I love chin-ups because they are one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for targeting the bicep and back muscles.

While chin-ups are awesome, not everyone can do them right off the bat, and that's totally fine!

These alternatives bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Also, they will bring much-needed variety to the training routines of all those who can successfully do chin-ups.

Let's dive in!

The idea to write this list came to me the other day during a workout with my best friend, who couldn't even do a single chin-up.

I thought, okay, I have to find an alternative because he, like many of my clients, struggles with chin-ups, pull-ups, and other similar vertical pulling exercises.

Check out the 10 best alternatives to chin-ups!

1. Lat Pulldowns

man in blue doing lat pulldowns

I prefer to avoid comparing compound exercises (chin-ups) and machine ones (lat pulldowns), but this is an exception. Sure, the load on the muscles is far greater while doing chin-ups, but lat pulldowns do a fantastic job targeting back muscles and biceps. That's why lat pulldowns are a perfect alternative to chin-ups.

With wide, narrow, and neutral grip attachments available, you can tailor the exercise to hit different parts of your back and even target your biceps more.

The lat pulldown has one major advantage - it suits different fitness levels, unlike chin-ups. Beginners can start with lower weights and gradually increase as they build muscle mass, strength, and confidence.

Due to a sedentary lifestyle, the majority of adults have bad posture. So, I recommend lat pull-downs to my clients for improving posture since strengthening back muscles through this exercise contributes to better posture, which is vital for overall spine health.


  • Safe
  • Variety of grips and attachments
  • Lats emphasize

How to Do It:

  1. Adjust weight, seat height, thigh pads height, and put the attachment you want.
  2. Sit down on the lat pulldown machine, securing your thighs under the pads.
  3. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing forward (if you opt for an overhand grip).
  4. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted.
  5. Avoid arching your back excessively and engage your core for stability.
  6. Exhale as you pull the bar down towards your chest and use your back muscles to initiate the movement.
  7. Your elbows should point downward.
  8. Once the bar is near your chest, squeeze your back muscles briefly, emphasizing the contraction.
  9. Inhale as you slowly release the bar back to the starting position, extending your arms fully.

Tips From A Trainer!

It's easy to get carried away, but using momentum or excessive weights can compromise the effectiveness of the exercise and lead to injury. Focus on feeling the engagement in your lats throughout the movement, and gradually increase the weights. Your back will thank you for the precision and care you put into each rep. 

2. Bent Over Rows

man doing a bent over barbell row

The bent-over row is an absolute must on the list of great chin-up alternatives. Although it looks different, this exercise will engage muscles similarly to chin-ups and pull-ups.

It is a go-to choice for bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike due to its numerous benefits.

Since the biceps are the primary muscle for chin-ups, I suggest using an underhand grip for the bent-over row to take some of the stress with lats and emphasize the biceps.

It can be tricky after a lower-back injury, so if you still feel pain or weakness, strengthen the lower back muscles by doing other exercises before reintroducing bent-over rows.

And don't be afraid to increase weight (gradually, of course). The bent-over rows are great for building not only muscle mass but raw strength as well.


  • Strength improvement
  • Upper body engagement
  • Fat-burning

How to Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.
  2. Hold a barbell with a supinated or underhand grip (overhand or pronated grip is more back-oriented), hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hinge at your hips to lean forward, ensuring your back remains straight and parallel to the ground.
  4. Let the bar hang at arm's length in front of you.
  5. Pull the barbell toward your lower ribs, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  6. Once the barbell touches your lower ribs, connect your shoulder blades and squeeze your back muscles.
  7. Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you find it challenging to keep your back straight, consider using lighter weights since prioritizing a stable spine is a golden rule for effective bent-over rows. You can even practice in front of a mirror with no equipment to see what you need to work on. 

3. Pendlay Rows

man doing pendlay row

Glenn Pendlay was one of the most famous American weight-lifting coaches, but even if you never heard of him, you have seen people in the gym doing the Pendlay rows.

This compound exercise hits multiple muscle groups for a comprehensive back-building experience. Beyond the back, Pendlay rows also activate muscles like the biceps, rear deltoids, and core.

