Don’t have a pull-up bar at home? Whether you are looking for pull-up alternatives or the best exercises to build strength for your first pull-up, this workout has got you covered.
Pull-ups top the list when it comes to the best back exercises you can do. They offer a wealth of benefits in terms of fitness, strength and muscle growth.
On top of that, they look badass.
If you don’t have a bar at home or don’t want to pay for a gym membership, there are ways you can replicate pull-ups and build a strong back at home.
Don’t believe us? Check out the 9 best pull-up alternatives we have listed below.
What Are The Benefits Of Pull-Ups?
Before we dive into the best pull-up alternatives, what are the benefits of pull-ups?
First off, pull-ups are a compound exercise. This means that they target more than one muscle group. In this case, you’re hitting your biceps, teres major and teres minor, triceps, trapezius (traps) and latissimus dorsi (lats). The control that the move demands also provides a substantial core workout.
With pull-ups, you can even target different areas of these muscles by simply changing your grip on the bar. And that’s all in one movement!
On top of that, the challenging nature of the pull-up builds serious muscle mass and raw strength. If you think about it, you are pulling your entire body weight up in space.
Not only is it impressive, but it offers fast results when it comes to making gains.
Last but not least, if you have ever wanted that wide v taper look (think Bruce Lee), pull-ups are the ultimate exercise for achieving that.
The number-one pull-up alternative? Australian pull-ups. Australian pull-ups can be done without any equipment, only requiring a surface for you to pull yourself up to, such as the edge of a table or two chairs.
In fact, Australian pull-ups are the perfect exercise to build strength for the full pull-up. If you are struggling to achieve your first pull-up, you should be doing Australian pull-ups!
To do an Australian pull-up, set up two chairs at either side of your body or lie underneath a secure table or desk. Gripping the edge of these surfaces with both hands, pull yourself up so that your chest rises to the same height as your hands.
The Australian pull-up is usually performed with the legs outstretched, heels on the floor. But, to make it easier, you can place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees to ninety degrees. This will alleviate some of the weight.
Want to make the exercise harder? Elevate your legs on a stool or chair!
One Arm Australian Pull-Up
Aside from elevating your legs, you can make Australian pull-ups even harder by performing them with one hand.
And for those of you who are training for the one arm pull-up, the one arm Australian pull-up is the ultimate exercise for building strength and learning the technique.
To do the one arm Australian pull-up, lie underneath a secure table or desk. Gripping the surface with one hand, pull yourself up so that your shoulder touches the edge of the desk or table. As this movement is biased to one side, it’s a good idea to spread your legs to assist with the balance.
Likewise, with regular Australian pull-ups, you can place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees to ninety degrees to make the exercise easier.
Resistance Band Rows
You might not have a pull-up bar at home, but you might have resistance bands. These useful workout tools are affordable, simple to use and super-versatile.
Rows are similar to pull-ups in that they involve a pulling motion and a hard contraction of the back muscles, particularly the rhomboids and lats. There are a number of ways to perform rows with dumbbells, cables and resistance bands, including the way you position your body.
In this case, we’re going to do a traditional rowing movement, as if performed on a rowing machine.
To do a resistance band row, use a resistance band anchor to wedge your resistance band in a door frame. Sitting on the floor, the resistance band should be level with your chest line. With your legs outstretched and your feet planted on the wall or door, perform a rowing movement so that your elbows reach as far back behind you as possible.
For best form for rows, maintain a protracted chest for every rep. In other words, keep your chest pushed out!
Resistance Band Lat Pulldown
The lat pulldown is one of the most effective exercises for building a big back in general.
In fact, it’s the ultimate pull-up alternative if you have the equipment to do it. Why? Because the exercise is 100% identical to the movement involved in a regular pull-up. If you picture it, the only difference is that you are sitting down, pulling a fixed weight as opposed to your body weight.
Performing a lat pulldown at home is easy. You just need a resistance band, a resistance band anchor and, ideally, some form of pole or bar, like a broom. The last one isn’t needed, but it will make the exercise more
Fasten your resistance band to the top of a door frame using a resistance band anchor. Loop the broom in the resistance band, then sit down on the floor or on a stool, positioned close to the door. From this position, pull the broom into your chest line, chest protracted, making sure to bring your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Straight Arm Lat Pulldown with Resistance Band
Want wide cobra lats? Then you should be doing straight arm lat pulldowns.
Performed with straight arms, this variation of the lat pulldown proves more of a challenge than a regular lat pulldown but with greater benefits in terms of lat, teres and tricep gains.
And with a little creativity, you can do these at home using a resistance band.
To do a resistance band straight arm lat pulldown, wedge your resistance band into the top of a door frame using a resistance band anchor. Insert a broom or into the hole of the resistance band. While standing and maintaining a protracted chest, pull the broom towards your waist with a pronated grip.
Don’t forget to keep your arms straight throughout the exercise - if done correctly, you will feel a serious burn in your lats and triceps!
Bent Over Rows
Bent over rows are similar to traditional rows, except that you are going against gravity. As the name of the exercise entails, you bend over forwards for the starting position, before pulling a weight plate, kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell into your torso.
