In this article, four alternatives to the weighted pull-up will be discussed, each with video demonstrations. In an earlier article we discussed the benefits and purpose of the weighted pull-up, which are recapped in the below sections.
Weighted Pull-Up Exercise Demo
In the below video demonstration, the weighted pull-up is demonstrated. Depending on the goal and muscle groups looking to be targeted specifically, coaches and athletes can vary grip width (wider vs narrower) and loading (strength based or muscular hypertrophy/endurance).
Benefits of the Weighted Pull-Up
Below are three primary benefits of the weighted pull-up, which are shared with nearly all of the below alternatives.
The weighted pull-up is a multi-joint movement that targets the back, arms, and forearms. It can be done for higher reps, heavier reps, or a mixture of the two, making it one of the best back builders for strength, power, fitness athletes.
Upper Body Pulling Strength
The weighted pull-up can be loaded significantly heavy for low repetitions which can increase overall upper body pulling strength. This is a great way to increase back size, strength, and develop greater pulling capacity as a lifter/athlete progresses with their training.
Pressing, Squatting, Deadlifting Enhancement
The back (both rows and pull-up movements) work to not only increase back size and strength, but also enhance stabilization and muscular force output for pressing movements like the bench press, overhead press, and even back squat. A bigger, stronger back will translate to overall increases in overhead and pressing performance, deadlifting, and squatting.
Weighted Pull-Up Alternatives
The weighted pull-up offers immense benefits for athletes of all levels. In the event you cannot perform weighted pull-ups due to lack of strength, I suggest you first regress this exercise to strict bodyweight pull-ups, tempo and pause pull-ups (see below), banded pull-ups, and more. Simply adding the below alternatives can increase muscle mass and strength, but some will not have the exact carryover and application to gymnastic and pull-up centric movements. Therefore, coaches and athletes should determine why they would want to be swapping exercises out (perhaps due to injury, lack of strength, etc) and then make the necessary swaps based of purpose and the exact limitations.
The lat pulldown machine can be a good alternative for those who lack back strength and muscle mass, as it can be used for both heavier and lighter weight training. It can help to teach form and proper joint actions, increase awareness of scapulae stability and latissimus dorsi muscle contraction, and is easy for all levels to perform. A drawback is that it has little actual transfer over to pull-up skill, as it does not teach grip strength, midline stability, and body awareness quite like a free hanging pull-up or assisted pull-up variation would.
The weighted chin-up is a fast and effective alternative to the weighted pull-up, simply performed by the individual supinating their hands instead of pulling with a pronated wrist. This can be beneficial for athletes with shoulder issues who may have irritation (however in this case I also recommend addressing the issue of iiration rather than neglecting it and lifting another way) or simply looking to increase back strength and hypertrophy at different muscle angles (stimulate new growth).
Inverted Ring Row
The inverted ring row can be done at a wide array of angles and with or without added weight (resistance). While the angles of force are different between rowing and pull-up movements, their can be some carry over to grip strength, body control, and midline stability.
Strict Pull-Up Holds and Tempos
Suppose you have issues performing strict weighted pull-ups and are looking for an alternative to assist you in gaining strength and muscle. When in doubt, I recommend you simply mix your grips, add in tempo reps (controlled concentrics, eccentrics, etc) and holds to vary your training up and increase time under tension. The above variations can also be used, however by patterning the pull-up at different speeds and positional pauses can increase isometric strength, increase force production at new angles, and improve your pull-up performance and body control.
Take a look at the below pull-up articles and exercise guide to take your fitness and strength to the next level.
Featured Image: @kingdomfitness_toronto on Instagram
Editor’s Note: BarBend reader and Meru Wellness founder Jen Kates had the following to say after reading the above article:
“Strict pull-up strength should be a priority for many athletes, especially if they’re a CrossFit athlete — and eccentric holds and tempo work is great for conditioning the athlete to be proficient with this. I find a 3-second hold at the top of the pull-up, followed by a 3-second lowering to the bottom to be effective. Before diving into eccentric work, I also find it effective to work on an “active hang” in the bottom of the pull-up; this is when the athlete grabs the pull-up bar and pulls down on the bar by bringing their scapulas back and down — this helps them increase strength in the bottom portion of the pull-up, which is the most common place where athletes get stuck.”