A pull up is a great exercise that strengthens your back, lateral, and trapezoid muscles. Both regular pull ups and negative pull ups are a great way to get in shape.
But sometimes, pull ups are not an option. There can be many reasons.
You may not feel confident enough to challenge the bar or a pull up exercise and are looking for an entry-level alternative. Or maybe, you don't have access to a bar, and are looking for simple home alternatives to pull-ups!
No matter the case, we got you covered. Let's take a deeper look into all things pull up related so that we can show you the best pull up alternatives.
What muscles do pull ups target?
Let's get down to the very basics. We do exercises to tone specific muscles in our body. Therefore, the alternatives on this list are supposed to train virtually the same areas. But what muscles do pull ups work? Let's take a look:
Muscles pull ups train
- Lateral muscles (back)
- Traps and rhomboids (upper back)
- Biceps, triceps, and forearms (arms),
- Abdominal muscles (stomach).
So we are going to show you the best alternatives to pull ups, that train very similar muscle groups.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the pull up variations we're going to talk about here won't work exactly the same muscles. Makes sense - after all, they're different workouts and there's bound to be at least some difference.
So from the upcoming list, we strongly suggest taking two or more exercises, that combine all the muscles used for pull ups - and getting to work.
The best pullup alternative options
Table Bodyweight Row
Equipment required: A sturdy table or a desk.
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), biceps, and forearms (arms).
If you're not confident in your pull up skills, this is a great starting exercise. Often done with a low-hanging bar, this exercise can be easily replicated at your home as well. Just make sure that whatever furniture you choose for this one, it can handle it. Gains are good, but they're not always worth ruining your family's prized 19th-century dinner table.
Here's how to do it:
- Lay down on your back, with your face placed over the table.
- Get a good grip.
- Squeeze your shoulders together and start pulling until your chest reaches the underside of the table.
- Pull yourself back down a bit, and repeat until you're finished with your set.
Equipment required: A towel and a pole (or another sturdy object)
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), biceps, and shoulders (arms).
If you have access to a pole of some kind, this one's worth doing not only because it's a great back exercise, but because it's also a brilliant example of fitness genius. You can get ripped just with a towel and one piece of sturdy construction. Who knew! Here's how it's done:
- Wrap the towel around a pole of your choice. Grab each end with each hand.
- Place your feet on the base of the pole, get into a comfortable position, and lean back, making your arms straight.
- Pull yourself towards the pole, slowly, keeping your body straight. Especially the shoulder blades, which must stay together.
- Stop once your hands reach the chest. Slowly go back down, repeat until done.
Kneeling Resistance Lat Band Pulldown
Equipment required: A resistance band and some kind of anchor point.
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), biceps (arms).
This alternative to pull ups uses a resistance band - which is completely lightweight and super versatile, making it a perfect home or travel gym buddy. And probably the best thing about these bands, especially when doing modified pull ups, is that you can easily add more resistance just by including more or changing them.
Here's how it's done:
- Grab both ends of the band, attached to an anchor point. Your palms have to be facing upwards.
- Get on your knees. Keep your hands above your head and the resistance band extended.
- Bring your hands back to shoulder height, let them back up again.
- Repeat as necessary.
Dumbbell Lat Pulldown
Equipment required: Two dumbbells.
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), shoulders, biceps (arms).
This exercise is basically an overhead press you can do in the comfort of your home. Often done as preparation practice for pull ups, this one's actually really good on its own. And while it might require a bit of practice and the right equipment to get the optimal results, it's a great one to keep in your training list out there somewhere. Here's how to do it:
- Take a dumbbell at each hand.
- Raise both over your head. Start doing it slowly.
- Bring it back down to your shoulder height. Repeat, but this time, do it faster.
- Do as many times as required.
Equipment required: A flat bench (or something very similar), one dumbbell.
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), traps and rhomboids (upper back), biceps, and forearms (arms).
This one embodies the motto "no pain, no gain". It's mighty difficult to pull off correctly - but if you do, you'll essentially train the same muscles as you would with a pull up. And if you can something to replace a flat bench (or better yet, you own one!), it can be easily replicated at the comfort of your home. Here's how:
- Place the non-lifting hand and the same knee on the flat bench.
- Keep your back straight and your stomach virtually parallel to the bench.
- Grab the dumbbell with your lifting hand. Palm should face you.
- Exhaling, lift the dumbbell up. Elbow has to form a 90-degree angle.
