The 5 Best Pull-up Alternatives (How to Do Pull-ups Without a Bar)

So you want to do a pull-up but don’t have a bar?

Or maybe you just don’t quite have the strength yet to hoist yourself up?

Either way, no problem!

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Here’s what we’ll cover:

By the way, all of these pull-up alternatives can be done in our sweet new app. Why not learn how to lift yourself up (even without any equipment) while you build your very own superhero?

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Alright, let’s do this thang.

Coach Jim walks you through 5 different levels of pull-up alternatives, depending on your experience level and what items you may have lying around the house.

To perform a doorway row:

That’s it. The more you lean back, the tougher this will be.

To start, you can also just hang back to start building some “pull” strength.

Our next alternative is to do doorway rows, but this time using a towel.

The towel might help you lean back even further, creating a more challenging exercise.

Take a towel, and fold it twice lengthwise. Then take your long, folded-over towel, and tie it around the door on the handle opposite side of you.

Make sure the door opens AWAY from you. You don’t want the door accidentally opening, which could cause an unexpected tumble.

Once you have your towel secured around the doorknob, perform rows by using each side of the towel.

For this pull-up alternative, you’re gonna need two sturdy chairs and a broomstick (or dowel).

We’ll be combining them together, Voltron style, to form our own row station:

Now, we’re gonna start doing some actual pull-ups…with towels.

You can either use a couple of sturdy hand towels or washcloths. 

Tie an overhand knot in the corner of both towels, which will be used as your anchor.

Then place these knots over a door and close it. Make sure the knots are secure before you start doing your pull-ups.

Again, you’ll also want to make sure the door opens AWAY from you.

You may or may not have some Forearm Forklifts hanging around, but if you do, you’ll have the perfect equipment for a pull-up alternative.

They have loops designed to hold your arms, which makes them easier to grip than a towel.

Tie a knot in them just like you would with a hand towel and use it to anchor them against your door. 

If you can’t quite hoist yourself up yet, don’t fret!

We’re going to work on increasing your “pull” muscles through a series of pull-up alternatives.

First up…

Bent-over dumbbell rows: 

Whatever allows you to get to at least 5 reps a set.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps (each arm), it’s time to pick up a heavier dumbbell.

This will allow you to get stronger and stronger. 

When you can lift a 25-pound (10kg) dumbbell or heavier, consider moving up to the next level.

Our goal here will be to work towards a lower and lower angle, increasing the difficulty of the movement.  

So at first, we’ll do rows with the bar higher up:

Then we’ll progress to getting the bar lower:

As soon as you’re doing bodyweight rows where your body is at a 45-degree angle or lower, you can progress to the next level. 

At this point, you are going to start actually doing pull-ups…with a little bit of assistance.

We’ve got a few options for you.

#1) Assisted Pull-ups with Chair

Either one foot or two on the chair, depending on your needs. Your feet are ONLY there for support, use your upper body as much as possible.

#2) Assisted Pull-ups with an Exercise Band

You can get different types of exercise bands with different levels of strength, or a variety pack for easy progression.

Put your foot in the exercise band and pull yourself up.

#3) Assisted Pull-ups with a Partner

Have a friend hold your feet behind you and help you complete each rep. Have them use the least amount of help possible to get you through your workouts.

Once you’re comfortable doing a form of assisted pull-ups, and can do about 10 repetitions, it’s time to advance to the next level.

This is probably the TOUGHEST level before getting your pull-ups. If you get stuck on “assisted pull-ups” and “assisted chin-ups”, you’re not alone. This is where most people get stuck.

Our next level on our path for a pull-up is what we call “negative pull-ups.”

As you continue to lower yourself down, you’ll build strength, eventually creating enough muscle so you can pull yourself up.

The easiest pull-up variation for you to attempt will likely be the chin-up.

For reference:

A CHIN-UP is when your hands are facing toward you:

A PULL-UP is when your hands are facing away from you:

Chin-ups are generally easier to perform than pull-ups because the wider grip of a pull-up isolates your lats, which means you get less assistance from your biceps.  

Generally, you want a 48 to 72-hour resting period before returning to train the same muscle group.

So take at least a day off before working on your “pull” muscles again.

This allows the area to heal properly so you can grow stronger.

So for example, you could do:

You could also do Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Even just working out Monday and Thursday – twice a week pull-up training – would allow you to see some great progress.

Feel free to do whatever works best for you.

If you want any more help with designing your workout, we got you.

Check out the option that best fits your goals:

For example, let’s say you find yourself stuck indoors during a pandemic, and you want somebody to custom-build you a workout program based on the equipment and furniture you have. That’s where an online coach is a game-changer! 

Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the image below: 

Option #2) Exercising at home and need a plan to follow? Check out Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our fun habit-building app helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).

Plus, it’ll teach you how to do pull-ups, even if you have zero experience (or any equipment). 

Try your free trial right here:

Option #3) Become part of the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Enlist below and we’ll send you our free Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know:

Alright, now I want to hear from you!

Can you currently do a chin-up or pull-up?

What’s your favorite pull-up alternative?

Am I missing any tips or tricks for pull-ups without a bar?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve

PS: If you want more pull-up goodness, make sure you check out:

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