Pull-ups are an excellent back exercise, but what if you don’t have a pull-up bar, or maybe you just don’t have enough strength to pull yourself up? Don’t worry, we have shortlisted some legit alternatives to pull-up!
Pull-up is a functional exercise that builds serious pulling strength. Whether a fitness newbie or an experienced lifter, you should be heaving this great exercise in your arsenal.
What is a pull-up? You start with a dead hang on a high bar and pull yourself up towards the bar until your chin reaches above the bar. Pull-ups are closed kinetic chain movement that primarily focuses on back development.
However, this article is not focused on finding a replacement for the pull-up. You can use these alternatives to supplement more volume to your back workout.
Pull-up is a compound movement that engages a variety of upper-body muscle fibers, so we divided them into two categories – primary and secondary movers.
These are the muscle fibers directly involved in the lift.
It’s a muscle that gives you that V-taper look. Latissimus is the primary beneficiary of pull-ups and plays a crucial role in pulling movements.
Most people know it as “biceps.” These muscles play an essential role in the whole closed kinetic chain movement. People with weak biceps usually find it challenging to perform pull-ups.
It is a member of the rotator cuff, stabilizing the whole scapula and glenohumeral joint during pull-up. When you are hanging freely on the bar, the infraspinatus plays a vital role in keeping all joints and skeletal muscle structures in place.
Trapezius muscles are further divided into three muscle fibers- upper, middle, and lower trapezius.
The upper trapezius is engaged when you do movements such as shrugs or dumbbell farmers’ walks. Mid-traps are involved while doing horizontal plane movements, such as face pulls and bent-over rows. Lower traps are the primary movers while doing pull-ups; they help retract the shoulder blades and opening-up up the chest for the pull-up.
These muscle fibers do not play a direct role in the movement but act as a stabilizer to assist the lift.
These are the rear part of your shoulders and play an essential stabilization role during pull-ups. It helps keep the shoulder blades in place and maintain the right posture.
It’s a deep muscle of the back that runs through the base of the skull down to your hips. The Erector spine helps you maintain a proper body posture.
Rhomboids provide stability to the shoulders.
Located along the side of the rectus abdominis in the core area. Oblique keeps the core tight and engaged during pull-ups.
Let’s discuss WHY you should include this superb exercise in your workout routine.
Pull-ups allow you to train and strengthen multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously, including the lats, rhomboids, trapezius, and many other muscle groups. Besides working on your back, pull-ups also work on the shoulders, biceps, forearms, grip, and core strength with a single movement.
Pull-up is a compound movement that trains multiple joints simultaneously, which saves the time spent on individually training smaller muscles.
Performing a few sets of pull-ups is enough to maintain back strength and size whenever you are short on time.
Even if you get comfortable with the standard pull-ups, you still got tons of pull-up variations to challenge your back differently.
You can choose from a wide variety of pull-ups like – weighted pull-ups, close grip pull-ups, mixed grip pull-ups, L-pull, supinated grip pull-ups, around-the-world pull-ups, and many more.
Mastering pull-ups improves functional strength and will help you with day-to-day work. The number of muscle pull-ups recruits is just phenomenal, enhancing the back definition and improving the muscle coordination for the pulling tasks.
Pull-up is a minimalistic back exercise that requires just a pull-up bar, sometimes just a solid door. In short, you can perform it almost anywhere.
As healthy beings, we should be capable of using our body weight to stay healthy and maintain muscular strength. For the lower body, you can do squats and lunges. For the chest, you can do push-ups, and for the back, one should have enough strength to do pull-ups.
People who don’t have enough strength to do pull-ups usually leave their backs untrained when they don’t have access to dumbbells or machines.
The first reason has to do with your body weight. Training with barbells, dumbbells, or machines allows you to switch between weight ranges and allows beginners to use lightweight.
But in the case of pull-ups, it’s like asking someone to bench press 300 pounds with no prior experience with iron. That is the reason, a guy weighing 150 pounds finds it easy to perform a pull-up, but a guy who weighs 300 pounds finds it almost impossible to perform his first pull-up. In many cases, guys are not even trying for pull-ups because of their bodyweight.
