30 Exercises to Help You Get Better at Pull-ups

Image from Freeltics

Fitness is a journey.

Like every journey ever, fitness begins with a single step. Like many things in life, there are no shortcuts to achieve the body of your dreams. The grind is long. The best thing to do is hunker down, do some research, and get ready for the adventure ahead of you.

The basic building block of fitness is routine. With a strict diet to follow that works best for your body and a daily or, at the very least, consistent exercise regimen, the body you’ve always wanted will surely be a step closer to realization.

One of the more renowned exercises that nearly every person can recognize is the pull-up. Healthline defines the pull-up as an upper body strength training exercise. It is the act of hanging oneself onto a bar of sorts with your palm facing away from your body, from the torso to the legs, extended in its entirety. The goal of a pull-up is to will yourself into pulling your chin above the bar. Pull-ups are often mixed up with a different exercise called the chin up, which has the same elements but with the palms facing towards the body.

To many people’s surprise, the pull-up is considered an advanced-level exercise. It is far more difficult than its simpler cousin, the chin up. As basic as it may seem, pull-ups are deceptively hard, and even men considered fit have a hard time pulling them off.

There are, however, many alternatives that an individual can try before doing a pull-up themselves. They can start with a different exercise that strengthens the constitution of similar areas and work towards the daunting task of performing a pull-up.

But first, preparation.


To do a pull-up, it’s not enough to have the strength to do the exercise. There’s an approach that a person can take to prepare themselves for the task at hand fully.

First, it’s important to know the areas that need reinforcement before exerting oneself in performing a pull-up. Back muscles are important to be built up because pull-ups hit four different regions in this area. The latissimus dorsi, the largest upper back muscle that stretches from the mid-back up to under the armpit and shoulder blade, the trapezius: the muscle at the neck that span to both shoulders, the thoracic erector spinae, all three muscles that encompass your thoracic spine, and the infraspinatus, the muscle that assists with shoulder extension located on the shoulder blade, are the back muscles that you need to strengthen before you hit the gym before the pull-up.

It’s also paramount to work out the arm and shoulder muscles to perform pull-ups consistently. The forearm and shoulders will surely be on the fray when pulling-ups, so it’s important to nourish these areas for optimal performance.

At the (literal) center of the whole pull-up process are the hands. So before jumping into an intense workout session, ensure that you also prioritize strengthening grip strength.
Done with preparation? It’s time to do exercises that can help you work towards your first pull-up.

Hanging from a Pullup Bar

Picture of a dead hang (Grace Brown Fitness

As it’s more aptly addressed, the Dead Hang is one of the best preparations before doing pull-ups. The dead hang works on the upper back, shoulders, core, forearms, and hands and wrist flexors, similar to areas exerted in a pull-up.

The dead hang is done by just hanging on a pull-up bar for 10 to 30 seconds. During that time, the spine will be decompressed, the grip strength will be improved, the upper body will be stretched, and shoulder pain will be relieved.

If pull-up is the goal, the dead hang is the starting line.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows

Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows (Men’s Health)

The bent-over dumbbell row is a fundamental back exercise. This is considered to be square one for a pull-up and will help exercise regions on the back.

To do Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows, an individual can use a dumbbell and hinge at the waist up until your body is on a 45-degree angle with the surface you stand on. With knees slightly bent, bend the arms weighed down by the dumbbells by pulling the elbows up. Go through 10 reps and complete three sets. Once comfortable, it’s time to make the weights heavier.

Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Inverted Bodyweight Rows (Coach Mag)

Inverted bodyweight rows are one of the most appropriate lead-ups to pull-ups. This exercise works on the same muscles that allow the individual to simulate lifting their body weight, albeit not at the same level as pull-ups, and strengthening them only through a different angle.

To do inverted bodyweight rows, set a bat at about chest height; the lower, the harder. Clench gluteals and core tight and straight perpendicular with the bar. With hands firmly gripping the bar, pull your body towards it, then away. Repeat the process once the chest touches the bar and set it lower and lower as you get stronger. Repeat eight times and do sets of three until it you can do it with ease. When you do, move the bar lower.

