The 5 greatest pull-up alternate options (the right way to do pull-ups and not using a bar)

Would you like to do a chin-up but don’t have a bar?

Or do you just not have the strength to lift yourself up?

Either way, no problem!

We taught people in our online coaching program how to do pull-up alternatives with “no-bar pull-ups”. Today we’re going to show you all of these proven workarounds.

Here’s what we’ll cover::

By the way, all of these pull-up alternatives can be done in our cute new app. Why not learn how to stand up (even without gear) while building your own superhero?

You can try it for free here (no credit card required):

Okay let’s do this.

How to do pull-ups without a bar (5 pull-up alternatives)

The video above is from our Chin-up Challenge (which you can do in our app).

Coach Jim will walk you through 5 different levels of pull-up alternatives depending on your level of experience and the items you may have around the house.

Pull-up alternative no.1: Rows of doors

Our first alternative is to simply use your door for Body weight series.

Perform a row of doors::

  • Stand in front of your door and reach on either side.
  • Put your feet a little closer to the door so that you can lean back.
  • Sit back so you can strain your arms.
  • Pull yourself forward.

That’s it. The more you sit back, the more difficult this becomes.

At the beginning, you can also simply lean back to build up some traction.

Pull-up alternative # 2: Towel door rows

Our next alternative is to do rows of doors, but this time with a towel.

The towel can help you sit back even further and create a challenging exercise.

Take a towel and fold it lengthways twice. Then, take your long, folded towel and tie it around the door by the handle across from you.

Make sure the door opens away from you. You don’t want the door to accidentally open, which can lead to an unexpected fall.

Once you have your towel secured around the doorknob, do rows with each side of the towel.

Pull-up alternative # 3: Reverse rows of chairs

For this pull-up alternative, you’ll need two sturdy chairs and a broomstick (or dowel).

We’re going to combine them in the Voltron style to form our own row station:

The most important thing here is the setup. Press lightly on your newly created station to check the integrity of the structure. Only when you feel confident should you start performing rows with reversed body weights.

Pull-up alternative no.4: Towel pull-ups

Now let’s do a few pull-ups … with towels.

You can either use a couple of sturdy towels or washcloths.

Tie an overhand knot in the corner of both towels that will be used as an anchor.

Then put these knots over a door and close it. Make sure the knots are secure before starting the pull-ups.

Again, you should make sure that the door opens away from you.

Doing towel pull-ups will be a great option Improve your grip strengthHowever, if you find them a little too hard, you can use a stool to support your feet while lifting. This helps in building strength.

Pull-up alternative no.5: Strap pull-ups

You may or may not have some forearm stackers hanging around, but when you do, you have the perfect gear for a pull-up alternative.

Forearm trucks are designed to help you and a friend lift heavy furniture or equipment, but Coach Jim found them to be very useful for pull-ups too.

They have loops that hold your arms, which make them easier to grip than a towel.

Like a towel, tie a knot in it and anchor it to your door.

For more ideas on working out with items you may have around the house, see How to Build a Home Gym (When All Equipment Is Sold Out).

The 6 best pull-up alternatives (how to get your first pull-up)

This section is from our Get Your First Pull-Up Guide.

If you can’t quite get up just yet, don’t fret!

We will work to increase your “pull” muscles through a range of pull-up alternatives.


Level 1 pull-up alternative: Bent over rows of dumbbells

Bent rows of dumbbells:

  • 8 reps per arm (or as many as possible)
  • Take a break of 2 minutes
  • Do another sentence
  • Repeat until you hit 3 sets

What weight should you start with first?

Whatever allows you to get at least 5 reps per set.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps (each arm), it’s time to pick up a heavier dumbbell.

This allows you to get stronger and stronger.

If you can lift a 10kg or heavier dumbbell, you should consider moving up to the next level.

Level 2 pull-up alternative: Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Body weight series are the PERFECT precursor to pull-ups – You train the same muscles and just let yourself lift your own body weight at a different angle.

Our goal here will be to work towards a lower and lower angle, which increases the difficulty of the movement.

So let’s make lines higher with the bar first:

Then we’ll lower the bar:

Once you do a body weight series where your body is at an angle of 45 degrees or less, you can move on to the next level.

