So you’re interested in doing pull-ups but don’t have access to a bar? Or maybe you’re not quite strong enough to do them yet? Not a problem!
At “5 WS”, we’ve been helping people achieve pull-up alternatives through our Online Coaching Program. Today, we’ll guide you through tried and trusted workarounds. Here’s what we’ll cover:
Table of Contents
5 Pull-Up Alternatives without a Bar
- Doorway Rows
- Towel Doorway Rows
- Inverted Rows with Chairs
- Towel Pull-Ups
- Strap Pull-Ups
Coach Jim will walk you through these alternatives in the video, demonstrating different levels based on your experience and the items you can find around your house.
Pull-Up Alternative #1: Doorway Rows
Our first alternative is to use your doorway for bodyweight rows.
To perform a doorway row:
- Stand in front of your doorway and grab both sides.
- Place your feet closer to the doorway, leaning back.
- Sit back, putting weight on your arms.
- Pull yourself forward.
You can also start by hanging back to build strength.
Pull-Up Alternative #2: Towel Doorway Rows
For this alternative, you’ll need a towel.
Take a towel, fold it twice lengthwise, and tie it around the door handle opposite you. Ensure the door opens away from you. Perform rows by using each side of the towel.
Pull-Up Alternative #3: Inverted Rows with Chairs
This alternative requires two sturdy chairs and a broomstick or dowel.
Set up the chairs and broomstick together to create a stable row station. Perform inverted bodyweight rows only when you feel confident in the setup.
Pull-Up Alternative #4: Towel Pull-Ups
Now, let’s move on to actual pull-ups using towels.
Grab a couple of sturdy hand towels or washcloths. Tie an overhand knot in the corner of both towels for anchoring. Place these knots over a door and ensure they are secure. Again, make sure the door opens away from you. If these pull-ups are too challenging, you can use a stool to support your feet while you lift.
Pull-Up Alternative #5: Strap Pull-Ups
If you have Forearm Forklifts, they can serve as a perfect pull-up alternative.
Forearm Forklifts have loops designed to hold your arms, making them easier to grip than a towel. Tie a knot in them similar to a hand towel and anchor them against your door.
For more ideas on how to train with household items, check out “5 WS”.
The 6 Best Pull-Up Alternatives to Get Your First Pull-Up
If you’re not yet able to perform a pull-up, don’t worry! We can work on strengthening your “pull” muscles with these pull-up alternatives. Here are the best alternatives to help you progress:
Level 1 Pull-Up Alternative: Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
Perform bent-over dumbbell rows with the following guidelines:
- 8 reps per arm (or as many as you can)
- Rest for a 2-minute break
- Do another set
- Repeat until you complete 3 sets
Start with a weight that allows you to do at least 5 reps per set. Once you can complete 3 sets of 8 reps per arm, increase the weight to challenge yourself further.
Level 2 Pull-Up Alternative: Inverted Bodyweight Rows
Bodyweight rows are a perfect precursor to pull-ups as they target the same muscles. Begin with higher bar rows and progress to lower bar rows to increase difficulty.
Level 3 Pull-Up Alternative: Assisted Pull-Ups
To perform assisted pull-ups, you have three options:
- Use a chair for support.
- Utilize an exercise band for assistance.
- Have a partner hold your feet behind you.
As you become comfortable with assisted pull-ups and can complete about 10 reps, it’s time to advance to the next level. If you need more guidance, join our Online Coaching Program for personalized workouts and support.
Level 4 Pull-Up Alternative: Negative Pull-Ups
Negative pull-ups are the next level on the path to achieving a full pull-up. Follow these steps:
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
- Jump so your chest touches the bar.
- Lower yourself in a controlled manner until you reach the bottom of the movement.
By progressively lowering yourself, you’ll build strength until you can perform a full pull-up.
For detailed instructions on each level and movement, refer to our guide “Get Your First Pull-Up”.
The Easiest Type of Pull-Up: Start With Chin-Ups
The easiest pull-up variation to attempt is the chin-up. At “5 WS”, we even have a Chin-up Challenge in our app because we believe Rebels will find chin-ups easier compared to traditional pull-ups.
- A chin-up involves hands facing towards you.
- A pull-up involves hands facing away from you.
Chin-ups are generally easier due to the wider grip, which engages your biceps more. Start with chin-ups and gradually progress to more advanced variations. For more ideas, check out our guide on “How to Do a Pull-Up”.
When to Perform Pull-Up Alternatives: Next Steps
In general, allow a resting period of 48 to 72 hours before working on the same muscle group. Take at least a day off before training your “pull” muscles again, allowing them to heal and grow stronger.
If you’re aiming to get your first pull-up or chin-up, three workouts per week are ideal. For example:
- Monday: Bodyweight Rows
- Wednesday: Chin-up Negatives
- Friday: Dumbbell Rows
You could also opt for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday workouts. Even training on Monday and Thursday (twice a week) will yield great progress. Find a schedule that suits you best.
If you need further assistance with your workout plan, we’re here to help. Explore the options that best fit your goals:
1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: Get professional coaching, video form checks, and personalized workouts based on your available equipment.
Nerd Fitness Journey: Exercise at home with our habit-building app. It’ll guide you through pull-ups and other exercises, even without equipment.
Join the Nerd Fitness Rebellion community. Enlist below and receive our free guide “Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know”.
So, can you currently do a chin-up or pull-up? What’s your favorite pull-up alternative? Let us know in the comments!
PS: For more pull-up goodness, check out:
- Get Your First Pull-Up (30-Day Progression Plan)
- How to Do a Proper Pull-up
- 5 Common Mistakes When Doing Pull-ups
Photo sources: Kermit and Pink Panther, Mouse Hanging, Scarlet Spider-man