Compound moves, like the pull-up, are supremely beneficial as they work different major muscle groups at the same time.
But these limitations shouldn’t stop anyone from working their upper body whenever they want. And that’s why we are going to share 6 alternate exercises that you can do in place of a pull-up at home using a towel or resistance band.
Before we get on to the exercises, let’s first look at the muscles that pull-ups target so that you have a clear understanding of why the moves in this article serve as substitutes for a pull-up.
Muscles Involved in a Pull-up
A correctly performed pull-up targets the upper body, using the muscles in your upper back, lower back, arms, and chest.
However, some of those muscles work more than the others during a pull-up.
When the body is lifted against a pull-up bar with a pronated grip, the scapular muscles in the upper back are squeezed, the elbow joint is flexed while the chest and arm muscles provide additional support to successfully execute the move.
The muscles that add to the movement include the triceps, biceps, latissimus Dorse (the triangular fleshy muscles above the kidneys), and core.
The biomechanical impact of a pull-up is excellent at enhancing muscle strength and sculpting the body into that desirable ‘V’ shape.
Keeping in mind the muscles engaged in a pull-up, we need to improvise home workouts that will focus on the upper back and arms.
6 Best Pull-Up Alternatives You Can Do at Home
Here are the top six pull-up substitutes that you can do at home.
1. The Floor Pull
Equipment Needed: A Towel
Try to use a thick towel to support your belly against the floor.
Grab your towel, fold it into a rectangular shape and place it on the floor (be sure the floor is either wooden or glossy to allow the sliding movement). Lie on the towel face facing toward the ground with the upper edge of the towel underneath your collar bones.
Spread your arms forward and plant your palms on the floor. Now, using the scapular muscles, pull your entire body forward while pressing your arms backward in a ‘W,’ mimicking the movement done in a pull-up.
If you have ample space, keep on dragging your body forward until you have no room, then inch backward to repeat the exercise.
However, if you do not have enough area to keep moving forward, you can go back and forth while staying in one place. That is, plant your palms away from your head, move forward, bringing your arms around, then inch your body backward by advancing the arms forward.
Be sure to engage your core and really work your back and arm muscles to yield maximum benefits from the workout.
2. Superman W Pull
Equipment Needed: None
You don’t need any equipment for this move; however, having a towel or mat underneath your body will keep your belly cushioned.
As the name suggests, Superman W pull combines two exercises; superman and the W pull. Lie on your stomach, spread your arms forward away from the head, and plant your palms securely on the ground.
Do a superman-lift your arms and legs up and away from the floor by contracting your limb muscles. Once in the air, move your arms backward in a W. Next, move your arms forward, place your arms and legs back on the ground.
When performing superman W pulls, focus on your upper body more than the lower body. If moving your legs and arms at the same time compromises your form, don’t put too much effort in lifting your legs high, and instead just focus on engaging the muscles in your upper back and arms.
Having a strong mind-muscle connection is essential to workout correctly.
3. Kneeling Band Pull Down
Equipment Needed: A Long Resistance Band and a Towel
You can do this move without a towel, but having one under your knees will provide padding.
Go down on your knees and come into a kneeling position. Grip the resistance band tightly above your head using both your hands, wrapping the fingers firmly around the band while pulling it from both ends.
Once you have a firm grip on the band, bring your arms backward, squeezing your upper back muscles until the resistance band is next to your collar bones. Be sure to keep substantial tension over the resistance band throughout the workout to engage your muscles.
If moving both the arms simultaneously gets too challenging for you, leave one hand above your head holding the band and only bring down one side of the resistance band toward your neck. Alternate between both arms as long as you can continue doing the reps.
One thing that you need to be careful about throughout the workout is to maintain the tension high on the resistance band. If you ease up even a little bit, you will impact the effectiveness of the move significantly.
4. Door Band Pull Down
Equipment Needed: A Long Resistance Band
Loop the center of the resistance band over the top edge of a door, with both sides hanging down. Make sure the band is a few inches back from the corner so that it doesn’t slip off when you pull on the sides.
Once the band is securely over the door, grip the dangling sides as high up as possible. Line up your body against the door in such a way that the door is perpendicular to your body. Place your forehead on the side of the door, and pull the band using both your hands.
You’ll be using your back muscles to pull the band downward and away from the door. To know whether you are executing the move right or not, assess if you are mimicking the movement of a pull-up. If not, then you are not doing the exercise correctly.
5. Table Seated Pull-ups
Equipment Needed: A Sturdy Table
Disclaimer: Test the desk or table you plan on using for this exercise by leaning your weight on it or pressing your body over it using your hands and palms. Once you are sure of the table’s strength, only then attempt table pull-ups.
Place your palms over the edge of the desk and slip half of your body under it. Bring your knees up and plant your feet firmly on the floor. Now lean back, opening your chest while keeping your hands over the table.
If you are not comfortable planting all your fingers over the desk, you can wrap them around the edge. After you have a firm grip on the table, lift your body toward the tabletop flexing your upper back muscles. Once your neck comes up to the table’s height, hold your position then slowly come back toward the floor. Repeat the movement for as many reps as you can.
When performing this exercise, keep your core tight and engaged to work your entire upper body.
6. Bicep Plank
Equipment Needed: None
Come down on all fours and get into a high plank position, but instead of keeping your palms forward-facing, turn them around so that your fingers are toward your knees.
Doing so will require you to move your hands closer to your knees; you should end up in an inclined posture after moving your arms toward your lower body.
Now, press your body down toward the ground and come back up, mimicking a regular pushup. Bicep plank is an advanced move and will require some practice. Do as many bicep plank pushups as you can without compromising the form.
The Bottom Line
Not having a pull-up bar or fitness trainer to guide you shouldn’t be your excuse to omit pull-ups from your workout routine.
If you have a resistance band, and even if you don’t have it, you can do multiple alternate exercises to strengthen your body. But remember, don’t do a sloppy job just because you are not doing the real deal.
If you do the substitutes mentioned in this article in the right form, you will feel the burn, and your arms will start shaking within a few seconds.