Pullups target your latissimus dorsi muscles, located on the sides of your back and your biceps. In addition, your trapezius and rhomboids, the muscles between your shoulder blades, and your rectus abdominus or abs muscle, also receive a good workout. This challenging exercise requires you to lift your entire body weight with just your arms. Such a feat may be too advanced for some exercisers. There are several body-weight-only alternatives to pullups.
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Body rows work the same upper body muscles as pullups but you don't have to lift your entire body weight with your arms. Using a Smith machine bar set to around waist-height, lie below the bar and grasp it with an overhand shoulder-width grip. Extend your legs and, with your arms straight, lift your hips off the floor. Your body should be straight with your weight supported on your hands and feet only. Bend your arms and pull your chest up to the bar. Extend your arms and repeat. This exercise can also be performed using a suspension training device.
Towel pulldowns replicate pullups except instead of pulling yourself up to a bar, you focus on pulling your hands apart and down while remaining firmly on the ground. Take a hand towel and hold the ends firmly. Raise your arms above your head. Pull the ends of the towel apart as hard as you can as you pull the towel down to your chest. Raise your arms and repeat. (See segment two of workout)
Rope climbing uses the same muscles as pullups but also allows you to share some of the pulling with your legs. This means that, if you use good technique, rope climbing should be easier than doing pullups. Stand at the bottom of a thick, strong, rope and grasp it firmly in both hands above head height. With your arms extended, lean back, bend your legs and pull your knees up. Cross your ankles around the rope and squeeze your legs and feet together. Straighten your legs and simultaneously pull with your arms so you stand up. Move your hands up the rope one at a time. Lean back, slide your legs up and, again, pull with your arms. Continue until you have climbed as high as you are able. Climb slowly and carefully down using the same technique but in reverse.
Performing pullups requires a lot of abdominal strength. Your rectus abdominus muscle, located on the front of your abdomen, must work hard to stabilize your lower body and spine and prevent unwanted movement as you pull yourself up to the bar. To strengthen this and other important core muscles, perform planks. Lie on your front and rest on your elbows and forearms. Lift your hips so your weight is supported on your arms and toes only. Your body should be straight -- from heel to shoulders. Maintain this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Do not hold your breath. On completion, lower your hips to the floor, rest and repeat.