Level 3 pull-up alternative: Assisted pull-ups

At this point, you’ll start doing pull-ups … with a little help.

We have a few options for you.

# 1) Assisted pull-ups with a chair

Either one or two feet on the chair as needed. Your feet are ONLY for support, use your upper body as often as possible.

# 2) Assisted pull-ups with an exercise band

You can get different types of exercise bands with different strengths or a variety package for easy advancement.

Put your foot in the exercise band and pull yourself up.

# 3) Assisted pull-ups with a partner

Have a friend hold your feet behind you and help you complete each rep. Let them use as little help as possible to get you through your workout.

Once you are comfortable with some form of assisted pull-up and can do about 10 reps, it is time to move on to the next level.

This is probably the WORST level before you even get your pull-ups. If you get stuck on “assisted pull-ups” and “assisted pull-ups”, you are not alone. Most people are stuck here.

We work hand in hand with people like you to enable them to make their first appearance in our online coaching program. If you don’t know how to incorporate these movements into your workout, or if you just want someone to give you the exact workout that you follow every day, we have you!

No guesswork. No confusion. Just an exercise program tailored for you.

Level 4 pull-up workout: negative pull-ups

Our next level on our way to doing a chin-up is what we call “negative pull-ups.”

  1. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip
  2. Jump so that your chest touches
  3. Slowly lower yourself under control until you have reached the end of the movement.

As you lower yourself further, you will build strength and eventually build enough muscle to pull yourself up.

For more specific instructions on these levels or movements, see our “Get Your First Chin-Up” guide for more information.

What is the easiest type of pull-up? (Start with pull-ups)

Probably the easiest pull-up to try is the pull-up.

That’s why we have one Chin-up Challenge in our appbecause we believe that rebels will find it easier to get up with this variation than with a traditional pull-up.

For reference:

ON CHIN-UP is when your hands are facing you:

ON PULL-UP is when your hands are pointing away from you:

Pull-ups are generally easier to do than pull-ups. because the wider grip of a chin-up isolates your lats, meaning you get less support from your biceps.

Start with pull-ups. Once you get used to it, you can work on more advanced variations. You can find ideas here in our guide How to do a chin-up.

When should I do my pull-up alternatives? (Next Steps)

In general, you’ll want 48 to 72 hours of rest before returning to work out the same muscle group.

So take at least a day off before you get back to working on your train muscles.

This will allow the area to heal properly so that you can get stronger.

When we designed a workout routine for Nerd Fitness Prime Members for part of the Pull-up challengeWe aimed for three workouts a week.

If you try Get your first chin-up or chin-upThat would be a good goal.

For example, you could do the following:

  • Monday: Body weight series
  • Wednesday: Pull-up negatives
  • Friday: Rows of dumbbells

You can also do Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Even if you only work out Monday and Thursday – twice a week – you can see some big progress.

Feel free to do what works best for you.

If you need more help designing your training, you’ve come to the right place.

Take a look at the option that best suits your goals::

Option 1) If you want a professional coach in your pocket who can do video form reviews, provide feedback, and customize your workout based on the equipment available, check out our 1-to-1 online coaching program!

For example, let’s say you’re stuck indoors during a pandemic and you want someone to put together an exercise program based on the equipment and furniture you have. An online coach changes the game here!

Personally, I’ve been working with the same online coach since 2015 and it has changed my life. You can learn more by clicking the image below:

Option 2) work out at home and need a plan to follow? Check out Nerd Fitness Journey!

Our fun habit-building app will help you exercise more, eat healthier, and (literally) improve your life.

Plus, you’ll learn how to do pull-ups even if you don’t have any experience (or equipment).

Try your free trial here:

Option 3) Be part of the rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.

Sign up below and we’ll send you our free one Strength Training 101: Everything You Need To Know::

Download our comprehensive guide

  • Everything you need to know to get strong.
  • Exercise routines for body weight AND strength training.
  • How to find the right gym and train properly in one.

Okay, now I want to hear from you!

Can you currently do a chin-up or a chin-up?

What’s your favorite pull-up alternative?

Am I missing any tips or tricks for pull-ups without a bar?

Let me know in the comments!


PS: If you want more pull-up goodness here are some things to check out:


Photo source: Kermit and Pink Panther, Hanging Mouse, Scarlet Spider-Man

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