Do you want to achieve that enviable V-shaped torso? Or target different muscles from different angles with one exercise? If so, then the pull-ups have to be in your repertoire.
But since your training should include a variety of exercises for continuous progress, that’s where pull-ups alternative exercises come into play.
This article lists some of the best pull-up alternatives you should try. These help build strength and target the same muscles as traditional pull-ups. And for us to better appreciate these alternatives, let’s start with the basics and learn what pull-ups are.
What are Pull-Ups?
Pull-ups are a bodyweight exercise that’s excellent for building upper body strength. It involves hanging from a pull-up bar by your hands (overhand grip) and lifting your entire body with your back and arm muscles until your chest touches the bar.
Pull-up exercises use multiple muscles at once, which are considered compound exercises. Like other bodyweight back exercises, pull-ups use a person’s body weight rather than external weights as resistance.
The workout is relatively simple, although mastering it may take a while for those not used to strength training. This workout’s many benefits include building holistic upper body strength, boosting your mental and mood, and improving your overall physical health.
Below are some of the best alternatives to pull-ups you can add to your workout plan:
5 Best Pull-Up Alternatives That Work the Same Muscles
1. Lat Pulldowns
Lat pulldowns are great for targeting the latissimus dorsi. You can use a resistance band or a cable machine.
This pull-up alternative is the closest thing to the pulling motion you do in a regular pull-up. It can even give you a stellar back and well-defined lats. Just remember to keep your head forward and core engaged throughout the movement and control the lat bar in two to three seconds, so your muscles are under tension.
- Set up with your standard pull-up grip. Don’t lean back, but keep your trunk stable.
- Reach up and grab the bar with an overhand grip using both hands.
- Start working out by pulling your shoulder blades down and together.
- Slowly let the bar return to its starting position and repeat for your desired reps.
2. Inverted Row
The inverted row is an excellent workout for those starting with back exercise. This movement is a horizontal pull and emphasizes the lower trapezius muscles, rhomboids, and arms.
The great thing about this is you’ll work your forearms, arms, shoulders, core, and back. It’ll also help you increase your overall grip strength. If you do inverted rows regularly, you’ll notice comparable results to pull-ups done in a short while.
- Stand on any horizontal bar and reach the bar with a shoulder-width grip. Keep your arms extended.
- Keep your body in a straight line and your core engaged.
- Pull yourself to the rings by flexing the biceps and pulling back the shoulder blades.
- Once you’re in the end position of the movement, lower your body slowly and in a controlled manner.
3. Towel Rows
Believe it or not, you have an excellent tool that can strengthen your grip in your room. What’s this magic tool, you ask? A towel. It’s one of the most underutilized home gym tools for building a firmer grip.
This back-boosting workout will also give you a ripped back like you’re doing pull-ups. In addition, it’ll help you build strength in your upper arms, core, and shoulders.
Is this a good pull-up alternative if I don’t have a pull-up bar?
Yes, towel rows are a great pull-up alternative. Simple equipment can skyrocket your heart rate, relieve stress, and burn many calories. By strategically positioning the towel at home, you can perform towel rows that allow you to contract your back muscles hard.
- Wrap a small towel around the handle of your dumbbell. Use an overhand grip when lifting your dumbbell.
- Use your free hand and hinge at the waist to steady yourself on a chair, bar, or bench.
- Engage your back muscles while you pull the weight up by the towel. Ensure that the dumbbell is parallel to the ground. Lower the dumbbell without putting it on the group; you’ve already completed one rep.
4. TRX Rows
TRX rows are the same as inverted rows, but it uses suspension training (TRX). You’ll also need to use more stabilizing muscles.
The great thing about this bodyweight exercise is you can vary your grip each rep and customize your range of motion. It puts minimal stress on your lower back but targets your upper body muscles.
Other exercises you can do with this functional equipment include chin-ups, squats and flys, clock press, and low row.
- Ensure the suspension training is secured outdoors to an overhead anchor, ceiling beam, wall stud, or tree anchor.
- Grab the handles and make sure your feet are hip-width distance apart. The more upright your torso is, the easier the workout will be.
- Roll your shoulders back. Then, squeeze your back and lats to pull yourself towards the suspension trainer handles.
- Hold at the top for one to two seconds and gradually extend your arms.
- Lower your body to the starting position and repeat for your desired reps or sets.
Related: Monkii Bars vs. TRX
5. Bent Over Rows
The bent-over rows target the same muscle groups as pull-ups. You can perform this either an underhand or an overhand grip.
You’ll focus more on the mid-back and lats with an underhand grip for this workout. You’ll target the upper back muscles with an overhand grip, such as traps and rhomboids.
But like anything in fitness, begin with the basics and gradually progress in terms of set, intensity, reps, and weights, so you’ll eventually manage your first pull-up.
- For your starting position, hinge forward and slightly bend at the knees, so your torso is over the bar.
- Grab the bar while keeping a neutral back.
- Pull up through your elbows until the barbell reaches your upper abs.
- Lower the bar to the starting position and repeat for desired reps.
The simple pull-up is one of the most effective exercises. With it, there is always room for improvement. You can always build more endurance and strength by shifting your position and changing the number of reps.
So, what’s not to love about this exercise? But of course, everyone needs a change of routine to avoid adaptation and make fitness more fun. With the five best pull-up alternatives listed above, you can keep your body moving and get into better shape for your pull-up journey.
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Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER
I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.
If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.