If you haven’t got weights at home, you can use a substitute such as water jugs or a pair of bricks - just make sure that you can get a comfortable grip on whatever you choose to avoid dropping anything on your feet.
Similarly, the bent over row targets your rhomboids, lats, teres major and minor muscles and traps.
To do a bent over row, hold your chosen weights by your feet. For good form, you can bend over as far as you like to ninety degrees - just make sure that you maintain a protracted chest. From this position, pull the weights either side of your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together with each rep.
For variation, you can also perform the exercise one-handed, with your free hand placed on a stool or chair to assist with your balance.
Bent Over Resistance Band Rows
Fight gravity and resistance with bent over resistance band rows. The movement of the exercise is the same, except that the increased resistance of the resistance band will challenge you even at the final portion of the exercise.
Just like traditional rowing machine rows and dumbbell rows, the bent over resistance band row will target your rhomboids, lats, teres major and minor muscles and traps.
To perform a resistance band bent over row, secure the resistance band under your feet. Again, you can bend over as far as you like - just maintain a protracted chest throughout the exercise. Grab two ends of the resistance band with both hands and pull to either side of your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades with each rep.
As for the difficulty of the exercise, you can adjust the resistance by simply moving where your hand is placed on the resistance band. For example, increase the tension of the resistance band by gripping it closer to your feet.
Another way to increase the difficulty of the bent over resistance band row is by performing the exercise one-handed.
Push-Up With Row
Last but not least, the push-up with row is another effective pull-up alternative in the way that it targets the same muscle groups - the lats, teres minor and major, traps and rhomboids.
A bonus of push-ups with rows is that the exercise can be done anywhere, as long as you have enough floor space to spread out into a push-up position. It’s also a compound exercise, as you are not only getting a back workout, but a good chest workout in one!
In general, push-ups with rows are performed with two dumbbells. You replace the dumbbells with bricks or similar objects, as long as you are comfortable enough to grip them.
To do a push-up with a row, get into a push-up position on the floor, with your hands placed beneath your shoulders, gripping a dumbbell or brick. Perform a push-up, lowering your chest as close to the floor as possible, before returning to your initial push-up position. At this point, perform a one arm row with your chosen weight, bringing your elbow back as far as possible.
You can perform a row on each side after every push-up, or alternate between sides.
What Is The Correct Form For Pull-Ups?
As with every exercise, form matters. Put simply, form is important because it will increase the effectiveness of the exercise, meaning better muscle activation, increased strength and faster visible results in terms of gaining muscle.
In fact, it is better to perform fewer reps with perfect form than one-hundred reps with poor form!
Pull-ups are difficult because they not only require strength but technique and control. You have to pull your entire body weight up into space, making sure that your chin goes over the bar without extending your neck.
At the same time, you have to maintain a straight body and avoid swinging back and forth - which will hinder the overall exercise.
For all back exercises, the correct form involves performing each rep with your chest protracted, or puffed out. To do this, pull your shoulders back and push your chest out. In this position, your shoulder blades should be pulled back and almost squeezed together.
Bracing your core will also help to maintain stability with each rep.
How To Build Strength For Pull-Ups?
Pull-ups are not easy. And for most, achieving their first rep requires building strength through a combination of resistance training and beginner progressions.
An easy way to build strength for pull-ups is by using a lat pulldown machine. As the lat pulldown machine replicates the pull-up in movement and technique, it’s the perfect entry point as the weight can be adjusted as needed.
Setting up a home gym is another accessible way for building strength easily and effortlessly. It is important, however, to choose a gym that is well-designed so that it is compact and yet, effective. Check out our list of the best compact home gyms here.
For those who do not have access to a gym, there are other ways.
In addition to the above pull-up alternatives - which will all help to build pull-up strength - another way is through assisted pull-ups with a resistance band.
If you have access to a pull-up bar (even a bar at your local playground will suffice), resistance band pull-ups make the exercise a lot easier due to the fact that the resistance band provides momentum, in addition to reducing the overall weight of your body.
To do a resistance band pull-up, simply loop one end of the resistance band to a pull-up bar, then secure the other end underneath both of your feet. In this setup, you can then proceed to perform pull-ups as usual.
You will find that the exercise is easier, allowing you to complete an adequate amount of reps and sets to build strength for the real thing.
The good thing about resistance bands is that the variety of resistances, or thicknesses, will further help you in this method.
For example, begin doing assisted pull-ups with a thick resistance band. Over time, you can decrease the thickness of the resistance band until you no longer need them!
No bar? No problem! The above pull-up alternatives all offer an effective back workout without having a home pull-up bar or having to go to the gym.
And no matter whether you want to build strength for your first pull-up or just want to work out your back at home, each exercise offers a fantastic alternative, complete with its own benefits, that you can do with minimal equipment - or no equipment at all.
Plus, even if you do have a gym membership or pull-up bar at home, it’s worth knowing these exercises as a great way to mix up your workout routine.
So, what are you waiting for? Give these home pull-up alternatives a try for your next back workout and start reaping the gains!