You don't have to be a professional weightlifter to take advantage of the Pendlay rows. Casual gym-goers will benefit from it also, but you have to adjust your weight and learn the correct form and technique because performing the exercise is not that simple.

It shares some similarities with the deadlift, making it an ideal accessory exercise to reinforce your deadlift.

The pulling motion resembles real-life activities like lifting objects from the ground, translating to functional strength gains, which is my favorite training approach.


  • Functional strength
  • Full-body engagement
  • Suitable for lifting heavier weights

How to Do It:

  1. Position your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  2. Place a loaded barbell on the floor, like for a deadlift.
  3. Hold a barbell with an overhand or underhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  4. Hinge at your hips, lowering your torso until it's nearly parallel to the ground.
  5. Keep your back straight, maintaining a neutral spine.
  6. Pull the barbell explosively towards your stomach, leading with your elbows.
  7. Focus on squeezing your back muscles at the top of the movement. Hold the contracted position for a split second.
  8. Lower the barbell back to the starting position.
  9. Leave the barbell on the floor, rest briefly, then repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

You must let the barbell touch the ground with each repetition to reset and maximize muscle engagement. 

4. T-bar Rows

man in a blue shirt doing the t-bar row exercise in the gym

Another exercise that perfectly targets back muscles and biceps.

Opposite to chin-ups, lats are primary muscles, and biceps are secondary, but T-bar rows are a good alternative because you don’t always have to expose muscles to the same volume and load in order for them to grow. So, it’s perfectly fine to emphasize the back one time and the biceps next time.

The nature of the T-Bar row movement challenges your core and lower back muscles, fostering better spinal stability and alignment.

However, that is a double-edged sword since exercisers with weak/injured lower back won’t be able to do T-bar rows. Luckily, there are a few variations that will help you safeguard your lower back and do T-bar rows at the same time.

Chest-supported T-bar row is my favorite. If your gym has such a T-bar machine, feel free to use it until you recover fully or gain the necessary strength.


  • Easy setup
  • Multiple grips
  • Fixed position makes it safer

How to Do It:

  1. Secure one end of the barbell into a landmine attachment or a corner (if you are not using a machine).
  2. Load the other end with weight plates.
  3. Straddle the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  4. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips.
  5. Grip the handles with one of the three grips - overhand, underhand, neutral.
  6. Hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  7. Pull the barbell and squeeze your muscles at the top.
  8. Hold the top position to feel the contraction before lowering the barbell.

Tips From A Trainer!

Avoiding excessive swinging is the key. You must minimize body movement to ensure the targeted muscles do most of the work. 

5. Assisted Chin-Ups

Man Doing Assisted Chin-Ups In The Gym

Everything in fitness and sports is specific. So, what better way to improve a conventional chin-up than to do the assistant version of the exercise?

This exercise enables you to experience the movement pattern and build strength without being hindered by a lack of initial upper body power. It will also boost your confidence, motivating you to strive for unassisted versions.

There are three ways you can do assisted chin-ups.

The first and most obvious is to have your gym partner or coach help by pushing you. Yet, this is the worst option because the other person can't determine exactly how much to push, so it is likely that the push will either be too strong or too weak.

That's why resistance bands and chin-up/dip assist machines are a much better option. Make sure the resistance band is strong enough to support your own body weight.


  • Beginner-friendly alternative exercise
  • Adjustable resistance
  • Confidence boost

How to Do It:

  1. Use an assisted pull-up machine or resistance bands.
  2. Attach the band to the chin-up bar and place your knees or feet on the band.
  3. Grab the bar with an underhand grip and hang.
  4. Pull yourself up towards the bar, using assistance from the bands or machine.
  5. Focus on engaging your back and biceps.
  6. Once your chin is over the bar, hold the position momentarily and slowly lower yourself to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Gradually decrease assistance over time. As your strength improves, use lighter bands or reduce the counterweight on the machine. 

6. Dumbbell Rows

Woman In Blue Shirt Doing Wide Dumbbell Rows

There are many variations of this staple exercise.

This time, I will talk about the single-arm dumbbell row because it engages the muscles more like a chin-up compared to a regular dumbbell row.

