15 Great Pull Up Alternatives For Beginners and Pros

By Matt Walter
Last update:
Earn your first pull-up or push your skills to new heights with these pull up alternatives

Bodyweight exercises are some of the best movements you can do, for strength, muscle gain, weight loss, or just general health and fitness. And few exercises demonstrate strength and body control as the pull-up!

Everyone should be able to do a pull-up. But earning that feat of strength takes time, patience, and persistence.

Looking for your first pull-up? Think the idea of completing a pull-up is absurd? I’ve got you! The following exercises will give you a great workout in place of pull-ups.

But I promise you this…if you put in the time and effort and work your way through the exercises I’m about to describe and demonstrate for you, you will eventually earn a pull-up.

Maybe you can do a few pull-ups but struggle with them at the end of a workout. The following exercises will help you improve your pulling strength at different points in your workout.

For a few of you beasts out there, maybe you are looking for ways to make pull-ups harder! Try these!

A lot of workouts call for pull-ups, and your fitness can’t take a backseat simply because you can’t do one. But you have to walk before you can run. And that’s exactly what I’m here to show you.

Below you will find 15 of the best pull up alternatives that can take the place of the traditional pull-up. Give them a shot, and keep working your way toward a constantly stronger, healthier you!

Heads up: this page includes affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products or equipment I have personally vetted.

Table of Contents

A Quick Note on Hand and Arm Positioning

One of the cool things about back exercises, from rows to pull-ups and everything in between, is that you can change any exercise by varying how (supinated, pronated, or neutral) or where you hold on to the bar.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can hold a bar for all of the exercises that will follow.

The Supinated Hand Position for Pulling Movements

Simply put, a supinated grip is where your palms are facing in front of your body when your arms are fully extended at your sides. Another way to think about this is, if you complete a biceps curl, you will end up looking directly at your palms. Yet another way to describe this grip is that your thumbs will point away from your body, not toward your center.

The supinated grip hand position is with the palms facing you, and is the hand position used for the traditional chin-up

Most people are stronger with this grip than with the pronated grip, which I will describe next.

This is also the grip we take to perform the traditional chin-up.

The Pronated Hand Position for Pulling Movements

A pronated grip is where your palms are facing toward the back of your body. Another way to think about this is, if you complete a biceps curl, you will end up looking directly at the back of your hands. Yet another way to describe this grip is that your thumbs will point toward your midline, not away from you.

The pronated grip hand position is with the palms facing away from you, and is the hand position used for the traditional pull-up

This is the grip we take when we perform the traditional pull-up.

The Neutral Hand Position for Pulling Movements

A neutral grip is where your palms face each other. You will see this when we do towel rows or pull-ups, rope climbing, or performing pull-ups on an apparatus that has a handle designed for the palms to face each other.

Pull-ups can also be done with the palms facing each other, called a neutral grip pull up

Grip Width

Whether you are using a supinated, pronated, or neutral grip, how close together or far apart you separate your hands makes a difference.

In the beginning, choose a grip that is just outside or directly in line with your shoulders. This is a comfortable and safe position.

For a standard pull-up, grip the barbell with your hands just outside of shoulder-width

As you gain experience and feel for these different movements, adjust your grip closer or wider to get a different feel and strengthen your back and arms from different angles.

Pull-ups can be completed with a narrow or close grip for a different feel and target muscle group
A wide grip makes for a challenging pull-up and is a great grip width for advanced trainees

Beginner Pull Up Alternatives

These are designed to help you work toward getting your first pull-up or getting enough in a row that you are getting a great workout.

The exercises are listed in order of easiest to most difficult. If you are brand new to attempting pull-ups, start at the easiest version and progress your way through to more challenging exercises.

Towel Row

Super simple and straightforward!

Step 1: Wrap a towel around a sturdy, vertical object. Place your feet at the base of the object and lean back so that the towel is keeping you from falling. This is your starting position.

Step 2: Keep your body in a straight line and pull yourself forward by contracting the muscles of your back and arms. Think about pulling your hands toward, or just below, your armpits.

Step 3: Focus on feeling the movement in your mid-back muscles. Hold for a count of one before slowly returning yourself to the starting position.

Inverted Row

The inverted row is a great exercise for beginners and advanced trainers alike! If you are a new gym-goer, this exercise is easy to modify and adjust to fit your current strength level. If you’re an advanced lifter, this exercise can be performed in a number of ways that will challenge you.

