8 Best Bodyweight Pull Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 12, 2022

Bodyweight exercises are strength training workouts that employ a person's body weight to provide resistance. Bodyweight training requires basic skills such as pulling, pushing, bending, squatting, lunging, jumping, or core rotation. Speed, strength, power, endurance, balance, coordination, and flexibility may all be improved with bodyweight workouts. 

Enhancing bio-motor abilities through this type of strength training has grown in popularity among recreational and pro athletes. However, bodyweight pull exercises are a bit trickier to perform than push exercises, especially if no equipment is available. One has to be creative to perform bodyweight pull exercises when there are no pull-up bars, dip bars, or gymnastic rings. 

Bodyweight training has the advantage of being free; while certain exercises may require equipment, most bodyweight exercises do not.

For example, for bodyweight pull exercises that require equipment, ordinary household objects (such as a bath towel for inclined rows) are frequently sufficient, or alternatives can be developed (such as a step in a staircase, a table, or a door). As a result, bodyweight workouts are useful when traveling or on vacation when a gym or specialized equipment may not be accessible.

Bodyweight Pull Exercises: Benefits and Its Importance to the Posterior Chain

Most of us live in an environment where climbing trees, pulling ourselves up a rocky cliff, or pulling a rope are not part of our daily activities. In addition, even the most popular conditioning exercises, like running, boxing, and brisk walking favor the anterior chain. 

Because our movements in daily activities are dominant in the anterior chain (muscles in the front of the body), this results in muscular imbalances between the anterior and posterior chains, which affects posture and may lead to injury. For example, a weak posterior chain is one of the leading causes of lower back pain and knee injuries.

The posterior chain is a total powerhouse, containing some of the body's most prominent and strongest muscles. These muscles are critical in everyday tasks such as sitting down, standing up, jumping, and lifting something off the ground, 

The rhomboids, traps, lats, erector spinae, hamstrings, and glutes are all part of the posterior chain. They regulate backward or pulling force and aid in stabilizing the spine and hips, keeping the body upright. The posterior chain collaborates with the anterior chain, which governs forward movement and pushing on the front side of the body. 

An individual can assess if he/she has a weak posterior chain by looking at his/her sides in a full-body mirror; Take account of postural traits by answering the questions below:

  • Does the head tilt forward?
  • Are the shoulders drooping forward with the anterior delts almost in line with the pecs?
  • Does the back look round instead of flat and straight?
  • Does the butt look flat?
  • Do the hamstrings look flat?

Benefits of Bodyweight Pull Exercises

1. Improved Posture

A weak posterior chain can cause slouching, and if the back muscles aren't strong enough to pull the shoulder blades back and keep them upright, the individual will appear stooped. Bodyweight pull exercises may improve posture and confidence by strengthening the posterior chain. In addition, back-strengthening exercises may help alleviate lower back pain.

2. Lift Heavier and Increased Explosiveness in Movements

Bodyweight pull exercises enable people to lift heavier weights. When one grows accustomed to the motions of the bodyweight pull exercise, one's motor abilities develop, allowing one to move heavier weights than their typical load.

In addition, developing strength in the traps and lats helps provide a stable base for explosive pushing exercises like bench presses.

3. Reduced Risk of Injury

Training the body's posterior chain is best to prevent lower back pain and knee injuries. The upper back muscles such as the rhomboids, rear delts, traps, and lats must be strengthened to provide a stable base and counterbalance the effects of pressing exercises. While the lumbar, glutes, and hamstrings should be trained to protect the lower back, hips, and knees from injury. 

Bodyweight Pull Exercises

1. Close Grip Chin-Ups 

When performed with a narrow underhand grip on the pull-up bar, chin-ups are an excellent upper-body workout that provides maximum tension and activation of the lats. In addition, because the forearms and elbows are so close together, the lats get more activated as they extend farther toward the front of the body, outperforming the biceps.

close grip chin up

To do this exercise, grab the pull-up bar with a narrow underhand grip a few inches apart. Allow the torso to dangle freely before pulling up gently by retracting the shoulders and bending the elbow until the chin is above the bar. Keep the elbows in the same posture from the bottom to the top of the motion. Then, slowly lower the body to reverse the movement. Repeat.

2. Pull-Ups 

The pull-up is a more advanced workout and more challenging to execute than the chin-up. However, for novices, the pull-up may be performed with resistance bands to reduce the load, and they will still benefit from these variations.

