No matter your hand positioning or beginner modifications, proper form is necessary to reap full benefit and to help avoid injury.

Starting Position

Select a secure bar, arm’s length or slightly higher, from the floor. A smith machine, often found at gyms, is a common implement, but any sturdy bar will do. Wearing shoes makes the exercise more comfortable on your heels. Lie beneath the bar on your back and position your feet hip-width apart. Look forward and reach up to grasp the bar in both hands, shoulder-width apart. For a bicep workout, use an underhand grip. For a trapezius and shoulder workout, use an overhand grip.

Executing a Perfect Inclined Pull-Up

Tense your abdominal muscles and maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Pull your body up, moving your chest toward the bar until it is nearly touching. Hold this position for one second and slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Do not lock your arms when they straighten, keep them slightly bent. Your heels should stay on the ground, unmoving, for the entire repetition. Hold at starting position for one second before completing another repetition.

Beginner Modification

If you are unable to execute an inclined pull-up with your body straightened, shift your feet so they are flat on the ground, slightly bending your legs. Attempt the inclined pull-up from this position. If it is still too difficult, continue moving your feet closer to your body. The closer they are, the easier the inclined pull-up will be. Keep a straight line from your shoulders to your knees with the beginner modification.

Warning

Never attempt to perform an inclined pull-up with a bar that could break or move. This can cause serious injury. Always consult a health care professional before beginning a new exercise program to ensure you are healthy enough. Ask him for tips on proper form, how many repetitions you should perform, how many sets to do and how often you should do them. If you feel pain at any point during the exercise, stop and contact your health care professional before attempting it again.

Why You Need This Simple Routine in your life

What are push and pull workout plans? They’re simple but effective ways to get a balanced workout. When someone says, “yeah, I lift”, we often think multiple days in the gym consisting of chest, back, shoulders, arms and the dreaded leg day. That is the “traditional” way to lift, right? Well, dividing muscle groups into different lift days, although not bad, may not be the best for your body. It can be time consuming and often cause multiple problems. It can cause imbalances by over-training one area over another, especially in opposing muscle groups (like chest and back). Instead, you can try a workout routine that will address all your muscle groups and create a full balanced body that will help you move better. This can be achieved through Push and Pull workouts where you work on push exercises one day, followed by pull exercises the next. And, the cool thing is that you only need to schedule 4 days a week MAX using this approach. Interested yet? KEEP READING!

What’s a Push and Pull Workout Routine?

A push workout contracts your muscles when weight is being pushed away from your body, meaning the work is done when the muscle contracts as you push. The primary muscles in a push workout includes chest, triceps, quadriceps, calves, and shoulders. Examples of push exercises are push-ups, squats, and the shoulder press.

A pull workout is the exact opposite. Pull exercises are those where the muscles contract when weight is being pulled towards your body, meaning the work is done when the muscle contracts when you pull. The primary muscles in a pull workout includes all back muscles, biceps, hamstrings, obliques and trapezius. Examples of pull exercises are pull-ups, back rows, deadlifts, rear shoulder flys and bicep curls.

Benefits of a Push/Pull Routine

There are benefits to all lifting routines (including muscle dividing days), however, it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re like me and just don’t have 6 days to lift! I’m quite partial to simple push/pull routines and here is why:

  • Less time consuming (BIG PLUS!) – Less time working out = more time doing other things that I love like laundry (NOT). I mean like going to the beach or spending time with my kids.
  • Creates muscle balance – dividing our muscles into different days can lead to imbalance. The most common is overworking our chest versus our back creating a hunch in the shoulders and upper back. With a simple pushing and pulling workout we create a more balanced physique.
  • Promotes injury prevention – Overtraining major muscle groups are a common way to injure yourself. Balancing push and pull moves will help you not to overwork and stress your muscles and give you plenty of recovery time between workouts.
  • Increases muscle mass in ALL muscle groups- A push and pull routine increases time spent on all muscle groups (yes this means not just one leg day!)

How to implement Push/Pull routines

There are two ways you can schedule a Push/Pull routine:

  1. Supersets
    1. Doing both push and pull moves the same day.
    2. This can be three to four days a week with a rest day between each.
    3. Do a push move immediately followed by a pull move.
    4. 3-6 supersets a day hitting multiple muscle groups
    5. 3 sets of each exercise
    6. 8-15 repetitions in each set where you pick a weight that is really challenging (while maintaining good form) to lift by the time you get to your goal rep.

