Are you one of these people who never swings their legs during pull-ups, strenuously avoiding reliance on that tiny bit of momentum that allows you to cheat your way to the top of the motion? Are you? Cool! You are probably lying to yourself, and should talk to someone about that. When done correctly pull-ups are great. But even if you do somehow manage to keep your torso perfectly still, though, the pull-up bar is always way too crowded—and never wiped down—meaning you have to make every. Rep. Count. Here, we asked some of our favorite trainers for their favorite pull-up alternatives.
Idalis Velazquez: Mixed-grip negative pull-ups.
Use an overhand grip with one hand and an underhand grip with the other to develop strength in the upper back, the posterior shoulder region, and the arms. This arrangement also adds a torso rotational component to the movement, challenging your muscles in a new way. By placing the focus on the negative phase—that’s the lowering part, not the pull-up part—using a slow and controlled motion, you cause greater muscle tissue breakdown than you would using regular concentric training, which helps you build size and bust through plateaus.
Ben Booker: Incorporate a helping hand.
It’s hard to beat the pull-up for upper body development, but if you’re struggling towards the end of sets, using assistance bands on the pull-up bar is a great way to reach the rep range your program calls for. And if the bands don’t do the trick, go to a lat pulldown machine, which allows you to complete the same motion with less than your full body weight. Try different hand positions on the bar every time, and pull the bar down below the chin every time.
Jay Cardiello: Pull-up to chin-up switches.
Perform a regular pull-up, but as you get higher, pull your elbows as fast as you can in towards your sides, while driving your hips towards the ceiling. At the highest point, rotate (quickly!) your hands from a pull-up grip to a chin-up grip. Switch back and forth for as many repetitions as possible within a 30-second time frame.
Gideon Akande: TRX-assisted muscle ups.
Muscle-ups—that pull-up-to-triceps-dip maneuver that works your entire upper body—are hard as hell, but the TRX suspension trainer makes them more manageable, allowing you to control the difficulty level by adjusting your body angle, as shown here. No matter how fatigued you might feel, this element of flexibility allows you to work in one more rep.
Alexia Clark: Alternating engaged lat pulldown.
Hold the handles of a resistance band or cable machine and start in an engaged position—arms already down by your sides in mid-pull. Alternate by letting one cable or resistance band end go up and then pull it down like a lat pull down, and repeat on the other side once your first motion is complete, like so. Alternating arms while keeping the other side constantly engaged will help improve your muscular endurance when performing sets of conventional pull-ups.
Suspension training is great because you can use your body weight to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability. To get started, set the TRX at mid-length. Lay under the TRX with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms extended straight above shoulders, palms facing inwards. Exhaling, engage the core and glutes as you pull yourself upwards, drawing your elbows in towards your ribs. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and use your back muscles and arms to bring your body off the floor, maintaining a a straight line from shoulder to knee. Lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat for 30 to 60 seconds.