Pull-ups are such a common form of exercise. You might remember trying to show your strength on the playground as a kid and seeing how many you can do. They truly are a great way to build muscle, but not everyone can do them! Pull-up exercises target your upper back, arms, and stomach muscles so they are a very useful exercise to engage many muscles at the same time.
This article offers easy alternatives to pull-ups for those without the equipment or ability to do a traditional pull-up that exercises at least some of the same muscles.
Why the Need for Pull Up Alternatives?
Doing a pull-up often requires a pull-up bar. While most gyms and playgrounds offer a simple bar, they aren’t as easy or common in homes.
How about we look at different options instead? A couple combine a pull-up bar for a partially traditional pull-up, but most are creative uses of other devices.
Alternatives to Pull-Ups at Home
For each exercise, we offer a description of how, as well as the equipment you need if you don’t have a pull up bar. Imagine hopping out of bed and being able to do a quick workout right away.
Table Bodyweight Row
Find a table or sturdy furniture big enough to lay most of the way under.
- Lay under the table.
- Reach up and grab the edge of the table
- Get a really good grip!
- Pull yourself up until your chest reaches the table – or as far as you can. Keep your legs and lower body still.
Ensure the table can handle your weight. Don’t ruin the edges of Grandma’s family dinner table by doing alternative table rows using it’s sides.
The towel row is similar to a table bodyweight row. You’ll need a sturdy pole, likely a support pole inside or outside.
- Wrap a towel around the pole, then grab one end with each hand.
- Stand with your feet near the base of the pole.
- Lean back and keep your arms straight
- Slowly pull yourself back toward the pole while keeping your shoulders blades straight.
Do many of them. Remove the towel from the pole and wipe your sweat off!
As the name indicates, you’ll need a resistance band for this one! A resistance band is a durable band usually made of plastic or nylon that stretches and ties to objects. Resistance bands are especially great for lifting because simply modifying the band leads to more resistance when you are ready. Follow the instructions on the package.
- Attach the resistance band to a door frame or other sturdy part of your location above your head
- In some cases, you may have to get on your knees
- Pull the band down to your shoulders, then slowly back up.
You will be working out your biceps, which are the large muscles in your upper arms.
Resistance Band Pull
Without having a door frame, a good pull-up alternative can just involve the resistance band. Simply pull the resistance band with your hands. For an added challenge, hold the band itself apart as it resists – how long can you do it?
You will be working out your biceps and potentially our lats depending on how far you pull.
Back Bridge Pull-Ups
This one is for people with some experience and strength and uses many muscles including your legs, upper back, arms, and spine. The big advantage? No equipment is necessary!
- Lay flat on the ground. Flatten your feet and your palms on the ground.
- Bend your knees.
- Lift your entire body off the ground while keeping your palms and feet flat.
- Go back down slow
This is like a reverse push up!
You are targeting many muscles from the back bridge pull-ups, including leg muscles like your calves. Your core muscles will also feel this.
Assisted Pull-Ups with a Resistance Band
As the title indicates, this needs a resistance band and a pull up bar.
- Wrap the resistance band around one of our legs, around the knee
- Wrap the other end to your pull up bar (then wrap, clip, or whichever method of band suggests to tie it)
- Do a pull-up with the assistance of your resistance band. It’s easier!
This exercise will mostly target your biceps and lats.
These require weights of your preference
- Place the dumbbell weights on the floor your body’s width apart.
- Get into a push-up position with your slightly farther apart than your hips.
- Keeping your elbow pointing at the ceiling, lift a weight up to your shoulder. Bring it back down slowly.
Using actual weights while in a prone position, this exercise will help your biceps.
Your lat muscles are the large muscles that connect your arms to your back. They provide back and shoulder strength and help protect your spine. Your preference in dumbbell sizes.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- With dumbbells in hands, angle your arms and dumbbells away from your body
- Bring your elbows as close together as possible, which won’t be much distance – about an inch!
- Bring your elbows back to the starting point
Similar to lat quizzes. You will need weights!
- Stand in a similar way to the squeezes, but bend your arms at right angles at shoulder height
- Pull your arms back and forth an inch. Not much movement, but it works!
Like pull-ups, your biceps and lats will feel rhomboid pulls.
You might have heard about planking, which become a big trend in the last decade. This simple exercise requires little of you, besides strength and endurance.
- Assume a position similar to a push-up, only put your hands closer to your hips.
- Turn your hands backward so your fingers are pointing toward your knees instead of away from you.
- Keep your back straight and hold this position for a few seconds at a time.
You are meant to resemble an unmoving plank of wood. Planks will build up your endurance especially and strengthen your biceps and upper back.
No, there is not negative pull-ups. More like the opposite of a real pull-up. You will need a pull-up bar or something sturdy that can hold your weight while not requiring you jump up very far. This exercise is also a little advanced and assumes you can jump a bit. You may need a stool or chair.
- Jump up to grab the bar
- Keep your arms apart, slowly lower yourself down
To achieve the most effective negative, make sure you don’t have to jump so high you end up swinging at all. Done correctly, you’d done a reverse pull-up.
Mix it Up
We listed more than a few exercises because you should try more than a few. They work out different muscles in different ways and will provide different gains to strength. You might also fix it up to keep exercises fresh, different, and interesting. Be creative and make up new ones and tell us about them.
Get Your Free "Fight Club Physique" Checklist
Frequently Asked Questions about Pull-ups
What can I use if I don’t have a pull-up bar?
Most apartment dwellers and renters cannot drill to find a stud, which allows the support a pull-up bar needs. Placing a pull-up bar in regular drywall is also hazardous and could cause you to fall mid pull-up. While a simple bar can be installed, using alternative equipment can be safer and far easier to start. Some people simply find pull-ups on a bar uncomfortable or can’t lift quite their entire body weight.
We suggest a resistance band or towel. A resistance band uses highly stretchable plastic or nylon to create resistance for your muscles to pull against. Resistance bands will come with more specific instructions but are highly adaptable to multiple exercises too. The best suggestion for the purpose of a towel is to use a strong one that won’t rip under the pressure of your weight pulling it.
What are the easiest pull-ups?
Now that we’ve suggested a few, what’s the easiest? The answer is really up to your strengths and equipment. The resistance band pull might be the easiest for some because of the highly custom weight. You might enjoy the table row if you just have a sturdy table to pull on. For people with no equipment, the back bridge pull up only requires your strength.
How can I do pull-ups at home?
Most of these pull-up alternatives can be done anywhere you have enough room to spread your body out. A home gym works, but your living room and bedroom, or even outdoors, work for those that don’t require equipment.
A Final Word From Energetic Life
If you are looking to add arm strength but don’t want to do traditional pull-ups. The above pull-up alternatives will help you make the gains you want using mostly at-home equipment or your own body. Learn a bit more about resistance bands and find dumbbells you are comfortable with.
All of these exercises can be done at the gym too. Your muscle groups will thank you!