Push/Pull Superset Schedule Example

Workout 1 (3 sets each):

  • Push-ups followed by pull–ups
  • Squats followed by dead-lifts
  • Triceps press followed by bicep curls

Workout 2 (3 sets each):

  • Chest press followed by mid-back rows

  • Leg extension followed by leg curls

  • Upright rows followed by shoulder press

Workout 3 (3 sets each):

  • Pectoral fly followed by Lat pull downs

  • Glute bridges followed by crunches

  • Calve raises followed by Toe raises

  1. Push Followed Pull

    1. Schedule by doing all push moves one workout day and all pull moves the next workout day.

    2. This can be done 2- 4 days a week (as long as there are both even amounts of push and pull days). So if you do two push days, you must do two pull days.

    3. 5-8 exercises a workout day

    4. 3 sets of each exercise

    5. 10-15 repetitions in each set where you pick a weight that is really challenging (while maintaining good form) to lift by the time you get to your goal rep.

Push following Pull Workout Schedule Example:

Push Day 1

  • Push-ups
  • Incline dumbbell press
  • Weighted squats
  • Dips
  • Shoulder press

Pull Day 1

  • Pull-ups
  • Wide grip barbell rows
  • Straight-leg deadlifts
  • Bicep curls
  • Oblique twists

Push Day 2

  • Chest Dumbbell Press
  • Curtsey Lunges
  • Tricep kick backs
  • Calve raises
  • Plank with leg raises

Pull Day 2

  • Romanian Dead lifts
  • Dumbbell rows
  • Face pulls
  • Hammer curls
  • Leg curls

Adding push and pull exercises to your workout routine will give your body the muscular balance it needs! You will look good, feel better and your body will be moving more functionally! Try it the next time you need to change up that routine!

Now that you know what it is, you might notice many of the Studio SWEAT onDemand workouts you do use this style! It’s a great addition to your Studio SWEAT workouts if you want to try one on your own! Now Keep SWEAT’IN!

AJ Mason
Studio SWEAT Programs Manager

What can you do to strengthen your back, lats and traps when you have NO pull up bar?

Being able to do a pull up is practical.

If you need to hop a fence or wall in a hurry like if there is an emergency, you need to be able to pull yourself up.

But if you don’t have a pull-up bar, what can you do?

Pull-ups are a staple of any bodyweight fitness routine, but if you are new to bodyweight fitness, have NO pull up bar, and need some pull up alternatives, I have got your back!

Check out these 9 pull up alternative at-home exercises you can do today!

Don’t put it off! Start strengthening those lats and biceps now.

No bar – No excuses!

What can I do instead of pull-ups?

9 Exercises That Can Replace Pull-ups!

Back Bridge Push-Ups

Equipment needed:

Just you! No equipment necessary.

Muscles worked:

Shoulders, Traps, Erector Spinae, glutes and hamstrings.

Why it’s a great Pull Up alternative:

The Back Bridge is harder than it looks! If you are new to bodyweight training, and you find this too challenging, you can use the progressions with start with a standard bridge and using the wall first to strengthen your shoulders.

I love the Back bridge push up as a pull-up alternative and as an added bonus the Back Bridge Push up greatly improves posture.

Australian Pull up, Inverted Bodyweight Row or Low Bar Pull

A low bar or very sturdy, stable table. (low bar preferred).

The same muscles a strict pull up works – the lats, traps, pecs, deltoids and biceps.

This move is a progression into a strict pull-up, and my favorite thing about the low bar pull is that it uses the same muscles as a pull-up.

It can be done anywhere you can find a low bar or a really, really sturdy table if you must do pull-ups without bars. A strong railing might work for the low bar pull too.

Note: A higher bar makes this exercise easier. Also, bending your knees makes it easier too. Use a low bar and a plant position for the most challenge.

Barbell Bent-Over Row

Barbell with weights.

Lats, Rhomboids, Traps, delts.

The barbell row strongly engages the Lats, a critical muscle used in pull-ups. It also uses the other muscles used in pull-ups, namely the traps, rhomboids and delts.

All you need is a barbell, but if you don’t have a barbell, check out the dumbbell row coming up next, it works the same muscles.

Dumbbell Rows

One dumbbell and a flat bench.

Lats, Read delts, rhomboids, biceps and forearm.

It is a move that you can use a lot of weight with and make good progress towards a pull-up, or use as a pull-up alternative to keep the lats strong when a pull-up bar is not available.

