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I chose this question because so many folks have a hard time finding ways to train the big pulling muscles at home or while traveling. Rather than neglect this crucial aspect of training, let’s dive in and identify a few ways to pull, no matter where you are!
Yes, it’s easier to find ways to push than it is to pull; off the top of my head, I can think of at least 10 different varieties of pushups alone. We might have to get a bit creative, but there are certainly some good ways to focus on pulling exercises, with little to no equipment.
This is vital in today’s way of life in which the majority of our day is spent with our chests and shoulders tight because our hands are always in front of us. We’re constantly holding phones, game controllers, manipulating screens, or even just driving. I believe we all can benefit from the general rule, stretch the front, strengthen the back. This will pull our shoulders back, open up our chests, improve our posture, and make us look/feel/perform stronger and healthier.
So, how can we do pulling exercises if we don’t have much equipment? Here are a few ideas (you can check out the video below):
1. Find something to hang from for “vertical pulling” — and if you can’t find one, create one! I know pullup contraptions can be expensive, clunky, or even dangerous! (We’ve all seen the fail videos…) I’m a fan of simplicity, and in my basement in Chicago, I have a few different thicknesses of steel rods anchored into the ceiling joists with basic (but strong) brackets. From this setup, I can do all manner of pullups and chinups, or even use it as a solid anchor point for my elastic bands — more on those later.
Can’t mount a bar anywhere? Live in an apartment or stuck in a hotel room? In a pinch, you can hang from the top of a (sturdy) open door to perform slow-motion pullups. Word to the wise: Choose your door with care!
2. What about “horizontal pulling?” I love horizontal pullups/chinups, but it can be a challenge to perform these without gym equipment. If you have a sturdy table, you can hang underneath, with your feet on the floor under the table. Another idea is to use a shovel, broom, or any tool with a strong “staff” and suspend this across two sturdy objects.
3. To focus on training the biceps muscles, performing various types of curls can also be tricky without actual weights. Try this: Grab a pair of long socks and use each of them as a “rope” paired with something heavy like a laundry detergent bottle or a snowblower battery. This way, you eliminate the need to find a household item with good “handles,” while also strengthening your grip strength. Note: Don’t be afraid to use asymmetrical weights for exercises like this. It taxes your core and stabilizer muscles to maintain an athletic position while differing weights try to throw you off-balance. Just make sure you even up the load by switching weights each set.
4. Finally, here’s a quick pitch for one piece of equipment that I will recommend you acquire, if possible. An Elastic Band with Handles, or even a kit of them with several levels of tension, can be purchased for less than $20. The band is my go-to tool for travel or home workouts. A band is so portable and inexpensive, yet opens up many more possibilities for pulling exercises, from rows, to shrugs, to curls, and more.
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40 Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.