Take it from an expert—three-time American Ninja Warrior Angela Gargano.

By Lauren Mazzo
July 17, 2020
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Pull-ups are notoriously hard—even for the fittest among us. The thing with pull-ups is that no matter how naturally strong and fit you are, if you don't practice them, you won't get better at them.

If you're stuck at home without a pull-up bar (or nearby playground to practice on), you might be crushed at the idea of losing your pull-up strength. Or, maybe, you've decided to use quarantine as the perfect time to dedicate yourself to mastering this move—but, again, don't have the right equipment.

That's where this ingenious workout comes in: Certified personal trainer Angela Gargano, a three-time American Ninja Warrior competitor, former gymnast, and creator of the Pull-Up Revolution pull-up program put together a chest and back workout—using just towels and a door as a sort of makeshift DIY pull-up bar—that allows you to work on pull-up progressions.

"It's a very grip-intensive, upper body and back workout [hitting muscles] that a lot of us tend to miss," says Gargano. "Where a lot of people get stuck on their pull-ups is with the grip strength and with their lats, which aren't firing." (FYI, "lats" is short for latissimus dorsi, and they're powerful fan-shaped muscles that stretch across your back and are a major player in pull-ups.)

This workout will help you improve both those things, as well as improve your push-ups. You'll start with a warm-up superset of push-ups and rows, then move into the pull-up progressions, and finish with a 1-minute push-up burnout. "You're doing to feel muscles you've never felt before," says Gargano.

Here's how you set up this DIY pull-up bar: Grab two beach or bath towels and fold them over the top of a sturdy door so about six inches hang on the "outside" of the door and so they're about shoulder-width apart. Fold the end of the towel in half sideways that's on the outside of the door and loop a hair tie or rubber band around it. Close the door, and give both towels a nice tug to make sure they're securely in place.

"It's a great way to get a back workout that's a little bit different, and it works even if you don't have equipment," says Gargano. "Some of us can't afford equipment or can't get equipment, but everyone has towels."

Ready to give it a try? Prepare your upper body—the towels may be soft, but this pull-up workout will demand an iron resolve.

Warm-Up: Bodyweight Rows + Push-Ups

How it works: You have 3 minutes. You'll do 5 reps of rows and 5 reps of push-ups, repeating for as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in the time allotted.

Bodyweight Row

A. Hold onto each towel with one hand, palms facing in. (Walk feet closer or farther away from the door to make it easier or harder, respectively.) Lean back so that arms are straight and body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders.

B. Exhale to row elbows back, squeezing shoulder blades together to pull torso toward the door.

C. Inhale and, which control, extend arms to return to start.

Push-Up

A. Start in a high-plank position with palms just wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the floor and feet together. Engage quads and core as if holding a plank. (To modify, lower to knees or place hands on an elevated surface. Just be sure to keep core engaged and hips in line with the rest of the body.)

B. Bend elbows back at 45-degree angles to lower entire body toward the floor, pausing when chest is just below elbow height.

C. Exhale and press into palms to push body away from the floor to return to starting position, moving hips and shoulders at the same time.

Pull-Up Progressions

How it works: Do each of the movements below for the indicated number of reps or amount of time. Repeat the full set of pull-up progressions 3 times total.

Towel Pull-Up

A. Sit on the floor just in front of the door with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach arms overhead to grab onto the towels.

B. Pull elbows down and back to form a "W" shape, using arms and back to lift hips off the floor. (Keep feet planted for stability, but don't press into them to rise up.) Pause when elbows are next to ribs.

C. With control, lower down to start.

Do 5 reps. 

Towel Pull-Up Hold

A. Sit on the floor just in front of the door with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach arms overhead to grab onto the towels.

B. Pull elbows down and back to form a "W" shape, using arms and back to lift hips off the floor. (Keep feet planted for stability, but don't press into them to rise up.) Pause when elbows are next to ribs.

C. Hold this position for 5 seconds. With control, lower to return to start.

Negative Towel Pull-Up

A. Sit on the floor just in front of the door with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach arms overhead to grab onto the towels.

B. Pull elbows down and back to form a "W" shape, using arms and back to lift hips off the floor. (Keep feet planted for stability, but don't press into them to rise up.) Pause when elbows are next to ribs.

C. With control, slowly lower down to start, taking 5 full seconds to do so.

Towel Pull-Up Shrug

A. Sit on the floor just in front of the door with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach arms overhead to grab onto the towels.

B. Keeping arms straight, allow shoulders to rise up towards ears.

C. Then pull shoulder blades back and down, squeezing the upper back, and lifting the hips a few inches off the ground (if possible). Keep arms straight throughout the movement.

Do 5 reps.

Finisher: Push-Up Hold

A. Start in a high plank position with palms just wider than shoulder-width, palms pressing into the floor and feet together. Engage quads and core as if holding a plank. (To modify, lower to knees or place hands on an elevated surface. Just be sure to keep core engaged and hips in line with the rest of the body.)

B. Bend elbows back at 45-degree angles to lower entire body toward the floor, pausing when chest is just below elbow height. Hold here for 5 seconds.

C. Exhale to press up to start. Do 1 more push-up, without holding at the bottom.

Repeat, holding at the bottom of the push-up for 5 seconds, then doing 2 regular push-ups. Continue for 1 minute.

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