Pull up Alternative: 5 Great Exercises For Your Back and Biceps

Have you ever gone to a gym and saw someone hanging on two parallel bars and swinging? I guess that is an everyday struggle.

Beginners and people who are new to the fitness industry and the gym in overall will more likely head to the pull-up bar to swing them some reps. Because of that, we are going to list the best pull up alternatives for you.

The problem with people swinging with the pull-up bar is that they don’t benefit from the exercise and may end up with an injury.

pull up alternative - ways to work out back muscles if you can't do pull ups

Most beginners tend to be weak to do a few reps in the pull-up exercise. And for that reason, their best bet is to stop doing any pull-up until they get stronger.

Also, some people do not like the idea of pull-up or do not feel comfortable while doing it. I don’t blame them because everybody has different anatomy and different body mechanics.

Some people might feel that the pull-up is the best exercise for their back, other people might feel nothing in their back and just feel uncomfortable while doing the exercise.

For that reason, there should be alternative exercises to replace the pull-up in the back workout to give the same effect.

Another reason is that not everyone has access to a pull-up bar. As the pull-up requires a high ceiling if you training in your apartment or at home and that’s not accessible for everyone.

So there should be another considerate and compact alternatives that can be done without worrying about the ceiling or about the space.

What muscles does the pull-up exercise work?

The pull-up exercise is popular among nearly everyone. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, weightliters, crossfitters, and nearly anyone who practices a sport do this exercise. Of course, that is for a reason, right? Absolutely.

The pull-up exercise is a bodyweight-based exercise that uses your body weight as the main resistance. Although it sounds like it is easy because of its being a bodyweight exercise, it is hard. Unlike the push-up, the pull-up exercise requires more force and is much harder than the regular push-up.

The pull-up works mainly the back muscles which include the lats and the traps. The lats are famous for getting your back wider and give you that V-shaped body.

On the other hand, the traps are famous for giving you a thicker back. As any exercise, there are many muscles that are stimulated the most and there are secondary muscles that support and also are stimulated but in less degree than the main ones.

The secondary muscles that are stimulated throughout the pull-up exercise are the biceps, forearms, and the rear deltoid.

Although the biceps is a secondary muscle in the pull-up exercise, some researchers found out that it is stimulated just like the biceps isolation movements, which indicates that the compound movements are just as effective for small muscle groups.

What if I am too weak for the Pull-up?

Being weak to do the pull-up exercise is popular among new trainees and beginners. As the pull-up needs great force and great strength to do, being weak for the pull-up means one of two things, either you are weak and need your muscles to get stronger or your bodyweight is high and your muscles can’t pull it up.

The key to success is smart and hard work. If you insisted on doing the pull-up first and foremost you will end up swinging or with an injury. We must handle and solve these problems scientifically.

To progress for the pull-up, you should get your back and biceps muscles strong first, so you can perform it properly.

To strengthen these muscles, you should follow the exercises we are going to list below, so your back and biceps get stronger then you will be able to do the pull-up, after some time of course.

The other option is to do assisted pull-ups. Assisted pull-ups can be done with the assisted pull-up machine if you have one at home or in your commercial gym or with a resistance band. Looping the resistance band around your body and hanging it in the pull-up bar will assist you to do the pull-up and make it easier for you.

The other scenario is if you are already training for a while but your bodyweight increased suddenly, you will notice that pull-ups got harder and you might find that you feel uncomfortable with it despite it is being good and effective for you a month ago.

This happened because the resistance (your body weight) increased while your muscles didn’t get strong enough for it. For that reason, you will need to lose some weight so the resistance decreases, or do some alternative exercises or assisted pull-ups till you get stronger.

Best Pull up Alternative Exercises

1.Inverted Rows

The inverted row is a back exercise that can be done at home with a stable table or chair or can be done in the gym with a hanging barbell or a smith machine. It is easy to do but yet very effective.

Why should you do it

The inverted row is a great alternative exercise for the pull-up because it works the same muscle groups as the pull-up with great stimulus.

Also, it is suitable for everyone as it can be progressed to weighted inverted rows and can be done without weights too just your body weight as the main resistance.

Also, if you like training at home this exercise will be great because it requires minimal to no equipment at all. If you have a stable table you will be able to do this exercise perfectly.

