8 Best Pull-Up Alternatives (Ripped Back & Biceps)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: November 29, 2023
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Pull-ups can be one of the most demanding exercises, leaving many individuals struggling to complete even a single rep.

Achieving the necessary strength to raise your body weight to such a height can be challenging, so starting with alternative exercises is essential.

As a personal trainer with more than ten years of experience, I have curated a comprehensive list of the best pull-up alternatives that target the same muscles but with less difficulty.

By including these exercises in your routine, you can gradually build strength and prepare yourself for performing the traditional pull-up.

Quick Summary

  • The best pull-up alternatives include the chin-up, bent-over row, dumbbell pull-over, lat pull-down, resistance band pull-apart, seated row, assisted pull-ups, renegade row, and inverted bodyweight row.
  • One of the primary advantages of the pull-up exercise is the development of a muscular and defined back and increased endurance.
  • Performing alternative pull-up exercises two to three times weekly is ideal for most individuals. It's crucial to allow your muscles time to rest and recover, so having at least a twenty-four-hour break in between back workouts is recommended.

Pull-Up Alternatives

a photo of a man working out

1. Bent-Over Row

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Incorrect form - Maintain a straight back (rather than curved) and square shoulders throughout the exercise. Opt for dumbbells that are light enough to allow for proper form.
  • Bending over too far - It's recommended to avoid bending the body forward more than 45 degrees to prevent straining the back [1].
  • Bent Wrists - Keep the wrists as stationary as possible to avoid injury.
  • Leg movement - Maintain immobility in your legs and hips from the moment you assume the starting position in this exercise to ensure the muscles you intend to work are targeted.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Assume a standing position with your feet positioned at shoulder-width distance, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your hand with an overhand grip.
  2. Push your hips backward until your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Ensure to maintain a straight back and engage your core throughout the movement.
  3. Pull the weight towards your torso, focus on contracting your shoulder blades at the top of the movement.
  4. Gradually lower the weight to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

2. Dumbbell Pull-Overs

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Incorrect starting position - Avoid sitting in the middle of the bench and ensure your head and neck are properly supported when you lay back [2].
  • Wrist rotation or flexion - Maintain a consistent hand position with palms facing each other throughout the entire range of motion.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Lie on a bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor, holding a dumbbell.
  2. Hold the dumbbell vertically above your torso and extend your arms.
  3. Lower the weights behind your head, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
  4. Hold for two seconds when your arms align with your head and body.
  5. Lift the weights back above your torso to return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

“If one side of your body is stronger than the other or if you have greater flexibility on one side, you may notice that one arm extends further over your head or moves faster than the other. Strive to move both arms simultaneously.”

- Malia Frey, Certified Health Coach

3. Chin Ups

a photo of a man doing exercise

Typical mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Using momentum - Swinging your body to complete the movement removes the targeted muscles' focus and can lead to injury.
  • Not engaging the targeted muscles - Engage the targeted muscles by pulling your shoulder blades down and back during the chin-up.
  • Not using a full range of motion - Pull yourself upward until your chin surpasses the bar and lower yourself with control.
  • Gripping the bar incorrectly - Your palms should be facing toward you to avoid putting strain on the shoulder joint.

How to do the chin-up:

  1. Stand underneath a chin-up bar and reach up to grasp the bar underhanded with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hang with your arms fully extended and bend your legs so they don’t touch the ground if necessary.
  3. Use your back, shoulders, and arms to elevate your body until your chin rises above the bar.
  4. Slowly lower yourself back until your arms are straight.
  5. Repeat until you reach three sets of eight to twelve reps.

Related: Chin-up vs Pull-up: Key Differences and Why It Matters

4. Lat Pulldowns

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Incorrect form - Avoid arching your back and keep your chest lifted as you pull up the bar to avoid lower back injury.
  • Using your forearms - Your forearms should not be responsible for pulling the bar down, as you want the movement to work your back muscles. Focus on pulling down from your armpits to activate your lats properly [3].
  • Using momentum - Avoid moving too quickly, as it decreases the engagement of the targeted muscles.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Position yourself on the preferred lat pull-down machine, ensuring your feet are firmly planted on the floor. Adjust the thigh pad to fit securely against your thighs.
  2. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip that is wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Pull the bar down towards your torso while keeping your elbows close to your body.
  4. Pause while squeezing your shoulder blades together before slowly returning to the starting position.
  5. Repeat until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

“Stop at the point where your elbows would need to go backward to continue pulling the cable down. If the elbows go backward, it will put excessive stress on the shoulder joint. You should only lower the bar to your chin or just below.”

- Paul Rogers, Personal Trainer

5. Resistance Band Pull-Aparts

a picture of a woman doing Resistance Band Pull-Aparts

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Not keeping your arms straight - Avoid bending your arms throughout the exercise, as this takes the focus away from the targeted muscles and can lead to injury.
  • Letting the band snap back - Don’t release the resistance band too quickly, as it can snap back and cause injury.
  • Incorrect hand positioning - Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. Positioning your hands too close together or too far apart can make the exercise less efficient.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, grabbing a resistance band with an overhand grip in front of you.
  2. Pull the band out laterally while squeezing your shoulder blades while keeping your arms straight.
  3. Gradually allow the band to come back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat until you reach three sets of twelve reps.

