Say Yes to Banded Pull Ups (But Not for Assistance)

Struggle at the top of regular or weighted pull ups? This movement will force you to become more explosive.

A while back I wrote that banded pull ups were like drugs. Once you start, you have a hard time quitting. For beginners I still agree there are much better ways to learn how to do strict pull ups. But for advanced athletes, using a band as resistance – not assistance – can build the ability to get the chin over the bar.

Say No to Bands for Assistance

One of the biggest reasons I am against the use of bands for beginners is that they provide inconsistent assistance. Bands assist most in the bottom of the movement and least in the top. Imagine someone is spotting you on a bench press and he yanks on the bar for you in the bottom position. At the top of the press, he is off checking his phone. The banded pull up is similar in how it assists people.

This inconsistent assistance prevents beginners from gaining strength as quickly as they could. I call it band purgatory. People start using bands and a year later they are still stuck. A better option is to do a jumping pull up followed by a slow negative movement. The negative or eccentric portion will build your strength much quicker.

Say Yes to Bands for Resistance

As you advance, you might have difficulties in the top part of the pull up. We can use bands to change the load and build strength in the top position, which is where most people are weakest. If I attach light bands to the ground, I challenge the top portion of the pull up and force you to be more explosive.

  1. Tie the bands to pins at the bottom of the rack or loop them through kettlebells to secure. You will want two bands, one each side of where you will be doing your pull ups.
  2. Pull your arm and head through the band on one side and do the same on the other side to create a harness around your upper body.
  3. Perform a pull up, making sure you are explosive at the top to counteract the increase in band tension as you ascend.
  4. If it’s too easy to get to the top, you can use heavier bands or add weight.

This exercise is not for everyone. If you can do a strict pull up but you have problems at the top, this movement could be for you. For people training for the Iron Maiden or Beast Tamer (pull ups with a 24kg/48kg kettlebell), adding bands can help with the finish of the movement. You should find much more explosive strength after removing the bands.

Further Reading

The Proof Is in the Pull Up: 10 Tools for Getting Better at Pull Ups – Melody Schoenfeld is extremely strong. Any advice from her on strength training is great advice.

5 Drills to Help You Achieve Your First Pull Up – Andrew Read always provides informative articles with real world applications.

Related articles: 

Photo courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.