Exercise Anatomy

Four Ways to Scale Pull-Ups Without Bands

Perfect for pull-up novices, these four methods will have your chin over the bar in no time.

Four Ways to Scale Pull-Ups Without Bands

We need to be better as a community. Creativity is the bridge from the problems we’re facing today and future solutions. We need to be willing to creatively connect the dots from the inability to do pull-ups to the first unassisted effort. While bands are useful in scaling the pull-up, it will often take a number of scaling strategies to prevent stagnation and get novices their first unassisted rep.

Here are four ways to scale the pull-up without the use of bands:

1. The Inverted Row. 

With a barbell in the rack (at roughly the height used to perform a bench press), hang under the bar with straight legs, heels together and hips forward in a globally extended position. With your shoulders depressed and scapulas retracted, row the bar to your chest. Not possible? Plant your feet flat on the ground, knees bent at 90 degrees, and hips forward to perform the row. Still not possible? Repeat the previous position, but rest your hips on the ground, and in one motion, raise your hips up and finish with a pull. The bar should touch around sternum height.

2. Partner-Assisted Strict Pull-Up. 

The glaring problem with bands is that they provide the most assistance at the start of the pull and leave most of the work at the top to finish. In many cases, it’s the top, rather than the bottom, that is weakest for an athlete. You can remedy this strength-curve issue by manually spotting strict reps with a partner. From the hips, your spotter can aid in pulling you through the range of motion only enough to do the job, thus becoming a smart band.

3. Negatives. 

You can build strict strength through the entirety of the range of motion by stepping up onto a box directly into the chin-over-the-bar finish position. With a tempo of a three- or four-count, you will lower through the entire range of motion in control (or as far a possible). This is a useful tool but best applied on conservative rep ranges because of the eccentric loading.

4. The Ring Row. 

For similar reasons to the inverted row, this can be a great tool. Most specifically, though, the challenge of the ring row can be adjusted in real time to ultra-specific degrees of difficultly by simply walking your feet forward to make the rep harder or farther away for more difficultly. This makes for a dynamic training experience in which you can start a workout in one fashion and adjust as volume and fatigue mount.