How to Perform Pull-Ups Without a Bar

Video how to do pull ups without a bar

A picture of Kermit hanging with Pink Panther, probably trying a pull-up alternative.

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:

5 Pull-Up Alternatives without a Bar

  1. Doorway Rows
  2. Towel Doorway Rows
  3. Inverted Rows with Chairs
  4. Towel Pull-Ups
  5. Strap Pull-Ups

The video above comes from our Chin-up Challenge (which you can do in our app).

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.

A gif of Coach Jim showing you a doorway row, our first pull-up alternative.

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.

A towel can help you do a bodyweight row, as shown here.

Pull-Up Alternative #2: Towel Doorway Rows

For this alternative, you’ll need a towel.

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This gif shows Jim doing a row on chairs.

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.

This gif shows Coach Jim using Forearm Forklift straps to do this pull-up alternative.

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.

This is a picture of a mouse hanging, who is trying to get his pull-up alternative.

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.

This pull exercise can help you build muscles so you can eventually do pull-ups!

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

The inverted row is a great way to develop your "pull" and back muscles.

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

Start with inclined inverted rows for your pull-up workout. Then drop lower for more required effort.

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
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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

Add bodyweight rows to your workouts.

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

A friend can be a great asset when you're doing an assisted pull-up.

To perform assisted pull-ups, you have three options:

  1. Use a chair for support.
  2. Utilize an exercise band for assistance.
  3. 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

A chin-up is a pull-up, but with your hands facing towards you.

Negative pull-ups are the next level on the path to achieving a full pull-up. Follow these steps:

  1. Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Jump so your chest touches the bar.
  3. 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 classic pull-up

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.

For reference:

  • A chin-up involves hands facing towards you.
  • A pull-up involves hands facing away from you.
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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

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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.

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

If you need further assistance with your workout plan, we’re here to help. Explore the options that best fit your goals:

  1. 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program: Get professional coaching, video form checks, and personalized workouts based on your available equipment.

  2. Nerd Fitness Journey: Exercise at home with our habit-building app. It’ll guide you through pull-ups and other exercises, even without equipment.

  3. 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:

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Photo sources: Kermit and Pink Panther, Mouse Hanging, Scarlet Spider-man

The 5 Ws and H are questions whose answers are considered basic in information gathering or problem solving. will best answer all your questions

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