So basically, the only way to do the pull-up is to strengthen the individual muscles used in pull-ups.
These exercises will help you build enough strength for the first free-weight pull-ups.
Negative pull-ups mean controlling the eccentric part of the motion. Negative pull-ups and isometric hold is a great way to acclimate yourself to pull-ups and acquire the required strength in the back and supporting muscles.
Researches suggest, slowing down the eccentric motion causes greater damage and micro-tears within the muscle fibers compared to a concentric motion, thus resulting in greater muscle hypertrophy. Greater hypertrophy means more strength. 
Negative pull-ups and holds will engage the same muscle fibers used in traditional pull-ups.
Muscle worked: Lats, biceps, traps, deltoids, rhomboids, core.
Negative pull-ups can be called a regression of your standard pull-ups. Mastering the negative reps will work as a stepping stone to your first bodyweight pull-up.
Feet elevated rack pull-up is a great exercise for those who do not possess enough strength for the pull-ups.
Keeping your feet on an elevated surface reduces the resistance and provides the required assistance to familiarize the back muscles with the pull-up movement.
Elevated-foot pull-ups are best performed on the Smith machine or power rack, where you can adjust the height of the bar according to your requirements.
Muscle worked: Lats, rhomboids, traps, delts, arms.
It’s an excellent regression to standard pull-ups that will improve muscle control and strength.
As the name suggests, it’s a pull-up that is performed with external assistance. Assisted pull-ups are great for beginners who don’t even have the basic strength to control negative reps or feet-elevated rack pull-ups.
Many commercial gyms have assisted pull-up machines; if you don’t have one at your gym, you can invest in pull-up bands or get a training partner (that can help you with pull-ups).
Pull-up bards are heavy-duty resistance bands that can offer the required assistance to perform pull-ups. These bands come in different sizes and resistance, and you should buy one according to your fitness level.
Muscle worked: Lats, rhomboids, traps, delts, arms.
Free weights or machines allow us to choose the resistance as per our fitness levels, but we certainly can’t change the resistance of bodyweight pull-ups. That’s the reason many people are incapable of performing their first pull-up.
Using assisted pull-ups allows you to gain basic strength. You can reduce the assistance as you get better at pull-ups.
Inverted bodyweight rows are quite underrated, but that doesnt reduce their effectiveness. Inverted bodyweight row is a simple yet effective exercise that will strengthen the upper back, lats, posterior delts, arms, and grip strength.
What makes it a very beginner-friendly exercise is how easily it allows you to change the resistance. Changing the foot positioning and body angle to the floor can help modify the intensity of the exercise.
Also, inverted bodyweight rows target and strengthen the lower trapezius muscles, which is often a weak link that prevents people from achieving their first pull-up.
Muscle worked: Latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rear deltoids, arms.
If you are trying your first pull-up, you should be mastering this movement as muscle engagement in both exercises is almost the same.
Lat pulldown is a staple exercise in every back training program. Lat pulldowns are preferably performed on the workstations with adjustable weights.
Lat pull-down is not just a great alternative to the standard pull-up but also an excellent supplementary exercise to add volume to the back routine. Do pull-ups when you can, and lat pulldowns when you can’t.
Muscle worked: Lats, traps, rear delts, arms.
Lat pulldown machines were created to mimic the biomechanics of pull-ups, making them a perfect alternative to pull-ups.
Plus, lat pulldowns are the safest and easiest way to add strength in the upper back, lats, and teres major.
When it comes to gaining size and strength in the upper back, bent over barbell row is surely one of the best exercises. Bent over row is a compound movement that trains the whole posterior chain and allows you to develop a massive upper back.
Muscle worked: Lats, middle and lower traps, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, core.
Back is a complicated muscle group and should be trained in conjunction with the horizontal and vertical pulling movements.
When you do a bent-over row, you are actually targeting the muscles responsible for the horizontal pulls. Getting stronger in horizontal pulling will develop thickness and width to the back, plus it helps you get better at pull-ups.
Just like other rowing movements, single-hand dumbbell rows allow you to strengthen the back.
Single-hand dumbbell rows are easy to perform and require only a single dumbbell. This exercise allows you to train one side at a time, which helps you pull heavier weights and also corrects the strength imbalances.
