I’m asked all the time what people can do in place of the pull ups and chin ups if they can’t do full pulls or chins. Especially if they call for multiple reps.
Here’s what I suggest in progressive order:
For absolute beginners, inverted rows are a good place to start. Depending on your fitness level, you may even find it difficult to do a pull up hold. If this is you, start here. While an inverted row doesn’t work in the same movement plane a pull up, it will serve as a good substitute and begin strengthening the muscles used to do a pull up.
For an inverted row, lay face up on the floor underneath a pull up bar a few feet off the ground. Reach up and grab the bar, keeping your feet on the ground. Pull your chest up to the bar and return to the starting position. To make the move easier, bend your knees to bring your feet closer to the bar.
Pull Up/Chin Up Holds (Isometric Pulls/Chins)
Using a bench, plyo box or chair for support and position yourself at the top of the movement with your chin above the bar. Remove your feet from the support, and simply hold yourself in this position for as long as possible. Try for as many seconds as reps. If the exercise calls for 6 reps, hold for 6 seconds.
Drop Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Eccentric Pulls/Chins)
When you can hold yourself for as many seconds as reps are called for in your exercise, try doing Drop Pull Ups. You’ll position yourself above the bar again, using a support, but instead of holding that position, you will let yourself perform the negative or eccentric part of the movement. Slowly drop down to the arms extended position. If the lift calls for a 2 second eccentric portion, then it should take you 2 seconds to lower yourself.
Use your support to bring yourself back up to the top of the movement and repeat as many times as possible, until you can complete the required amount of reps. So, if you can perform 2 drops, and the exercise calls for six reps, you should finish the exercise by holding the top position for 4 seconds.
Full Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Concentric/Eccentric Pull/Chins)
Once you can perform as many drop pull ups as are called for in your program, you should be able to do at least one full pull up. Again, if you are asked to do six pull ups, You might find yourself doing one full pull up, doing 3 drop pull ups, and then a pull up hold for 2 seconds.
Keep working at it. This is not an easy exercise, but one that will provide many benefits. Of course, if you have access to an assisted pull up station go for it, or use bands to help you, but many people I consult with train at home, and don’t have access to these. This is a great progression for beginners and advanced athletes alike