Assisted Pull-Ups

Assisted Pullups

It’s as simple as it sounds: perform pull-ups with some assistance. The assistance could be exercise bands or helpful surfaces that help you with elevation, like a table or a chair.

Start by clenching the glutes and keeping your core tight throughout the exercise — refrain from swinging too much. Maintain a pinch between your shoulder blades behind you throughout the motion and pull the bar down with your arms. Make sure to use the least amount of assistance from your paraphernalia or surface once comfortable; either use only one leg for assistance or use a different tension level for the exercise bands.

Top Holds and Bar Hang

Top Hold Bar Hang

Similar to the dead hang, a top hold bar hang is keeping the body suspended by gripping onto the bar. The difference: the individual maintains the chin over the bar. You maintain the position for five to 10 seconds. It is recommendable that, when doing this for the first time, you ask for assistance. After the top hold, you switch to the dead hang or the bar hang. Maintain the position for 30 seconds to one minute.

The Front Plank

Front Plank

The Front Plank is a great way to strengthen the core — an important element to performing a pull-up. To do a front plank, get down on all fours and secure a horizontal position held up by your elbows and the tip of your feet. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute. If you feel comfortable holding this position for that duration, extend as needed.

Negative Pull-ups


Negative pull-ups are on grounds treading closely to the traditional pull-up. To do negative pull-ups, hold on tight to a bar with an overhead grip. Once securely gripping onto a bar, jump until the bar is chest level. Once the bar touches your chest area, control your descent by lowering the body through your tight grip on the bar until you’re at the bottom of the movement. Do four reps and complete three sets.

Hanging Hollow Hold

Hanging Hollow Hold (Josh Muskin)

The hanging hollow hold is recognized by trainers to increase grip strength while working on various areas of the body. To do this exercise, position yourself in an overhead grip while hanging onto a bar. When ready, strengthen your core and tuck your tailbone to form a crescent moon shape with your body. Maintain the position for 30 seconds and release the tailbone for 30 seconds. Repeat the process through four sets.

Hanging Scapular Depression Hold

As a variation of the hanging hold, it helps mimic the shoulder depression motion needed in a pull-up. With similar preparation as the hanging hold, use an overhead grip while hanging from a bar. Move your shoulder blades together as you draw them down. This will cause your chest to become raised slightly. Do 12 reps and complete three sets.

Resistance Band Bent-Over Row

Hanging Scapular Depression Hold

A variation of the Bent-over dumbbell rows using different apparatuses. With bands in both hands, position yourself at the center of the band with both feet at a shoulder-width distance, bent forward slightly at the waist. LIft the band upwards towards the upper rib area by squeezing the shoulder blades together—lower the bands to return to the starting position and repeat. Do three sets of 15 reps.

Inverted TRX Row

Resistance Bent-Over Row (Healthline)

The inverted row is an exercise that engages the back through pulling motions that build a stronger mind-muscle connection alongside strength in the lats and rhomboids. To do the inverted row, you will need TRX straps. With palms facing the thighs, lower the body into a dead hang. Ensure that the arms are straightened out and your legs extended. Start the first rep by engaging the core and lifting the chest towards the handle of the band. Pause momentarily at the very pinnacle, then slowly return to the original position and repeat. Do 12 reps and complete three sets for best results.

Kettlebell Single-Arm Row

Kettlebell Single-Arm Row (Muscle and Fitness)

The Kettlebell Single-Arm Row is known to help with the constitution of the core and keeps away lower back pain. To do a kettle single-arm row, you must stand in a staggered stance. Position your left foot forward and allow a bend in both knees. While holding a kettlebell on your right hand and straightening your arm, hinge at the waist and move forward. Mimic the position of a man starting a lawnmower and place your left forearm over your left quad. Pull the bell towards your ribs using your back muscles and repeat. For best results, do four sets of 12 reps and repeat on both sides.

