Bodyweight Exercise Pull Ups Strength

Assisted Pull Ups

Written by shapeshifter

In our previous blog on good pull up technique, we agreed that the human body was designed to pull. If you think about the daily life of a caveman, for example, it’s pretty easy to imagine that he spent a lot more time doing pull up type motions than push ups (or bench presses…).

So why do we avoid pull ups like the plague in our modern workout programs? Simple. Because they’re HARD and that sucks. At least that’s what we think.

I’ll tell you a little secret: they’re not really hard, we just ignore them for so long that they BECOME hard.

Ever see kids on monkey bars? Yeah, pull ups don’t look so hard when you put it like that, do they?

So HOW can you work your way back up to that childhood ease when you can’t even do a full set of pull ups right now? The trick is to find a way to create “time under tension.” That’s just a fancy way of saying you need to figure out how to do longer sets — more reps.

Time under tension is one of the major factors in muscle growth and increased strength. But if you can only do one pull up — or none — it’s hard to get a lot of TUT, right?

Not if you CHEAT

Don’t worry. It’s not like cheating on your diet or your wife… Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean.

See, it’s a GOOD kind of cheating! Using stretch bands allows you to extend your set and get more time under tension. And you can reduce the thickness of the band as you get stronger. THAT progressive level of resistance will only accelerate your progress.


So go ahead. CHEAT and grow strong.

Post to the comments and let us know how it worked for you.

And remember — no guilt!

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  • Adam,

    This was an interesting post because I’ve never even tested the stretch band for pull ups, and it’s an interesting approach. Personally, I’ve always taken two roads when teaching people how to achieve more pull up repetitions:

    1) If they can’t do one, use a chair or a friend (or both) to do their first pull up and get their body used to the motion. Alternatively, continue trying to complete the pull up until succeeding, which works well for many people.

    2) To increase repetitions when hitting a wall, hold onto the bar for 10 seconds both on top and on bottom. You won’t do as many, but it will give you a real “resistance” feeling. This is what you’re talking about with the stretch bands – but you can get it just by holding the position.

    Alternatively, someone can wear some weights while doing the pull ups to achieve that added resistance to break through the wall. And you know what works really well? Increasing grip strength. That not only helps with pull ups – but many exercises.

    Anyway, interesting post and very cool site you have going on here.

    .-= Rafi @ Passionate Fitness´s last blog -> Intervals Training in a Nutshell =-.

    • Good points Rafi. Another trick — once people can already do some pull ups — is to add some weight and use iso holds at the “sticking points”. Or you can even do the same thing without weights. Use assistance to get the chin up over the bar in the overcoming phase. Accentuate the eccentric phase. When you get to the sticking point, do a static hold for around 20 seconds. Then lower very slowly to the bottom and use an assist to get back up for the next rep. 2-3 reps max…

  • I cant see how this can work if its making it easier to do the pull up. the method Rafi explains makes more sense and i agree with him, with added resistance or weight your body will become stronger lol

    • Raf – if you can already do pull ups, yeah, it can help to add resistance. This is for people who can’t do pull ups or who want to work in higher rep ranges for specific reasons. If you want to get stronger, yes you have to add resistance. But it has to be progressive. So you would start with a stronger band and reduce the width of the band progressively until you don’t need it (so the load is constantly increased). THEN, you can start adding resistance…

  • @Rafi – I think the post was aimed more at folks who want to be able to do pull ups but can’t yet and need some help overcoming the initial deficit of arm strength/grip strength by REDUCING the resistance of your bodyweight until you can pull yourself up. Especially those of us with *ahem* a LOT of bodyweight who need to learn even more.

    @Adam – Very clever. For those who aren’t yet to the point where pull ups are possible, they could work on the motion by suspending the resistance band on something and pulling down – like over a door maybe – until they work up to the reduced bodyweight pull up. Thanks for the tip.

    • Hey Sharon – yeah, good point. Doing “pull downs” with your bands is also a good progression into doing the assisted pull ups in the video.

  • Great inexpensive way to get assistance on the pull-up. Your team does a great job being creative with exercise.

  • I’m always looking for a little variety. I’ve been on Tony Hortons P90X program for 6 months. For 59 yrs old, I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve lost approx 25 lbs (6’3″; 205 lbs) and gained some pretty good strength. Which program of yours would I start with first?

  • Hey Tad,

    If you’ve got access to some dumbbells, give FuZion a try. It’s a great workout. We’ve also got the Forge coming out to the public in the next week or so. I think you’d like that one too…

  • This is awesome and a great help to me! I can get 1-2 full pull-ups on only my best day, and if I’ve been doing other parts of my workout, an unassisted pullup is almost impossible. I’m heavy, at 220lbs, so arm and grip strength are challenges. I’ve tried one foot and both feet on a chair or step stool, but I end up feeling like most of the work is coming from my legs. Using the resistance band, I feel like my entire form is correct *and* I have the ability to actually do full range of motion.

    Thanks Adam!!

    P.S.- I love your comment about the kids – it’s so true!

  • I’ve always found it easier to do chins rather than pull-ups as my grip lasts longer.
    Thanks to your vids I’m now doing pullups a few times a week and I’ve found using a mixed grip helps add reps too.
    One supinated, one pronate, semisupinated or a any combination is good.
    Try and do 7+ before alternating hands.

  • Really cool idea. I have a pull-up bar of my own but I can only do about 5 pull-ups right now. I can’t wait to try it. I’m going to try to find some cheap resistance bands as soon as possible. Got to get that ripped back!

  • Great post! I could have used your ‘gym in a bag’ when I was trying to do an assisted pull up with a band. My band slipped and I got a pretty good spanking. Ouch. Too funny. Thanks for the tips.

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