Training Tip Tuesday – Getting the Most Out of Assisted Pull Ups

This week’s Tuesday training tip is all about pull ups. What level of assistance should you use and why is one of the most frequently asked question we get at Athletes Equation.  When using bands for assistance it is easy to turn a challenging exercise like chin ups and pull ups into a complete waste of time. When doing an exercise like a pull up it is easy to get lost in what is the real goal of the exercise. Vertical pulling like the Pull up, Chin up or Lat Pull down is designed to build strength in the biceps, upper back and lower back. Usually Lat pull downs are the easiest exercise of the three where chin ups and pull ups are challenging for most people so they will default to Lat Pull downs because it is easier. However you are limiting your potential significantly by doing that.

We use bands to give our clients assistance in performing body weight vertical pulls. But, the biggest mistake our clients make is to not challenge the drill. Turning the vertical pulling variation into an easy exercise. Vertical pulling is hard plain and simple. The goal of the exercise should be like the goal when learning to ride a bicycle. That is to get the training wheels off and for body weight vertical pulls like pull ups and chin ups bands are the training wheels. Just like riding a bike once you are able to do body weight pulls without assistance it is very hard to lose that skill. Even if you take time off from the gym.

How to go about getting rid of the training wheels. First is to understand the progression of the exercise. Pull ups and chin ups should be hard and by hard I mean you should be challenged for the final few reps to be able to perform them with proper technique. If rep one and ten feel the same than it is time to progress.

How to progress. It is easy. Everyone’s goal should be to eliminate the bands and do body weight pull ups. Everyone is capable of doing this and I mean that. It takes dedication and desire to achieve. But, everyone is capable of building that level of strength. So once you make your mind up to get rid of the training wheels it is about following a progressions to get to the goal.

Here is the road map.

  1. Understand where you are at. Can you do one pull up or do you need assistance?
  2. If you can do one pull than your job is to always try to do one or more pull ups before using assistance.
  3. If you can’t do a body weight pull up than your job is to know what is the least amount of assistance you need to perform a single hard pull up.
    1. Decide which colored band that is or whatever other assistance you are using.
  4. When using assistance you should use the least amount of assistance and perform as many reps as you can. If you don’t reach the prescribe amount of reps that is ok. Get as many as you can with no assistance than use as little assistance as possible to finish the number of desired reps.
    1. For example if the prescription is 10 reps and you can only do 5 BW pull ups do as many pull ups as you can then use as little assistance as possible to finish your final five reps.
  5. Continue to track your progress and try to improve each time you do pull ups.

Performing pull ups and chin ups are not easy. But, improving strength with them is. You just have to be focused on the task at hand which is taking of the training wheels.