No Pullup Bar? Here’s 26 Home Workout Back Exercises

A home pull up bar is arguably one of the most useful tools for building a strong back, but getting hold of one right now isn’t easy. The good news? There are plenty of at home back exercises you can do with little to no equipment. 

In this article and video, we’re looking at 26 of them that you can incorporate into your home workouts. I’ve listed:

  • A bunch of pull up alternative row progressions you can work through.
  • Some isometric back exercises to experiment with.
  • Banded drills for those of you with access to resistance bands.
  • Weighted pull exercises if you have a kettlebell or dumbbell lying around (or even a backpack filled with heavy stuff). 

Give them a go, be safe, and let the gains continue.

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Video: 26 Home Back Exercises
(No Pull up Bar Required)

Important: 

Although I’ve listed 26 back exercises below, I’m not suggesting you should incorporate all of them, all of the time. 

  • As alternatives to pull ups, my preference is to use the row and/or weighted back exercise progressions as the main pull exercises, typically working at 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions, with the primary goal of building strength. Get comfortable with 3 sets of 8 before experimenting with the next progression.
  • The isometrics and banded exercises are there as options if you don’t have access to a stable rowing surface or weights, or if you just want to mix things up a bit / add more volume. I would perform them for higher reps (~12), or at a slower tempo for more time under tension. You won’t develop crazy feats of strength with them, but they can be useful for supporting joint health, improving posture, and even building muscle.
  • If you’re just getting started with training, you don’t have a home pull up bar, and you’re not sure where to start in terms of incorporating a back / pulling exercise into your routine, I use the following basic format:

Exercise 1: Lower body hinge/squat movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps

Exercise 2: Upper body push movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps

Exercise 3: Upper body pull (back) movement. 3 sets of 5-8 reps

I perform two different session with the same basic format as above.

In session 1, I perform a squat variation, a vertical push, and then a horizontal pull (typically a bodyweight row). For session 2, I use a hinge progression, a horizontal push, and for now the same horizontal pull as session 1.

From my experience, most people can benefit from doing more horizontal pulling work anyway to combat the rounded over posture encourage by modern day living. So more volume gives you a chance to address any potential imblances there.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you. 

Happy training!

7 Row Progressions

No pull up bar? No problem. As I touched on above, my preference is to use the row progressions as my primary back exercise. You’ll just need a sturdy table, two chairs, or railings for the intermediate progressions (beyond the towel row). Aim for 3 comfortable sets of 8 before moving up to the next exercise. Front lever rows would be the next progression after number 5-7, but the potential for momentum in this exercise can make it unsafe if you’re using a home setup, hence why I left them out. 

1. Towel Row

If you have a sturdy door or an upright, the towel row is a great option for working the mid back. 

  • Brace through the core and activate the glutes (so the spine moves as one unit).
  • Initiate the pull from your mid back, as opposed to your arms. 
  • Aim to pull your elbows past your torso (keeping them as close to your body as you can). 
  • Think about pinching your shoulder blades back and down as you pull.
Towel Row Back Exercise
Towel Row Back Exercise 2

2. Incline Towel Row

To progress the towel row, simply decrease the angle between your back and the floor. 

Again, maintain tension throughout the midsection, keep those elbows in close and pinch your shoulder blades together.

3. One arm Towel Row

When you’ve mastered the incline towel row (you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions), experiment with the one-arm version.

The cues are the same, but it becomes more important to stabilise through the core to resist rotation.

One Arm Towel Row 1
One Arm Towel Row 2

4. Horizontal Row / Australian Pull Up

The horizontal row is typically performed using gymnastic rings attached to a pull up bar, or on a barbell in a rack.

If those aren’t available when training your back at home, you can still perform the movement if you have access to two sturdy chairs, a table or some railings.

To progress the horizontal row further, you can straighten and elevate the legs onto another chair/bench. I’ve not included it in this guide as I personally don’t have access to a sturdy enough setup right now.

Horizontal Row Back 1
Horizontal Row Back 2
Chair Back Row
Chair Back Row 2

5. Weighted Horizontal Row

If you have a backpack and some weights (or a load of tinned food) you can progress the horizontal row by adding weight.

Weighted Row 1
Weighted Row 2

6. One Leg Horizontal Row

This wouldn’t be my go to, but if you’re without weights and want to add some anti-rotation into your rows, you can play with lifting one leg off the floor.

One leg row
One leg row 2

7. Archer Row

If weights aren’t available, you can progress your rows by pulling more towards one arm at a time with archer rows.

Not pictured below due to equipment limitations, but if you have a super sturdy setup you can really shift the weight towards one side at a time, straightening the opposite arm completely.

This is a great way to highlight and address any imbalances.

Archer Row
Archer Row 2

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8 Isometric & Lower Back Exercises

These isometric and lower back exercises can be useful if you don’t have access to a sturdy place to row and/or weights. As I touched on earlier, I would perform them for higher reps (~12), or at a slower tempo for more time under tension. You won’t develop crazy feats of strength with them, but they can be useful for supporting joint health, improving posture, mitigating back pain and even building muscle.

