Pull-Ups Like You've Never Seen Before

Replace Band-Assisted Pull-Ups!

Using a band for assisted pull-ups? Stop. It doesn’t work well. Here are four better choices even advanced lifters will love.


Ditch the Band to Master Pull-Ups

Using resistance bands to assist with pull-ups isn’t the worst programming mistake in the world, but there are far better options.

Consider the full pull-up: You don’t need a muscle mechanics lesson to know that the first few inches and the last few inches (where your elbows pull past your shoulders) are the easiest. Somewhere near the middle of each pull-up is where it’s the hardest.

This starts just a few inches from the bottom hang position, while for others, it starts much higher. Either way, you’re strongest at the start, weakest in the middle, and strong(ish) again right at the top. The resistance profile of the band just doesn’t match the strength curve of the exercise.

The Mismatched Strength Curve

As the band stretches farther, there’s an increase in resistance and an ascending strength curve. That means you’ll get the most assistance from the band at the bottom, which is where you’re strongest. Then, as you pull yourself up, the band assistance decreases.

In other words, they’re a mismatch. If anything, the band should be assisting in the opposite way, but that still wouldn’t be ideal. Sure, a band can provide marginal assistance, but when it comes to progressing your pull-ups, bands aren’t the most efficient method. Your strength and muscle development will suffer.

Instead, try one of the options below and work your way to pull-up mastery. They’re all easily scalable to both beginner and advanced training. All can be made easier or harder as needed.

1. One-Arm Eccentric Ring Pull-Up

Eccentric (negative) pull-ups are a great way to build strength and back width. They help tap into the force-producing fast-twitch muscle fibers that are more likely to grow.

Because you’re stronger when you’re lowering yourself down (up to around 40% stronger), emphasizing the eccentric portion is a good way to build concentric strength too. In time, this will transfer to your full pull-up performance.

Eccentric pull-ups can be done with one arm or two. In the single-arm variation, you’ll be keeping both feet on the floor at all times. The two-arm version has you lowering your body with both feet off the floor (full body weight). Do them using rings, a suspension trainer, or even a racked bar.

To make these even harder, consider using a weighted vest; maybe throw some chains on, too, for fun.

2. DC Pull-Up (Rack Chin)

These are known by many names. More recently, they’ve been referred to as “rack chins,” but many will remember these as being a part of the DC “DogCrapp” training system.

Anyway, DC pull-ups are a great variation that works wonders with all levels. Beginners will like these since you can unload a fraction of your body weight. Plus, if you’re going to push to failure on these, it’s no big deal.

Bodybuilders will love these, too, since the angle of pull is highly efficient for lat engagement and you get a good stretch at the bottom. You can also control tempo and body swing better.

And let’s not forget strength enthusiasts. They’ll appreciate these since they make it easy to throw some plates or chains across your hips. You can do these using a rack, rings, or suspension trainer, and with your feet on a flat bench or hooked over the top of an incline.

3. Seated Pull-Up

These can be adjusted to match everyone’s needs. They’re a nice way to raise your pull-up game while helping build a bigger, stronger back. They’re also great for teaching back engagement and staying in an active range of motion throughout.

A common pull-up mistake is just hanging on the bar at the bottom in an attempt to get a bigger stretch. Sure, allowing your scapula to move during pull-ups is good practice, but losing tension and just hanging there can ultimately cause shoulder issues. Seated pull-ups help you kick this bad habit.

In a way, you can compare seated pull-ups to “full” pull-ups the same way you can compare box squats to back squats. Both pairings of exercises have much the same benefits and carry over to the “real” thing.

Seated pull-ups also make it hard to cheat. By sitting down between reps, you partly inhibit muscle stretch-reflex mechanisms. Sitting down also ensures a proper range of motion.

If you don’t think a basic bodyweight version is hard enough, just try doing them as a drop-set, as shown in the video above. You can also try them in an L-sit (hips held 90 degrees with knees straight) for building gymnastic levels of bodyweight strength.

These work great with a bar, but you can also use a suspension trainer or rings.

4. Kneeling Pull-Up

Kneeling pull-ups offer many of the same benefits as the seated version. The primary difference is in the position of your hips. During the seated version, your hips start in a flexed position, which can encourage some abdominal and hip flexor activation. With the kneeling version, however, it’s more of a plank-like position.

Although seated pull-ups are a good abdominal challenge, the kneeling version will develop much of the muscle coordination necessary for full pull-ups – different horses for different courses.

