Alternatives to Pull-Ups

If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you either don’t have a pull-up bar or you can’t do a pull-up. I’m also guess you probably have a pair of dumbbells. Well, if you’re wondering if you can substitute pull-ups with dumbbell exercises, the answer is: yes, you can. Now, bear in mind, pull-ups are a unique exercise, so substituting them with dumbbell exercises won’t perfectly replicate the effects of doing pull-ups, but you can hit the same muscle groups in a similar way.

Bent Over Rows

Bent over rows, of all the different dumbbell exercises there are, are perhaps the most similar to doing pull-ups. If you can’t do a pull-up, bent over rows are a really good exercise to do to build up the strength you need to do a pull-up. They work your lats, traps, teres major and minor, rhomboid major, posterior deltoid and biceps; basically all of the same muscles pull-ups work.

To do a bent over row, simply stand with your feet shoulder width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at your waist, leading with your chest, until your back is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Then pull the dumbbells up towards your chest in a rowing motion.

Bicep Curls

Bicep curls are a great exercise to simulate chin-ups (pull-ups with an underhand grip), because chin-ups mainly work your biceps. You can do a wide variety of bicep curls, including traditional curls, reverse curls and hammer curls.

Upright Rows

Upright rows are done the exact same way as bent over rows except you don’t bend over (obviously). The will also work your traps and biceps, as well as your triceps, forearms, and deltoids.

Other Exercises

These are just three examples of dumbbell exercises you can do to simulate pull-ups but there are many others. Just remember, pull-ups are mainly a back and arms exercise, so any dumbbell movement that mostly targets your back and arms is going to simulate pull-ups to some degree. Also keep in mind that pull-ups do work your abdominal muscles, so don’t neglect them either.


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