Read more: Best Resistance Band for Home Gyms: Reviewed

6. Seated Row

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Incorrect form - Avoid rounding your back, leaning too far forward or backward, or relying on your arms instead of engaging your back muscles.
  • Incorrect hand positioning - Avoid using an underhand grip as it can strain your wrists. Instead, hold the handle with an overhand grip with your palms facing downward.
  • Not using a full range of motion - Pull the handle all the way back towards your body and slowly release it forward.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Sit on the machine and place your feet firmly on the footrests.
  2. Grab the handle and pull it towards your hips, keeping your back straight and shoulders back.
  3. Pause while squeezing your shoulder blades together and keep your chest lifted.
  4. Revert to the initial position by straightening your arms.
  5. Repeat until you reach three sets of twelve reps.

“Keep your elbows against your body during the pulling phase (except during the wide-grip row). Avoid lifting your elbows up and out, which engages the biceps instead of the lats and rhomboids.”

- Kristen Munez, Health Journalist

7. Renegade Row

a picture of a man doing renegade row

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Allowing your back to sway - Avoid letting your lower back sag or arch during the exercise. Engage your core and keep your hips level with your shoulders and heels.
  • Dropping your neck - Keep your neck in a neutral position by looking down at the floor during the movement. Check your form frequently to ensure proper alignment of your spine.
  • Twisting your hips - Avoid twisting your hips or lifting one side higher than the other. Keep your hips stable throughout the exercise.

How to do this exercise:

  1. Get in a plank position on a favorite workout mat with your hands holding a pair of dumbbells.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, maintaining square hips and shoulders.
  3. Pull the dumbbell up towards your armpit and past your hip.
  4. Bring the dumbbell back to the ground, then repeat with the other side.
  5. Repeat until you reach three sets of twelve reps.

8. Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

  • Incorrect body position - Avoid lifting your hips too high or letting them sag. Aim to maintain a straight line from your head to your heels throughout the exercise.
  • Gripping the bar incorrectly - Ensure your hands are evenly spaced, and your palms are facing away from you. Gripping the bar incorrectly can put unnecessary strain on your wrists and decrease the engagement of your back muscles.
  • Rushing through the exercise - Go slowly and take time to perform each rep with control. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement and avoid using momentum to swing your body up and down.

How to do this exercise:

  • Set your barbell in the squat rack at a height that allows you to lie down.
  • Bring your hips off the ground and ensure you are high enough that your back isn’t touching the ground.
  • Pull yourself to the rings while keeping your core tight and your body in a straight line from feet to head.
  • Lower yourself back slowly and under control to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat until you reach three sets of twelve reps.

“Pull the bar towards the middle of your chest. Don’t pull the bar up towards your throat, or down towards your belly button.”

- Steve Kamb, Fitness Expert

What Are the Benefits of Pull-Ups?

a picture of a woman doing pull ups

The benefits of pull-ups are improved upper body muscle mass, grip strength, and performance in the most demanding sports.

  • Improve grip strength - One of the most significant advantages is improving grip strength, which is essential for weightlifting.
  • Increased upper body strength and muscle mass - Pull-ups help to increase upper body muscle mass, particularly in the back muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, thoracic erector spinae, and infraspinatus.
  • Enhanced performance in activities requiring high relative strength levels - Pull-ups can improve your performance in demanding activities, such as climbing ropes and poles, swimming, rowing/paddling, gymnastics, pole vaulting, and wrestling [4].

Related posts:

Tips for Improving Your Calisthenics Leg Exercises

a photo of a man stretching

To improve your calisthenics leg exercises:

  • Incorporate Isometric Exercises - Isometric exercises like isometric lunges and hollow holds can help you increase your strength and avoid plateaus [5].
  • Use maximal contractions - Utilizing your mind-muscle connection to contract your muscles as forcefully as possible. This technique enhances muscle activation and generates a heightened stimulus, all without the need for weights.
  • Incorporate a rest day - Provide your body with at least twenty four hours of rest between workout sessions for adequate time for your muscles to repair and rebuild.


How Often Should You Do Pull-Up Alternatives?

You should do pull-up alternatives two to three times per week. It’s essential to allow twenty-four to forty-eight hours of rest in between these workouts to allow your muscles to recover and rebuild.

What Muscles Do Pull-Ups Work?

The muscles that pull-ups work are the latissimus dorsi, biceps brachii, rear deltoids, trapezius, and rhomboids.


  1. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-properly-perform-the-dumbbell-bent-over-row-3498295
  2. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-dumbbell-pullover-techniques-benefits-variations-4781595
  3. https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-do-the-lat-pulldown-3498309#
  4. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2014/06000/the_pull_up.14.aspx
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