How to do it

To do this exercise, you need a table at waist height or put a smith machine barbell at waist height. To start, lay down under the table or the barbell, grab either one of them with an overhand grip in shoulder width or wider than shoulder-width with a few inches. Your heels should be touching the ground and your body in a stiff and a straight position so you offer good resistance.

To start the movement, pull your chest towards the barbell or table by pulling with your hands without any assistance from your legs, hold for 1 or 2 seconds at the top, get back until you nearly touch the ground, and repeat.

2. Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is an exercise that is easy to do and a great pull-up alternative exercise because it uses the same mechanism and nearly the same technique as the pull-up exercise.

But instead of using your body weight as resistance, you would use weight stacks or weight plates, depending on the kind of machine you have.

Why you should do it

The lat pulldown exercise targets the same muscles and is of the same movement as the pull-up. It is an easier choice for people that want to progress to the pull-up and are too weak for it.

The lat pulldown exercise can be found in nearly every all-in-one home gym and can be found in any commercial gym as it is quite popular and very effective.

How to do it

To start, sit on the machine with your knees and butt stable and not moving, grab the barbell with a wide grip, typically 1.5x-2x your shoulder width.

Then with a straight back, slightly get your chest up a little while engaging your lats, pull the barbell down until it touches your chest, and slowly get it up, and repeat.

3. Dumbbell Rows

The dumbbell row exercise is a unilateral exercise that trains one side of your body at a time. It is easy to do and requires little equipment. The dumbbell row is suitable for everyone as it has many progression schemes in it and can be done with a variety of weights ranging from very light to very high weights.

Why you should do it

The dumbbell rows exercise targets and works the same muscle groups as the pull-up, which makes it a great alternative to it. It widens and thickens your back because it works both traps and lats.

The dumbbell rows exercise is very effective as you will be able to progress from lightweights to high weights by using heavier dumbbells. By doing this, you will provide your muscles with enough stimulus and you will be able to progress to the pull-up exercise.

How to do it

To do this exercise, you will need a dumbbell and a bench. To start, stand in the right of the bench with the dumbbell in your right hand, rest your left knee and hand on the bench while your back is in a straight position, let your left be in a stable and strong position while your left hand with the dumbbell hanging in a straight line downwards.

Start by pulling the dumbbell upwards while keeping your elbow tucked in near your back, hold on to that position for a second, lower the dumbbell down, and repeat.

4. Seated Rows

The seated rows just like inverted rows and dumbbell rows, is a rowing exercise that hits your back dominantly. It is quite effective and also praised by many bodybuilders and almost every professional bodybuilder is seen doing this great exercise.

Why you should do it

The seated rows when done with a wide grip, it stimulates your lats and traps tremendously that it requires them to grow and strengthen. Doing this exercise will help you get the same results you get from the pull-up exercise but will also help you progress to it if you are weak to do the pull-up.

How to do it

To do this exercise, you will need a cable machine and a straight bar handle or an EZ bar handle that is attachable to the cable.

To start this exercise, sit on the bench while putting your feet in the footrest position in a slight bend position. Keep your chest up and have a neutral spine position, hold the bar with an overhand grip in shoulder width or a little wider.

Start by pulling the bar towards your lower chest or upper stomach while pulling your shoulder blades together, hold on to this position for 1-2 seconds while squeezing your back, return to the starting position, and repeat.

5. Straight Arm Pulldowns

The straight arm pulldowns exercise is a lat isolation movement that isolates your lats entirely without engaging your traps and other back muscles. It is done while keeping mind-muscle connection because it focuses on the metabolic stress and higher rep ranges. In other words, you should feel the “burn” while doing this exercise.

Why you should do it

The straight arm pulldowns focus on the lats muscles as same as the pull-ups. It will help you strengthen and grow the lats which is the same result that you get when doing the pull-up.

How to do it

To do this exercise, you will need a cable machine and a straight bar handle or EZ bar handle. To start, attach the bar to the cable, grab it with a wide overhand grip, walk out a little bit so you can create resistance.

Bend your back while keeping your hips at a 45-degrees angle with a neutral spine. Start by pulling the barbell down until it touches your legs, engage your lats, and let the bar return to the starting position while stretching the lats.



In conclusion, the pull-up is a great exercise but unfortunately, not everyone has access to it and not everyone has the ability to do it.

For these reasons, we have listed the best alternative exercises to do instead of the pull-up so you can get the same results and gains without worrying about doing the pull-up.

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