Dumbbell rows primarily engage muscles like the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and traps, helping you build a well-sculpted upper back. The biceps are significantly involved, too.

Working one side of the body at a time will eventually correct muscle imbalances while fostering symmetrical growth and improved posture.

This exercise can be performed at home or in the gym, not requiring different training equipment - just a pair of dumbbells and a bench or sturdy chair.

Some other popular variations are chest-supported rows and batwing rows, which are relatively similar but have specific differences.


  • Potential for unilateral training
  • Strength + hypertrophy
  • Range of motion

How to Do It:

  1. Place a dumbbell next to a bench.
  2. Position one knee and the corresponding hand on the bench.
  3. Place the opposite leg on the floor, creating a stable stance.
  4. Pick up the dumbbell with the hand on the same side as the knee on the bench.
  5. Pull the dumbbell with your back muscles towards your hip, leading with your elbow.
  6. Squeeze your back muscles once your elbows are past your body.
  7. Maintain control and tension in your back while returning the dumbbell to the starting position.
  8. Allow full stretch of the lat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Even though I'm not a huge fan of mixing different exercises, the dumbbell renegade row is a great example of a highly effective full-body exercise. Try the dumbbell renegade row once you feel strong enough. 

7. Inverted Rows

Man Doing Inverted Row

Weak forearms, wrists, and hands are often the main obstacles to successfully performing chin-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups.

Inverted rows, also called bodyweight rows, along with dead hang position, may help.

You will make whole forearms and hands work but won't burden them with your total body weight - so consider this a progression exercise.

The same applies to back muscles and biceps, equally essential for inverted row and the chin-up exercise. I prefer to introduce barbell inverted rows to my clients first and later TRX, as that challenges core muscles more.

It's important to ensure your anchor is sturdy enough, or you can injure yourself if the barbell slips or the TRX detaches. That's why the Smith machine is excellent - the bar is locked.


  • For all fitness levels
  • Can be performed almost anywhere
  • Grip strengthening

How to Do It:

  1. Lie on your back beneath a sturdy horizontal pull-up bar (like a Smith machine bar or TRX straps).
  2. Grab it with an underhand grip (or overhand), hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Position your body at an angle where you can perform the exercise comfortably.
  4. Pull your chest toward the bar.
  5. Brace your core to keep your body in a straight line.
  6. Lower yourself and think about extending the negative phase.

Tips From A Trainer!

Adjusting the angle of your body can make the exercise more challenging. The more horizontal your body, the harder the exercise becomes. 

8. Resistance Band Pulldowns

Woman Doing Resistance Band Pulldowns

I never miss the opportunity to include at least one exercise with elastic resistance in a training program for my clients.

Resistance bands provide elastic resistance that is significantly different from free weights. Progressive resistance throughout the entire range of motion increases muscle activation and promotes muscle growth.

Also, it is a gentler alternative to heavy weights, reducing the impact on joints while still delivering a potent muscle-strengthening workout.

What I really like about resistance band pulldowns is a chance to explore different angles. By altering the attachment points and angles of the bands, you can target different areas of your back, ensuring a well-rounded training session.

You can also change your position and have a slightly different workout every time - muscles love that! Another option is to do pulldowns unilaterally to solve imbalances.

And we mustn't forget the convenience of using resistance bands for other chin-up alternatives. Whether traveling or working out at home, resistance bands offer a compact and lightweight solution to keep your back-training regimen consistent.


  • Elastic resistance
  • Suitable during the injury recovery process
  • Joint-friendly

How to Do It:

  1. Attach a resistance band to an anchor point above you - a sturdy door, Swedish ladder, etc.
  2. Grab the band with an overhand, underhand, or neutral grip.
  3. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent; you can also kneel or sit to isolate the lats even more.
  4. Step back to create tension in the band.
  5. Pull the band down to your chest.
  6. Contract your back muscles at the bottom of the movement.
  7. Slowly release the bend while taking advantage of the resistance through the entire range of motion.

Tips From A Trainer!

Avoid jerking motions, as these unnecessarily strain your muscles without improving muscle growth. 

