CrossFit: 3 Reasons Banded Pull ups Aren’t Enough

3 Reasons Banded Pull ups Aren't Enough

We all know pull ups can be really tough. Yet it’s a movement just like squats, deadlifts and presses that need to be part of any person’s training regimen. Admittedly it is the toughest one to conquer.

Many of us resort to banded pull ups as it seems like an easy way to finally conquer that elusive pull up. But there is enough research that suggests that banded pull ups just simply aren’t enough to finally get you into doing that pull up.

Let’s look at why that is:

Why Pull up is so Tough

  1. You are required to lift your entire body weight. This isn’t something we normal folks do on a daily basis or out of habit, although all of us do have the ability to lift ourselves on a daily basis for sure. The closest related exercise we can all associate with where you lift your own body weight is arguably a push up, but even that is just lifting 60-70% of your body weight.
  2. Also at the bottom of the pull where you are hanging from a dead position with your arm straight and stretched there is no momentum, getting up is just pure strength and it definitely requires training and conditioning to lift yourself from a dead hang position. 

Why Banded Pull ups Alone Won’t Get You There:

  1. Before anyone can do a proper pull up they need to activate the shoulder blades while they are hanging in the start of a pull up position,  there needs to be a conscious activation, retraction and depression of the shoulder blades to incorporate the correct areas. This activation of the correct areas is very inconsistent when you have too much help from a band. It’s a coordination that needs to be learned.
  2. The toughest part of the pullup is the initial pull when you are in that straight arm hanging position. A band changes this toughest part in the easiest part of the pull by adding considerable assistance through the initial pull as you lift off easier. It’s like having a friend who is lifting you off the floor but they are waaayyy too overeager when assisting you. That means you’ll never get stronger in the toughest part of the pull as you need to gradually expose yourself to a higher resistance to stimulate strength gains.
  3. Doing hundreds of very easy and lighter pull up versions due to the band assistance won’t increase strength, it will just increase your fitness in super light pull ups. Lifting your own body weight is not deemed as a light exercise, yet you are using a lighter form of training….that just doesn’t make sense.

Train For a Real Pull up

Incorporate various exercises that require the wrist, elbow and shoulder to be tested in various angles and rotations and gradually increasing resistance levels is the ideal way to get there. I like using at least 1 horizontal pull with my clients combined with various forms of concentric + eccentric contraction approaches.

  1. Sets of jumping pull ups with focus on the negative pull up / steady control downwards.  Pronated and supinated grips – start off with a 3 second descent, progress to a 5  / 7 second descent, when you can lower yourself controlled for 10 seconds you are getting super close to doing 1 real pull up. 
  2. Sets of single arm rows / inverted rows / gradually increased ring rows intensity.
  3. Sets of Max hangs  – 30 second hold is proof that you are getting close to doing 1 real pullup from the bottom.


Check out this video for the suggested movements.

Some controversy?

I’ve had this discussion with many clients and trainers and some vouch that banded assisted pull ups did in fact help them achieve that 1st real pull up. But after close inspection and dissecting their approach it shows that they also incorporated other pulling exercises like bent over rows and seated rows that increased their strength for the pull up, so the band assisted pull up didn’t incorporate the strength gains on it’s own. 
Have you ever used banded pull ups on its own without any other shoulder retracted resistance exercises and had any success? Let me know in the comments below.   

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