Whether you are trying to increase the number of pull-ups you can do through supplementary exercises, or simply do not yet have the strength to do pull-ups but want to work the corresponding muscle groups, there are plenty of exercise alternatives. Pull-ups involve pulling your chin above a bar in an overhand grip and primarily use your lats and biceps. Chin-ups are similar, except your hands are in a reverse grip, using more biceps and rhomboid muscles. Incorporate exercises that target these muscle groups for an effective, pull-up free workout.
Lat pull-downs mimic pull-ups, but you can adjust the weight to your desired intensity. Military.com suggests strengthening your lats by holding the bar in a wide, overhand grip position. Lean back slightly and pull the bar down to your collar bone. Pause for a moment, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then slowly release. To mimic a chin-up, grasp the bar in a narrower, underhand grip so your palms face your body. Sit straight up and pull the bar down to below your chin, pause, and then release.
Single Arm Rows
According to Flex Online, rows elicit 40 percent more muscle activity in the lats than lat pull-downs. So while lat pull-downs to a better job at imitating a pull-up, rows are the ideal exercise for strengthening the lat muscle. Include both in your routine for the best workout. Single-arm cable rows work each side of your body independently, helping to correct any muscle weaknesses on one side of the body. Sit with legs slightly bent, grab the bar and pull it toward your ribcage. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a moment, then release. Also incorporate single-arm dumbbell rows.
Barbell rows are similar movements to single-arm rows, except you have the ability to lift a greater amount of weight since you are using both arms. Grab a barbell in a wide, overhand grip and bend over at the hips. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and maintain a slight bend in your knees. Bend your arms, keeping your elbows wide and pull the bar to your ribcage, pause, and then slowly lower. To target the rhomboid and biceps, grip the bar in a narrow underhand grip and repeat sequence.
Your biceps provide assistance to your back muscles when performing pull-ups. They are responsible for bending your elbows, a movement necessary in both pull-ups and chin-ups. Incorporate biceps exercises after you've completed your back exercises. Start with dumbbell biceps curls by holding dumbbells palms forward in front of your body. Contract your biceps, bend your arms and curl the dumbbells up to your chest. Pause at the top, then slowly lower. Add variety to you work out by using barbells, cable bar and rope attachments and varying your hand position.
If your goal is building muscle and strength to eventually be able to do pull-ups, then lift a weight heavy enough to fatigue your muscles in about four or five sets of six to eight repetitions, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you goal is building size and tone in your muscles, but not necessarily to accomplish pull-ups, then lift a slightly lighter weight for 10 to 15 repetitions for about three sets. The key is to max out your weight lifted by your goal rep range. It should never be easy.
- “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning”; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Baechel, Thomas R. and Earle, Roger W; 2008
- Military.com: Tips for Better Pull-Ups
- Muscle and Fitness: Back Exercises For a Complete Back Workout
- American Council on Exercise: Back Exercise
- Flex Online: On Trial: Back Workouts - Rows vs. Pulldowns