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September 29, 2021 9 min read

If you are finding it hard to get to the gym to find a chin-up bar, there are several great alternatives that might be useful exercises for you to do at your home gym or even in a variety of other places.  These include bodyweight alternative exercises, weight training alternative exercises, and assisted chin-ups.

These exercises all offer good upper back work and they are all quite a bit easier than normal chin-ups, too. You can find a suitable alternative for your own personal strength level and weightlifting experience.

Note: Before You Get Started

To allow your body enough time to recover and to start building your muscles, always be sure to get enough rest (for up to 48 hours) before you keep training the same muscle groups. Rest and nutrition are some major factors that will have an influence on your weightlifting and bodybuilding goals.

A good way to add a lot of muscle mass is to try our  Ripped Stack.

If you are more interested in improving your endurance and reducing your recovery time, you might prefer the  Hyperbolic Stack.

Keep in mind that there will be some areas that you will not be training with these pull-up alternatives, such as the triceps, chest, and lower body. This is why good bodyweight training always focuses on the strength of your whole body and not just on certain muscles.

Bodyweight Back Exercise #1: Inverted Rows 

The bodyweight row (or inverted row) is considered one of the best chin-up alternative exercises for beginners to try. The inverted row (or bent-over row) is a more horizontal movement than a straight chin-up. It places a lot more emphasis on the arms, rhomboids, and lower trapezius muscles. 

Man Exercising Back On Horizontal Barbell Pull Up

Get yourself set up with a shoulder-width grip on a horizontal pull up bar, with your arms fully extended. Keep your core tight and your body in a straight line all the way from your feet to your head. From that starting position, pull yourself up to the rings while keeping your shoulder blades back and flexing your biceps. When you reach the end position, lower yourself back down slowly and under control.

You can also perform ring rows using gymnastic rings that you can set up in your home gym. Ring rows have been shown to build more grip and stabilizer strength. You can make both of these types of bodyweight rows easier by moving your feet closer to the rings.

You can also make them harder by moving your feet forward or lifting them up. No matter your current strength, you can train with bodyweight rows. Although inverted rows are not always available, these alternative exercises might soon become some of the best exercises you can do.

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Bodyweight Back Exercise #2: Elevated-foot Chin-ups 

If you still have access to those gymnastic rings you used in the first exercise, you can take full advantage of all the benefits of a chin-up when you practice the elevated-foot chin-up. This is an easier version of the chin-up because your legs are supporting some of your weight. This exercise works the arms and trunk while developing the key movement skills you will need to start doing full chin-ups.

Get set up with your feet on an elevated surface by forming a roughly 90-degree angle in your hip area. Take an underhand grip on the rings and lower yourself by extending your arms. Keep your core tight and pull yourself up to the rings. Hold that top position for a few seconds before lowering yourself back down in a controlled way. 

Bodyweight Back Exercise #3: Squatting Rows 

These are classic bodyweight exercises with a wide range of variations. The overall idea is simple: get into a squatting position and just row your bodyweight. You can perform this exercise with a towel, in a doorway, or even against a solid tree with a strong cable or rope. The point is that it is easy to do almost anywhere, and it really works your glutes. 

Take a firm grip on a towel or doorway. Bend your knees to about 90 degrees, without adjusting your upper body position. Push your shoulders back, bend your arms, and pull your chest towards the door. Pause briefly at the end of your range and slowly lower yourself back to the start position. This is going to build a lot of the same back muscles without presenting the difficulty of using the full chin-up bar. 

Weight Training Alternative Exercise #1: Barbell Rows 

The bent-over barbell row is a great alternative to the chin-up for a beginner. It is easier to load and it can build a very strong foundation of upper back strength, just like chin-ups or bicep curls. If your muscles have been letting you down lately at all, this is a good way to start getting them flexed up again. 

Stand over a barbell and take a shoulder-width grip. Keep your back flat, with your hips at about 90 degrees and your chest exposed. Start the movement with your shoulders as you squeeze them down and together. Reach your elbows back and close them, pausing briefly when the bar reaches your chest. Then lower the bar back to the starting position to complete the exercise.

Weight Training Alternative Exercise #2: Dumbbell Rows 

If you are not doing bodyweight or single-arm movements, you will not get the benefits you might expect from chin-ups. Dumbbells are a good way to fix this problem with free weights. Just like other forms of loaded rowing movement, these exercises can build muscle effectively. Another major benefit of the dumbbell row is that it’s a single-arm movement, so you can control the stabilizer muscles around your shoulder. 

Simply bend over and support your weight on one hand while you hold the dumbbell in the other. Keep your back straight and stable, tuck the shoulder blade back with the dumbbell at arm’s length. Then row the dumbbell back toward your body, and pull your elbow back while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Rest briefly at the top position, before slowly returning to the start position.

Weight Training Alternative Exercise #3: Lat Pulldowns 

Your lats are some of the biggest muscles in your back and this machine targets them directly. Lat pulldowns can be an almost perfect way to  develop back strength for beginners who cannot yet do chin-ups.

