Pull-Ups Everywhere!

by Danny Kavadlo on August 2, 2016

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Danny Kavadlo Rock Pull-Ups

In the world of bodyweight strength training, the mighty pull-up is the indisputable king of upper back exercise. The classic movement is performed when hanging off a straight bar and pulling your body up until your chin surpasses the bar. The practitioner is encouraged to keep his or her entire body tense in order to attain maximum yields, as well as overall control. In fact, this notion of complete tension is present in all Progressive Calisthenics training, as we encourage the body to work hard as a single, cohesive unit, whichever the emphasized muscles may be. In the case of the pull-up, the primary emphasis is on the lats and the biceps.

While there are numerous pull-up variations you can perform on a traditional bar (wide grip, narrow grip and mixed grip, to name only a few), there are also many that don’t employ a bar at all. That’s right, you can use almost anything around you to get a great upper body workout. As I’m fond of saying, you just need something to hang from!

You will find that changing the surface from which you pull causes you to utilize certain parts of your anatomy that you may never have given much thought to training before. These include your hands, forearms, skin, sinews and tendons. Furthermore, without a bar, you are compelled to dial into your creative forces. It’s a workout for the mind as well as the body. This fusion of the physical and mental components is one of the greatest things about the Street Workout phenomenon!

While all of the following alternative grip pull-ups are rather demanding, they’re also a lot of fun. Just make sure you have a solid foundation in classic pull-ups before embarking on this journey. Work hard and enjoy the ride!

1. Ledge Pull-Up

Using a flat ledge instead of a bar eliminates the typical grip (or any conventional “gripping” at all). It forces you to use the strength of your fingers and forearms, as well as the durability of your skin. Because there is no bar, you cannot wrap your fingers around any round surface, making ledge pull-ups one of the best hand workouts you can do. They’re also great for getting over your fear of heights!

Danny Kavadlo Ledge Pull Ups

2. Tree Pull-Up

Using a tree instead of a bar is a sure-fire way to toughen up the skin on your hands. Rough tree bark feels very different than smooth metal and the branch will generally be thicker than a bar. Because the tree is sure to be shaped differently than a perfectly straight bar, you may have to “hug” it rather than grasp it. Be prepared for your abs, forearms and even your chest to play a substantial role.

Danny Kavadlo Tree Pull Ups

3. Fence Pull-Up

While this variant is super-brutal (and potentially unpleasant) on your fingers, it’s also guaranteed to build real strength where it counts. But beyond the extra lat and finger work, some find the true challenge of the fence pull-up to be the body positioning. This exercise places you directly against the fence, therefore you can only move your body straight up and down, without any backward lean, hip bend or swaying whatsoever. The fence pull-up must be strictly vertical, which places the practitioner in a mechanically difficult angle, thus building tremendous power.

Danny Kavadlo Fence Pull-Up

4. Two-Pole Pull-Up

The unique grip of the two-pole pull-up is like nothing you’ve encountered in a standard gym workout. Because you are holding onto the bars with your hands facing outward, the challenge is extreme on your extremities. Additionally, this uncommon hand placement demands extra recruitment of the medial muscles in the upper back, such as the rhomboids.

Al Kavadlo Two Pole L-Sit Pull-Up

5. Two-Pole Vampire Pull-Up

In this monstrous version of the two-pole pull-up, we do not clasp the poles from the sides. Instead we descend from above. The result is an incredibly intense workout for the hands, forearms, biceps and biceps tendons. Be very afraid.

Danny Kavadlo Two Pole Vampire Pull-Up

6. Pull-Up On A Random Object

Improvisation is key when you perform a pull-up on a random object. You can find a bus stop, street sign or even a statue or monument and turn it into your own gym. When you do so, you are subject to unexpected grips, questionable leverage and unknown balance. Make sure to survey your site soundly so that you can adapt properly to your environment. Take the bull by the horns!

