Let’s just put this right out front – pull-ups are really hard. Still, they offer a number of benefits for building upper body strength, boosting heart health and fat loss. If you want the benefits but just can’t seem to do the traditional pull-up yet, here are some alternatives to try. Each of these exercises will help you build the strength you need to finally conquer that pull-up.
This first alternative works your legs, back and arms. You will need a platform or box in addition to your pull-up bar. To do this exercise: Place the box beneath the bar. Step onto the box and reach up to grab the bar with palms facing forward. Using your legs and arms for propulsion, lift yourself up, over the bar. The bar should reach just below the top of your shoulders. Maintaining smooth, controlled movements lower yourself to place your feet back onto the box.
Bands can give you a boost if pulling up from the very bottom, dead hang position is too hard. You still get the benefits of an unassisted pull-up because while you get a little assist to start you finish the exercise entirely on your own effort. To do this exercise: string an elastic band horizontally along the middle of the overhead bar of your power rack. Stand with the band behind you. Place the top of one foot on the band. Using an overhand grip with your hands at shoulder width, grasp the bar and pull yourself up. Lower yourself slowly to starting position.
Ring rows work your biceps, triceps and back. They can help you build the strength you need to conquer pull-ups. To do a ring row place rings at a height appropriate for your training level (Chest height is good for beginners. Lower the rings as you build strength). Firmly grip the rings and lean back until both arms are straight. Keeping your spine straight, pull yourself as close to the rings as you can. Hold for a few seconds and slowly straighten your arms to return to your starting position.
This exercise works your biceps, lats and upper back. To do a reverse row you need a low, sturdy table or bar placed within your reach from the floor. Lie on the floor and grab the bar (a broom placed between two chairs is a good at home variation) with palms facing away from you. If you are using a table your palms should be on the table. Keeping your core engaged and your spine straight, lift yourself until your chest meets the bar or the edge of the table.
Bent over dumbbell row
This exercise works the muscles in the back of your shoulders. To do a bent over dumbbell row you need a dumbbell. Hold your weight and place your feet shoulder width apart. Lean forward from the waist and, keeping your core engaged, bend your knees. Let your arms hang in line with your shoulders. Slowly lift your arms so that your elbows are parallel with your straight spine. Using controlled movements return to starting position.
Aim for 12 to 15 reps of a one or two of these exercises a few times each week. In no time at all you can expect to build the strength you need to add some pull-ups to your fitness repertoire.