Hammer curl

Hammer Curl

The hammer curl is an exercise that helps the individual work on their biceps. Position your arms at your side and your feet shoulder-width apart while holding a pair of dumbbells, palms facing the torso. Start doing reps by curling one of the dumbbells to shoulder level. Do this by bending your elbow to lift the weights. Repeat for the opposite side and do four sets of 12 alternating reps.

Hanging Hold

Hanging Hold

The hanging hold simulates the bottom of the pull-up movement and substantially builds grip strength. It helps the individual become familiar with the lowering down of the body with control on the descent from the pull-up. To do a hanging hold, you must do a dead hang and transition to pulling the shoulders down and squeezing your lats to do a reverse shrug. Do three sets of four reps.

High plank

High Plank

The high plank helps the journey towards a pull-up by getting the individual familiar with the foundational movement. It also improves strength and supports one’s body weight easier through a stable core and upper body. To do a high plank, you will need to get on all fours with your hands supporting your weight directly underneath the chest. Start bracing your core and push up from the edge of your toes to support the legs’ weight, creating a straight line from your head to your feet. Ensure that your lower back doesn’t sag for optimal results. Maintain the position until your form wobbles and do 3 sets.

Hollow Hold

Hollow Hold (Coach Mag)

The dumbbell pullover primarily focuses on the lats and the chests, which are critical areas to strengthen to perform a pull-up. This exercise will require a light dumbbell (around 10 or 15 pounds).

Position your upper body over a yoga ball or an elevated surface with your torso facing the sky. Extend your arms over the head and reach for the dumbbells. With an engaged core and the arms straightened, pull the dumbbell over your head until arms are perpendicular to the floor. Lower the weights over the head and repeat the process for three sets of 10 reps.

Dumbbell pullover

Dumbbell Pullover (Muscle and Fitness)

The dumbbell pullover primarily focuses on the lats and the chests, which are critical areas to strengthen to perform a pullup. This exercise will require a light dumbbell (around 10 or 15 pounds).

Position your upper body over a yoga ball or an elevated surface with your torso facing the sky. Extend your arms over the head and reach for the dumbbells. With an engaged core and the arms straightened, pull the dumbbell over your head until arms are perpendicular to the floor. Lower the weights over the head and repeat the process for three sets of 10 reps.

Hinged Row

Hinged Row (Bodybuilding Wizard)

The hinged row shares similarities with the bent-over row; the exercise requires using both hands that mimic a pull-up. With dumbbells in both hands, pull the dumbbells into your chest and release them slowly back down while slightly bent over with your knees and your back as straight as possible.

Deep Low Row

Deep Low Row (EVO Fitness)

When doing a deep low row, resistance comes from the body weight. Engage back muscles as you lift your back farther from the ground. Your feet will serve as the fulcrum of the process as it stays grounded while you do reps of this exercise. To do deep low rows, you may use TRX straps or low bars. Lean back and walk forward until your body is at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Make sure to strengthen your core to keep your body straight. To do a single rep, move from the 45-degree angle position and lift your chest towards your hands. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Bridged Row

Bridged Row (Daily Burn)

The bridged row greatly improves the fortitude of the lats and the biceps. Bridged rows may require a squat rack bar. The key to this exercise is to ensure that you keep your back as straight as possible as the body is pulled towards the hands.

Place an elevated surface in front of the TRX straps. Position yourself in a seated position under the handles and firmly grip the handles. Put your feet on top of the surface and lift your body off the ground to position yourself on a dead hang. To do one rep, lift your chest to your hands from the dead hang position and repeat. Do three sets of five.

Suspended Row

Suspended Row (Coach Mag)

Suspended rows are close cousins of the bridged and deep low rows. To do Suspended Rows, hold a pair of TRX straps firmly. The placement of your feet will determine the amount of resistance for this exercise, so make sure you test the waters before you move forward. Move your feet forward while your hands are still on the strap. This will cause you to lean back and feel the resistance increase as your feet move forward. While keeping the entirety of your torso straight, engage your core and lean back, extending your arms to do so. To do one rep, pull your weight upward by moving your arms from an extended position in front of you to your side, and repeat. Do three sets of five reps.

