Upper body strength is essential, especially when your job (possibly and more likely) involves rope climbing and lifting heavy items. Pull-ups are one of the awesome exercises that could help you with that. It is also a fundamental part of the PT regimen in the military world. Let’s be honest. It is not an easy workout. You know in the movies how characters would just hang on to a ledge or a bridge with one hand and then easily pull themselves back up? That is quite extreme and unrealistic unless you are Yeo Kim Yeong, who holds the world record for the most pull-ups done in one minute, which was 44, then it would perhaps be fairly easy. Anyway, either you’re bored or think it’s too difficult for you, here are some alternatives that you should try.

Benefits

Before that, let’s briefly talk about why pull-ups are important. Well, this bodyweight exercise is efficient in the sense that it strengthens multiple muscle groups in one exercise, helping you build functional power in your upper body. Back muscles that would benefit from this exercise are:

  • Latissimus dorsi, which is the largest upper back muscle
  • Trapezius, located from your neck out to both shoulders
  • Thoracic erector spinae, the muscles that run along the longest region of the spine
  • Infraspinatus, located on the shoulder blade

Your arms, shoulders, and grip strength would also improve. Not only that, but according to PubMed.gov, studies show that resistance training, like pull-ups, is also great in improving your overall health. It says:

Resistance training may assist prevention and management of type 2 diabetes by decreasing visceral fat, reducing HbA1c, increasing the density of glucose transporter type 4, and improving insulin sensitivity. Resistance training may enhance cardiovascular health, by reducing resting blood pressure, decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Resistance training may promote bone development, with studies showing 1% to 3% increase in bone mineral density. Resistance training may be effective for reducing low back pain and easing discomfort associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia and has been shown to reverse specific aging factors in skeletal muscle.

Now, onto the alternatives.

Inverted Row

This exercise is a perfect pull-up alternative because it engages the same muscle groups but is relatively easier to do. All you need is a low bar, a low railing, or even a study table. Just make sure that it is sturdy enough and will not fall over you.

  • Once you have your bar (or table), sit under it and grab the bar with both of your hands using an overhand grip. Your hands should be positioned slightly wider than your shoulder width.
  • Position your body in a straight line by bringing your feet out while making sure that both your core is engaged and your hips are up
  • Begin pulling your lower chest up and closer to the bar
  • Slowly lower down your chest and back to your starting position
Inverted row or supine row. (Colossus FitnessCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you want a bit more fun, replace your bar with suspension trainers, and it would engage more stabilizer muscles.

Bent-Over Rows

Okay, but what if you only have your barbells? Worry no more because you could still hit the same muscle group by doing bent-over rows. Two variations of this would depend on whether you’d be doing an overhand or underhand grip. Your upper back muscles will benefit from the overhand grip, while the underhand grip would engage more of your mid-back and lats.

Bent over row (BarBend)

Here’s how you do it:

  • Start by placing the barbell on the floor in front of you, and then slightly bending your knees and leaning forward so your torso is over the bar.
  • Grab the bar using your preferred grip, making sure that your hands are shoulder-width apart and your back is neutral. Your core should also be engaged.
  • Pull up your elbows until the bar touches your upper abs, all while maintaining your bent position.
  • Slowly extend your arms back down, lowering the bar back to your starting position.

Pull-Ups Assisted With Bands

If you really really want to do pull-ups, but you don’t have the necessary muscle strength just yet, don’t worry because you’ll get there. In the meantime, you could try to do pull-ups with the help of loop resistance bands. You could start with heavier resistance bands to help you pull your body up a bit easier, then work your way down to lighter ones as you get stronger. Just make sure that you use high-quality resistance bands as you don’t want them to snap and hit your skin. I promise it’s not a pleasant experience.

  • Loop your band in the middle of the bar
  • Grab the bars as you would in regular pull-ups, with an overhand grip, and your hands placed slightly wide than your shoulder width.
  • Step one of your feet onto the band, and then place the other over, making sure you’re stable and that the band will not slip up
  • Start pulling yourself up until your chin is over the bar and your elbows are touching the sides of your torso.
  • Briefly pause at the top and squeeze your shoulder blades in before lowering yourself down and back to your starting position.
Pull-ups with resistance band. (MOEfit)

As always, seek professional guidance if you’re performing these workouts for the first time to avoid injuries. Now, if you decide you just want to focus on working your shoulders out, then you should read these shoulder workouts for dummies.

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