Step 1: Place a bar, or object, at waist height. A barbell in a squat cage or a smith machine are great for this. Slide beneath the bar and grab it with an overhand grip that is shoulder-width apart.

Step 2: Hang from the bar with your arms completely straight and heels on the floor. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels.

Step 3: Pull your chest toward the bar by contracting the muscles of your back and arms. As with the towel row, focus on feeling the movement in your mid-back muscles. Pause, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Tips and Modifications for the Inverted Row

Instead of grasping the bar with an overhand grip (pronated, palms pointing toward your feet), turn your hands over (supinate) so that your palms are facing toward your head. This will bring more of your biceps into play, and mimic the action of a chin-up instead of a pull-up. Use both variations!

Too difficult? Instead of having your legs straight with your heels on the ground, bend your knees, place your feet flat on the ground, and bring your feet toward your butt.

Start by placing the bar at waist height. This is a great starting point for anyone! To make the movement harder, lower the bar or elevate your feet on an object like a bench or chair. To make the movement easier, raise the bar a bit.

Need a challenge?

  • wear a weight vest
  • Place a weight plate on your chest
  • elevate your feet so that they are higher than the bar
  • Use one arm instead of two
  • Use a towel, kind of like a towel row, istead of holding on to the bar

Ring Row

Step 1: Set your ring height so that the bottom of the rings is at waist height. Grab hold of the rings with a neutral grip and lower yourself down so that your chest is directly under the rings. Your body should be in a straight line, with your arms fully extended, and only your heels should be touching the ground.

Step 2: Keeping a neutral grip, pull yourself up until your chest touches the rings just below your armpits.

Step 4: Lower yourself back down to starting position. One rep done!

Tips and Modifications for the Ring Row

Instead of grasping the rings with a neutral grip, supinate or pronate your hands to change the movement.

Use one ring instead of two! Both hands on one ring is a completely different movement. Give it a shot!

Too difficult? Instead of having your legs straight with your heels on the ground, bend your knees, place your feet flat on the ground, and bring your feet toward your butt.

Start by placing the rings at waist height. To make the movement harder, lower the rings or elevate your feet on an object like a bench or chair. To make the movement easier, raise the rings a bit.

Need a challenge?

  • Place a weight plate on your chest
  • elevate your feet so that they are higher than the rings
  • wear a weight vest

Jumping Pull Up

This may sound silly, but these are crazy effective! If you are still working toward pull-ups, these can help you build strength around sticking points in the movement. If you are already able to do pull-ups, throw these in at the end of a workout for high reps. They will jack your heart rate up! This is a great way to turn pull-ups into a metabolic exercise.

Step 1: Place an object, like an exercise box (not an Amazon package) or a stack of 45-pound weight plates, directly beneath a pull-up bar. Stand on the box or stack and reach up toward your pull-up bar. The bar should hit the middle of your forearm. This is the setup.

Step 2: grab the bar with both hands (start with a slightly wider than shoulder-width, pronated grip) and bend your knees so that your arms are fully extended. This is the starting position for the movement.

Step 3: Jump and pull yourself up toward the bar, ending with your chin above the bar. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. This is one rep.

To make this a metabolic exercise, complete your reps fast and shoot for a high number. One of CrossFit’s benchmark workouts, the Filthy 50, uses jumping pull-ups for this purpose.

Working toward your first pull-up? Pause briefly when you get your chin above the bar, and then lower yourself back to the starting position as slowly as you can. While you may not yet have the strength to pull yourself up, you can build strength in the muscles needed by completing these slow eccentric movements (eccentric, in this case, meaning lowering your body).

Band-Assisted Pull Up

These are a great modification, whether you can do pull-ups already or not. I actually use these quite a bit, even though I can complete more than 20 unbroken, strict pull-ups in a row. For me, they are great at the end of a workout when I am tired but want to go for some high rep pull-ups.

I also workout at home in my garage and don’t have access to commercial gym equipment like a cable pulley system. If you’re in the same boat, give these a try. They allow me to do pull-ups at any point in a workout, and for any number of reps I want to hit.

Step 1: Wrap an exercise band around your pull-up bar.

Step 2: Pull the band down and place one foot in the band, and then grasp the bar with both hands.

Step 3: Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

Simple as that.

I use the Rogue Monster Bands. And not just for pull-ups. I use these every single day for mobility and strength work. You can find these a lot of places. I am not an affiliate for Rogue. I just recommend these ones because they are the ones that I actually have and I can speak to their durability and quality.