The Dumbbell Row is a great pull up alternative with dumbbells.

Renegade Rows

Pair of hex dumbells.

Core, chest, triceps, and shoulders.

You have to hold your hands on the dumbbells as you row, and you must keep your spine straight, no twisting!

The act of holding yourself in push up position on the hex dumbbell handles really strengthens your chest, triceps and shoulders.

While this move does not completely replace pull-ups, it works with supporting muscles used during pull-ups and helps you learn to stabilize your core.

Kneeling Lat Band Pull Down

Resistance band and anchor point. The anchor point can be a bar, rail, door or any other stable sturdy point that is high enough, and that you can loop the resistance band around.

Lats and biceps.

It works the lats in a similar range of motion as real pull-ups. I also love that resistance bands allow you to customize and progress easily based on your fitness level.

Of course, you need a great set of resistance bands, and I have just what you need. The best resistance bands reviewed, right here.

Single Arm Pull Down

One resistance band.

Primarily the Lats. Secondary muscles used are the rhomboids, pecs, oblique’s and traps.

The one arm pull-down can be scaled to your fitness level. Resistance bands make it easy to raise or lower the challenge allowing you to strengthen the lats and traps like a pull up would.

Door Band Pull Down

Sturdy open door and a resistance band.

Lats, Traps and Rhomboids

This door band pull-down keeps you is a vertical position, which most closely follows the range of motion of a pull-up, working the muscles in a similar fashion.

The key to this exercise is staying as close to the door edge as possible to maintain the vertical position. Do not lean back while doing door band pull-downs.

Pull Up with a Suspension Trainer or TRX Pull Up

TRX trainer or similar suspension style trainer.

Lats and traps.

This is one of the best alternatives to pull-ups without bars. It is the same movement and works the same muscles as a pull-up.

The main difference is it is scaled down because some of your weight is still on the floor since your feet touch the floor during this exercise.

The TRX pull up, since your hands can move and swing a bit, forces you to work stabilizer muscles too, which is always a good thing.

Need a TRX suspension trainer? I have reviewed the best suspension trainers too.

What Muscles are Involved in Pull-ups?

Pull-ups target the Lats, more so than any other exercise. They also heavily involve the biceps.

Secondary muscles worked when you do a pull-up are the delts, upper back muscles, forearms and abs.

With all these upper body muscles used, you can see why the pull-up is so central to bodyweight fitness.

What to do if You Can’t do Pull-ups?

If you simply can not do pull-ups, you are not alone. Many people cannot do even one pull up.

But do not give up hope! With training, you can!

If you do not have a pull-up bar to practice with, you can start using the 9 exercises I outlined above.

If you do have access to a pull-up bar there are a few ways you can scale the pull up to your fitness level until you are able to do a strict pull-up.

Resistance bands, looped around a pull-up bar are a great way to scale down a pull up so it’s do-able.

Check out the video below to learn how to use resistance bands for pull up progression.

If you need to pick up a set of resistance bands, we have reviewed the best pull up assist bands. Take a look!

I Am Ready to Get a Pull-up Bar. What are My Options?

When it comes to garage gym pull up bars, there are many options. Here are a few of the many styles available.

In-Door

The in-door pull-up bar is the cheapest option available in most cases.

Pros

  • It is cheap.
  • Can be installed in most doorways.
  • Portable, movable can put it away.

Cons

  • It can damage paint or the frame.
  • Can fail or fall – not cool.

Wall Mount

Wall mount pull-up bars, like this one here, are mounted to the wall. Provided they are installed correctly, they are secure and don’t take up much space.

  • Do not take up a lot of space.
  • Are sturdy if installed correctly.
  • Cause some minor damage to the wall, where the screws are installed.
  • Are more or less a permanent fixture.

Stand Alone Pull Up Bars or Power Towers

A standalone pull-up bar, like these I reviewed here, are a good option if you absolutely cannot have any property damage, holes in the wall, etc.

  • The cause no structural damage.
  • They can wobble, unlike fixed pull-up bars.

Trying to decide what pull up bar to get? We did the work for you! We have reviewed the best pull up bars so you can find yours.

To Wrap it Up

Finding a pull-up alternative is a must if you have no pull-up bar and you want to progress in your bodyweight fitness regime.

Consider adding these 9 exercises in, and really consider getting a pull-up bar soon – you won’t regret it!