8. Hinged Back Isometrics

A hip hinge (a la Foundation Training) can be an effective way to strengthen both the lower and mid back to support posture. I like spending a few breaths in three different positions:

  • T-Rex – elbows in close, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Optional roaring.
  • The W – scooping the elbows, down, forward and under (externally rotating at the shoulder).
  • Overhead – trying to keep the arms straight and bring them past the ears.
T rex back exercises
W back exercise
Upper Back exercise

9. Wall slides

The wall slide is a great home back exercise for correcting forward head posture and rounded shoulders.

  • With your heels a few inches away from the wall, press your bum, lower back, mid back and head against the wall, bracing the core and tucking the chin slightly. 
  • With the arms in contact with the wall, slide them from a W shape by your side, to straight up overhead. 
  • Maintain that contact with the wall (including your low back) throughout the movement.
  • You may need to step your feet a little further away from the wall if maintaining contact with the back proves too difficult at first.
Wall Slide
Wall Slide 2

10. Wall Elbow Row

This wouldn’t necessarily be one of my go-to home back exercises, but it can be useful for a complete beginner, or someone who wants to feel what it means to activate their mid back.

With the elbows against the wall and close to the body, you’re going to drive them into the wall, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Your chest will come off the wall, and you can hold this end range position for 5-10 seconds at a time for sets of 10-12 reps. 

Wall Elbow Row
Wall Elbow Row 2

11. Floor Elbow Row

This is the same as the above, except using the floor as the platform to push off. Gravity makes it a little harder than using the wall. 

Floor Elbow Row
Floor Elbow Row 2

12. Reverse Hyper

A highly regarded exercise for strengthening the lower back and glutes. 

Find a sturdy stool or a big pile of cushions. With your core braced and your pelvis in a posterior pelvic tilt, lift the legs up off the floor, extending at the knees and hips.

You can hold at the top position for a set amount of time, opt for repetitions, or a combination of both.

Reverse hyper lower back exercise
Reverse hyper lower back exercise 2

13. Floor Pull up

This is perhaps the most ‘out there’ exercise on the list, and not one I would typically go to. 

But if you don’t have a home pull up bar or, anywhere to row, or access to something heavy, but you do have a nice shiny floor, the floor pull up can be a decent way to activate the lats, and to some extent the mid back.

Starting prone with the arms overhead, keep your forearms planted and squeeze your shoulder blades back and down to pull your torso towards your hands. Squeeze at the top position for a few seconds, before pushing back to the start. 

Floor Pullup
Floor Pullup 2

14. Superman

The superman can be a useful drill for activating the back body – handy if you’re working towards any backbends like the bridge or wheel. 

A few important cues:

Try to keep the tailbone tucked under (activating the glutes) to take strain off the lower back. Also avoid craning the neck up when you rise – look down at the ground or ever so slightly ahead of you.

Super man lower back exercises
Super man lower back exercises

15. Bird Dog

The bird-dog is a great core exercise for working on the oblique slings (something I’m looking to cover in more detail soon).

From all fours, stay stable through the midline and lift the opposite arm and leg. You’re looking to minimise any rotation through the shoulders and pelvis, as well as any arching through the low back.  

Bird Dog Back Exercise
Bird Dog Back Exercise

5 Weighted Back Exercises

Although we’d ideally perform the following back exercises with dumbbells or kettlebells, with some creativity you can come up with a decent temporary alternative. Suitcases, heavy backpacks, water bottles, bulk bags of rice, sandbags, and rocks can all work fairly well (just be safe). Like the row progressions, I’d work with with 3 sets of 5-8 (potentially 8-12 if a higher load isn’t available).

16. Lat Pullover

The lat pullover is one of my favourite back exercises for improving overhead mobility. It’s also a decent way to strengthen the lats and serratus anterior, making it a decent pullup alternative with dumbbells. 

Find yourself a sturdy surface, press a weight out in front of you, and then maintaining straight arms, slowly lower overhead. You’ll feel a nice stretch on the lats, before bringing it back to centre.

Lat Pullover
Lat Pullover 2

17. Bent Over Row

The bent over row is an excellent way to build a strong, muscular mid back. 

Hinge from the hips, stay stable through the core, and keep the elbows in close as you squeeze the shoulder blades together, guiding the weight to just below your sternum. 

Not pictured: if you have access to 2 weights of the same size, I’d opt for a double bent over row for increased range of motion. 

Bent OVer Row
Bent OVer Row 2

18. Single Arm Bent Over Row

The single arm version allows you to load up the weight, increase range of motion and also get a little rotation through the thoracic spine.

Just be sure to keep the core braced and avoid rounding (hunching) through the mid back. 

