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5 Best Pull-Up Alternatives

Have you ever wanted to master a pull-up? The pull-up is a challenging exercise because it requires strength, and endurance. It can also require high ceilings and expensive equipment.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Take a look at our list of exercises that can be great alternatives to pull-ups, to help you build a stronger upper body from home.

What is a pull up?

A pull-up is an upper body strength exercise in which you pull your entire body weight upright, and off the ground.

To accomplish a traditional pull up, you need a horizontal bar that sits above your head. It can be a pull up bar that fits over your doorway or the frame of a power tower.

To start, you face the bar, and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the overhead bar. Your arms should be straight, but your feet and legs hanging below you.

Next, you pull yourself up, while keeping the core and wrists in a neutral position. The upwards movement is complete when your chin reaches the bar. When descending, you should try to keep the wrists and core neutral.

The entire movement is complete when you return back to the original hanging position, with the arms straight.

Muscles used in a pull up

Since you’re using your upper body to pull yourself up off the ground, several key muscles are primarily targeted.

  • Latissmus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Erector spinae
  • Biceps brachii
  • External oblique
  • Infraspinatus
  • Rhomboids
  • Pectoralis muscles
  • Deltoids

The following muscles are also activated during a pull up but to a lesser extent:

  • Teres major and minor
  • Subscapularis
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Plus many hand, forearm and finger muscles

The activation of these muscles change based on the variation of pull ups. The variations may include changing the width of your grip or using an overhand or underhand grip.

Alternative to pull ups exercises

Here’s our list of the pull up alternative at home exercises. If you don’t have access to gym equipment, you can use towels, long loop resistance bands or you can get creative with furniture, and household items.

These exercises are all designed to strengthen the same muscles used in a pull up.

Towel Row

For this exercise, you need a towel, and something heavy, and anchored, to wrap the towel around. A medium-sized to large-sized towel is best.

Muscles worked:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Erector spinae
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  1. First, put the towel around the object of your choice and hold the ends in each hand.
  2. Make sure you position your feet about a foot away from the bottom of the object. Your feet should be together and your legs should be slightly bent.
  3. While holding the towel, lean back far enough so that your arms are straight. Again, gage the size of the towel, and how far you’re willing to lean back. The further you lean back, the larger the range of motion.
  4. Keep your back straight and pull yourself up using the towel. When your hands reach either side of your chest, pause for a moment, and then release your arms to return to your original position.

Kneeling Resistance Lat Pulldown

This move requires a resistance band or long loop resistance band, and either the top of a doorway or another anchor point.

Muscles worked:

  • Pectorals
  • Biceps brachii
  • Latissimus dorsi
  1. Place the resistance band on the anchor or top of your doorway. Make sure it’s attached securely.
  2. Grasp both ends of the bands with an overhand grip and try to keep your hands shoulder-width apart. There should be a slight bend in your elbows.
  3. Slowly sit down on your knees while stretching the band and keep your arms above you. Your core should be in a neutral position.
  4. Pull the band towards you until you reach your chest. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly release your arms back up again.

Bent Over Dumbbell Row

The bent over row is a pull up alternative with dumbbells. It can be done using a chair, a bench, or the end of a flat furniture piece. You can use any size dumbbell you like.

Muscles worked:

  • Latissumus dorsi
  • Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres major and minor
  • Subscapularis
  • Erector spinae
  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  1. Place one knee on the chair and hold the edge of the chair in front of your knee with the same side hand. Keep your opposite foot on the floor. This puts you in a bent over position.
  2. Grasp the dumbbell with an underhand grip in the opposite hand. While keeping your back straight and a core tight, lift the dumbbell upwards until your elbow forms a right angle.
  3. Ensure that you’re keeping your elbow as close to your body as possible. Hold that pose for a few seconds.
  4. Then, gently lower the dumbbell to the floor until your arm is straight again.

Inverted Row

For the inverted row, you’re going to need 2 stable chairs and some sort of pole, like a broomstick.

Muscles worked:

  • Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Biceps brachii
  • Latissimus dorsi
  1. Place 2 chairs beside each other. Lay on your back on the floor and between the chairs.
  2. Move the chairs apart so that the width of your upper body, including your elbows, fits comfortably between them. The space between the chairs should be more than your width.
  3. Put the pole or dowel of your choice across the 2 chairs, and above you. The bar should be at the level of your waist.
  4. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, and wider than shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be straight.
  5. While keeping your core tight, and body straight, pull yourself up to the bar.
  6. Keep going until your chest reaches the bar, then hold for a few seconds.
  7. With your posture in mind, slowly lower yourself to your original position.

Pull Apart

All you need for this exercise is a long loop resistance band.

Muscles worked:

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Subscapularis
  • Teres major and minor
  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus
  1. Stand up and hold the ends of the band in each hand. Your arms should be straight in front of you, and at your chest level.
  2. Slowly pull the band apart so that your arms make a “T”, and pause for a moment.
  3. Return to your original position in a controlled manner.

For all of these exercises, try to do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.

Hopefully we’ve given you some great alternatives to the pull up. Keep at it and eventually you’ll be strong enough to do a full pull up or more challenging variations!