T Nation

Big Back Without Pull-ups?

Good day all,

I have been looking at changing my back workout and have been going through the various routines on T-Nation. Now my question is -

Is it possible to have a great back, with both thickness and lat width, without doing pullups?

Of course it is. Just like it’s possible to build a great back without barbell rows. It’s one exercise. Thibaudeau, for example, has said he very rarely uses pull-ups in his programs.

The bigger question (no pun intended) is why you want to avoid pull-ups. Shoulder problems, just can’t do a lot of 'em, whatever. In any case, they’re useful but not mandatory.


I have issues with my rotator cuff that limits my movement with my shoulder.

Supinated and neutral grip pullups are both easier on the shoulders, I very rarely do pullups with a pronated grip and never regretted once - as a bonus, using a supinated or neutral grip is good work for the arms too, killing two birds with one stone since direct arm training bores me.

I’ve dropped pullups for a year and just put them back in my workouts, what I can tell you is:
-they’re great, but they’re not the alpha and omega, especially for hypertrophy;
-after one year without doing them, I didn’t lose anything in terms of back mass nor in the capacity of doing pullups, actually, I can crank out more now than I did when I trained them, probably because I got a bit stronger overall in the meanwhile;
-for back mass there are a ton of great exercises, hardest part is not what to pick but what to drop probably: rack pulls from various heights and grips, n-hundred rows variations; pulldowns done with various implements (straight bar, v-handle), various grips (pronated, supinated), in front or behind the neck; back extensions (I love them using a barbell with a snatch grip, they really blast the erectors and upper back); all kinds of shrugs including manly stuff like Kirk shrugs; rear raises; the usual fuck-ton of facepulls and band pull aparts from various angles… seriously you could train back twice a week, rotating exercise variations from workout to workout, and you’d never train the exact same exercise for a couple weeks probably

Pullups aggrevate my elbow tendinitis, it’s a sure fire way to awaken it if it hasn’t been bothering me for a while. If I push through the pain, I might hit 8 reps before it gets too much but typically 3 is where I top out before it gets too uncomfortable.

As you can imagine, I stay away from pullups. My back is easily my best body part so you can get around it (I do cobra, straight arm pulldowns and sometimes lat pulldowns for vertical pulls, I do lots of rowing and loaded carries).

Did them forever, fell off doing them due to elbow and shoulder issues, add them back in every now and then. I love pull ups, but they aggravate me in higher reps so do them if you want, don’t if you don’t. Honestly, just do that for everything in the gym.

I have rotator cuff problem as well and never do pull ups anymore. Even heavy wide grip lat pulldown doesn’t feel right. To me anyway, I don’t think vertical pulling exercises are necessary. My back grew mostly from horizontal pulling exercises. Wish I did more of them when I started training. Now for every 2-3 horizontal pulling movements I do 1 vertical pull exercise

These Charles Glass style dumbbell rows hit the lats without putting your arms overhead. They are pretty cool.

Especially if you use this John Meadows lat-activation move before/between sets.

Off topic, but these shoulder rotations against a little band Really helped my shoulders.