Using different grips allows you to target a broader range of muscles. Depending on your level of fitness, you may need to make a few adjustments until your muscles are strong enough to do a perfect pull-up.

pull up

To begin a pull-up, grab onto a pull-up bar shoulder-width apart with the hands facing away from the body (overhand grip) and the body fully stretched. Retract the shoulders and bend the elbows. Keep the elbows in the same position from the bottom to the top of the action. To reverse the movement, slowly lower the body. Repeat.

Someone without a pull-up bar at home can still perform pull-ups using a door or a step beneath the stairs. When using a door for pull-ups, secure the door with a wooden or rubber wedge (door stopper). Be mindful of the head if doing pull-ups under the stairs, as there might be limited headroom to allow one to do a full pull-up.

3. Active Hang 

For those who cannot yet do a full pull-up or chin-up, performing an active hang will help develop strength in the shoulders and back until they are strong enough to lift the body. An active hang is when you are hanging from a pull-up bar while actively engaging the shoulders and back muscles. 

active hang

Grab a pull-up bar shoulder-width apart, hands facing away from the body, and body fully extended to begin a pull-up. Retract the shoulders and bend the elbows a bit until the ears are at elbow level. Hold the position for 3 to 5 seconds. Slowly lower the body to reverse the movement then repeat.

4. Inclined Pull-Ups or Inverted Rows

An inclined pull-up, or an inverted row, is an upper-body workout that effectively targets different muscle groups simultaneously, offering a thorough exercise that increases strength and burns calories. Good form is required for maximum benefit and to avoid injury regardless of your hand posture or tweaks for this exercise.

inverted row

Use a dip bar or a sturdy table that is arm's length or slightly higher off the ground. Lie beneath the dip bar or table with your back to the floor and your feet hip-width apart. Reach up with both hands, shoulder-width apart, to grip the bar or table's edge. Use an underhand grip to train your biceps. Use an overhand hold for a trapezius and shoulder exercise.

Maintain a straight line from the upper back to the ankles by tensing the abdominal muscles. Next, pull the body up, bringing the chest to the bar until it is almost touching. Hold for a second, then gently lower the body to the starting position. Keep the arms slightly bent rather than completely extended when reaching the bottom of the movement. The heels should remain on the ground during the repetition.

5. Overhead Good Mornings

The deadlift and its many variations, like the good mornings, are considered pull exercises.

Begin by standing up straight with the feet shoulder-width apart. Next, raise the arms and either place the hands behind the head or, for more tension, stretch the arms straight overhead.

bodyweight good morning

Maintain a slight knee bend while pushing the buttocks out and hinge at the hips. Maintain a flat back and arms in the same posture throughout the range of motion. Lower the body till it is parallel to the ground. Reverse the movement by moving the hips forward and returning to the starting position. Repeat.

6. Glute Bridge

The glute bridge, like the good mornings, is also a bodyweight pull exercise. Lie with the back on the floor with the knees bent, feet flat on the ground, and the heels directly below the knees. Place the hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, palms down. 

glute bridge

Raise the hips off the ground, forming a straight line with the knees, hips, and shoulders. Squeeze the glutes tight and maintain core tensing during the exercise to avoid overextending the back. Hold the bridged posture for a few seconds before lowering the hips.

7. Wall Elbow Row

This bodyweight rowing exercise is best for beginners. Stand facing away from the wall and the back of the heels about a foot from the wall. Lean on the wall using the upper back, but don't let the buttocks touch the wall. Bend the knees and hips with the thigh at a 45° angle from the floor.

With the elbows against the wall and close to the torso, use a pulling action of the upper arm to force the elbows against the wall, squeezing the shoulder blades together. The upper back will come off the wall and hold this posture for 3-5 seconds at a time.

8. Inclined Towel Rows

Wrap a towel around a pole and grasp both ends with one hand. Lean back and place both feet at the base of the pole, arms straight. This is the starting position.

bodyweight towel row

Maintain a straight line from head to heels as you draw yourself toward the pole. Once the hands have reached the chest and the shoulders have fully tightened, slowly descend back down.

Final Thoughts

The main benefit of bodyweight pull exercises is posture development, which may enhance someone's confidence and encourage them to take their training program more seriously as they progress through more complex routines. To increase whole-body strength and power, incorporate these efficient pull exercises into your strength training program. To provide a well-rounded training program, balance pull workouts with push activities.

References

1. Contreras B. Bodyweight strength training anatomy. Human Kinetics; 2013 Sep 6.

2. Kritz M, Cronin J, Hume P. Screening the upper-body push and pull patterns using body weight exercises. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2010 Jun 1;32(3):72-82.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
Inspire US serves as an informational hub for people looking to start their fitness journey.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information being shared is for educational purposes only. You must consult with a medical professional before acting on any content on this website.
Copyright © Inspire US 2022