Afraid of pullups? Try these variations

  • Use a resistance loop band for one variation of a pullup.

    Use a resistance loop band for one variation of a pullup. Courtesy of Push Fitness

  • Use your legs to assist you in a squat pullup.

    Use your legs to assist you in a squat pullup. Courtesy of Push Fitness

  • Traditional pullups can be daunting for those starting their fitness journey

    Traditional pullups can be daunting for those starting their fitness journey Courtesy of Push Fitness

Posted11/29/2014 7:00 AM

The pullup is one of those exercises that demands respect, even though most people don't particularly like it. It's a simple concept -- grasp an overhead bar and pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar.

The pullup is an excellent measure of upper body strength and many of you may remember performing the pullup or bent arm hang as part of your fitness testing in junior high.


The pullup works muscles of the arms, shoulders, back, and core. It's a great exercise for increasing muscle tone in the arms and back while improving grip strength and shoulder mobility.

The problem is, many people lack the strength to do a proper set of pullups, but that's OK. Finding some practical ways to assist the upper body will allow you to complete a set of pullups while taking advantage of all this exercise has to offer.

I'll start with one of the simplest pullup variations and then progress from there.

Assisted Pullup Machine. Many health clubs have a machine dedicated to assisting your pullup attempt. You either kneel or stand on a platform that helps offset your body weight by the amount of weight you select. With an overhand grip, pull yourself upward while driving your elbows toward your sides. Be sure to choose a weight that allows you to keep good form.

The Squat Pullup. In this version, you are gripping a bar set at chest height and using your legs to assist by squatting through the pullup so your lower body is holding some of your weight. Take a slightly wider than shoulder width grip on the bar and step forward slightly with each foot but maintain an upright posture. Slowly bend your knees and squat down until your arms are fully extended. Push with your legs while you pull with your arms until your chin clears the bar. For a more challenging version, use only one leg to assist.

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Rubber Band Assisted Pullup. Hang a resistance loop band from the pullup bar. Choose the correct band based on the amount of assistance you need. Take an overhand grip on the bar and slip your foot through the loop. Fully extend that leg and place your non-assisted foot on top of the other foot to hold everything together. Keep your body perpendicular to the floor and perform the pullup as described.

Body weight Pullup. If you possess the strength, the traditional pullup is an ideal exercise to add to your routine. A common mistake many people make is not fully recruiting the muscles of the back. Be sure to fully extend your arms at the bottom and as you pull yourself up, drive your shoulders down and back. This uses more of your back rather than relying too much on your arms, which will fatigue quickly. If the basic pullup is too easy, hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear a weighted vest.

So no matter what your fitness level, be sure to add pullups to your routine for a great way to tone and strengthen the upper body. For a video of these pullup variations, visit our blog at or find us on Facebook at Push Fitness Schaumburg.

• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. Contact him at

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