8 upper-body exercises when you can't do a pull-up

Ah, the elusive pull-up. When you crack it, you're golden. But if you can't pull up your entire body weight from the starting point of a dead hang, you're certainly not on your own. It's not an easy move. So, in the build-up to being able to execute this great upper-body exercise, what else can you do to gain some of the same benefits and build those muscles?

We've put together a selection of 8 great upper-body exercises to get you on the road to pull-up greatness. Get the strength benefits you're after while making real progress.

1. Dumbbell holds

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a heavy (for you) dumbbell in each hand. Maintain a straight standing posture, engage your biceps and hold for 30 seconds. If this is a struggle, opt for a lighter weight for now.

2. Timed hangs

Reach up for a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you, keep your abs engaged and hang with your feet off the ground for 10 seconds. Keep your shoulder blades in a level position - not sticking out or rounding. Repeat 5 times.

3. Scap-ups

Hang from a pull-up bar with your feet off the floor, palms facing away from you. Gently pinch your shoulder blades together, then return them to a level position. Repeat 15 times.

4. Plank

Place your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and straighten your legs so that only your hands and toes are touching the floor. Keep your feet close together. Hold.

5. Hollow hold bananas

Lay with your back on the floor, your legs straight and your arms stretched overhead. Keeping your lower back flat to the ground, engage your abs and lift your arms, head, and legs off the floor. Hold for 15 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

6. Stability ball roll-outs

Kneel on the floor, clasp your hands and place them on a stability ball. Keeping your back flat and your body in a straight line from head to toe, roll the ball forwards, slowly stretching out your body. Use your core muscles to return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times.

7. Inverted rows

Hold an empty bar (resting in a racket) with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart and elbows bent. Walk your feet underneath the bar, so your body is at an angle to the floor and you are facing the ceiling. Keeping your legs straight and your elbows close to your body, extend your arms to lower away from the bar, then squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull up and bring your chest towards the bar.

8. Kettlebell bottom-up press

Hold a kettlebell upside down (by the handle) in your right hand, your elbow bent and level with your chest. Slowly press the kettlebell overhead, keeping the bell balanced towards the ceiling. Repeat 15 times and then switch hands.

Once you've mastered these moves and incorporated them into your regular workouts, you can work your way towards a full pull-up. Make sure you ask for assistance if needed when you're just starting out. And let us know how you get on in the comments below!


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