Get A Stronger Upper Body With These 7 Pull-up Alternatives

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Many people believe that to execute a good pull-up workout, you need appropriate equipment; a pull-up bar, a power tower, or even a trip to the gym. Not necessarily true.

There are some pull-up alternatives and workout routines that you can perform from home without a pull-up bar or even a door frame to hang it on. 

Pull-up alternatives require very little in terms of equipment and a bar attached to the door frame is the most basic option. However, not having access to a pull-up bar for whatever reason shouldn’t limit you from working out and getting a strong upper body.

Benefits of Pull-ups

Pull-ups are a great way to strengthen your upper arms, neck, shoulders, upper back and abdominals. And with your body weight alone.

Strengthening the back as well as the no-impact movement may help reduce back pain.

As there is a lot of tension in the hands when pulling your weight, pull-ups can help strengthen your grip.

As with most exercise routines, pull-ups are a plus for overall fitness and a great frictionless addition to a workout plan.

But they’re pretty tough! Especially doing more than 2 or 3 repetitions unless you are super strong already.

We’ve gone into more detail in our article about the types of pull-ups, executing your first proper pull-up and different kinds of pull-up equipment.

Check out these great examples of some of the best pull-up alternatives to master at home that use similar muscles!

Some Pull-up Alternatives Targeting Similar Muscles

Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Bodyweight rows are one of my favorites because I can combine them with shoulder stabilization exercises to increase my pull-up counts. But the best thing for me about this workout routine is it works on the biceps and back, making it one of the best pull-up routines, especially for beginners.

Traditionally, bodyweight rows work by placing a horizontal bar close to the floor. But for this version, you can use a towel, sturdy table or resistance bands.

If you are using a table, grab the table’s top with your fingertips while lying underneath it. Let your ankles touch the ground so that your body stays in a diagonal position. Lift yourself until your chest moves closer to the table. Lower yourself to your starting position and repeat.

To use a towel or resistance bands for bodyweight rows:

  • Find a sturdy anchor point. 
  • Throw the towel over the pole and grab each end of the towel. 
  • Lean back to a diagonal position and make sure your arms are completely straight.
  • Pull the towel to lift your body against the anchor, and repeat. 

A broom handle across two chairs can be another DIY way of achieving the same result.

Resistance Band Lat Pull-downs

Also known as banded pull-downs, resistance band lat pulldowns are an effective and versatile alternative to pull-ups. This workout routine is ideal if you are looking to work on your lats and improve your posture. Resistance band lat pull-downs not only target your lats but also activate your forearms, biceps, and upper back. Pull-ups would also affect the same result.  

To perform a resistance band lat pull-down:

  • Secure your resistance band to a hook or any other elevated but stable object.
  • Kneel or sit on the ground.
  • Grab the resistance band and pull until your elbows form right angles. While pulling on the band, ensure that your shoulder blades also pull inwards.
  • Slowly release the band until your arms become straight, and then repeat. 

Lat pull-down machines are often found in gyms where there is an integrated seat and knee pads to push against.

Dumbbell Rows

What makes dumbbell rows an effective alternative to pull-ups compared to similar variations is the better range of motion that allows you to target all the muscle groups in your movement path. You can perform dumbbell rows in a bent-over position, but I recommend using a bench for spinal safety and a better posture. This means doing one side at a time.

To perform a dumbbell row:

  • Secure a sturdy thigh-high platform such as a bench and place your dumbbell or homemade weight on the floor.
  • Place your left leg on the bench and bend over so your upper body stays parallel to the floor.
  • With a neutral grip, pick up the dumbbell while keeping your back straight and your arm extended.
  • Lift the dumbbell to your chest while engaging your shoulder and back rather than your arm.
  • Lower the dumbbell slowly to your starting position and repeat.

Overhead Dumbbell Press

You can perform the overhead dumbbell press while sitting to stabilize your back or standing to target a broader range of muscles. This is a great pull-up workout for beginners who need to strengthen their core and shoulder muscles.

To perform an overhead dumbbell press:

  • Stand upright with your back straight.
  • With a firm grip, hold a dumbbell or other weight in each hand at shoulder height.
  • Raise the weights above your head, then pause while exhaling.
  • Lower your dumbbells to your shoulders while inhaling.
  • Repeat these steps 8 to 12 times.

You can use one weight and grasp with both hands which activate a slightly different set of muscles.

Kettlebell Swings

If performed correctly, kettlebell swings will build your total body strength, balance and also improve your cardiovascular stamina.

To perform a kettlebell swing, stand with the kettlebell on the floor and your feet shoulder-width apart.

Then, follow these simple steps: 

  • Bend your knees slightly, then pick up the kettlebell with both hands.
  • Push the kettlebell through your legs to give it the momentum it requires, then swing it to your shoulder height. Your arms should be straight at this point.
  • Lower the kettlebell down through your legs again and repeat.

Reverse Push-up

The backward-facing reverse push-up is similar to a tricep dip and is especially effective at challenging your abs, back muscles and strengthening your triceps.

To perform the backward-facing reverse push-up:

  • Sit on the floor, with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees bent.
  • Push yourself off the floor while straightening your upper body, keeping your shoulders above your hands. 
  • Push your body upwards using your hips and straighten your legs.
  • Use only your heels and hands to support your body in this position. 
  • Pause and hold that position for a second before slowly lowering your body until your butt touches the floor, and then repeat. 

Back Bridge Push-ups

Back bridge push-ups are fantastic at engaging your hamstrings and glutes in addition to strengthening your erector spinae and back muscles. Another challenging exercise for which you need no special equipment. Back bridge push-ups can be challenging, but like all things good, they get easier with regular practice. 

To perform a back bridge push-up:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, as you would when doing a sit-up.
  • Put your hands close to your head, with your palms flat and your fingers pointing towards your feet.
  • Lift your back and your hips to form a fully rounded arc.
  • Pull in your shoulders and maintain your balance while still in the arc position.
  • Lower yourself to your starting position and then repeat.

This is a difficult exercise especially getting into the crab-like position and if you’re like me and not that flexible it makes this odd maneuver even trickier.

And Finally

Having suitable pull-up alternatives is a great way to maintain upper body strength, keeping an interest in doing repetitive workouts and doing it all at home. These home-based pull-up and push-up workouts come in handy when you do not have access to a pull-up bar, or as a stepping stone to executing your first set of clean pull-ups with a bar.

Combining some of these pull-up alternatives can enhance your pull-up and dip routine, make it more interesting and improve further your overall upper body strength. In turn, you should increase the count of pull-ups and chin-ups.

Exercising at home can be easier with equipment but you don’t necessarily need any. Go and check out our article on exercises without equipment.

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Steve Churchill

Steve Churchill has nearly 20 years of experience not only as a personal trainer but also in fitness and sports facilities management. He loves being able to take his 2 young daughters to school in the morning before a sweaty session on the indoor bike.

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