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There are countless methods of weight training and exercising in general, and one of the methods of reaching your fitness goals is to set your workouts up around “Push” and “Pull” routines. The thought behind the workouts is to group together exercises that employ the same muscle groups while performing the exercises that can help you maximize your strength gains, as well as avoid overstressing and possible muscular damage and injuries.

Let’s look at some pull exercises that you can start incorporating into your routine!

Benefits Of Push/Pull Routines

Push/pull routines group exercises together to train while employing the same muscles throughout your workout. Obviously, since I am focusing on the “Pull” side of the training method, I will be covering exercises employing your back, traps, abs, hamstrings, forearms, and biceps, as these are the muscle groups being used in a pulling motion of weights. Unlike the regular split of working out every muscle group once a week, an efficient push/pull workout program allows you to hit each body part twice as you’re combining main muscle groups together based on its function.

Here are some of my favorite pull exercises that you can incorporate into your routine. Most of these are compound exercises employing multiple muscle groups at the same time, rather than isolation exercises. Compound exercises are multi-joint exercises and in general burn more calories, increase the intensity of the exercise, and improve core strength as they require certain core balance and coordination that isolation exercises simply do not. Some of these exercises, however, such as biceps movements, are effectively trained by isolation exercises such as curls, hammers, etc.

Pull Workout

Note: A very important factor in any training routine is to properly warm up prior to conducting some serious weightlifting. Dynamic warm-up, jump rope, or about 10-15 minutes of some fast-paced cardio should do the trick to get your blood flowing and your heart rate up to get the most out of your workout. Proper warm-up can also prevent unnecessary injuries.

? Deadlifts

Deadlifts are my all-time favorite pull exercises and here is why. You must learn the correct technique and they take a bit of getting used to, but deadlifts offer various performance styles, grip changes, and variations in general. They are a staple of an efficient pull exercise program by employing your core, lower back, forearms and back muscles all at the same time to perform the lifts. You can perform a variety of deadlifts such as Romanian Deadlifts or alternating grips to get the most out of this great pull exercise.

? Pull-ups & Chin-ups

Pull-ups and chin-ups are great exercises for improving your body strength as well as strengthening your upper back, grip strength, and forearms. Wide grip pull ups are my go-to exercise for building up the “V” shape of your back or the wideness of your back muscles. Building the wideness of your lats as well as body strength can be done by incorporating wide grip pull-ups into your routines. Chin ups, on the other hand, employ biceps as well as upper back muscles as the change of the grip of the bar activates your biceps during the pulling movements.

? Seated Cable Crunch

Cable crunch is a great pulling exercise effectively stretching your abdominal muscles if done properly. Focus on slowing down and controlling the weight during the eccentric part of the movement (stretching the muscle when going up) as well as keeping your hips stable and not sitting backwards during the exercise. This prevents additional pressure on your hip muscles and prevents unnecessarily straining your hip flexors.

An important factor while performing the cable crunch is to really focus on pulling the weight with your core and abdominal muscles rather than counting on your grip and forearms to do all the work. Make sure your core is engaged and your abs are tight and initiate the movement and control the weight on the way back up. This took me a while to get used to, but your abs will thank you later. Your hands should only serve as a tool for keeping the cable in place while performing the exercise.

? EZ-Bar Biceps Curl

While most of the pulling exercises are multi-joint compound exercises, biceps doesn’t really offer that many compound lifts and are effectively trained with isolated movements. EZ-Bar biceps curls allow you to hit the inner part as well as outer part of your biceps via switching the grip to close or wide grip curl.

Close grip biceps curls engage more of the outer part of your biceps, while wide grip curls allow you to focus on the inner part of your biceps. Additionally, try to focus on performing the exercise with moderate enough weight to make the workout challenging, while avoiding jerking the weight up and engaging back muscles and shoulders. It’s better to stick to lower weight and perform the exercise properly than face possible injuries by trying to lift too much weight. Biceps is an isolation exercise and should be performed cautiously while controlling the weight up and down.

? Stiff Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

Stiff leg deadlift allows you to really stretch the hamstrings by either performing the exercise with dumbells or a barbell. This is another compound exercise that can improve your core stability and strength and is a great pulling exercise engaging some lower back, hamstrings and your abdominals.

Once again, when performing the exercise with weight like dumbells or a barbell, your arms should only serve the purpose of keeping the weight in place. Try to avoid lifting the weight up along with your body. Let your hamstrings, core, and lower back do the work while controlling the movement in the eccentric (stretching) part of the movement. Keeping your core engaged can greatly assist with the movement and improve your overall core strength. Definitely one of my favorite hamstring exercises!