Single Arm Bent OVer Row
Single Arm Bent OVer Row 2

19. Kettlebell Swing

If I had to pick one exercise for building a combination of strength, power, endurance, and all round athleticism, it may well be the kettlebell swing. I like using sets of 10 for swings, and unlike most of the other back exercises listed, I do them on a separate day to my normal strength workout, incorporating them into more of a conditioning-foccussed routine.

A few important points to keep in mind:

  • The primary movement with the kettlebell swing is a hip hinge – most of the motion occurs at the hips, as opposed the knees (as you’d see in a squat).
  • Keep your core braced throughout the movement so the spine moves as one unit. This includes the neck – avoid craning the head up to look forward in the bottom position.
  • The shoulders stay packed or locked back and down throughout.
  • Drive with your hips, squeezing the glutes through the upward phase of the movement, but not overextending at the top (ribs stay down like you’re in a plank position).
  • The arms are like ropes extending from the body. They don’t do the lifting, they just transfer the force from your hips.
  • The feet stay firmly planted with the arches lifted. External rotation into the floor helps to create torque and keep the knees safe. 
Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell Swing Top

20. Single Arm Kettlebell Swing

Although you may not be able to generate quite as much power with the single arm kettlebell swing, it does add another dynamic in the form of anti-rotation through the core. You’ll have to work hard to stop your upper body rotating as you swing, and to keep the shoulder loaded into the socket.

Single arm Kettlebell Swing
Single arm Kettlebell Swing top

5 Back exercises with resistance bands

Although it’s not easy to get a complete pull up alternative with resistance bands, they do open up a range of options. Resistance bands seem to be some of the few home fitness items that hasn’t sold out at the time of writing. They’re inexpensive and useful for building power, shoulder prehab and more. Click here to get some.

21. Band Pullaparts

A great prehab / warmup drill for activating the rear delts, lower traps and rhomboids. 

Start by holding the band out in front of you horizontally. Allow the shoulders to protract in the first position, then keeping the arms straight, pull them back and down (retract and depress) to finish the movement. Think about squeezing a penny between your shoulder blades. 

Band Pullaparts
Band Pullaparts mid back

22. Banded Face Pulls

The face pull is one of my favourites for all round shoulder health. I usually do them with cables or gymnastic rings, but a band can work well too.

Setup the anchor point at head height or just above (you may need to kneel on the floor for this). Start by pulling the band towards your face, and when your hands are an inch or two from hitting you, externally rotate through the shoulders, keeping the elbows high.

In the finish position, you should feel like the shoulder blades are scooping back and under. I like to hold for a few seconds in this position before continuing. 

Banded Face Pulls
Banded Face Pulls 2

23. Banded Twist Row

The banded row is a great drill for activating the posterior oblique sling – the connection between the glute and lat on the opposite sides. 

This connection is crucial for all kinds of athletic movement patterns, including running, swimming, throwing, and many more.

  • Setup your anchor point around the middle of the ribcage height. 
  • You start with the right hand and right leg forward, with some tension on the band.
  • With a nice upright posture, set the right shoulder back and down, and at the same time activate the left glute.
  • Your then going to pull with your right side, bracing through the core, keeping the left glute activated and rotating through the thoracic spine, allowing the neck and head to follow.
  • Hold at the end range for a few breaths or return to the start position and perform repetitions. 
Band Twist Row
Band Twist Row 2

24. Dynamic Banded Twist Row

Here we add some explosive movement to the above banded twist row, which I feel has more transfer over to athletic movement patterns.

  • This time you start with the opposite leg and arm forward.
  • As you pull with your arm, you step back with the opposite leg, activating that glute as you land on the ball of your foot.
  • You can send the opposite arm forward in a counter movement as you step back.
  • Again, try to stay stable through the core and pelvis, and nice and upright through the torso.
Band Twist Row Dynamic
Band Twist Row Dynamic 2

25. Band seated Row

If you have a strong upright and some heavy resistance bands, the seated row is a great option. Just like the bodyweight rows, stay stable through the midsection, pull the elbows past the body and squeeze those shoulders back and down. 

Banded seated row
Banded seated row finish

26. Single Arm Band seated Row

As above, but you’re forced to be more mindful of your core as you resist rotation. Not a bad option if you start to run out of band resistance for the two arm version.

Single arm seated row
Single arm seated row finish

So there you have it - 26 back exercises you can perform at home if you don't have access to a pullup bar. Happy training, and remember to stay safe.!

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Luke Jones

Luke Jones

Luke Jones is a Movement Coach, Wellness Enthusiast, Online Content Creator, and Founder of HERO Movement. Through articles, videos, courses, and online coaching, his big goal is to help people discover freedom of movement and create lives filled with well-being & adventure.

4 Responses

  1. While helpful for back exercises, almost all of these wouldn’t be done on a pull up bar to begin with. The best one which isn’t included would be door pull ups. Just make sure you have a sturdy door before you rip it off the hinges.

    1. Yep, the idea was to provide back exercises that could be done without access to a pullup bar, not necessarily pullup replacements 🙂 Completely agree that door pullups can be great, but I didn’t include them because of the potential safety issues

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