Lat Pulldown

Lat Pulldown  (BodyBuilding)

The lat pulldown mimics the motion of the pull-up as it strengthens back muscles. Tighten your core when you pull down bands to make sure you’re not arching your back. To set up the lat pulldown and do one rep, you need a resistance band around something overhead or the lat pulldown machine. Firmly grip each side with a hand and position yourself directly below in a seated position. With your hands still on the band or the handle, pull your hands toward your chest area, then release the band or bar gradually. This will extend your hands overhead. For best results, do more than 15 reps.

Push Press Negatives

Push Press Negatives

The push press negative focuses on building the strength of your back without having to make a pull motion. It engages the back that supports the body weight. This routine will allow you to do the pull-up by building upper body strength consistently. To do push press negatives, you will need a dumbbell in both hands. Bring the dumbbells up to the shoulders and bend your knees as you lift the weights over your head. After this, slowly lower the dumbbells towards the shoulder area. Do three sets of five

Renegade Rows

Renegade Rows (Coach Mag)

To do renegade rows, a neat alternative to pull-ups that you can use to strengthen essential areas, you will need a 10-pound or 20-pound dumbbell.

To do reps, position yourself into a pushup position during dumbbell in hand. Keep your feet hip-width apart, then take turns between left and right in lifting the dumbbells to your chest area. Do 10 reps in 4 sets.

Lat Squeezes

Lat Squeezes (Skinny Ms.)

Using dumbbells, you can strengthen the lats, an essential area for a pull-up through lat squeezes. With your feet hip-width apart, slightly bend your knees and tuck your tailbone. To do one rep, position your upper arms close to the body and bring your hands out to become parallel with the floor. Draw your elbows toward one another as close as possible and repeat. Do 10 reps in three sets.

Rhomboid Pulls

Rhomboid Pulls (Bodybuilding)

Engage your rhomboids by using dumbbells in doing rhomboid pulls. Position your arms to make two left angles with your fists facing forward. Maintain this position and lift arms to shoulder level. To do one rep, pull elbows back and then forward by an inch both ways and draw shoulders down away from the ears during this motion.

Band Pulldown

Band Pulldown (Healthline)

Similar to the lat pull down, this exercise will help mimic the ascending motion during a pull-up. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your knees bent slightly and your chest lifted. Firmly grip the resistance band with palms facing up. Step backward to increase the tension on the band. To do a single rep, pull the band down until arms become straight and the hip area is reached. Release the pull from the band to return to the starting position and repeat. Do three sets of 15.

Snatch Grip Bar Hold

Snatch Grip Bar Hold (Healthline)

Adjust the weights of a barbell according to comfort during this exercise. Bend your knees and position your hips backward while keeping your chest up. Position your arms in a way that it surpasses shoulder-width on the squat bar and pull the bar up to your legs near the hip crease. To do one rep, engage your lats and draw shoulder blades together and hold the position for 30 seconds as you position the bar towards the legs.

T Hold

T Hold (Examined Existence)

Using a resistance band, perform a T-hold. Pull a resistance band to span your shoulder width. Keep your palms facing forward and hold your shoulder blades down and back to keep your chest up. Maintain this position for 20 seconds and keep the neck relaxed and your core engaged throughout this time.

W Raise

W Raise (Healthline)

Using a pair of lightweights or dumbbells (depending on your strength), bend your knees and lean forward until the torso is parallel with the ground by shifting your hips backward. Draw elbows up to shoulder height and bend elbows and arms to a 90-degree position with your fists pointing to the ground. To do one rep, maintain the position, then extend the arms upward and press the weights out. Do three sets of 10 reps.

Remember that fitness is a journey, and the road ahead is filled with muscle sores that last for days. But as the cliche goes, health is wealth, and pull-ups are just one part of the puzzle. Make sure to eat a balanced diet and nourish all the areas of your body through different workout regimens that push your boundaries.

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