Banded Pull-ups: Yay or Nay?

pull_up_bands_-_rep_fitnessIn preparation for focusing on upper body strength and getting a pr with my pull-ups, I ordered a pull-up bar for the house as well as a thin band to help me with progressions and get a good workout in at home.  Then I started researching technique and stumbled across all sorts of conflicting information, the majority of it negative, about using the bands. I also dropped into a CrossFit WOD and instead of a band they had me squat on a box and use my legs as assistance for my pull-ups.  I wanted to kick the box over. Whoever invented that did not have good intentions towards my well being.  They told me that Cross-Fit in general is moving away from using bands but didn’t have a good explanation as to why.  So it has made me start to wonder.. what’s the deal with bands?   Titles such as: “Successful Pull Ups for Beginners: Say No to Bands” or “Friends Don’t Let Friends Do Band Assisted Pull ups”  are the first things that came up.  But why did some of my favorite sites then still continue to recommend them like Bodybuilding.com  “Yes, You Can Do Pull-Ups For Major Reps. Here’s How!”   I was very resistant at first, as I had just bought a band, I’ve been able to do pull-ups up to 6 before using none of the methods these listed, (eg. boxing, rock climbing and Lat Pulldown)  Many of these articles didn’t help me understand what exactly were the mechanics behind using the band that was making it ineffective, and also there was an assumption that using the band was a core exercise in trying to get a pull-up rather than a supplement.  Are they actually not very useful for pull-up progression? If I only use them casually, in addition to my other lifts, is that also a hindrance?

The best article I found was this: “Elastic bands are doing more harm to your pull-up progress than good”  To copy directly from the article:

“Lets start by considering what you need to be able to do in order to pull yourself up. Beginning with the bottom or straight arm hang position, you first need to be able to firmly “set” your shoulder blades. They are the foundation your arms will pull from. Next is flexing both your arm – at the elbow – and your shoulder – pulling your elbow down. Finally the pull-up finishes with a strong shoulder extension at the top, pulling your elbows slightly behind your back. As you train for your first pull-up you will need to develop all of these areas.”

The main takeaway that I get from the articles, is that the majority of people who are using bands, struggle especially from the bottom part of the pull-up.  Bands, being elastic, help you the most at the bottom, then decrease in assistance at the top of the pull-up.  So using them as a core part of developing your pull-up is not helping you develop that scapular strength or the technique that is required for the rest of the pull-up.  Fantastic video on showing scapular positioning for exercises.   Also, people may not be using them correctly, and another main complaint I read is that people often use bands to get them momentum, and especially when tired you lose your form and can bounce off the bottom to propel you upwards back into it. But what if you didn’t do that and just did it correctly? I mean.. that’s like any exercise, there is always the potential to do it incorrectly, so that didn’t seem like a good enough argument against it on its own.

So while I can say I was skeptical at first, and didn’t want to believe my shiny new band wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, it does seem like there are better exercises out there, such as ring row, dead hang, or pull-up negatives. I liked this article for the exercises she mentions.   I didn’t find anything worth noting of why this would be a bad exercise to have as a supplement though, and I will continue to use it in my home training. I will never use a box as assistance.  My current warm up routine already regularly includes dead hang 3×45 second sets, and scapular pull-ups, and strength exercises include a whole bunch of things.. so I don’t see the harm in using it for a strength building exercise for my back in general, as long as it is not a core part of the pull-up routine.

Favorite quote from researching this..

“In Coach K’s opinion, when bands are used from a psychological standpoint, , typically, they become a crutch for people to never have to “work” in the negative position on the movement… Fuck you Coach K! You’re full of shit!!! I know some of you reading this are thinking that RIGHT now. But I ask you.. am I?.. The main issue- Patience. We want our pull-up NOW!! In My Humble opinion, this is why the “resistance” band, became an “assistance” band. we are now coaching in a world where results are desired INSTANTLY and we are constantly compromising position and posture for “goal of movement standard”. This is a WHOLE OTHER Soap Box. NOW having said that, there IS a place for them…. and if placed on a “linear Progression” program, I would imagine that the bands could be useful. Full article 

Progress pictures:  Week 2
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About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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3 Responses to Banded Pull-ups: Yay or Nay?

  1. pixieannie says:

    I can definitely recommend negatives. Dead hangs are great but I would pull up just a small amount, say an inch, to take the strain from your skeletal system. What about hand stand push ups? Possibly the best exercise to fire up the necessary muscles for progression, is a scapula pull up.

    • Musings over Coffee says:

      I would love to get to the point where I can to hand stand pushups! Right now I can only go down a few inches, but that is a secondary goal of mine as well 🙂

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