How to do Pull-ups without a Bar

Locals Make Use Of Phnom Penh's Public Exercise Spots
Bhavesh Aggarwal

For many people, strength training is primarily centered around calisthenics. One of the most important movements in calisthenics is the pull-up. Unlike a push-up or a squat, however, the pull-up requires a horizontal bar. What if no such bars are available? Let's take a closer look at how this supposed limitation can be circumvented.

There are a lot of possibilities to do pull-ups at home or out 'in the wild'.

For the sake of those people who can't do pull-ups yet, we'll start with some options for inverted rows/horizontal pulls/Australian pull-ups.

Here's a video of the author demonstrating them:


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1. Find a bar between chest and hip height.

2. Grab the bar just wider than your shoulders.

3. Keep your shoulders 'packed' at all times, i.e. engage your shoulder and back muscles so the upper arms are not pulled out of the shoulder sockets.

4. Get under the bar, so that your body is completely straight, your legs and feet are together and your weight is on your arms and heels. Lower yourself, maintaining a straight body.

5. Keeping the heels in contact with the ground, pull your body up so that the upper sternum comes in contact with the bar.

One of the most obvious candidates for inverted rows is your dining table, though there are a couple requirements: You have to be able to grip it properly. It may also require a counterweight on the other side. Any other high table is perfectly fine too. If your arms are still strongly bent in the lowest position, however, the table is too low. Naturally, desks also offer a good place to do horizontal pulls.

Another classic method is laying a broomstick across two chairs or tables. The above limitations apply. Be sure that the broom can hold you, and that it doesn't roll around. Use a barbell instead if you have one.

Many people underestimate the sheer number of possibilities you have to do pulls at home. You can use your door handles for some easier variations:

Just grab the handles, and lean back.
Just grab the handles, and lean back.

So much for being at home. What about the outside? Maybe your neighborhood or town has dedicated bars for horizontal pulls.

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But any old horizontal rail will do.

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Or not so old

The rail doesn't have to be perfectly straight, a corner or a round rail can work too.

You might see a mini-carousel. I see a pull-bar with an extra challenge for the core.
You might see a mini-carousel. The author sees a pull-bar with an extra challenge for the core.

The occasional low tree branch is also perfectly acceptable.

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There are tables outside as well. Use them to your advantage.

Table tennis and inverted rows. Sounds like a fun afternoon.Enter caption
Table tennis and inverted rows. Sounds like a fun afternoon.

Once you are competent with horizontal pulls, you can increase the challenge by tucking a solid box (or a really full cardboard box) under your feet. As with a push-up, Australian pull-ups become tougher the higher your feet are in relation to your hands.


Now we come to the actual exercise in question. You want to do pull-ups, but there's no bar at home. The easy fix is to go buy one, they're not very expensive. But let's assume you have little to no budget. What options exist?

Instead of attaching a bar to the doorway, you may be able to do pull-ups from the doorway itself.


Maybe your doorways aren't shaped right. In that case, provided they have strong hinges, your doors themselves can serve as your pull-up bar. You should place some magazines under the door to give it extra support. Throw a towel over it to keep the edges from cutting into your fingers.

WARNING: Some doors either swing wide open or shut very fast when a load is put on top. To prevent accidents, place a heavy object on both sides of the door when doing pull-ups. Try door pull-ups at your own risk.

A closet is often a safer and more stable option. Be careful, however. It might tip and fall on top of you if it's too light. Ideally, pick a full, well-made, massive wood closet.

Moving outside again, the easiest option is the community pull-up bar.

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Failing that, most public property is fair game. Make sure it's sturdy. If you have a soccer pitch or basketball court in your vicinity, do your pull-ups there.

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If you can reach it, the rim itself can be used. On this basket, there's a crossbar just above 6 feet. Note the rail in the background. Perfect for some inverted rows!Enter caption
If you can reach it, the rim itself can be used. On this basket, there's a crossbar just above 6 feet. Note the rail in the background. Perfect for some inverted rows!

Our ancestors did pull-ups when they moved around in trees. So why can't we? Only pick trees that are alive and healthy. The thicker the branch is, the more likely that it can hold your weight, but the harder it is to grip.

Select a thick, horizontal branch, or a comparatively thinner branch which is slightly angled upwards. Also make sure the branch isn't too high above the ground, in case it does break.

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The top of a swing is also a great place for pull-ups:

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In fact, children's playgrounds offer a wealth of options for pull-ups. The somewhat imaginative observer should be able to spot quite a few in the following picture:


It doesn't always have to be a solid bar. Horizontal ropes work as well:

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Keep in mind that pull-ups can be done with your forearms facing the front (true pull-ups), forearms facing you (chin-ups) and forearms facing each other (hammer grip/neutral grip pull-ups). While they vary slightly in how much individual muscles are recruited, they all use the same muscles.

Find a fork in a tree, even if the branches aren't horizontal, and you can do some nifty hammer grip pull-ups.

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If you have nothing but dip bars or Australian pull-up bars, you can still do pull-ups from those, simply raise your legs out in front of you.

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Hammer grip L-sit pull-ups on dip bars.

Or tuck your knees really high.

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The availability of spots depends on a lot of factors. Work with what you have.

There are very few reasons why an able-bodied and willing person can't do pull-ups. "I don't have a bar at home." isn't one of them.

Edited by Kumud Ranjan


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