11 Best Pull Up Alternatives To Target And Work Your Upper Body Muscles

Pull-ups are some of the most effective ways to target and strengthen your upper body muscles. But they require upper-body strength and the correct form to do them.

pull ups

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Pull-ups are one of the most underrated upper-body-building exercises. It is also one of the most challenging as it requires upper-body and core strength. There are, however, pull up alternative exercises you can do instead.

The pull-ups exercise involves grabbing an overhead bar, that is a pull-up bar, and lifting your entire body until your chin lines up with the bar, using only your upper body muscles.

pull up alternative

While the exercise may look simple, it is very challenging, and many athletes struggle to achieve that feat.

We will, in this article, discuss some of the best pull-up alternatives that could help you master the movement or help you target the same muscles.

What Muscles do Pull Ups Work?

  • The pull-ups exercise requires you to engage all the muscles in your upper body.
  • Your hands to grab and hold onto the bar
  • Wrists and forearm muscles to help you to raise your body
  • Abs and core muscles to keep you stable and stop you from swinging
  • You will need your pectoral and triceps muscles to pull your arms toward your body.
  • Your back and shoulders are the principal muscles the movement targets. Pull-ups are some of the best exercises for working your lats, aka latissimus dorsi.

Raising your whole body mass during pull-ups is one of the best ways to upper-bod that only a few exercises can match. They are one of the best exercises for building a V-shaped upper body.

Best pull up alternative exercises for building a strong upper body

These are some of the best pull up alternatives to incorporate into your training regimen if you can’t do pull ups for whatever reason.

These alternative pull up exercises can help you target and build similar muscles. Incorporate them into our workout to strengthen your lats and other upper body muscles.

Suspended Self-Assisted Pull-Up

The suspended self-assisted pull up is where to start if you struggle to pull yourself up the bar for the pull-up exercise.

The pull up alternative can help strengthen your grip and upper body muscles, paving the way for you to progress to the pull ups.

You will need TRX suspension trainers, or similar, for the exercise. You can also use gymnastics rings if you have that

Steps to follow

  • Strap the TRX suspension trainers on an overhead bar and ensure the handles are at neck height.
  • Stand slightly in front of the straps and grasp the handles in each hand. Do not keep the handles far apart. Doing so will reduce the range of motion.
  • Bend your knees and hips, and lower your body until you fully lock your arms. Do not use your lower body to pull down.
  • Pull your body up until your chin is just above the handles. Ensure you do not use your leg to help pull your body up.

Partner Assisted Pull-Ups

If you struggle to get your chin over the bar when doing pull ups, you can use the partner-assisted pull-ups to help build strength and master the technique.

You will need a training partner to offer a helping hand to do the partner-assisted pull up alternative exercises.

Steps to follow

  • Grasp the pull-up bar, ensuring your grip is more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Ask your training partner to hold your legs or hips and give you the necessary help to push you up and down for the movement.
  • Gradually reduce the involvement of your partner until you master the movement.

Band Assisted Pull Up

The band-assisted pull-ups are some of the best ways for beginners to master the pull up motion.

The pull up alternative exercise can help build and strengthen the pulling muscles needed to do the bodyweight pull ups.

You will need resistance bands for the exercise. Start with a strong band and change to lighter bands as you progress.

Steps to follow

  • Attach a resistance band to the pull-up bar and loop it around your feet or knees.
  • Grab the pull-up bar with a pronated grip, ensuring your grips are more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale, brace your abs, and squeeze your glutes.
  • Raise your body until your chin is above the bar
  • Slowly lower yourself to your starting position.
  • Repeat

Negative Pull-Up

Negative pull-ups are some of the best pull up alternative exercises that can help you master the lengthening or eccentric phase of the pull-up exercises.

The eccentric phase of the pull-up exercises works the same muscles as the concentric phase. Thus the negative pull-ups can help you buildup strength for the pulling phase of the pull-up movement.

Steps to follow

  • Stand on a chair or box and grab the pull-up bar with a pronated grip, ensuring your grip are more than shoulder-width apart and your chin is above the bar.
  • Lift your feet from the chair and extend your arms in a slow and controlled manner to lower yourself to your starting position.

Inverted Row

The inverted row is one of the best pull up alternative exercises for targeting your back muscles, especially your lats.

The movement can also help target your upper back muscles and biceps. It is also one of the best ways to condition your muscles for pull-ups.

Steps to follow

  • Position the bar at waist height on a rack, Smith machine, or similar device.
  • Position yourself beneath the bar, grab it, and fully stretch your legs to suspend your body on the bar, with your hand holding the bar and your heels touching the floor. Ensure your grip is more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Extend your arms to form a 90-degree angle with the floor.
  • Ensure your body, from head to heels, is in a straight line.
  • Flex your elbows, retract your shoulders and pull your chin toward the bar.
  • Pause at the top of the movement, and lower yourself slowly to your starting position. Ensure you keep your body rigid throughout the movement.
  • Repeat

TRX Row

You will usually perform the rows exercises with dumbbells or barbells, but you can swap these free weights for TRX suspension trainers to target the same muscles.