I use the Rogue Monster Bands every day

Green, blue, and red are the way to go. I have a pair of each, and they suit all my needs. Get them here.

Advanced Pull Up Alternatives

Even though the beginner pull-up exercises are designed to help you earn your first pull-up, they are still great exercises for anyone; even you pull-up monsters out there.

The following exercises, however, are designed to challenge and push your skills and strength to new levels. If you can complete 15 slow, controlled pull-ups, from full extension to chin above the bar, then it’s time to start adding these movements in. Challenge yourself and have fun working toward new goals.

Fireman Pull-Ups

These are a ton of fun!

Step 1: Stand directly beneath a pull-up bar as usual. Turn 90 degrees to your right or left. Grasp the bar with both hands so that the thumb and index finger of one hand are touching the pinky of your other hand.

Step 2: Pull yourself up so that your head passes on side of the bar until your hands touch your upper chest just beneath your collar bone.

Step 3: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. This is one rep. On the next rep, have your head pass on the other side of the bar.

I like to change which hand is closest to my face each set, and then usually go for 2 or 4 sets just to keep things even. that’s not absolutely necessary, but I’m weird like that.

Ring Pull-Ups

These are another great variation if you have a set of gymnastics rings.

Step 1: Jump to grasp your rings.

Step 2: Pull yourself up to the rings. Stop when the rings touch your chest just next to your armpits.

Step 3: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Another fun thing about rings is that you can assume three different hand positions; supinated, pronated, and neutral, and you can rotate between them as you go through each rep!

Rings require an additional level of control that a bar doesn’t usually provide, making these a great variation.

Lean Away Pull-Ups

These are one. of my all-time favorite pull-up exercises, and are great for building strength in the movement, as well as body control.

Step 1: Complete a full pull-up, as usual.

Step 2: Pause when your chin is above the bar, and then push your body away from the bar. Get as far away from the bar as you can!

Step 3: Very slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Slowly, meaning 3 or more seconds. The eccentric portion of this movement is the point! So you’re not just controlling yourself on the way down, you are focusing on moving very slowly and fighting your descent.

Towel Pull-Ups

These are very similar to fireman pull-ups, except you will hold onto a towel instead of the bar.

My high school wrestling coach introduced me to these. We would do weight circuits every Tuesday and Thursday at practice, and these were how did pull-ups. Every time. Not only were we strong, but our grips were rock solid.

Step 1: Stand directly beneath a pull-up bar as usual. Turn 90 degrees to your right or left. Throw a towel over the bar and grasp the towel with both hands.

Step 2: Pull yourself up so that your head passes on side of the bar until your hands touch your upper chest just beneath your collar bone.

Step 3: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. This is one rep. On the next rep, have your head pass on the other side of the bar.

Archer Pull-Ups

These are hard. I’m not great at them. One of my own personal goals is to get better at these. If you are trying to earn a true one-arm pull-up, these will help you get there.

Step 1: Jump and grab onto a pull-up bar with a very wide grip.

Step 2: Pull yourself up toward the bar using only one hand. You want your chin to get above the bar right next to the hand that you are pulling with. The other arm remains completely straight throughout the movement.

Step 3: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. You have completed 1 repetition. Now, pull with the other arm.

There is another variation to this movement, often called Typewriter Pull-ups (you’ll see why). Get good at both!

Step 1: Jump and grab onto a pull-up bar with a very wide grip.

Step 2: Pull yourself up so that your chin is above the bar, just like a regular pull-up. Once your chin is above the bar, pull yourself toward one hand. You will end up in the same position as with the first version of the Archer Pull-Up I mentioned above.

Step 3: Now, push/pull yourself over so that your chin is by your other hand. Now, back to the middle position and then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Get a more detailed explanation of Archer Pull-Ups here.

Rope Pull-Ups, Or Rope Climbs

Not too much explanation is needed here. Either climb a rope or use one to do pull-ups on. I don’t have a very tall ceiling in my garage, so most of the time I use my climbing rope for pull-ups.

Step 1: jump and grasp a rope with both hands, one on top of the other, with both arms fully extended.

Step 2: Pull yourself up until your hands hit your chest.

Step 3: Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Weighted Pull-Ups

Weighted pull-ups are a great way to build strength and muscle if you already have the ability to perform 10 or more pull-ups without breaking. There are a number of ways to add weight to the movement.