- Inhaling, lower the dumbbell until the elbow has only a small angle remaining.
- Repeat until satisfied.
Door Band Pulldown
Equipment required: one pull up assist band, one...door?
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back).
Door band pulldown is probably our favorite exercise out of all on this list - for two reasons. First, it's a pull up assist band exercise and those are always super exciting due to just how versatile and convenient they are. Second, it's just sheer creativity. If you are shorter than 7 feet and live in a house that has doors, you can do this exercise! Here's how:
- Open the door of your choice.
- Place the band over the top side of your door. Leave a few inches so it doesn't slip right off.
- Step right up to the door, lining your body straight up.
- Grab onto both sides of the band. The higher up you'll grab, the harder it will be.
- Pull down the band, bring it back up, repeat as necessary.
Resistance Band Pull Apart
Equipment required: a pull up assist band.
Muscles trained: shoulders, middle back.
Speaking of resistance bands, this is another great exercise that utilizes them. This resistance band workout is very basic but it's perfect for both beginners and more experienced athletes that want to warm up. Looking for an extra challenge? Instead of immediately pulling back and letting go, keep the band extended for 20 seconds.
- Grad both ends of a band.
- Hold it at chest level, arms straight in front.
- Spread your arms out to sides. Hold shoulder blades back and low. (Optional: Hold in this position for 20 seconds)
- Bring your arms back, repeat if needed.
Back Bridge Pull Ups
Equipment needed: Nothing!
Muscles trained: Traps (upper back), shoulders, Erector Spinae (spine), glutes and hamstrings (legs).
This one's made for pros. Targeting pretty much the entire body, this exercise requires no equipment and is perfect for improving your posture, and on top of the regular pull up suspects, also does a great job on your glutes. However, be very aware, that you may not be able to do it on your first try, and you might need to do a fair bit of preparation and be in decent shape to pull it off. Still with us? Here's how it's done:
- Lay down on the ground. Get your feet flat, and have your palms curled up, touching the ground as well.
- Bend your knees. Keep the feet flat.
- Using arms, shoulders, and muscles, try lifting the entire body (except the head) off the ground.
- Once comfortable, try lifting the entire body, leaving only feet and palms on the ground.
- Get back down to step 1. Repeat.
Equipment required: bar set at waist-height.
Muscles trained: Lateral muscles (back), traps (upper back), biceps, and shoulders (arms), and abdominal muscles (stomach).
Very similar to table bodyweight row, a reverse pull up uses a bar (or anything else that you can hold onto) that's below the height of a regular pull up bar. The legs will touch the ground at all times, therefore, it's a great pull up alternative for those still not confident in their strength. Here's how it's done:
- Lie on your back, just under the bar.
- Grip the bar tightly with both hands.
- Keep your body straight, and pull up towards the bar. Pull your elbows back, try touching the bar with your chest.
- Slowly lower yourself to the start.
- Repeat if needed.
Assisted Pull Ups
Equipment required: Pull up bar, resistance band.
Muscles worked: Lateral muscles (back), traps and rhomboids (upper back), biceps, triceps, and forearms (arms), and abdominal muscles (stomach).
At the beginning of the list, we mentioned two of the main reasons why people look for a pull up alternative. The first one was not having access to the pull up bar. The second one - was not having enough strength and confidence in challenging the pull up bar.
This one's only for the second group. Pull ups can be seriously intimidating, and even people of good physical health may bot be able to lift themselves up instantly. This is where a resistance band comes in. By using some of its tension, you can get just enough help needed to do the pullups. Before you know it - you won't even need them, and you'll know how to do a pull up! Here's how to do it:
- Wrap the band around itself on the bar and pull it down, creating a loop for your feet. You may need a bit of force to pull it down to ground level.
- One by one, put one foot into the loop (be cautious here!)
- Grab onto the bar. Make sure the palms face you.
- Hang with your arms fully extended.
- Pull yourself up, all the way until your chin reaches the bar.
- Lower down, repeat if needed.
Alternatives to the pull up: how to do them and get results!
These are the best pull up alternative options out there, good for both people feeling not yet ready for full pull ups, and pros looking for a slightly different way of doing things. No matter which option you choose, they are all meant to make your muscles stronger, and you - fitter.
Like any fitness journey, the key is to practice, practice, and practice. The more you do these exercises, the faster you will be seeing the results you want! Good luck and remember to stay safe!