Equipment: Substitutions! Aka: “I don’t have a wall ball/ghd/back xtn machine!” aka “But I can’t do a muscle-up”
Posted: 20 August 2008 11:07 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  13341
Joined  2007-01-30

Not all of us have the ability to attend an affiliate as often as we like or a situation where we have all the Crossfit equipment right at hand from day one.  Sometimes it’s a matter of being able to do the exercise at all (see: up, muscle). 

Not to sound like a broken record, but your primary source of information on commonly accepted substitutions are located on the Crossfit Main Site, in their frequently asked questions section.  ( That said, a few things come up more than others:

Abmat: A particular brand of situp support that holds your lower back in proper position when doing situps.  You can sub a rolled up towel, but be careful not to make it too thick or you’ll hurt more than help.

Kettlebell: It’s a heavy weight with a handle.  If you don’t have these, two handed dumbell swings will work (note, there are no “two handed dumbbells, but you have two hands . . .  also note, do not use the left handed dumbbells to do kb swings . . . . )

Back Extension Machine:  If you won’t have access to one of these the common sub is something called a “superman”: lay face down on the floor, arms outstretched in front of you, then you simultaneously raise your legs and your arms, hopefully raising your feet and chest off the floor.  Also “good mornings” with a 45/35lb bar can be done. Because these are weighted (45 for men, 35 for women) and require either familiarity with good form or a trainer who can oversee your form, you may consider these more advanced. 

GHD (Glute Ham Developer):  Like the Back Extension Machine, you probably don’t have one of these.  Common subs are regular “abmat” situps, or “swiss ball” situps where you lock your feet under something stable, or bench situps, where you sit perpendicular on the bench, feet off one side,, lock your feet under something stable, then lay back into the situp.

Rower: If you don’t have a rowing machine . . . you, my lucky friend, get to do Sumo Deadlift High Pulls.  Basically take a bar (45/35lbs), and in a wide stance take the bar from shin to chin.  Think upright row, but with the added squat at the beginning.  Can be done with a bar, or a kettlebell.  Standard sub is one rep for each 10 meters of rowing distance . . . so 500 meter row?  Yes, my friend, 50 SDHPs.  UPDATE:  Occasionally we also get the situation (See also Fight Gone Bad aka FGB) where SDHPs AND rowing are in the same WOD.  In the case of FGB, the consensus is to do burpees for the row (since it’s for calories and not distance in that particular WOD) on a one for one basis: one burpee = one calorie.  If we come across another WOD that has both SDHP AND rowing we’ll come up with something, but basically that doesn’t happen often enough to worry too much about.

Pullups? Can’t do any/more than 2-3/enough?  See the “how to” on beginner pullups in this forum. 

Wallball: Don’t have either a wallball (heavy, round) or a strong enough wall (Tall, flat . . . you can throw heavy round things at it . . )to throw it against?  Do either barbell or dumbell thrusters at twice the weight of the wallball you were trying to push.  So, for a 20lb wallball, that’s about a 45lb bar or two 20lb dumbbells. 

Rope climbs:  No rope?  Do towel pullups.  Yes, you hang a towel over your pullup bar and then do pullups.  The recommended sub is 15 towel pullups for each rope climb.  But, rope climbs vary by ability, in roughly this order:  L-sit, arms only: Crossfit Ninjas, arms only: Crossfit big dogs, using your legs and arms: Crossfit Pack.  At this point we’re into beginner rope climbs (lay on the floor, using your arms and legs (as necessary) pull yourself upright.  Therefore, 15 pullups for each rope climb seems more like a big dog sub than pack or lower.  One nice update to this is to consider that a rope climb is a pullup followed by a knees to elbows, then locking the rope with the feet, then another pull up.  So 5x rope pullup/rope kte would be awesome.. Oh, and don’t drop off the pullups…dropping off the rope would be….problematic….

Muscleups? See Exercise descriptions “what’s a beginner pullup” in this forum-and they typical sub for a muscle up is a 3/1 sub of pull ups and dips.  Do 3 pullups and 3 dips for each MU.  And you do it like that, 3 pu, 3 dips, then go again.  Time and equipment (i.e. globo goers may dictate you do more at a time, but if it’s 10 MUs resist doing 30 pullups then 30 dips). GD will sometimes assign more in a scaling if he doesn’t like you not being able to do muscle ups: i.e. 4/1 and even 5/1.


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Posted: 29 December 2012 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  10146
Joined  2007-01-08

Please do not do jumping pull-ups as a sub for pull-ups, the reasons are covered at length in the following posts.

Jumping pull-ups and rhabdo

SuperDave - 19 July 2012 11:06 PM

Whats wrong with jumping pullups?  I usually do a jump with a nice slow negative when pullups are rx’ed.
I thought that was a beginner pullup.

As a sub for regular pull-ups, about everything.

As a tool to improve pull-up numbers if used cautiously, nothing.

The topic AcidsSWE linked and the resources it references are the best information about what rhabdo is and how you’re likely to get it.
You can find the journal article mentioned at:
and another at:

On this forum jumping pull-ups done as you describe are the most common cause of rhabdo.
The worst case a forum member had was caused by GHD sit-ups. A very fit young member of the military put himself in hospital.
See these for more on those stories.

Metric - 30 September 2009 01:51 PM

Rhabdo stories.

tuyop - Canadian infantrymen - GHD situps

Malia - jumping pull-ups

Beginners pull-ups are described in this topic/FAQ;
Please read those FAQs, they’re important.

Jumping pull-ups in CF are a jump and pull up to the bar and then a drop down to the ground. No resisting the fall at all. Done properly they are almost entirely a leg exercise and do next to nothing to build pull-up numbers.
The problem is, many many people resist the drop. Perhaps just a little, but in the numbers CF prescribes for pull-ups, that amounts to a lot of eccentric work and often, rhabdo.

Doing negatives, the jump and resist you describe, in smaller numbers as Skill Work outside the WOD is one of a range of very effective techniques to build pull-up numbers.
Just not in high volumes and not in a WOD.
It really seriously can hurt you.

At Brand X they never do jumping pull-ups in a WOD. GD just doesn’t program them.


Craig Massey

“The point of CF is to get better at life.  Being unable to workout tomorrow because you were pigheaded today is not in line with our goals.”
Garddawg - 22 March 2009

“CrossFit is not dangerous.
Bad coaching is dangerous, poor movement is dangerous. Ego is dangerous.
CrossFit, properly scaled to the individual is the safest and most efficient program available for strength, conditioning and movement.”
BlueBugofJustice - 18 August 2009