You scroll your feed and see a guy pulling up with a 70 lbs kettlebell attached to his belt.
How am I supposed to get there? My gym doesn’t even have a horizontal bar. I don’t even go to a gym. Where do I start?!
Right here: these 15 pull-up alternatives have you covered.
Pull-Up Alternatives for Beginners (at Home)
Your motivation is over the moon, but you need to learn some basics before you even think of doing weighted pull-ups.
So this is where you start.
#1 Floor Pull
No matter how funny it might look (it doesn’t), this is a perfect pull-up alternative because it engages exactly the same muscles. If you dream of doing at least a single bodyweight pull-up and don’t even have a bar anywhere near you, this is your choice.
Find a slick surface and lay down on a towel; it will help you slide back and forth. Stretch your arms down in front of your head, place your palms flat on the ground, and pull your chest towards your thumbs.
Tip: When you pull yourself, retract your scapula and think about activating your lats.
#2 Single Arm Band Pull Down
Not only does this exercise look a bit more like actual pull-ups, but it is also a good isometric exercise for your other arm. You can switch your arms after each rep, or you can go for the entire range of reps with one arm and then swap them.
Pretend that you’re actually pulling yourself up and focus on maintaining good technique. Keep your core on, your shoulders down and back, and your chin up high. Don’t drop your head and don’t pull the band behind your neck.
#3 Door Band Pull Down
When you place a band on top of a door, you get something that actually looks like real pull-ups and doesn’t take you to slide around your kitchen table.
Most likely, your main focus should be finding a door that’s sturdy enough. Other than that, keep your core engaged and maintain a nice slow tempo on both the concentric (way down) and eccentric (way up) phases.
#4 Table Bodyweight Row
Finally, a pull-up alternative that actually makes you lift your butt off the ground and that can be officially called a bodyweight exercise. And forget about your favorite IKEA table because here you’ll need something massive.
Use different grips: wide, shoulder, and narrow grips. They work your muscles at different angles.
The negative phase (way down) should be slower than the way up. If you lack the strength to pull yourself up, you can start with just the negative phase.
If the table allows it, you can rotate 180 degrees so your legs are outside and your head is under the table, and do chin-up alternatives.
Top Tip: If the exercise is too easy for you, place your feet on a chair. If it’s too hard, bend your knees.
#5 Bicep Plank (Advanced: Bicep Plank Push-Ups)
If you have neither a horizontal bar nor any equipment, this is pretty much your only pull-up alternative. Biomechanically, when you turn your arms around so your biceps face forward, you actually transfer a lot of load to your biceps.
Bad news, you won’t set a pull-up record by doing only this exercise. Good news, if you combine it with other moves, you can get really strong and increase your pull-up count.
When holding a plank is no longer a challenge, start doing push-ups.
Pull-Up Alternatives in a Gym
Working out at home is great, but you will hardly achieve great results without proper equipment. If you have some items from this list at home, you’re good. If you don’t, get to the gym and destroy it.
Chill, it’s figurative. Here’s a list of gym pull-up alternatives for you to destroy.
#1 Assisted Pull-Ups
If you struggle to lift yourself up without help, let the machine be your partner. Most machines allow wide and neutral grips; both of them mainly target your lats, but the latter slightly shifts the focus towards your biceps.
The heavier the weight on the machine, the easier it is to perform a pull-up. Set the load so you can do 10–15 reps with a nice technique. Lift yourself up as high as possible, and lower down until your arms are nearly straight.
Always keep your core activated: move your chest forward and your shoulders back.
#2 Inverted Rows
Also known as Australian pull-ups, this exercise is incredibly versatile with all possible grips and angles you can utilize. It’s also super easy to scale from a beginner to advanced level. Beginners can bend their legs to shorten the leverage, and pros can add extra weight for more challenge.
If your feet are far from the bar, this is more engaging for your upper back. If your feet are close, it becomes more challenging for your lats. In both cases, retract your scaps and lead with your chest and not with your hips.
#3 Lat Pulldown
This exercise is the absolute basics of back training and, arguably, the best pull-up alternative. Arnold loved it, and still crushes it in his seventies. And you should, too.
Keep your elbows slightly in front of you and don’t let them go behind your torso. Your shoulders, elbows, and hips should create a line at the very lowest point. Never pull the weight down behind your neck, and focus on activating your lats.
