Murph Without Pull Ups: Alternatives if you don’t have a pull up bar

A woman doing ring rows in a gym.

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It’s hard to imagine the iconic Murph challenge workout without pull-ups, the iconic military exercise. However, if you don’t have access to a pull-up bar (or won’t on Memorial Day), there are numerous ways to modify the Murph workout to complete Murph without pull-ups.

Completing a modified Murph workout without pull-ups is very doable. Most modifications involve substituting the 100 pull-up requirement with a different pulling exercise, like inverted rows, towel rows, or resistance band rows. However, it is also acceptable to skip pull-ups altogether if you’re simply unable to do them.

If you either can’t or don’t want to do pull-ups during the Murph Challenge, you can scale Murph by using the following options to complete the challenge without a pull-up bar.

Why do Murph without a pull-up bar?

There are two perfectly acceptable reasons to try and find a pull-up alternative for Murph:

  1. You haven’t yet built up the upper body strength required to do 100 pull-ups in a single session (especially with a 20lb weighted vest)
  2. You won’t have access to a pull-up bar on Memorial Day.

Both of these reasons are completely understandable. Pull-ups are the number one reason that gives people pause when considering training for Murph.

Option 1: Substitute pull-ups for inverted rows

A lifter doing inverted rows using a barbell.
A lifter doing inverted rows hanging from a barbell in a squat rack.

This is the option that most people seem to recommend first when a participant either doesn’t have a pull-up bar or struggles with pull-ups in general (if strength is an issue, see our full article on exercises to help with pull-ups). Sometimes called “reverse push-ups” or Australian pull-ups, inverted rows are an exercise that involves laying on one’s back and grasping something to pull oneself up in a horizontal row.

Of course, inverted rows can be completed using gymnastic rings, suspension trainers (TRX or blast straps), or by laying a barbell across the safety spotter arms on a squat rack.

However, they can also easily be done at home by placing a broom handle across two chairs or done off of a table.

This makes the inverted row an excellent option for someone looking to complete the Murph Challenge at home without a pull-up bar.

Option 2: Substitute pull-ups for towel rows

Another viable Murph pull-up substitute is to use an exercise called a towel row. While this exercise looks like it would be significantly easier than regular inverted rows, it’s deceptively tough on the forearms and grip muscles.

To complete it, place a towel in a doorway or around a pole, or upright somewhere around your house or gym. From here, grasp both ends of the towel and complete your horizontal pulling that way.

Get ready for your grip to start burning!

Option 3: Substitute pull-ups for resistance band rows

A woman doing seated resistance band rows in a park.

One of my favorite minimalist back exercises is the seated resistance band row. This exercise is fantastic because it’s so portable, which is what also makes it a great Murph pull-up alternative.

Simply sit down with legs outstretched, as if you were going to do a low cable row. Wrap your resistance band around your feet and take the tension out of the band. Complete rows in the same fashion as you would a normal cable row in a gym.

The only modification I like to make to resistance band rows is to add a pause at the end of the range of motion. The nature of resistance bands is such that the tension builds as the band is stretched, meaning the end of the range is the toughest.

Adding a pause at the end of the range of motion allows us to get a greater overall training effect from each rep.

Option 4: Skip the pull-ups altogether

Regardless of your plans for partitioning the Murph workout, we’re not going to pretend here that doing 200 push-ups and 300 air squats isn’t challenging, even without the pull-up requirement. In fact, this variation may actually be tougher in some respects since we’ll get less rest between bouts of weighted push-ups and weighted vest squats.

Whatever the case, skipping pull-ups altogether is a legitimate option if you really can’t (or don’t want to) do pull-ups on Memorial Day.

Considerations for Murph variations with no pull-ups

A lifter doing resistance band rows in his living room.

If you’re planning to skip pull-ups during your next Murph Challenge, here are two considerations for you, depending on the reason you’ve decided to skip pull-ups:

  • If you’re skipping pull-ups due to a strength issue (you’re unable to do 100 pull-ups in a single session), then switching to an “easier” exercise such as the ones listed above should help you accomplish the full workout. If this is the case, I recommend sticking to 100 total reps of your pulling exercise of choice.
  • If you’re skipping pull-ups due to an equipment limitation (you don’t have access to a pull-up bar on Memorial Day), but you’re otherwise able to complete lots of pull-ups normally, then I recommend doubling the reps to 200 of the “easier” pulling exercise. This is because the easier exercise won’t fatigue the muscles of the back as quickly. To maintain the full Murph experience, I recommend doing 200 of the easier exercise to make up for it.

Time to get training!

Whether you’re doing Murph for the first time, or simply trying to best last year’s time, developing a strategy for Murph is essential. While pull-ups are a traditional component of this iconic hero WOD, there are several effective alternatives if you need or want to do Murph with no pull-up bar. These alternatives can help you target the same muscle groups and achieve a challenging full-body workout.

No matter which option you choose, there are plenty of options available to ensure that you can still perform a challenging and effective Murph workout without a pull-up bar.

Ultimately, the key is to stay consistent with your training and keep pushing yourself to reach your fitness goals, regardless of the equipment you have available.