When I tell clients we’ll be doing pull ups, they’re almost always excited. There’s something empowering about actually raising your body through space using your own strength – unassisted. That’s why I use pull-up bands with clients… to get them there more quickly and reliably.
What is a pull up exactly? It’s a compound upper-body movement in which you hold a bar with your hands and pull up until your chin moves past the bar. In this way, pull ups build the back muscles (teres major, latissiumus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids) and the biceps and forearm muscles. Pull ups also challenge your abdominal muscles and to a lesser degree, your pectoralis major.
Yes, I truly believe pull ups are the best exercise for attaining a wide, muscular back and V-shape (when combined with a clean diet and a proper strength-training program). Pull ups are hands-down the best back exercise, and if you’re still using the shitty assisted machine then it’s time to listen up.
Watch this short video I created to see how:
By the way, I always use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) for pull ups. You can mix in palms out and palms in, but the neutral grip is the most shoulder-friendly.
Bands are the Best
In my experience, the best way to get to unassisted pull ups – even one – is to use pull up bands – not the assisted pull-up machine. With machines, you’re more likely to plateau, permitting the machine to do more work for you. I used the assisted machine for years and made no progress. Now, I educate my clients about bands and if they still use a machine they’re only thwarting themselves.
Pull-up bands are looped resistance band without handles (and you can use them for other exercises too). You can use bands together to decrease or increase the resistance, as shown in the video.
I do recommend combining bands with other techniques in a structured way. Use eccentric pull ups once a week to gain strength and endurance, but use bands as your main exercise. You also still need to lift heavy with different variations of rows, pull downs, and curls in order to build back and arm strength. (For eccentric pull ups, simply pull yourself to the top and slowly lower yourself down over a period of 20 to 30 seconds).
Buying Pull-up Bands
I suggest buying two bands in different weights, depending on your abilities and weight. Most people who cannot do a pull up will need to start with heavy resistance (a thicker band). However, if you buy two bands, one lighter and one heavier, you can use both until you only need the lighter one.
I like Rubberbanditz because they’re very durable and have an excellent reputation for not letting me fall on my ass.
Using the Bands
As shown in the ultra-cool video above, simply step up on a chair or bench next to the bar. Wrap the band around the bar, grab a handle with one hand and put your foot in the loop with the other hand. Then let your body weight straighten your legs and begin pulling yourself up. I tell clients to “pack” their lats and shoulders, meaning contract and pull down the back and shoulder muscles to activate and stabilize them. Use your breathing to help you up. When you’re done, place your free foot back on the chair and lift the other foot so that you can remove the band while still holding on to one handle.
Using two bands is easy too – just position them side-by-side and put your foot in both loops. Always take it slow and make sure your balance is steady. When you can do 15 or 20 pull ups with two bands, start using only one and work your way up again. Don’t forget to try unassisted pull ups every now and then to see if you’ve progressed.
Don’t be intimidated by using bands. Give them a try and practice. Let me know how you like band-assisted pull ups, and of course, give me a holla when you do your first unassisted pull up!