The TRX row can help build your back muscles and add flexibility to your back. The movement is also an effective way to challenge your core muscles.

Steps to follow

  • Set up the TRX trainers at a height that will leave the handles hanging at chest height.
  • Stand upright, holding the handles, and keep your feet apart by hip width. Ensure your palms face each other.
  • Lean back until you lock your elbows. Moving your feet close to the anchor point will make the exercise more challenging and vice-versa. Ensure your body, from your head to your heels, is in a straight line.
  • Pull your chest up until the handles are by your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull and keep your arms close to your body. Ensure you keep your body rigid throughout the movement. Do not let your hips sag, and do not allow your body to swerve.
  • Pause at the top of the movement and slowly lower your chest until your elbows are locked.
  • Repeat.

TRX Inverted Row

The TRX inverted row is another push up alternative exercise that uses TRX suspension trainers instead of a cable machine

Steps to follow

  • Set up the TRX trainers at a height that will leave the handles hanging at knee height.
  • Lie on the floor with your face upwards and stretch your body.
  • Stretch your arms and grab the handles of the TRX trainers.
  • Adjust your position to put your stretched arms and the TRX trainers in a straight line. Ensure your palms face each other.
  • Pull your chest up until the handles are below your chest. Ensure you keep your body rigid, heels on the floor, and arms close to your body. Retract your shoulder blades as you pull.
  • Pause at the top of the movement and lower yourself slowly to your starting position to complete a rep
  • Repeat

Lat Pull Down With Resistance Bands

The lat pulldown is a calisthenics pull up alternative at home exercise that targets the lats, middle back, biceps, forearms, core, and shoulders.

You can use the banded lat pull-down to support your pull-up exercises, especially when you can’t do the exercises.

You can also use the pull up alternatives for variety and help you master the pull-ups.

The exercise uses a band to create the required resistance, making it possible to do the exercises at home, on vacation, or even at the office.

You will need resistance bands for the exercise. Start with a strong band and change to lighter bands as you progress.

Steps to follow

  • Secure a resistance band with stirrups to a high anchor point such as a door frame or pull-up bar.
  • Grasp the handles and go on your knees
  • Engage your core, keep your back straight, and bend your elbows to pull the resistance band toward your upper chest. Squeeze your lats as you pull the resistance band.
  • Pause and slowly return to your starting point
  • Repeat for up to 15 reps to complete a set

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

You can do the pull up alternative exercises on a lat pulldown machine if you have access to one.

The wide grip lat pull down focuses the pulling on your lats.

Steps to follow

  • Set up the lat pulldown machine with the appropriate weight, attach a wide-grip handle, and sit facing the workstation
  • Grab the bar with an overhand, knuckles-up grip, ensuring your grips are far apart.
  • Exhale, keep your torso still, and pull the handle until your elbows line up with your torso. Ensure you keep your back and head straight
  • Pause and slowly return the handle to your starting position in a controlled manner.
  • Repeat 8-12 reps to complete a set

Behind Neck Lat Pull Down

The behind-the-neck lat pulldown is one of the best pull up exercises that target the same back muscles as the pull-ups.

The primary emphasis is on your lats, but the exercises will work your biceps, middle back, upper back, abs, and shoulders.

You can perform the alternative pull up exercises on a lat pulldown machine at home or the gym.

Steps to follow

  • Attach a wide grip handle to the lat pulldown machine and sit facing the gym equipment.
  • Keep your spine and head straight.
  • Gab the with an overhand, knuckles-up grip. Ensure your grip is not too wide. A very wide grip will compromise the range of motion.
  • Flex your elbows and pull the handle behind your neck until it is at the base of your traps. Keep your body still, and don’t shift your torso as you go through the motions.
  • Pause and slowly return to your starting position.
  • Repeat

Shotgun Row

The shotgun row is one of the best unilateral pull up alternative exercises for targeting your lats and back muscles.

Using a single arm can help correct imbalances in your muscle growth. It’s one of the best pull up alternatives for building strength and a balanced physique.

The exercise will target your middle back or lats, rhomboids, and core muscles.

You can perform the alternative pull up exercises on a cable machine at home or the gym.

Steps to follow

  • Attach a handle to a low pulley on a cable machine and take a split stance, with one foot in front of the other and hips apart.
  • Place the elbow on the same side of the front leg on its corresponding knee.
  • Using a neutral grip, grab the handle with the free hand and slightly lean forward. Ensure you fully stretch your arms and pull your shoulders forward.
  • Retract your shoulders and pull the handle to your chest while supinating your wrist to turn your palm upward before the handle reaches your chest.
  • Pause and slowly return to your starting position in a controlled manner.

Final words from LiveLIfe

Pull-ups are some of the most effective ways to target and strengthen your upper body muscles. But they require upper-body strength and the correct form to do them.

Incorporate these pull up alternatives into your training regimen if you struggle with the pull-ups for whatever reason.

You can also include these in your training regimen for a variety to help get better results. The pull up alternative exercises can also help improve posture, reduce back pain, and improve your overall fitness levels.

  1. Crockford J. (2015). 4 Moves to Help You Master the Pull-up. American Council on Exercise (ACE)

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