9. Bicep Curls

Gym Newbie in Blue Shirt Doing Dumbbell Bicep Curls

Chin-ups target biceps, so I couldn't finish this list without at least one biceps isolation exercise.

And what's better than an old-school biceps curl?

Bicep curls are unparalleled when it comes to isolating and targeting the biceps brachii.

The exercise can be performed with various equipment, including dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, or even household items.

Dumbbells are the best choice because working each arm individually is beneficial for correcting imbalances. Also, those with weaker core muscles find it easier to do dumbbell biceps curls than barbell biceps curls, where the core is very active in stabilizing the upper body.

If you are away from the gym, be creative and use household items like a two-gallon water bottle.

Improved aesthetics is another reason to do biceps curls regularly. Your enhanced physical appearance will boost your confidence.


  • Bicep isolation
  • Grip strengthening
  • Numerous variations

How to Do It:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms fully extended.
  2. Brace your core.
  3. Maintain a straight back and a slight bend in your knees to avoid using your lower body since this is not a lower-body exercise.
  4. Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the exercise.
  5. Flex your elbows, bringing the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  6. Focus on engaging your biceps and keeping your upper arms stationary.
  7. At the top of the movement, squeeze your biceps.
  8. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

I never recommend swinging weights, but it can occasionally be helpful for biceps curls to get past the plateau.

From time to time, take a bit heavier dumbbell than the one with which you can execute perfect form and swing at the top of the movement if necessary. That will help the biceps slowly get used to heavier weights. 

10. Pull-Ups

man doing pull ups outdoors

Often considered the gold standard of bodyweight movements, pull-ups defy gravity, challenging your upper body strength like no other.

We can't consider it a chin-up alternative because it's a different exercise. Still, similar muscle engagement can definitely put pull-ups on this list and improve your chin-up results, especially if weak biceps are the main culprit.

Pull-ups predominantly target the latissimus dorsi (lats). Beyond the lats, this bodyweight exercise engages the same muscles - biceps, forearms, and core muscles, promoting overall upper-body muscular strength and stability.

You can adapt pull-ups to your fitness level by varying grip widths, adding weight (weighted pull-ups), resistance bands, or performing more repetitions.

If you have never managed to do a complete pull-up or pull-up alternatives, once you do the first pull-up, it will bring a massive sense of pride and accomplishment. So, keep going even if pull-ups seem too strenuous. Try assisted pull-ups, or assisted chin-ups.


  • Back, arms, and shoulders strengthening
  • Enhanced cardiovascular health [1]
  • Improved bone density

How to Do It:

  1. Stand under the overhead bar.
  2. Reach up and grab the bar, hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Hang with your arms fully extended, feet off the ground, and your body in a straight line.
  4. Engage your core muscles to maintain stability and prevent swinging.
  5. Pull your chest towards the bar by flexing your elbows.
  6. Focus on engaging your lats and keeping your elbows pointed downward.
  7. Continue pulling until your chin clears the bar or until your chest nearly touches the bar, depending on your goal and range of motion.
  8. Gradually lower your body back to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

A full range of motion is absolutely necessary for maximum effectiveness. Start each rep with your arms fully extended and end with your chin clearly over the bar. 

Benefits Of Regular Chin Ups And Similar Exercises

Classic chin-ups and variations provide many benefits that extend beyond just huge biceps.

You will experience most of these benefits, but remember, consistency is key. You cannot expect results overnight with this pull-up alternative.

  • Bicep strength: They enhance bicep strength, allowing you to conquer other lifting exercises as well and look even better in a T-shirt.
  • Muscle development: Chin-ups target the muscles in your back, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, and trapezius, leading to improved muscle development and a well-defined back.
  • Core engagement: To stabilize your body during chin-ups, your core muscles kick into action. Constant core engagement improves overall core strength and stability.
  • Grip strength: Gripping the bar to perform chin-ups builds formidable grip strength, benefiting not only your overall gym results but also facilitating daily activities that require a firm grip.
  • Shoulder stability: Chin-ups promote shoulder joint stability and support better posture, reducing the risk of shoulder-related injuries.
  • Minimal equipment: Chin-ups require minimal necessary equipment – just a sturdy bar, making them accessible for home gym workouts or when you're on the go.
  • Metabolic boost: Compound exercises like chin-ups elevate your heart rate and metabolism.[2] This means you're building strength and burning calories effectively even after a workout session.
  • Long-term health: Regular engagement in chin-ups and similar exercises contributes to overall physical health, promoting muscle and bone density, joint health, and mobility.
Man with Blue Cap Doing Chin Ups with Chains

What Muscles Are Worked By Chin-Up Exercises?