Muscle worked: lats, traps, teres major, rhomboid, rear delts.
Single-hand dumbbell rows strongly engage the lats, which is a critical muscle used in pull-ups. Plus, it allows you to train with heavier weights.
The deadlift is an incredibly powerful exercise that engages the whole posterior chain. It’s an excellent compound movement that can have a deep impact on your raw strength.
Muscle worked: Traps, lats, delts, biceps, triceps, rhomboids, erector spinae, core, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, forearm flexors.
The thing that makes deadlift a great pull-up alternative is its ability to add serious strength to the whole posterior chain.
Something that most people don’t realize is that pull-ups are not just a back exercise and require the activation of several other muscle groups, including the core, glutes, etc.
If you can’t perform a single pull-up, you better work on your deadlifts. As you master the deadlift, you will see visible differences in your strength gains and should be able to progress in pull-ups.
Renegade rows can be called a hybrid exercise that combines plank with dumbbell rows.
Renegade row is a versatile exercise that can be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells, and you can also choose to keep your feet elevated to increase the intensity.
Muscle worked: lats, traps, delts, core.
This movement enhances midline stability and muscle coordination. Renegade rows are going to have you develop a stronger and more stable back, which eventually assists the pull-ups.
Pull-ups should not be replaced for no reason! If you can do them, you should definitly do them.
But we need to accept the fact that pull-up is an advanced bodyweight movement that requires a fair amount of strength, and some people do not have enough power to achieve their first pull-up.
No other single exercise can offer the same range of benefits, but combining a variety of pull-up alternatives can help you achieve the same benefits. Gradually you will be able to develop the required strength for your first pull-ups.
For the aesthetic back, you should incorporate pull-ups in conjunction with other back exercises to develop muscle separation.
Let’s talk about the movements that you can add to your pre-workout warm-up routine. These movements are going to help wake up your lats, traps, and shoulders before the rollout of actual strength training.
Hang off the bar and hold that active position to wake up and activate your shoulders and other supporting joints.
Scapular pull is a great exercise that should be performed even if you can not perform pull-ups. What you need do is just hang off the bar with an overhand grip and pull your scapular blades back and forth.
This movement wakeup the whole scapula and adjacent muscle groups and activate them for the workout. Being able to retract your shoulders while hanging is crucial for a perfect pull-up, and mastering the scapular pull is also going to help your first pull-up.
Straight arm pulldowns are great back exercises but doing it with the resistance band is a great way to wake up and activate those back muscle fibers. It’s also a great exercise to establish a mind and muscle connection before a back workout.
Something that most people don’t realize is core stability plays an important role in mastering a pull-up. A few sets of isometric hollow holds can enhance the core enhancements, eventually leading to better pull-ups.
That depends on the individual’s fitness goal. Undoubtedly, pull-ups are the most efficient compound movement targeting most back muscles.
Pull-ups should be enough if your goal is to get an aesthetic and functional body. If your goal is to maximize muscle gain, then you should be adding some bent-over rows, and deadlifts to your workout program.
Even if the goal is to look aesthetic, you should be performing pull-ups in enough volumes. Make sure you include different varieties of pull-ups and consistently increase the workout volume.
Shoulders play a very important stabilizer role in your pull-ups. The shoulders are the primary muscle that connects your arms to the trunk. You are strengthening your shoulder joints when you do pull-ups, or dead-hangs.
Yes, pull-ups can be done every day if you provide sufficient nutrition to the body. Plus, keep the volume moderate. For example: if you can perform a total of 20 pull-ups, then performing 15 pull-ups without pushing the muscle till complete failure is probably safe to do on a daily basis.
Pull-ups may not directly impact height, but they decompress the spine and improve posture, making you look taller.
If you are still in your growth phase, performing a few minutes of dead hang on a daily basis can lengthen the spine.
Biceps plays an important role when you do pull-ups. The different hand positions impact the bicep engagement. For example: a supinated grip improves the contraction of the biceps brachii, and pronated grip pull-ups emphasize more on the brachialis and brachioradialis.
Despite being considered a challenging exercise, pull-ups are the best bodyweight upper-body strengthening exercise and worth adding to your strength training routine.