Can’t do a pull-up?
Then welcome to the club!
A good portion of the guys at the gym hasn’t been able to do a real pull-up since high school—and no, we’re not counting CrossFit kipping pull-ups that depend on pure momentum.
But a proper pull-up isn’t entirely out of reach for you.
You might just need to add assisted pull-ups with bands to your upper-body workouts to work your way up to the real thing.
So let’s talk a little more about this unconventional exercise.
Table of Contents
- What Are Band-Assisted Pull-Ups?
- How To Do an Assisted Pull-Up with Bands
- All Of the Muscles Worked with Assisted Pull-Ups with Bands
- 3 Unique Benefits of Assisted Pull-Ups with Bands
- Staying Safe & Seeing Progress During Band-Assisted Pull-Ups
What Are Band-Assisted Pull-Ups?
Band-assisted pull-ups are an excellent alternative to the standard pull-up. They’re most useful if you have weak upper body muscles, like your lats, and want to develop proper pull-up form.
Resistance band pull-ups are similar to assisted pull-up machines in one sense:
They don’t add resistance (as the name suggests), but rather reduce it.
The resistance band will work in the same direction as your pull-up (toward the ceiling). So it’ll subtract a little resistance from your body weight instead of adding to it like banded squats for example.
In essence: You’re doing a pull-up but against a lighter resistance that your lats can handle!
How To Do an Assisted Pull-Up with Bands
First things first, the gear.
Assisted band pull-ups require a thick, single-loop resistance band to perform this exercise safely. So that hip or handled band you wanted to use just isn’t going to cut it on this one.
You’ll also need a pull-up bar. And since this exercise requires a little set-up and other guys at the gym won’t be able to work a set in during your rest periods, go when the gym is empty!
Attaching the Band to the Bar
The good news is that the most complex part of the assisted pull-up with bands is wrapping the band around the bar. Once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a breeze!
In the center of the bar:
- Pinch the resistance band in the center and hold it up to the bar, with the top loop extending over the bar on the side opposite you.
- Now, take the bottom portion of the band, bring it upward, and maneuver it through the loop you just created, pushing it through the loop around the bar.
- Pull the slack down to tighten the loop.
There should be absolutely no knot in the band.
And to check that you did this right, tug at the original loop or push the vertical hanging portion upward toward the bar. Either (or both) of these actions should loosen the band.
The Step-By-Step Of This Exercise
This next portion is entirely up to you.
You need to find a way to attach your lower body to this band to reduce your body weight resistance. So your options are:
- Rest the arch of one of your feet on the center of the band (easiest)
- Rest one of your knees within the hanging loop (hardest)
- Squeeze one of your legs into the loop and “sit” your upper thigh into it (safer)
- Place both of your knees into the hanging loop of the band (may feel more natural)
- Wrap the band around one of your feet (less risk of slippage, but getting out is a pain)
Realistically, any of these set-ups will work. Choose the one that provides you with the resistance you’re capable of, and that makes you feel most comfortable.
Now, for how to do this exercise from start to finish.
- Rest your foot, leg, or knee in a hanging resistance band that’s been securely attached to a pull-up bar.
- Grasp the bar above with an overhand grip (palms down) with your hands placed slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
- Without hunching or bending your back, use your upper-body strength to bring your elbows to your sides.
- Continue this upward motion until your chin is over the bar (seriously over the bar, not a desperate attempt to stretch your neck over the bar).
- Hold this position for a second or two and slowly lower yourself to the starting position.
Your form is absolutely essential during this exercise.
Whether you’re using a band to assist you or not, a complete pull-up only counts if you start each rep from near-full extension in the arms.
Don’t be that guy that starts pull-ups from a 90-degree bend in the arms.
Another Variation: Power/Squat Rack Band-Assisted Pull-Ups
There’s also another variation that you might want to give a go:
Assisted pull-ups….power rack style.
Instead of wrapping your resistance band around the bar overhead, you’ll be attaching a loop band around the safety pins on your power (or squat) rack.