Complete beginners can adjust the height of the bar based on where their strength is lacking. For example, they could begin with the bar set to around head height and, over time, progress to the bar higher up the rack. Eventually, they can progress to lifting from an arms-fully-overhead position.

Crushing a medicine ball between the knees or wearing a weighted vest will make them even harder. Much like the other variations, these can also be done using rings or a suspension trainer.

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4 Likes

exactly.

and so where you need it most - at the top - you do more work. and you get full range of motion.

While these other suggestions may be fine too it’s not clear there’s evidence that they help a person build to a first pull up better, faster or help someone improve their numbers better

You mention box squats as a way to get into full squats

There’s an argument to be had in terms of neurophysiology to say doing more reps in the full range of motion is better than not - so again having a band to help build squats may be better than a box for building patterns on which to layer increasing strength challenges.

SO why say “ditch the band pull up” when it works well? it would be good to see comparisons if those exist to support the request to drop an effective safe neuro-supportive method?
thanks

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Not everyone is the strongest at the bottom.
Usually people struggle to begin a pull-up.

Speaking from experience.

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I got to 4x4 using bands. Yes, it helped me at the start but that meant I was able to save my strength for the middle and then top segments of the pull-u

I always like reading on new ideas but the bands were a god-send.

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I strongly agree here, and the strength curve assumption in the article is not consistent with my experience training with many individuals, from many strength levels and backgrounds.

I’ve actually found that many athletes are weakest in the last few inches of the ROM (i.e. chin over the bar), especially toward the end of sets and nearing failure. Personally, I’m strongest in the middle, 2nd strongest in full extension (the bottom) and weakest at full contraction (at the top). I’ve seen this pattern with many others.

That said, I also feel that heavy reliance on band assistance results in a starting strength deficiency at the bottom of the ROM, and is not a perfect solution. As with many protocols in strength training, the individual should dictate the programming. For someone with weak starting strength, bands are well-suited. Not so much if the top few inches are challenging.

For home gym users, however, there aren’t many great solutions that allow for full ROM.

I’ve worked with many people, including myself, that started out not being able to do 5 pull-ups.

The things that helped were:

  1. Isometric holds at the bar
  2. Half-pull-ups starting at the bar
  3. Band assisted Pull-ups.

I’ve only ever met a few people that are stronger at the top than the bottom, personally.

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Using a mini band takes a bit of stress off my shoulders in the bottom position but I agree with everything else presented here.

Hey brother, hope you’re good. Just a few points I’ll address here.

“Evidence” - If it’s research studies you’re looking for then you’ll be disappointed. Trust me, there are plenty of studies I wish some PhD’s would put together to get some data on such things. But, as real-world coaches we need to think ahead of what has “scientific evidence” and use our clients to accumulate real-world data. As an example here then take sled training as an example. It was covered at T-Nation (I believe by Joe Defranco) WAYYYYY ahead of when the first study came out that confirmed their effectiveness (off the top of my head I believe it was in 2005). So as far as evidence is concerned I personally rely on data accumulated from in-person coaching over tens of thousands of hours, and meticulously tracking data.

Box squats do not have to be done in a partial range of motion. Overall I encourage achieving a full (active) range of motion in all lifts, outside of some scenarios where partial ranges are preferred. Using accommodating resistance with a squat differs than a pulling actin in that the resistance profile matches the strength curve a lot closer. Both box squats and band (reverse bands or positive loading) can both improve squats.

I’ll retract the “ditch the band pull up” statement. I should amend then to “most would benefit from ditching the band pull-up in place of using other methods instead”.

Always happy when we can have a conversation over these things and learn from others experiences :slight_smile: Enjoy your weekend.

1 Like

I can definitely see the use in that. Good point!

Experience is always the best evidence when it comes to a topic like this, so pleased to see your input. I think in combination with isometric holds, eccentrics and progressing strength in different ranges of motion over time, band assisted pull-ups can have their place. Especially as a confidence builder.

I completely agree and have rarely seen someone stronger at the top.

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Completely agree with, and align with your experiences here. Band pull-ups ‘can’ be an option, but if overly relied upon (they generally are) then that starting strength deficiency is a common one to see.

Thank you for sharing!

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Here’s an interesting thought. If we were to do a hanging challenge on a pull-up bar, how many would still be hanging if they held with straight arms, versus those who held at the top or middle. I think we’d see less drop-off (pun intended) from those who isometrically held at the bottom (where they’re strongest). But, as always, there are some outliers.

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