If you feel it more on your biceps than on your lats, put your thumbs on top of the bar. Hook the bar instead of squeezing it.
#4 Seated Row
If the previous exercise was the king of back workouts, this one is the queen. Or vise versa, it doesn’t even matter and sounds weird. What matters though is how effectively it targets your entire back and how versatile it can be as a pull-up alternative with various grips.
One, going for full-stack half-reps instead of stretching the full range of motion might make you look stronger, except that it doesn’t.
Two, using just your torso to pull that weight for you, putting way too much strain on your spine, is a big no-no. Pull it with your rhomboids, your traps, your lats, and feel your back doing the work.
Three, letting your shoulders droop forward. Don’t do that, keep your scapulas retracted and your chest up.
#5 Straight Arm Pull Downs
If you have a hard time activating your lats, this one’s for you. One of the best isolation exercises for your back, it’s equally good with a rope and a straight bar.
Even better, after learning how to activate your lats in this pull-up alternative, you’ll be able to engage your lats better in actual pull-ups.
Take a nice and stable stance, engage your core, and keep your elbows just slightly bent. Engage by depressing your shoulders, and as you reach the very bottom position, pop your chest out to feel a really good contraction in your lats.
Don’t shrug up and don’t keep your shoulders forward as you pull. You can use your shoulders to engage the movement, but right after that you put your chest up and pull it with your lats.
#6 Hammer Strength Rows
Hammer Strength has been building elite athletes for decades. Did you doubt it can be a decent pull-up alternative? You sure didn’t because it can build you the back of a wild beast who kills it both in a gym and on a pull-up bar.
Step one, start with a full stretch and move your body to a vertical position. Step two, pull it to your chest. Step three, stretch back, keeping your elbows high.
It’s best described in the video, so make sure to watch it.
#7 Barbell Row
Scientists say that if you had to choose just one exercise for your back, barbell rows would be an absolute winner. And it’s also one of the best pull-up alternatives since it activates your back to a better degree than other exercises.
If so, why just “one of the best” but not the best? Because if you don’t do it properly, you put yourself at risk of getting back injuries, and you don’t even need to go really heavy for it.
To avoid this, watch the video very carefully. Best, watch one more video where Jeff Cavallere explores different barbell row options and explains how to avoid the most common mistakes.
#8 Dumbbell Row
What makes a dumbbell row a good pull-up alternative? It targets exactly what you need to rock those pull-ups: your lats, rear delts, rhomboids, and also your biceps and forearms.
Keep one knee on a bench and your second leg out to the side so your abdominals are over the floor. This is harder to do, but it’s a lot safer and more effective. When you keep your leg close to the bench, you put a lot of strain on your lower back, especially when going heavy.
Most Common Mistake
Don’t use your legs for help. If you see someone bouncing their legs, the weight is too heavy for them.
#9 Renegade Row
The gem of functional training, this is the pull-up alternative you can also do at home if you have a pair of dumbbells. Not only is this a back exercise, but also a decent core exercise: it combines a plank with dumbbell rows and is very difficult for most people to perform.
This exercise is not a replacement for pull-ups, but it helps you get better control of your body and improves your overall fitness.
The wider your stance is, the less challenging it is for your core. Setting a pull-up record is not just about having big-ass lats but is about engaging your entire body. Narrow your feet stance to get the best out of it.
Engage your glutes, keep your back in a line, and do not swing or rotate your hips. If this is too hard, you can start with no weight or with a single dumbbell and switch hands.
#10 TRX Pull-Ups
It would be safe to call this exercise an alternative for muscle-ups rather than pull-ups. Which is even better since a pull-up is part of it.
The best thing about using a TRX system is that it strengthens your grip, unlike other pull-up alternatives. Ultimately, this will help you nail more reps on a real bar.
When you initiate the movement, don’t strengthen your legs. Focus on pulling forward with your lats and biceps while keeping your knees bent.
This is described in detail in the video, so make sure to watch it.
Pull-ups are great, there’s no doubt about that, but without a bar you should become creative. Like we did, with 15 pull-up alternatives to do at home and in the gym.
Did you like it? What do you think about Jeff Cavallere breaking down barbell rows? Leave a comment down below and share your thoughts!
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Eddie Johnson is an ex-bodybuilder, fitness addict, writer, editor and founder of Anabolic Bodies. Also a proud father of two boys and passionate about bodybuilding, nutrition, and the science behind modern-day supplementation.