? Side Lateral Raises

An amazing shoulder exercise to include in your pull routine to develop your deltoids. An important thing to keep in mind is keeping your torso stationary and not swinging the dumbbells up and down. Even if performing the exercise means taking the lighter dumbbells off the rack, trust me, it’s much better than having to deal with a delt injury later on.

Your shoulders should be properly warmed up and taken care of by controlling the movements and performing the exercises with a weight that will be challenging, but light enough to allow you to perform the movement properly.

Recommended Supplements

Supplements can be a great way to enhance your performance and help you recover. Why not try the following to help you reach your training goals:

? THE Whey – this ultra-premium whey protein packs in 25g of protein per serving, along with 5g of BCAAs, making it the perfect post-workout shake.

? Creatine Monohydrate – Creatine increases your ATP levels, which is the energy available for your muscle to perform a contraction. The more contractions, the more muscle you can build.

Take Home Message

There are various exercises and methods of training for mass, fat loss, or endurance. The important factor is to find a routine that works for you and your body responds well to. Push and pull routines are great in grouping the exercises together by the muscle’s functions, which can potentially translate into higher efficiency and potential, given that you’re following a proper nutrition plan, sleeping enough etc. Push and pull are definitely training routines that I include in my training when I am switching my exercise plan or I hit a plateau.

These pull exercises covered above have been effective in my fitness journey and has helped me to progress at the gym while keeping the fitness journey enjoyable and effective. Happy pull-lifting!

Are you one of these people who never swings their legs during pull-ups, strenuously avoiding reliance on that tiny bit of momentum that allows you to cheat your way to the top of the motion? Are you? Cool! You are probably lying to yourself, and should talk to someone about that. When done correctly pull-ups are great. But even if you do somehow manage to keep your torso perfectly still, though, the pull-up bar is always way too crowded—and never wiped down—meaning you have to make every. Rep. Count. Here, we asked some of our favorite trainers for their favorite pull-up alternatives.

Idalis Velazquez: Mixed-grip negative pull-ups. Use an overhand grip with one hand and an underhand grip with the other to develop strength in the upper back, the posterior shoulder region, and the arms. This arrangement also adds a torso rotational component to the movement, challenging your muscles in a new way. By placing the focus on the negative phase—that’s the lowering part, not the pull-up part—using a slow and controlled motion, you cause greater muscle tissue breakdown than you would using regular concentric training, which helps you build size and bust through plateaus.

Ben Booker: Incorporate a helping hand. It’s hard to beat the pull-up for upper body development, but if you’re struggling towards the end of sets, using assistance bands on the pull-up bar is a great way to reach the rep range your program calls for. And if the bands don’t do the trick, go to a lat pulldown machine, which allows you to complete the same motion with less than your full body weight. Try different hand positions on the bar every time, and pull the bar down below the chin every time.

Jay Cardiello: Pull-up to chin-up switches. Perform a regular pull-up, but as you get higher, pull your elbows as fast as you can in towards your sides, while driving your hips towards the ceiling. At the highest point, rotate (quickly!) your hands from a pull-up grip to a chin-up grip. Switch back and forth for as many repetitions as possible within a 30-second time frame.

Gideon Akande: TRX-assisted muscle ups. Muscle-ups—that pull-up-to-triceps-dip maneuver that works your entire upper body—are hard as hell, but the TRX suspension trainer makes them more manageable, allowing you to control the difficulty level by adjusting your body angle, as shown here. No matter how fatigued you might feel, this element of flexibility allows you to work in one more rep.

Alexia Clark: Alternating engaged lat pulldown. Hold the handles of a resistance band or cable machine and start in an engaged position—arms already down by your sides in mid-pull. Alternate by letting one cable or resistance band end go up and then pull it down like a lat pull down, and repeat on the other side once your first motion is complete, like so. Alternating arms while keeping the other side constantly engaged will help improve your muscular endurance when performing sets of conventional pull-ups.

Jennifer Forrester: TRX tabletop row. Suspension training is great because you can use your body weight to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability. To get started, set the TRX at mid-length. Lay under the TRX with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms extended straight above shoulders, palms facing inwards. Exhaling, engage the core and glutes as you pull yourself upwards, drawing your elbows in towards your ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and use your back muscles and arms to bring your body off the floor, maintaining a a straight line from shoulder to knee. Lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.

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Pull up bar alternatives

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