Obviously, if your goal is to be able to do pull ups, then you will need to get access to a pull up bar of some sort, whether it’s at home, the gym or even at a local park. There may, however, be times when you can’t access a bar for a period and need to find an alternative for pull ups… what should you do? Fear not! I’m here to share some of the most effective exercises you can do for pull ups that don’t require a pull up bar:
Row, Row, Row your boat
(however you can!)
Rows are an excellent movement that engage your back muscles, shoulders, arms and core. The great thing about rows is that they can be modified depending on what equipment you have available and also your ability. The most common ways you can do rows (without and fancy cable machines at the gym) are:
- Doorway Rows. These are best suited to beginners, who might not be up to doing full pull ups yet.
With your feet in line with the doorway, use a broom handle horizontally braced against the other side of the doorway or even hold onto the insides of the door frame with your hands.
Note: Place a towel between the broom handle and the door frame to avoid damage and if you’re a really big unit, maybe consider other options, so you don’t go doing any damage.
- Inverted rows using furniture. Stuck at home? Grab a couple of dining chairs and sling a bar of some sort (broom handle) across them, leaving a gap between the chairs.
Lying on the floor, grip the bar and pull yourself up so your chest touches the bar.
- Towel Pull Ups. If you can already perform a proper pull up, this alternative will be good for your grip strength. You will need two smallish towels. Tie a knot in each towel and place over the top of a door. Close the door, so the knots act as an anchor and the rest of the towel hangs over the closed door for you to grip on to and pull yourself up.
If you have some sturdy straps such as car tie downs, these also work well.
Note: Set yourself up so the door opened away from you, just in case you manage to force it open…my best mate cringed when he saw me doing this as he thought it placed to much strain on my door…I’ll let you be the judge!
- Ring Rows. If you have somewhere you can fasten a set of rings (even over a tree in the backyard), you can do a killer workout as an alternative to pull ups. Lean back with your feet on the floor and row yourself up, adjusting the height of your rings to make it easier if need be. You can really drill down and target different muscles by throwing in some straight arm strength work here.
- Bent Over Rows. Got a set of dumbbells? Great! If not, see what you can work with – I use a 15 litre water bottle, but maybe you have a jerry can in the shed or a chainsaw you could lift instead?
- Renegade Rows. Harder to do with a chainsaw, I’ll admit!
- Resistance Bands. One of my all time favorite pieces of low cost, yet versatile fitness equipment. Any of the ring row exercises of dumbbell exercises can be performed with the help of some resistance bands.
Mobility work to improve your pull up performance
You’ve heard me banging on about it before – work on your mobility! Use this time without a pull up bar to really focus on strengthening your connective tissue and improve your range of motion. The most common injuries from pull ups are due to poor preparation. Work on your wrists, your shoulders and even your hips. Trust me!
Use a resistance band or a simple broom handle to get your arms moving freely over and around your head and incorporate dynamic stretching (that is, stretching the muscles while moving) in to your routine.
My favorite exercises that help with mobility, while also giving your muscles a hard time include:
- Elephant walks
- Back Bridges
- Prone Trap Raises
- Prone Swimmers
The main thing to take from this is understanding that you can still train for pull ups without a pull up bar. These alternatives will keep you on track to improving your strength and fitness – you can only work with what you have available, so remember SOMETHING is ALWAYS better than nothing!