This article was updated May 2023.
One of the most effective exercises to build upper body strength and muscle is the humble pull-up. Pull-up assist bands are an excellent tool in both working your way towards being able to do full unassisted pull-ups, or for improving your technique if you can already get your chest up to the bar. The most common mistake I see with pull-ups is people who only execute the movement in a small range and don’t allow themselves to lower fully before coming back up to the bar. This is generally due to a lack of strength in the end range, or limited mobility through the shoulders.
How to use pull-up assist bands:
Like all fitness equipment, it’s important to regularly inspect your gear for signs of wear or damage. We’ve all seen the home gym fails on YouTube and all jokes aside, you can suffer some really serious injuries if some of this equipment goes wrong during a workout. Pull-up assist bands can sustain wear over time, especially if they’ve been looped over a rough edge or surface.
Before every workout, give your pull-up assist bands a visual inspection, and do not use them if you think they’re damaged. This is a relatively inexpensive piece of gear, so it’s not worth risking injury if you think it needs replacing!
Always complete a general warm-up for 5-10 minutes before starting your workout and do some light mobility work through the shoulders and back to get the right muscles activated. It’s important to keep your core switched on during any exercises and remember to breathe! Exercises using a resistance band should be performed slowly, in a controlled manner. Your focus should be on getting the full range of movement, not maximum weight or reps.
Pull-up assist bands come in different thicknesses/resistance levels depending on your needs. I suggest buying a pack with several different resistance levels in it so you can increase or decrease the level of resistance/assistance as required. These bands can be used for a huge range of different exercises, not just pull-ups, so a variety of resistance levels will mean you can do more with them.
Using Resistance Bands for Pull-Ups:
To attach your band to the pull-up bar, fold the band over the bar, then pull one side through the other to create a choke knot (see image below). Your band should sit firmly on the bar and have a long loop dangling down in the middle.
Depending on how high you can lift your leg, you might find it helpful to stand on a box or step to get yourself into the band, to begin with. Stretch the band down and place one or both feet (or your knees if you prefer) into the loop of the band. Grip the bar in your desired grip position for pull-ups/chin-ups and get yourself centred.
Maintaining a stable body position with your core activated, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. It’s important to focus on proper technique, so you are using the correct muscle groups and getting the maximum benefit from these exercises. Your shoulders should be down away from your ears, your chest should be out and your shoulder blades squeezing together. At the top, pause for one to two seconds and then lower yourself back to the start position, maintaining control. The eccentric part of this movement (that is, the lowering back down) is super beneficial when done slowly and controlled. If you can fight against gravity and make this movement as slow as possible, you will get much more bang for your buck with your pull-ups!
Using pull up assist bands for beginners:
So, what if you can’t pull yourself up to the bar yet? A thicker resistance band will provide more assistance in getting you up to the bar as it will support more of your weight, so adjusting the difficulty level of your resistance band is an obvious place to start. If you’re just starting out, or recovering from injury, you might find that even the thickest resistance band you have available is still not enough support to get you all the way to the bar. A good way to work around this is to perform eccentric pull-ups only. This means you only do the lowering portion of the movement, but do it as slowly as you can to fight against gravity. You will need to start on a box of some sort so you begin each rep with your chin already at the bar, then use the resistance band to help you slowly lower all the way down until your arms are extended. Place a foot back on the floor, climb back on the box, and repeat.
Choosing the right size pull-up assist bands:
As I mentioned previously, a multi-pack of resistance bands is a great way to give yourself versatility in how you can incorporate pull-up assist bands into your workouts. You can also adjust the level of resistance of a single band to gradually increase or decrease the level of difficulty.
By wrapping your band around the bar an extra time, you can shorten the length of the band from the attachment point.
By starting with the band wrapped around the bar more, you can then increase the length of the band on exercises such as pull-ups to increase the assistance given. If you only have thinner assist bands available, you can always combine bands together to provide extra assistance. As your strength increases, remove each band.
What do the different colors mean?
Different manufacturers use different color ratings to identify their resistance bands. They are generally categorized by weight, so it’s important to check the specific brand you’re looking to purchase to make sure you pick the assistance bands that are right for your needs. Visually, a thicker band is usually more resistant than a thinner one, but it all comes down to the tension in the rubber, so make sure you look at the specifications.
You might consider what exercises you want to perform with your resistance bands too. I find a thicker, wider band more comfortable to stand or sink a knee into for pull-ups, but I like a thinner band for exercises where I’m gripping onto it. You do you.
2023 Pull-Up Assist Band Buying Guide
Here’s my 2023 pick of the best pull-up assist bands to get your fitness goals firing. Just a reminder that as an Amazon Associate, I can earn from qualifying purchases that result from this website.
This multi pack from Leekey is a great starter kit that should meet all your resistance band needs. It’s affordable and comes with thousands of positive reviews on Amazon, so you can feel confident spending your money on a product that has had that many satisfied customers. The bands in this pack include:
Red Band (15 – 35 lbs)
Black Band (25 – 65 lbs)
Purple Band (35 – 85 lbs)
Green Band (50-125lbs) .
The red band in this pack is a little stronger resistance than some of the lightest bands in other multi-packs, so if you want something super lightweight, make sure this isn’t going to pack too much punch for you. These bands can snap eventually and there are several reports of snapping occurring, but you should be seeing evidence of aging through cracks in the rubber before any major failures occur. As I mentioned above, it’s important to inspect your gear regularly! The thinner bands are the ones most prone to failure.
From as light as 10lbs up to a heft 175lbs, this five-pack of pull-up assist bands will have you covered for exercises that target every area of the body. An excellent investment for a home gym set up, where you might be short on space or on a limited budget. You’re probably paying a slight premium because of the Crossfit flavor in the marketing here, but you can be pretty sure of a quality product. All these bands are 41″ in length, but the resistance level varies as follows:
Red Band: 10lbs – 35 lbs (0.5″ width)
Black Band: 30 – 60 lbs (0.75″ width)
Purple Band: 40 – 80 lbs (1.25″ width)
Green Band: 50 – 125 lbs (1.75″ width)
Blue Band: 65 – 175 lbs (2.5″ width)
As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. The WODFitter bands do come at a more premium price, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from customer reviews that these bad boys are durable AF and will last whole lot longer than their cheaper counterparts. You need to weight up how much use you think you’ll be getting out of them when deciding how much to invest. I think that once you’ve had a 40″ rubber band snap on you once, you’ll be looking to the more expensive versions to minimize your chances of that happening again!