How to do pull-ups in gyms with low ceilings.

In Equip Your Gym, Guides, Plan Your Gym by Tim Steward

Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 07:45 pm

The pull-up is a foundational functional movement pattern that everyone should train regularly. While it’s one of the more challenging movements anyone can do in a gym, it’s one that has a myriad of benefits that apply to everyday life.

The pull-up is also a movement that requires more vertical room to perform than any other resistance training movement pattern. This makes it challenging to do in a gym with a low ceiling.

Plenty of room above the bar makes for a happy pull-up!

Luckily, there are quite a few solutions for those who have a height-restricted home gym. 

Training the pull-up movement pattern in a gym with low ceilings is easily accomplished. The pulling point can be lowered using a barbell, rings, or a suspension trainer while bending or supporting the legs to allow a full range of motion. Pulldowns are a good substitute when height is significantly limited.

*By the way, if you have a gym with a low ceiling, make sure not to miss our article with some really awesome tips straight from gym owners dealing with this exact problem. You can check it out here: 11 Ways to Train in a Gym with a Low Ceiling – Real Tips From Real People.

Performing pull-ups in a home gym with a low ceiling.

In my guide to finding the correct height to mount your pull-up bar, I noted that you not only want 18” above the bar for clearance but that you also want to be able to hang straight down without your feet touching the ground.

That’s just not going to happen in a room with an 8’ ceiling or lower unless you are as vertically challenged as your gym’s ceiling is. For even below average height humans, this is going to be an issue.

The 18” required above the bar is mostly non-negotiable. You could probably cut that down to 14” or even 12”, but then you limit the type of pull-ups you can do. A cleanly executed chest to bar pull-up really does need that 18” above the bar.

That leaves the area under the bar to play with. And there are several possible solutions to this.

Use a short power rack that allows clearance above the bar.

I’ll point to the PR-1050 short power rack by Rep Fitness I recommended in my guide to fitting a power rack in a gym with a short ceiling as an example. It comes equipped with a pull-up bar at the top of the rack. 

That rack is 72” high. That means that unless you are well under 5’ tall, your feet are going to hit the ground when you hang from that bar.

Your first solution is to bend your legs at the knee when doing pull-ups. This will give most people plenty of clearance while using a lower bar. 

I think almost everyone can figure that one out on their own. The problem comes in when you don’t have that 12”-18” you need above the bar. What then?

In that case, you can’t use the attached pull-up bar on that rack.

Lower your bar to allow enough clearance above.

In this case, we’ll need to lower the bar. Since the attached bar also serves as structural support for the rack, you can’t change or lower that. You do have two other options, though.

The first is to use your barbell. You can set your j-hooks at a height 18” below the ceiling and then secure your bar in the hooks. I recommend using rubber exercise bands to hold the bar in place. You don’t want it shifting around on you while you are doing your pull-ups.

The second option is to use gymnastics rings. I prefer these to suspension trainers, especially for pull-ups (for a full explanation, see my comparison of the two here). Attach them to the existing pull-up bar and set them to have 12”-18” between the top of the rack and the bottom of the rings.

In both of these cases, you’ve given yourself the needed clearance to pull yourself up over the bar (or rings). But what just happened to the space below?

In both of these cases, your bar (rings) may now be so low to the ground that even bending your knees doesn’t allow you to hang and not hit the floor.

To address this, rest your feet on the floor out in front of you. Then pull yourself up, leaving your legs relaxed, so they don’t “accidentally” help pull yourself up.

Want to make this harder? Put your feet up on a bench or a plyo box. Want to make it even harder? Add a weighted vest to make up for the lost weight of your legs.

In any case, there is a way to get pull-ups done even inside of a short power rack with no clearance above. Sure, it’s not your traditional looking pull-up, but it works the same muscles in the same way.

Pull things down instead of pulling yourself up.

Not thrilled about the options I just outlined above? Or maybe pull-ups aren’t your thing? For many people, this is one of the most challenging movements to train.

If this is the case, maybe pulldowns are a better option. And you don’t need fancy or expensive equipment to do this.

Exercise bands are one of those things that every home gym should have. They can not only be used on their own for a myriad of training purposes, but they can be added to traditional resistance training as well.

Bands are a great alternative to pull-ups. This can be done in two ways. The first is to simply attach the bands to the pullup bar above. Take a seat below, grab the bands, pull down.

A nice little hack for this is to add some fat gripz to the mix. These little barbell accessories make great handles when pulling on bands. They allow you to use enough bands to provide a high level of resistance while still being comfortable on your hands. 

For this purpose, I love the standard sized fat gripz you can see here on Amazon.

The second way to use bands for pull downs is to add a broomstick. Loop the bands over the pull-up bar, insert the broomstick through the bands, and then pull down on the broomstick.

This allows you to simulate a lat pulldown machine with only bands and a broomstick. Lat pulldowns are a great way to train the pull-up movement pattern. It’s also an excellent way for people who can’t do many pull-ups to get more reps in.

By using more reps, more bands, or both, you can work your way up to bodyweight pull-ups in a surprisingly short amount of time. 

In a low ceiling gym, pull-downs may be an ideal way for you to train this movement pattern!

Use a doorway mounted pull-up bar.

Pull up bar
I keep this door mounted bar on my office doorway.

One of the many nice things about having a home gym is that you can be as flexible as you need to be. People with a low ceiling in their home gym learn this very quickly.

While the solutions I presented above are all viable ways to train pull-ups in a restricted height room, they are not, in the end, strict pull-ups.

You may want to do honest to goodness, dead hang, bar to chest pull-ups at some point. For that, you’ll need a pull-up bar at the right height and with enough clearance above. That may mean finding another place to do your pull-ups.

One of the first few things I ever bought to train at home with was a door-mounted pull-up bar. That pull-up bar is still in my home office doorway, and I still use it almost every day.

So, if you can’t find a way to do pull-ups in your gym, there’s bound to be an open doorway somewhere in your home you can use. No one ever said all your training should be confined solely to your designated home gym!

Don’t skip the pull-ups!

I know they are hard. Pull-ups are one of the most challenging movements to perform for most people. Because of this, it’s easy to simply skip them.

That urge to skip pull-ups is made easy when you have a low ceiling in your home gym. It’s convenient to tell yourself that since you don’t have enough height for a traditional pull-up bar, that you will just go without. I think this is a mistake.

There’s always a way to train the pull-up movement pattern. Even if it’s not with strict, straight legged, dead hang pull-ups. Integrate them into your programming and you won’t be sorry! You’ll be doing more pull-ups in no time!

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