The ability to pull one’s own weight is not just a sign of functional strength but is a great muscle building movement. If you are having trouble doing pull ups, there are other alternatives that will help you towards doing your first pull up.
Here are some pull-up alternatives you can start doing to enhance your workouts:
1. Lat Pulldowns
Lat pulldowns will be the closest way to replicate the pull-up movement but without lifting your bodyweight. You will grasp the bar in a similar way (hands shoulder-width apart) and keep your upper body as straight as possible.
Lean your head back just enough so the bar doesn’t hit you in the face on the way down. Keep your core tight and pull the bar down focusing on retracting your scapula and trying to get your elbows to touch behind your back. This will ensure you are using your lats primarily instead of the biceps.
Pull the bar down to your upper chest/collarbone area and squeeze for a moment. Then return the bar under control to the starting position. 12 to 15 repetitions is a good target range for these.
2. Barbell Rows
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your knees bent slightly while holding the bar with your hands just outside of your legs.
You will be bent forward at the hip and try to keep your torso parallel to the ground. Keep your core tight and bring the bar up towards your midsection.
Focus on pulling back with the elbows and the scapular retraction to properly engage the back. Pause at the top for a moment squeezing the shoulder blades together and lower the bar back down under control.
3. Resistance Band Pulldowns
Starting with your feet shoulder-width apart, keep your knees bent slightly and your upper body upright.
With a band looped around the top of something secure, grab the handles with your palms facing up and step back so there is resistance in the band.
Keep your arms straight and bull the band downward until it reaches you hips. Pause for a moment and return to the starting position. Aim for 12 to 15 repetitions.
4. Dumbbell Rows
These will use similar muscles to the pull-up but you focus on one arm at a time and can get a wider range of motion.
They can be done using a bench for support but also done “renegade” style. This involves taking two dumbbells and placing them on the floor while you get into a push up position.
Your feet will be around hip-width apart and your hands will be on the weight. Your shoulders should be lined up with your wrists.
Keep your core tight and your hips and midsection stable. Bring one weight up by pulling your elbow upwards toward the ceiling.
Lift the weight up as high as you can, ideally to shoulder height. Pause for a moment then lower under control to the floor before performing the action with the opposite arm. This will make up one rep, and you can perform 8 reps of these for each side.
Try not to rock side to side when doing these. Your body should stay as stable as possible with only your arms doing any movement.
5. Towel Row
These can easily be done in the gym or at home. Wrap a towel around a fixed pole or pillar. Grab the towel at both ends with your hands and start with your knees bent.
You will then sit back with your hips like you are sitting in a chair and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Your arms should be straight out in front of you with your elbows tight to your sides.
Pull yourself forward towards to pole focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together. Pause at the top and then return under control to the starting position.
You can perform 12 to 15 repetitions and the longer the towel you use, the more challenging the exercise will become.