Al Kavadlo Random Object Pull-Ups

7. Pull-Up On A Partner

This partner calisthenics exercise is a workout for both the puller and the one being pulled upon. Doing a pull-up off of another human is challenging because you must contend with the texture of their skin, which is softer and less sturdy than a metal bar. This leads to instability, forcing the practitioner to recruit more of their core, including the abs and glutes in order to stabilize. It is of note that your partner will have to hold onto something stable, as well as tense their whole body, in order to support your weight. Take this one slow.

Al Danny Kavadlo Partner Pull Ups

This list is neither the beginning nor the end of the many creative ways you can employ your surroundings to get strong. In the world of Street Workout, the only limits are the ones we impose upon ourselves. So get out there, flex your physical and mental muscles and get creative. You will find that the world is your gym.

Keep the dream alive,

-DK

 

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Danny Kavadlo is one of the world’s foremost authorities on calisthenics, nutrition and personal training. He is the author of the Dragon Door titles Strength Rules, Diamond-Cut Abs and Everybody Needs Training. Most recently, he co-authored Street Workout with his brother, Al Kavadlo. Danny is known for his minimalist philosophy, simple approach and motivational talents.

A true in-person experience, Danny is a Master Instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification. He has been featured in the NY Times, TRAIN, Men’s Fitness and is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com. Learn more about Danny at www.DannyTheTrainer.com

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  • Marcus

    Fantastic post Danny,

    Tree’s are my favourite ‘no-bar’ pull up object.

    Though I have to say there were a few on your list I’d never thought of.

    And I can’t wait to try the fence pull up =)

    Thanks for these Danny!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Marcus,
      Right on! Thanks for the comment. Let me know what you think of these new variants when you give them a try!
      -DK

  • Andy

    A year ago, while vacationing in Florida, we stayed at a house on the beach that was up on posts. i did pull-ups everyday hanging from the beams underneath the house. I did get some strange stares from the guys staying next door, but I got my workouts in…did leg raises from those beams as well.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      HELLYEAH! Gotta get it in where you can fit it in!
      Keep the dream alive!
      -DK

  • Its so fun to find new places to do pull ups… that vampire pull up. wow that’s hard! Tried it at the park recently and definitely had to keep it to 1-2 reps! WHAT??!? 🙂 Thanks for all the ideas too – more ideas = more pull up possibilities! YAY!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thanks for the comment Adrienne! Yeah those Vampire Pull-Ups are scary!!! Looking forward to seeing you at H & S 🙂 🙂 🙂
      -DK

      • You bet! Many high-fives are in order at the Health and Strength Conference – can’t wait to hear your presentation this year!

        • Danny Kavadlo

          Likewise!

  • Matt Schifferle

    I gotta try those chain link fence pull ups for sure. Doing anything off of a vertical surface has got to be the next level stuff that’s about to take off on social media. I used to do dips in a similar fashion off of a loading dock. It’s very difficult when you’re locked into a vertical position.
    I gotta keep my eyes peeled for more pull up opportunities around Denver.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      DUDE!!! The chain link fence is no joke! Always good to hear from you Matt!
      -DK

  • Bret Hamilton

    After we got back from the NYC PCC, Megan and I stayed at the Oregon coast with our family for a few days and there were no bars to speak of, but I got lots of ledge pull ups in…man those were fun, and kinda scary because of falling. Keep up the good work, Danny.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Bret!
      That’s awesome bro! Keep killin it!
      -DK

  • RedTed

    Great post Danny – thanks for the variations. No excuses to miss your pull-ups 🙂

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Rock on Ted!
      -DK

  • Swiss_Olympic

    Your articles are always a fun read, Danny. And of course, you always produce on the information side of things as well. I once wrote a similar article which was about places off of which you could do pull-ups. I even shared it with Al via FB message. 😀

    In my opinion, one of the measures of calisthenics mastery is being able to spot places off of which you can do pull-ups. Because the pull-ups are THAT important.

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