How to do pull-ups without a pull-up bar

Pull-Up Bars Are Everywhere!

If you can’t afford to buy a pull-up bar or don’t have one at the moment, there are pull-up bars all around you, if you are creative enough: You can do them from beams in the roof, from stairs, ladders, on children’s playground equipment, ships, road-signs, balconies, fences and even light-poles!

I went on a quest around my house, my yard, and places in my neighbourhood to find pull-up bars, to show people that they really are all around! Here’s a few example pictures of how you can use places found all around you to do pull-ups on.

The beam in my attic is just perfect, I used it before I bought my pull-up bar. It’s sturdy and wide, but you may want to wear gloves to prevent splinters.

If a doorway is sturdy enough, you can use it to do pull-ups. DO NOT DO CLOSE-GRIP ON THESE; it will increase the chances of the doorway breaking! Mom will not be happy.

A  stairway is a great pull-up bar. The grip is a little difficult, but it’s infinitely better than no pull-ups.

Make sure if you use a ladder that it’s perfectly sturdy and doesn’t fall on you. Provided you do that, they are just great for pull-ups. If there’s something above your head that you can accidentally head-bash with (like in my picture), just grab one rung lower than you would normally do and bend your knees, so you can pull all the way up.

A fence works perfectly, if it’s smooth enough that you can drag your knees along it when you pull yourself up. And don’t worry, your lats get just the same workout, although it might feel silly. This setting also has the advantage that you can’t use your legs to swing yourself up with, which forces you to use your lats to do the exercise.

You can also use all kinds of kid’s playground equipment; it’s built sturdy, and you can usually find some kind that allows you to grab hold high enough to do pull-ups.

Swings, for example, are a great and common piece of pull-up equipment, I’ve used them many times before.

Slides with a bar on top  (used to swing yourself down) are perfectly ideal for people who can’t do regular pull-ups, as you can rest your legs in the slide while pulling yourself up on the swing-bar.

Cloth-line supports are just the perfect girth, height and width for my wide-grip pull-ups! How nice of them to install one just next to my house.

Well, you might not all have docks in your backyards, but it just comes to show that any variety of things work!

I will yield at nothing to do my pull-ups! (Just for humor; this is not advised, because in a street with traffic this can be dangerous and damaging the sign can cost some money!)

Video

Can You Do Pull-Ups Without a Pull-Up Bar?

Great news for anyone who doesn’t have time to hit the gym or wants to get in some quick exercise at their desk during a break at work: it’s possible to target all the muscles we just mentioned without a pull-up bar. There are even a few ways to do regular pull-ups without the bar. 

Anything you can hold onto with both hands in an overhand grip could be suitable for ad hoc pull-ups. Just make sure it’s sturdy enough to hold your body weight and high enough for you to get into a dead hang without your feet touching the floor. 

Doors, tree branches, and fences are all possible options if you can’t find a horizontal pull-up bar around. 

(Note: You can download the Fitplan App for free on Google Play!)

Pull-Up Grips: Your Hand Position

The many variations of pull-ups available to train with gives you a huge bang for your buck: pronated grip (palms facing away) and supinated grip (palms facing towards aka chin-ups) are the two most popular but there are so many more that offer A TON of training stimulus, literally in the palms of your hands.

Check out the complete list in “Pull-Up Exercises” below for ideas of how to mix up your training!

How to Do the Perfect Pull-Up: Proper Pull-Up Form

We already discussed how to perform a pull-up above but, like everything, there is a right and a wrong way to do them. Here are the most important points of performance to keep in mind.\

1. Start From a Straight Arm Hang

You MUST start from a straight-arm hang! Training in the full range of motion (ROM) is of the utmost importance for injury prevention – including tendonitis – of the elbow and shoulder.

2. Do a Scapular Pull-Up

The initial movement should start with a scapular pull-up (shoulder blades back and down). This protects the shoulder and prevents you from pulling with your upper traps.

3. Use Your Lats – Not Your Traps

Do not pull with your upper traps! We go through life overusing these guys as it is which leads to posture problems, pain and injury. The pull-up is the perfect way to detrain this muscle but it all starts with awareness and then the scap pull-up. Really focus on using the lat muscles (beneath your shoulder blades toward the outside) to initiate the actual pull and try to keep them ‘on’ the entire rep.

Please recheck those traps in your chin-over-bar position as well – if they are in your ears, try focusing on driving your elbows behind you. Or, use assistance until you are able to perform the rep perfectly.

4. Your Chin Must Clear the Bar

Your chin must clear the bar at the top of the pull, and NOT by you straining your neck to get there. Again, training full range of motion (ROM) is of the utmost importance for injury prevention, and in this case, building strength!

No matter which version of the pull-up you are doing, these points of performance must be followed for your own safety, injury prevention and strength gains! Plus, if you ever plan to compete and pull-ups come up in a workout, you need to be able to perform the full ROM so you won’t be ‘no-repped’.

Pull-Up Training (Training to do a Pull-Up)

Now that you know how to do the perfect pull-up, we want to help you get your first one! We put together this 3-week training guide to help you get your first pull up.

How to do a proper pull-up with perfect form

Now, let’s get to the fun part – how to correctly perform a pull-up! There are a few tips and tricks that make doing a pull-up easier and make sure you reap the full benefits of this powerful exercise.

Common Issues

Cheating

Cheating on Pullups is shortening the range of motion by doing half reps. Every rep must start with your arms straight at the bottom. And every rep must end with your chin over the bar at the top. This works your back and arms muscles through a full range of motion. It builds the most amount of strength and muscle. Half-Pullups are easier like half Squats are easier. But that’s also why they’re less effective.