The chin-up is a compound movement, meaning it involves multiple joints and, thus, numerous muscles, many of which are the same as pull-ups.

I singled out muscles that are most involved in motion. However, keep in mind (especially if you have an injury) that the triceps, spinal erectors, and even a portion of the pectoralis work as stabilizer muscles.


The biceps brachii, often called the "biceps," is a prominent muscle on the front of your upper arm. During chin-ups, it's the muscle that initiates the pulling motion, flexing your elbow as you hoist your body upwards. Its role is fundamental in generating the force required for upward movement.


Lying underneath the biceps, the brachialis muscle is responsible for elbow flexion. While performing pull-ups and chin-ups, it contributes to the lifting action, adding to the strength of your overall pulling motion.


Situated on top of the forearm, the brachioradialis assists in elbow flexion.[3] It is not the primary mover, but its engagement adds stability.


The latissimus dorsi, or lats, is a large muscle spanning your back. It's the powerhouse behind pulling movements, including chin-ups. The lats initiate the movement by bringing your arms down and toward your body, lifting you upward.

Teres major

Working alongside the lats, the teres major assists in shoulder extension and adduction. This muscle contributes to the force required to pull your body upward.


The trapezius, a large triangular muscle that covers your upper back and neck, stabilizes your shoulder blades (scapulae) during chin-ups. The upper trapezius aids in maintaining proper form and posture more than the middle and lower trapezius.


The rhomboids are muscles situated between your shoulder blades. They retract the scapulae, which is crucial for maintaining a strong and stable shoulder girdle when doing chin-ups.


The deltoids, or shoulder muscles, maintain shoulder stability throughout the chin-up motion. They assist in controlling the movement and preventing excessive swinging. The posterior (rear) delt is the most important of the three deltoid muscles for this exercise.

Man Showing His Side Deltoid Muscles

Common Questions About Chin-Up Substitute Exercises

What is a dumbbell substitute for chin-ups?

An effective substitute for chin-ups is the bent-over row. This exercise engages your back and biceps, the same muscle groups as chin-ups, but with the resistance of dumbbells. It's a solid option to keep your upper body gains rolling even without a pull-up bar.

What happens if you do chin-ups every day?

If you do chin-ups (or other bodyweight exercises) every day, you will undoubtedly improve your upper body strength. While the enthusiasm for daily chin-ups is admirable, allowing your muscles time to recover is essential. Overtraining can lead to strain or injury, and you will also hit the plateau sooner rather than later.

Are chin-ups better than push-ups?

There is no winner here because pitting chin-ups and push-ups is like comparing apples and oranges. They target different muscle groups – chin-ups primarily work your back and biceps, while push-ups engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Consider incorporating both into your workout routine to create a comprehensive upper-body training.

Should Cross-fitters do chin-up variations when training?

Cross-fitters should do chin-up variations and chin-up substitutes within their workout program. They add diversity to the training regimen and contribute to overall upper-body strength. Ring pull-ups, kipping pull-ups, and other variations challenge different muscles and movement patterns, complementing the dynamic nature of CrossFit training.

Stop The Chin Up – Start These Variations!

Why stick to the same old when you can explore a world of versatile, best alternative exercises that target your biceps and chest muscles from different angles?

This isn't about replacing one with another; it's about broadening your exercise arsenal. Each chin-up alternative is a valuable addition to your regimen, providing varied challenges that keep your muscles guessing and growing.

And the best part is that you don't need a fancy gym setup. A barbell or a pair of dumbbells plus a resistance band will suffice for most of these best chin-up alternatives.


  1. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2012/07000/resistance_training_is_medicine__effects_of.13.aspx
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8175496/
  3. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Brachioradialis
Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.