The lat pulldown is a good way to build the muscles of your upper back. It is quite similar to a chin-up motion, so it should be a priority for your weight training sets. Try to use the same grip as when you do a chin-up so that you get the best results. Be sure not to lean back, and also be sure to just focus on working the latissimus dorsi muscles.

Set up with the standard wide grip that you use for chin-ups. Keep your trunk stable throughout and be sure not to lean back. Start the exercise by lowering your shoulder blades at the same time. Finish by bringing the bar to your chest, before slowly returning it to the start position.

You can add a lot of weight to this movement quickly compared to some of the other bodyweight alternatives, but be sure to use weight training to build your back muscles and use bodyweight training to practice your movement skills. You might also find that using a lat pulldown machine can be nice and easy on your lower back.

Bonus Assisted Chin-up Exercise: Band Pull-aparts 

You will never become extremely well-built with resistance bands, but band pull-aparts (and band pulldowns) can be some key preparation exercises. They help you develop control and muscular endurance in your upper back and they are a good way to address the slouched shoulders that sometimes occur in weightlifting.

athletic man stretching with resistance band outdoors

Although they are not a direct chin-up alternative, pull-aparts with resistance bands target the same muscles. They will build trap, deltoid, and rhomboid control. The only equipment needed for pull-aparts is a light resistance band, so they are perfect for home workouts. 

Use a shoulder-width grip on the resistance band at shoulder height. Bend your arms a little and keep them in the same position throughout the movement. Move your elbows back until they are in line with the rest of your body. Take a rest for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.

You can use the resistance bands to change the angle and number of repetitions for vertical and horizontal movements. These band pull-apart (and band pulldown) exercises are perfect for warm-ups and cool-downs, too, because they can help you prevent injuries.

Push-ups are exercises that exert different muscles, but they can also be really effective ways to get some major benefits out of your body weight, and they don’t require much equipment to get astounding results.

Bonus Assisted Chin-up Exercise: Chin-up Hold and Negative 

If you have a pull up bar at home, these are some of the best alternative exercises to classic chin-ups. You will probably feel quite a bit stronger when you are in this slightly lowered position, so you can build muscle and work on the skill components of traditional chin-ups more easily.

Set your hands at about shoulder-width. You can try to jump into the top position or you can use a box to get into the correct position. Hold that position as long as you possibly can. As you lower yourself, move slowly while staying active throughout the movement.

When you have extended your arms, simply repeat the movement. You can make this exercise harder by increasing the time of the hold, the time of the lower, or the number of reps. These are some key factors when it comes to scapular control and building big biceps, lats, and traps.

Bonus Assisted Chin-up Exercise: Box Chin-ups 

Box chin-ups are some of the best exercises to do since they encourage strict form and they duplicate many of the positions that bodybuilders ultimately take while they are doing full chin-ups. This exercise brings your legs into the movement to support some of your body weight used in this assisted pull.

First, place a box under the bar, which is high enough for you to stand on while you are hanging from the bar. Use an overhand grip with your palms facing forward to extend your arms and hang. Bend your knees and transfer some of your body weight to the box. Then try to do a normal chin-up, while using your legs to support some of your body weight.

For most people, the box chin-up will be one of the easiest variations of all of these exercises. You can take off as much load as you need, so they are suitable regardless of your experience level. These exercises can also scale very easily into traditional chin-ups, as long as you keep your feet in front of your hips at all times.

Getting Results from the Alternative Exercises

All of these exercises are great ways to build big biceps and triceps. Your bicep muscles work as more of a stabilizing force when you are doing inverted rows and some of the other exercises that we’ve discussed, but you can also target them more specifically just by changing your grip.

You will find that if you use an underhand grip with your palms facing up and then perform the row, you will more actively engage your biceps and your triceps.

All of these exercises can be performed with  high loads or training volumes to help you produce the kind of overall muscle and strength gains you might be looking for.

All of these exercises  can lead to hypertrophy, which is something that can directly build all of your major muscles. If you are going to do these types of exercises regularly, we recommend that you warm up properly every time to reduce the risk of injury.

Always include a lot of rest and a solid overall nutrition plan in your workout program. Your results will depend to a large degree on these few factors, and also on how well you are able to recover after you have been working out.

Whether you are trying to build up your strength to the full chin-up level or whether you are content with doing assisted chin-ups, you might find these  alternative exercises in your workout program very useful when it comes to reaching better health and gaining better overall mobility.

Although some of these exercises will take your body through quite a wide range of motions, they all still mostly target your biceps, your back, and your upper body in general. You don’t really need to do full chin-ups to get better at them, or to build impressive muscles. All of these chin-up alternative exercises will help you get stronger and fitter, and help you to build some solid back workouts.

They offer all the muscle and skill training you need to get into better shape or build up to the best pull up you have ever done. Whatever your experience or equipment, you can get a lot stronger by incorporating these exercises into your workout routine.

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