There are few exercises as timeless and effective as pullups. But, while they're tried-and-true, there's no denying they can get boring. That's where variations come in. These 15 pullup alternatives will challenge your upper body and help you score new levels of muscle growth.

But before we get to the exercises, let's cover some basics.

Types of pullups
There are two main types of pullups. "There's the bodybuilding style, where your lower back is rounded and your knees are bent , and the tactical style pullup—often used in the military and by gymnasts—where your legs are kept straight and slightly in front of your body as the pullup is completed," says Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT, and founder of BuiltLean, who personally recommends the tactical style pullup. "It keeps your core engaged to help protect your lower back and maximizes full-body tension."

The muscles they work
Pullups are a vertical pulling motion, so for the most part, you're using the same muscles no matter the variation. The main difference you'll find among these 15 pullups is in the intensity of the muscle contraction, and which muscles are being targeted. For example, a wide-grip pullup will emphasize the outer portion of your back more than a close-grip pullup, which emphasizes the middle of your back. Interspersing these variations in your workouts will build your lats, mid-back, rear delts, biceps, forearms, and core—and by recruiting different muscles, you'll avoid overuse injuries, too. 

How to choose the right grip
A pronated, or overhand, grip is more difficult than a supinated, or underhand, grip because your biceps are in a less-advantageous position to generate maximal force. This small difference is why underhand is generally easier than overhand (but not by much). For a neutral grip, your hands are facing each other sideways instead of forward or backward, which is in between the difficulty of a pullup and chinup, but may vary from person to person. 

How to incorporate
“There are many different ways to infuse pullups into a workout routine and many different schools of thought as to how to get stronger, and more efficient at them,” Perry says. Simply put, the more you do pullups, the stronger you’ll get. So if your goal is to get really good at pullups, then do them nearly every day.  

How to maximize your goals
If your goal is to maximize strength, complete several sets without going to failure. This will help condition your nervous system to get stronger faster than it could by constantly going to failure. If you can max out at 10 reps, doing 5 sets of 7 reps (35 reps total) is better than 3 sets of 9 (27 reps total). If you're shooting for maximum muscle growth, training several sets (5 to 10) to technical failure will stimulate your muscle fibers the most.  

Where to start
In general, a few sets of pullups is a good place to start. You want to give yourself enough rest between sets so you can complete a quality set with good form. "More rest is better for strength building; less rest is better for muscle building," Perry says. Start off at 30-60 seconds rest between sets for muscle building, and 2-3 minutes for strength building.

1. Kipping

What it works and why it's challenging:
“Traditional pullups are ‘strict,’ meaning no momentum is used to help pull your body up to the bar,” Perry says. But the kipping pullup—made popular by CrossFit—does, in fact, use momentum to help propel your body. Nailing down the technique is a bit tricky because it's such a highly technical movement, but this is an excellent (though brutal) anaerobic exercise for your upper body. Once perfected, kipping pullups are a great way to build strong lats, wide shoulders, and a powerful grip. 

How to do it:
Using an overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart, pull your legs back so your body creates a backwards arc. Then, forcefully pull your legs forward as you swing your body up to the bar (really take advantage of this momentum). Repeat for the desired number of reps. Note: You’ll be able to do more reps than you’d ever dream of hitting with traditional pullups. 

2. Around-the-world

What it works and why it's challenging:
Because you're pulling your body up and over toward one hand, then across the bar to your other before coming back down to the starting position, you’re loading only one side of your body with weight. This puts more load on your muscles than a traditional pullup, which distributes your weight evenly. “Around-the-world pullups are a worthy segue to a one-arm pullup, because they emphasize one arm over the other in the initial phase of the pull,” Perry says. Note: You can complete these in either direction—clockwise, or counter clockwise.  

How to do it:
Start with an overhand grip with your hands about 6 to 12 inches wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your body up toward your right hand, then pull your body across the bar laterally to your left hand, then drop down back to the starting position. You can either repeat to the right hand, or pull up toward your left to change direction for the desired number of reps.