This set-up can get you out of the potentially dangerous situation of wrapping your knee or a foot within a hanging resistance band.
You’ll rest both feet, with your legs at full extension, on the band below you. This provides you with equal resistance across the board—just like true pull-up form!
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All Of the Muscles Worked with Assisted Pull-Ups with Bands
Upper-body exercises like pull-ups target the majority of the muscles in your upper half.
Check out this list of the muscles involved in assisted pull-ups with bands, whether they’re directly hit or simply needed to keep good form.
- Latissimus dorsi (the “lats,” gives you a broader V-shape in your back)
- Biceps (more specifically, the brachioradialis, biceps, and brachialis
- Upper back muscles (teres major/minor, traps, and rhomboids)
- Pectoralis minor (and triceps, to an extent)
Basically: Every upper-body muscle is used in one way or another when you’re doing band-assisted pull-ups
But the muscles that see the most action are the lats and the biceps!
3 Unique Benefits of Assisted Pull-Ups with Bands
The benefits of assisted pull-ups go in line with the tremendous benefits of the average pull-ups.
But there are also a few additional benefits worth writing home about!
So this is why assisted pull-ups with bands make a great addition to your upper-body routine.
1. You Can Do Pull-Ups Without Doing Pull-Ups
The horizontal position of push-ups means your chest muscles take on a certain percentage of your total body weight with each rep (somewhere around 75% of your body weight).
Pull-ups are different.
You’re mustering all of your upper-body strength to bring 100% of your body weight toward the bar above you. So adding the resistance band will help to reduce the resistance you’re using.
You’re working on developing pull-up form but at a lesser weight!
2. You Can Work Your Lats At Home
Maybe doorway pull-up bars aren’t the same as the pull-up bars you use at the gym.
But unless you have a cable machine in the garage and can knock out lat pulldowns on your back day, the only way you can target the lats directly at home is via some form of a pull-up.
So assisted pull-ups with bands make targeting this muscle possible, whether you’re at the real gym or in your home gym.
Your at-home back day doesn’t just have to be several variations of rows!
3. Work Up to a True Pull-Up
You can’t do a pull-up until you can do a pull-up. Well, that’s unless you’re adding some variation of assisted pull-ups to your current routine.
We’re talking about assisted pull-ups with resistance bands!
As you hit your set and rep goals each week, you can slowly work your way down to lower resistance levels. In due time, you won’t need a single resistance band to knock one out.
You’ll be able to do a correct pull-up shortly.
So the most significant benefit of these assisted pull-ups is that you work on the same form as real pull-ups, and, with a bit of consistency, you’ll be able to do them in a few months.
Who doesn’t want their first pull-up in the books?
Staying Safe & Seeing Progress During Band-Assisted Pull-Ups
Resistance bands do have their pitfalls.
So if you want to stay safe and see continuous progress during band-assisted pull-ups, follow these tips:
- Start with thicker bands if you’re new to fitness or have a weak upper body, as more resistance in the bands means you’re working against far less resistance.
- Sit your upper thigh(s) into the band if possible, as this lessens the risk of lost grip and a resistance band to the eye.
- Use the foot that’s not wrapped within the band to dismount—place this free foot on the ground, stabilize your stance, and use both hands to free you from the band.
- Stick to a more neutral grip (just beyond shoulder-width apart) to maximize the range of motion, yet still, target the lats directly.
- Depend on your upper-body strength, not full-body momentum, to bring your chin above the bar (i.e., Don’t swing your body with each rep).
- If you’re remaining completely vertical and putting the arch of one foot into the band, be sure to keep your foot flexed so that the band doesn’t slip upward toward you.
Assisted pull-ups with bands are safer than hefty lat pulldowns on the cable machine and kipping pull-ups that put true pull-up form to shame.
Form is essential, and getting your first pull-up under your belt isn’t worth it if you’re accompanying it with a severe injury.
So stay safe!
And most importantly:
Keep making progress until you’re knocking out dozens of true pull-ups in a single set!
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