HomeFitnessPull-Ups Alternative: 5 Exercises To Replace Pull-Ups In Your Routine

Pull-Ups Alternative: 5 Exercises To Replace Pull-Ups In Your Routine

Need a Pull-Ups Alternative?

If I could only choose a handful of exercises to perform for the rest of my life, pull-ups would be one of them.
But I understand that for various reasons there are a lot of guys out there transforming their physique that can't do pull-ups (or pull-up regressions) for one reason or another - be it they don't have access to a suitable pull-up bar at their gym or other physiological reasons. Fortunately there are a number of pull-ups alternative exercises that can be implemented in place of pull-ups.

Before we delve into the pull-ups alternative exercises let it be known if you CAN perform pull-ups I highly recommend you do so.
They will transform your upper body unlike any other exercise.

If you do have access to a pull-up bar but are looking for alternative exercises simply because you don't quite have the strength yet to perform a pull-up I recommend you begin working on your pull-up regressions.
The 2 methods I recommend using to build up strength to smash out your first set of pull-ups include:

Performing Multiple Sets of Pull-Up Negatives

When performing pull-up negatives we're entirely focused on keeping our back muscles under tension on the lowering phase (this is known as the eccentric) as our muscles are able to handle a far greater load on the eccentric phase of a movement as opposed to the concentric phase (in the case of the pull-up this is the start of the repetition, pulling yourself from the dead hang position until your chin clears the bar).

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Grab a box or step of kinds so you're able to easily raise yourself up so your chin has cleared the bar, now perform sets of as many reps of possible of slowly performing the eccentric portion of a pull-up - aim for a count of 5 from the time your chin lowers beneath the bar until your arms are fully extended (known as a dead hang) at the end of the repetition. Jump back up on your box/step, get in position and immediately do it again for as many reps as possible.

There is no better regression to start mastering the pull-up than the negative.

Utilizing A Resistance Band For Assisted Pull-Ups

Once you're able to perform multiple sets of pull-up negatives it's time to bring out the resistance bands.
Instead of utilizing an assisted pull-up machine which does not incorporate any core activation (a large part of the pull-up!) it's best to work on pull-ups on your pull-up bar with a resistance band connected around your pull-up bar before looping it under your foot for a bit of extra assistance. Begin with your largest resistance band and slowly work your way down! Eventually you will no longer require the band and you'll be smashing out bodyweight reps!

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Now, let's delve into those pull-ups alternative exercises...

Alternative #1 - The Inverted Row

The inverted row is a fantastic, functional back and core exercise that can be performed just about anywhere, be it at the park or by holding onto the bar of your smith machine on a low setting.

For all the newcomers out there I recommend mastering the inverted row before moving on to body weight pull-ups, not only will it assist in developing back and core strength, but you'll become accustom to the movement of pulling through the back and contracting your shoulder blades.

How To Perform The Inverted Row

Adjust your smith machine with the barbell at waist height.

Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, place your heels firm on the ground and maintain a straight body.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your move your elbows down and back, forcing your chest up toward the bar.

Pause and contract at the top before lowering yourself back down until your arms are fully extended.

Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative #2 - Incline Bench Dumbell Row

The dumbbell row is a great isolation exercise for the back, and often used as a 'finisher', the last exercise performed on your back workout to burn out the muscle (the dumbbell row is often the exercise of choice for this as it's quick and easy to superset or dropset unlike heavy barbell based exercises).

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How To Incline Bench Dumbbell Row

Grasp a dumbbell in each hands with palms facing toward your torso.

Bend your torso at the waist and maintain a slight bend in your knees to position your body as parallel to the ground as possible while lying on an incline bench, the dumbbells should be at arms length in front of your torso.

Row the dumbbells up by pulling toward your chest and contracting your shoulder blades together.

Hold the contracted position for one second.

Lower the weight in a slow and controlled manner back down until your arms are fully extended.

Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative #3 - Bent Over Barbell Rows

Pendlay Row Benefits

The bent over row forms the basis of any good back workout, with the sheer amount of weight able to be lifted on the bent over row making it a fantastic choice for stacking on lean muscle mass and developing a strong, functional core.

This row works every portion of the back (from your trapezius to your erector spine).

When performing the barbell row I keep my body as parallel to the floor as possible, this allows full engagement of the rhomboids, which isn’t achieved when you’re in a more upright position (you’ll find most guys do these basically upright but with a very slight bend in their knees).

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How To Perform The Bent Over Row 

Grip a barbell with an overhand grip before bending your knees, throwing your hips back and bringing your torso to a parallel position.

While keeping your core tight proceed to drive the barbell upward to just below your chest by contracting your shoulder blades together and keeping your shoulders as close in to your body as possible.

Slowly lower the barbell down until your arms are fully extended once again while your back remains as parallel to the ground as possible.

Alternative #4 - Lat Pulldowns

The go-to piece of exercise equipment for hotel and home gyms alike, the lat pulldown is a worthy isolation exercise for the back, however I cannot stress that the lat pulldown should not be prioritized or used instead of the pull-up.

How To Perform The Lat Pulldown

Assume a grip on the lat pulldown bar slightly wider than shoulder width with your palms facing away from your torso.

Tilt your torso 30 degrees, this will be the angle your torso maintains for the duration of your set.

Pull your arms down and back, contracting your shoulder blades while maintaining the 30 degree torso tilt, when performed correctly you should feel the stretch coming through your lats as opposed to your arms.

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Once the bar reaches your upper chest hold and contract this position for 1 second.

Slowly extend your arms to return the bar to the starting position with arms fully extended.

Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Alternative #5 - Straight Arm Pulldowns

The straight arm pulldown is an isolation exercise targeting the lats, not to be confused with various versions of the triceps pushdown.
In order to feel and perform the straight arm pulldown correctly you must start light and learn to pull through the lats as opposed to the arms.

How To Perform The Straight Arm Pulldown

With your straight bar attached to the top pulley of your cable machine grip the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip.

Take 3 steps back before bending your torso forward 30 degrees and fully extending your arms (while maintaining a slight bend in the elbow).

Squeeze your lats together while maintaining straight arms to pull the bar down until your arms are next to your upper legs.

Slowly return the bar to the top pulley starting position with straight arms.

What's Your Go-To Pull-Ups Alternative? Let Me Know Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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