3. Weighted

What it works and why it's challenging:
There are several ways to add weight to a pullup. “You can use a weighted vest, a weight belt with a chain to hang plates from, put one foot through a kettlebell and keep your foot flexed toward your shins, or hold a dumbbell between your crisscrossed legs,” Perry says. You turn a good bodyweight move into a great upper body strength exercise this way. Note: Heavy, low-rep sets activate different types of muscle fibers, leading to greater mass and strength. 

How to do it:
If the bar is too high for you to grab standing, then set up a bench, plyo box, or other stable object you can stand on to reach the bar. Using your preferred method of adding weight, step on the box, reach for the bar with your desired grip, then begin completing your pullups. When you're done, you can hop off (if the bar isn't too high), or return to the box, then step down and remove the weight. You can easily personalize this pullup to your preference and goals by changing up your grip, pullup variaiton, and weight. Repeat for desired number of reps.

4. Close-grip

What it works and why it's challenging:
A close-grip pullup better emphasizes the muscles in your arms. "That's because they have to work overtime to pull your body farther, vertically,” Perry says. And don't worry, you'll still hit the major muscles in your back. Even though they're not emphasized as much as your arms, you're still activating your rhomboids, lower and middle traps, and serratus posterior superior to a great degree, Perry adds.

How to do it:
Grab the bar with an overhand grip slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Pull up to the bar in a smooth motion so the bar touches the bottom of your neck at the top of the pullup. Lower down—keeping the movement controlled—until your arms are locked, then repeat for the desired number of reps.

5. Wide-grip

What it works and why it's challenging:
A wide-grip pullup emphasizes your back muscles to a greater degree than close-grip pullups. “This is because the distance your body needs to be pulled up to the bar is shorter,” Perry explains. This is a killer workout for the outer portion of your back; those muscles are triggered and firing to help pull your body up.

How to do it:
Grab the bar with an overhand grip wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull up to the bar in a smooth motion so the bar grazes the bottom of your neck at the top of the pullup. Lower down—keeping the movement controlled—until your arms are locked, then repeat for the desired number of reps.

6. Muscle up

What it works and why it's challenging:
"A muscle up is similar to a kipping pullup in that some momentum is used to help propel your body up,” Perry says. “You need to pull hard enough so your chest clears the bar, allowing you to push your body up and over so your arms are completely straight,” he adds. People who can do 10 pullups may not be able to do one muscle up, because it requires such a substantial amount of pulling strength. The technique is difficult to master, but you’ll learn how to effectively move your hips, core, shoulders, chest, and triceps once you do. 

How to do it:
Start with your hands in an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your legs back slightly, then forcefully pull your chest over the bar. As your chest is above the bar, extend your arms straight so your waist is roughly in line with the bar and your body is still above it. Drop back down using momentum, then pull back up and repeat for desired number of reps.

7. Towel Grip

What it works and why it's challenging:
Aside from building the muscles in your arms, back, and core, towel grip pullups are one of the most effective exercises for developing grip strength. The reason: You really have to work to keep your hands from slipping off the towel as you complete each rep.  

How to do it:
Drape a towel over the bar so both sides are the same length. Reach as high as you can on both sides of the towel, then pull your body up while maintaining your grip. “Use a towel that’s thick enough so it won’t rip apart,” Perry suggests. You can imagine the consequences of not following this tip. “Most small gym towels will rip, so consider using a couple of them at the same time,” he adds. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

8. L-sit

What it works and why it's challenging:
“The L-sit requires excellent core strength, and hamstring and hip flexibility to keep your legs parallel to the ground as you pull up to the bar and resist on the way down for the duration of the set,” Perry says. This pullup is used by gymnasts, for example, and is an advanced pullup variation (i.e. this will destroy your abs).

How to do it:
Hang from a bar with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart. Lift your legs so they’re parallel to the ground and perpendicular to your torso. While keeping your legs straight, pull up to the bar—high enough so the bar grazes the bottom of your neck—then drop back down, and repeat for the desired number of reps.