  • wear a weighted vest
  • wear a chain belt (I love this company!) and hang weigth plates from it
  • hold a dumbbell or kettlebell between your knees or feet

One of my favorite muscle-building tactics with weighted pull-ups or chin-ups is to do as many as I can weighted, drop the weight, and continue with just my body weight until failure.

Weighted Eccentric Pull-Ups

These are very similar to weighted pull-ups, except we are going to focus on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement. You are much stronger in the eccentric portion than in the concentric (lifting), so we are going to challenge that to build strength and muscle.

This works best, and is safest in my opinion, with a chain belt.

Step 1: Place an exercise box. or bench next to your pul-up bar. You want the box. or bench to be high enough that your chin is already above the bar. Our goal here is not to do any “pulling up.”

Step 2: Grab the bar with both hands and pull yourself off your box so that your chin is above the bar and you are hanging.

Step 3: Lower yourself as slowly as possible to the starting position of a traditional pull-up. A good goal here is10 seconds. You have completed one rep.

Perform 4-6 reps of this movement.

Strict Ring Muscle-Ups

Alright, if you are to this point, you are officially a beast. Muscle-ups are one of my favorite exercises in the gym. Probably because they took me a full year to figure out! We always love most the things we have to work the hardest to earn.

Step 1: Grasp the rings with a “false grip.” I’ll explain in the video below. This will allow you to pull yourself through the rings at the transition of the movement. Pull yourself to the top of a ring pull-up. Your hands should be touching your chest with your head slightly leaned away from the rings.

Step 2: Keeping the rings in contact with your body, pull the rings across your chest and down to your sides below your armpits. The best way I can describe this movement is to think of old-school Superman tearing his button-front shirt to expose his symbol.

Step 3: As you pull the rings across your chest and down to your sides, bring your head through and. in front of the rings.

Step 4: Complete the movement by performing a dip. Push against the rings and fully extend your arms so that you are above the rings.

Bar Muscle-Ups

These are similar to the ring muscle-up. I find them much harder to do, but I have friends that think they are way easier than with rings. Either way, they are a great challenge.

Step 1: Jump to grab hold of the a pull-up bar, with a comfortable hand spacing. I like to go slightly wider than my shoulders, but not as wide as a wide-grip pull-up (elbow at slightly less than a 90-degree angle).

Step 3: Initiate your kip by swinging back and forth slightly, very controlled and tight. As your body swings backward, explosively pull yourself up like you would a traditional pull-up.

Step 4: As you swing up toward the bar, bring your chest forward and rotate your elbows above the bar. You should land with your chest just above the bar in a dip position. Now, push up and extend your arms to finish the movement.

Step 5: Reverse the movement and slowly lower your body down to the starting position.

Get the Gear for Your Home or Garage Gym

Power Racks

Titan Fitness X-3 Bolt Down Power Rack – if you’re going to use your power rack dynamic pull-ups like muscle-ups, you’ll definitely want a rack that can bolt to the floor.

Titan Fitness T-2 Power Rack – this is a great, inexpensive power rack! However, if you’re going to do dynamic pull-up variations, get the T-2 series 10-in extension kit to go along with it. The extension kit holds weight plates, similar to what you see in videos of me above. My rack can bolt to the floor, but I have enough weight added to the extension that I don’t have to worry about it.

Titan Fitness T-3 Folding Power Rack – save space but still get your pull-ups in.

Wall Mount Pull-Up Systems

Titan Fitness Wall Mounted Pull-Up Bar – don’t want a full power rack but still want to be able to do pull-ups? Get one of these.

Rogue Fitness P-4 Wall Mounted Pull-Up Bar – I have this as well as a power rack. It’s incredibly sturdy and I do everything from pull-ups, to muscle-ups, to toes-to-bar on it.

Resistance Bands

Rogue Fitness Monster Bands – I use these to warm up and cool down for every training session. And I use them to stretch daily. These are amazing and they last!

Pull Up Alternatives Conclusion

Few exercises require the strength and control that pull-ups demand. Those who have mastered the movement have done so through dedication and persistence. The exercises I’ve given you here will help you on your way to your first pull-up, and beyond.

Now that you’ve got pull-ups covered, add in some barbell rows to work on the muscles of your mid-back.

Any that I missed? What are your favorite pull-up variations? Let us know in the comments!

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Learn how to perform archer pull ups, an advanced pull-up variation
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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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