The first way to do half reps on Pullups is by starting each rep with bent elbows. This shortens the range of motion. It takes work away from your back muscles. And it builds dangerous habits for the Deadlift where each rep must start with locked elbows to avoid biceps injuries. Lower yourself all the way down until your elbows are locked. Let your back stretch. Shrug your shoulders. Then pull yourself up from a dead hang.

The second way to do half reps on Pullups is by failing to get your chin over the bar. Forehead or nose against bar doesn’t count. Both shorten the range of motion at the top. They take work away from your arm muscles. Your biceps isn’t getting a full contraction. It won’t get bigger this way. The ideal is to get your upper-chest (your collarbone) against the bar. The minimum is to get your chin over the bar. That’s proper Pullup form.

The other way to cheat Pullups is using your hips. You can create momentum by swinging your hips and legs on the way up. These Kipping Pullups allow you to do more reps. But they don’t get you stronger at dead hang Pullups. Worse, kipping can destroy weak shoulders. Don’t swing your hips and cheat to get more reps. Use proper form. If you lack the strength to do Pullups with proper form, follow the tips below.

Too Heavy for Pullups

The heavier you are, the more weight you have to pull up and the harder Pullups will be. This is why gymnasts are almost always small. Smaller usually means a lower body-weight. This gives you an advantage on body-weight exercises like Pullups where your weight acts as the resistance. But it doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do one Pullup if you’re big. It will be harder, sure. But you’ll get stronger if you do the work.

Here’s a video of the strongman Jesse Marunde doing 21 Pullups at a body-weight of 140kg/310lb. His form isn’t the best. His chin doesn’t pass the bar. He uses a wide grip which further shortens the range of motion. And he swings his hips on the way up. But I’m sharing this anyway because big guys often use their weight as an excuse. This video proves it is possible to do Pullups even if you’re a heavy weight.

The first step to get stronger at Pullups is therefore to stop using your weight an excuse. The next step is to stop avoiding Pullups. Don’t wait until you’ve lost weight. Don’t do Lat Pulldowns or the Assisted Pullup Machine. Do Pullups. Because the fastest way to get stronger at Pullups is to do Pullups. If you can’t do one, do negatives or use a heavy resistance band. And get a doorway pullup bar at home so you can do daily Pullups.

How to do Chin ups

Chin-ups are very similar to pull-ups, and the names are often used interchangeably. But they are slightly different exercises. The main difference from the instructions listed above is that with chin-ups, you use a supinated grip on the bar (i.e., gripping the bar with your palms facing you) as opposed to a pronated grip for pull-ups.

The Difference Between Pull-ups and Chin-ups

So, as you can see, the pull-up and chin-up exercises are almost exactly the same in execution except for one difference…

Pull-ups: grip the bar with your palms facing away from you (i.e., overhand grip). Chin-ups: grip the bar with your palms facing toward you (i.e., underhand grip).

The pull-up with the palms facing away from you (i

The pull-up with the palms facing away from you (i.e., pronated grip) is pictured on the left, and the chin-up with the palms facing toward you (i.e., supinated grip) is pictured on the right. Note that the legs may be bent or straight in either exercise.

And it’s as simple as that.

So, each exercise involves the same vertical pulling movement, but there are some subtle differences in the technique and also the muscles that are activated. For example, pull-ups tend to work the lats more than chin-ups, which tend to work the biceps a little more than pull-ups. Regardless, most people usually find that one of the exercises is significantly easier than the other. And in most cases, I’d recommend focusing on the one your best at until you’ve built a solid foundation of strength. Then move onto other variations from there.

You can learn more about the differences between pull-ups and chin-ups here: Coming soon!

And you can learn more about optimizing your chin-up technique here: Coming soon!

Once you can do at least a few to several repetitions of pull-ups or chin-ups, it’s time to start varying your pull-up grips once in awhile. This will provide a slightly different stimulus to the body and will help develop more well-rounded strength and balanced muscle development. At the very least, try working on the “Big 3” Top Pull-up Exercises, and branch out from there.

How to Plan a Home Workout for Pull-Up Strength

You don’t necessarily have to use all five of the exercises in this guide every single day. Feel free to use a couple of them or switch between different variations to keep your body guessing. The bodyweight exercises can be used as a warm-up or cool-down on either end of the more strenuous exercises. 

If you have a home gym or you can get to the regular gym from time to time to do traditional pull-ups with a horizontal bar, you’ll be getting the best of both worlds. The compound workout you’ll get from these five exercises and traditional workouts will build huge muscles in your upper body and back. 

What Muscles are Involved in Pull-ups?

Pull-ups target the Lats, more so than any other exercise. They also heavily involve the biceps.

Secondary muscles worked when you do a pull-up are the delts, upper back muscles, forearms, and abs.

With all these upper body muscles used, you can see why the pull-up is so central to bodyweight fitness.

How to do Your First Pull-up (Video)

Finally, here’s a short video of me demonstrating some of these exercises (plus, how to use an exercise band to help you work your way up to your first pull-up):

Note: once you can do assisted repetition pull-ups, you can finish your sets with some negative reps for a little extra conditioning.

Below, you’ll find some pull-up training tips to help you put some of these ideas into practice. I have them categorized based on your starting point: beginner level, intermediate level, or advanced level.

Finisher: Push-Up Hold

A. Start in a high plank position with palms just wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the floor and feet together. Engage quads and core as if holding a plank. (To modify, lower to knees or place hands on an elevated surface. Just be sure to keep core engaged and hips in line with the rest of the body.)

B. Bend elbows back at 45-degree angles to lower entire body toward the floor, pausing when chest is just below elbow height. Hold here for 5 seconds.

C. Exhale to press up to start. Do 1 more push-up, without holding at the bottom.

Repeat, holding at the bottom of the push-up for 5 seconds, then doing 2 regular push-ups. Continue for 1 minute.

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