9. Plyo

What it works and why it's challenging:
“Plyo pullups, like clapping pullups, or even spinning pullups, require a substantial amount of pulling strength to get your body up to the bar with enough force so you can release your hands at the top of the movement, then catch the bar on your way down,” Perry says. This is a great test of explosive strength—especially once you’ve gotten confident with controlled varieties. 

How to do it:
Assume a grip that's slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and forcefully pull your body up to the bar as fast as you can. Momentarily take your hands off the bar to clap your hands, then catch the bar on your way down; repeat for the desired number of reps.

10. Mixed grip

What it works and why it's challenging:
For this variation, one of your hands is underhand and the other is overhand on the bar. “Know that the arm with the overhand grip typically works harder than the underhand arm to pull your body up,” Perry says. This is a two-in-one move that adds serious mass to your biceps and back; plus your core is forced to stabilize your torso and keep it straight, so you'll get some ab work in, too.    

How to do it:
Start with your left hand in an overhand grip and your right hand in an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart. Pull up toward the bar so it grazes the bottom of your neck. Lower down until your arms are straight, then repeat. You can alternate sets by varying which hand is underhand and overhand. 

11. Eccentric

What it works and why it's challenging:
“An eccentric pullup slows down the negative, downward phase of the pullup, which taxes your muscles to a greater degree,” Perry says. “It resists the lengthening of your muscles and tears more muscle fibers than the positive phase of a pullup, which forces your muscles to shorten.” In layman’s terms, you’ll be sore as hell the next day. You can choose a certain amount of time to slow down the eccentric movement—say 5 or 10 seconds.

How to do it:
Using your desired pullup grip, pull up to the bar so it's touching the bottom of your neck, then slowly drop your body down (really try to go as slow as possible). Pull back up to the bar and repeat until failure. Repeat for the desired number of reps, and see how many seconds you can hold during the eccentric portion of the exercise.

12. Single arm

What it works and why it's challenging:
The single arm pullup is the hardest of all variations, because—obviously—just one arm pulls your entire body's weight up to the bar. You can do this one of two ways, Perry says: Hold the wrist of the arm that’s gripping the bar, then use both to pull yourself up, or use just one arm without any assistance. Just know the latter is much more difficult. 

How to do it:
Grasp the bar with your right hand using a neutral grip. While hanging with just your right arm, pull your right hip up so it shortens the distance between your right shoulder and right hip. (This helps connect your core to your lats and shoulders.) Now, forcefully pull your body up to the bar using your lats and core muscles, not your arm. Drop down and repeat with the left arm. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

13. Archer

What it works and why it's challenging:
What’s great about this variation is you’re adding a significant amount of resistance with just your bodyweight.

How to do it:
Using a wide, overhand grip, pull your body up (high enough so your upper chest is in line with the bar), then bring your body to your right hand as you extend your left arm straight out to the side. Repeat this to your left side, extending your right arm straight out to the side, then drop back down. Repeat for desired number of reps.

14. Tandem grip

What it works and why it's challenging:
Sometimes referred to as the “cliff-hanger,” the tandem grip requires both your hands to assume a neutral grip on the bar. If you have a bar that's open on both ends, the pullup can be done on both sides. If it's not, (you can only pull up to one side), consider putting the hand of the side you want to pull up to first closest to you, then place your other hand behind it. 

How to do it:
Start with your right hand closest to you holding the bar in a neutral grip, and your left hand immediately behind it. Pull your head up to the right of the bar so the bar grazes your upper left shoulder. Drop back down, then pull your head up to the left side of the bar so the bar grazes your right shoulder, then drop back down again. Repeat for the desired number of reps.   

15. Behind-the-neck

What it works and why it's challenging:
"This exercise requires significant shoulder mobility, and in some cases, can cause shoulder impingement, which may lead to injury," Perry cautions. This is because your head is pushed forward in front of the bar (so the bar touches the back of the neck instead of the front of the neck) as you pull your body up. Needless to say: Be careful with this one and consider recruiting a trainer for form advice before attempting it.

How to do it:
Start with an overhand grip with your hands about 6 to 12 inches wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your body up, and push your head forward so that the bar touches the back of your neck. Drop back down so your arms are straight at the bottom position, then repeat for the desired number of reps.