August 10, 2021 10 min read

Band pull-aparts take very little gear and can be performed anywhere. You’d be hard-pressed to find a faster or more convenient exercise for building strength and muscle in your shoulders and upper back.

It’s a great way to cover gaps in your upper body workout routine and it also works as a warm-up or fast workout no matter where you are.People who regularly use resistance bands in their workouts surely already know about pull-aparts.

Exercises don’t get much simpler, which is why this exercise is so frequently relegated to the warm-up and cooldown part of the routine. If you learn to use it strategically, however, the band pull-apart can target specific muscles and push them further toward exhaustion, ideally promoting more hypertrophy and muscle growth during recovery.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about band pull-aparts, how they might fit into your workout routine, and a few variations on the exercise that will help you keep pushing your muscles to their limits so they keep growing and building strength.

What Are Band Pull-Aparts?

Pull-aparts are one of the simplest resistance band exercises, perfect for a warm-up or cooldown.

Here’s how you can perform a perfect resistance band pull-apart:

  1. Take a wide stance with the resistance band in both hands straight out in front of you.
  1. Position your hands so that they’re shoulder-width apart at chest level.
  1. Stretch the band by moving both hands out to each side.
  1. When you reach the greatest possible distance, reverse slowly back to the starting position.

Handsome caucasian sportsman doing shoulder exercise with resistance band in outdoor rooftop

As you can see, there really isn’t much to this simple exercise. As long as you can hold the band at chest height throughout the move and maintain a firm grip, you can do band pull-aparts.

What Are Band Pull-Aparts Good For?

Even though they’re so straightforward, band pull-aparts give your upper back and shoulder muscles a great workout. Like most resistance band exercises, the constant tension of the band during pull-aparts helps put a strain on your muscles the whole time you’re working out.

Band pull-aparts improve your shoulder mobility and even your posture. This is largely the result of stronger muscles in the upper body. When combined with other resistance band exercises, pull-aparts can also pump up chest muscles like the pectoralis major, correcting bad posture that results from long periods spent in front of a computer, for example.

Exercises like push-ups and pull-ups also work your pecs, lats, and shoulder muscles. The pull-apart is a great corollary for these types of moves because it can push them toward exhaustion more safely. If your chest is already worn out from bench presses, you might not be able to perform enough pull-ups to wear out your shoulders, but you can still do band pull-aparts.

The band pull-apart exercise is a fantastic way to increase the range of motion of your shoulders. It can be included in a home workout or used for therapeutic recovery following an injury.

What Muscles Do Band Pull-Aparts Work?

Band pull-aparts target the following muscles:

  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Rotator cuffs
  • Rear deltoids

You’ve probably already heard of the trapezius and rhomboid muscles, which are both located between the shoulder blades and run up the back of your neck. Rotator cuffs can be found in the shoulder and play an integral role in rotating the arm.

The deltoid is on the outside of the shoulder. It comprises the anterior, lateral, and posterior muscle heads. The posterior head is the one that gets the greatest workout from band pull-aparts, which is perfect because it gets less activation during rows, presses, and other typical shoulder exercises.

Not only does the deltoid muscle keep the shoulder stable when you’re holding weight in your arms, but it also prevents dislocation of the shoulder joint.

Bodybuilders need strong shoulders to keep barbells, dumbbells, and other weights from causing serious damage.

Every day people also need to build strength around the shoulder joint to prevent injury that could negatively affect their ability to do daily activities.Your rear delts - the ones targeted by band pull-aparts - help the rhomboid, traps, and scapular retractor muscles to pull back your shoulders.

Scapular retraction is a backward movement of your shoulder blades. Anytime you pull an object toward you, you’re using your rear delts. Building strong rear delts prevents rounded shoulders and makes your shoulders look bulked out.

How Many Band Pull-Aparts Should I Do?

It all depends on your current strength level and what your fitness goals are. If you’re just trying to maintain a certain degree of shoulder health and prevent strains in that critical joint, you can probably stick to a few sets of 20 - 30 pull-aparts in the morning. Those trying to get ripped might want to use a stronger band, reduce their reps, and increase their sets.

The placement of the pull-apart exercise is also important. If you’re using them as a finisher and want to work out to failure, you probably won’t need as many sets. The same goes for people using pull-aparts as a warm-up. If pull-ups, deadlifts, or other shoulder-intensive exercises are a part of the exercise routine you’re warming up for, you shouldn’t exhaust your shoulders beforehand.

Can I Do Band Pull-Aparts Everyday?

Great news for anyone who likes to work out every day or most days: the band pull-apart is easy enough on your upper back and shoulder muscles that you can incorporate it into your regular workout. The only exception to this rule might be if you’ve just had an intense day at the gym where you targeted your shoulders and back.

Your muscles need recovery time so hypertrophy can kick in. If they don’t have time to repair themselves, they can’t grow bigger and stronger - that means no gains for you. Plus, there’s a big risk of overtraining if you never stop to rest.

As long as you aren’t trying to do ten sets a day and keep your shoulders and upper back muscles depleted at all times, you can do pull-aparts every day. They’re particularly ideal for morning workouts before work or school. They’re exactly the kind of low-intensity exercise that may help reduce fatigue symptoms throughout the day.

Choosing a Resistance Band for Pull-Aparts

Your first inclination might be to grab a band with really high resistance. Stronger bands mean more muscle gains, right?Theoretically, yes. But overshooting your capabilities could prevent you from completing your pull-aparts.

If you lose your grip and the band snaps away from you, you’re almost definitely going to have a very painful experience and possibly give yourself a lasting injury.Be honest about your current strength level and get a resistance band that suits your fitness goals.

If you want to wake up with a bit of low-intensity exercise in the morning, you can get a band with a fair bit of resistance but not so much that you can’t handle exercises with it.Remember, you want to get in as many complete reps as you need to. The best kind of resistance band for pull-aparts is a medium-resistance loop band.

You can also use therapy bands that don’t connect at both ends, but many people find it easier to grip a loop band.Some bodybuilding enthusiasts choose to use massive loop bands that are big enough to wrap around their bodies. Keeping one side of the loop on your back adds stability and puts more strain on your muscles because there is an additional point of resistance from the band.

Band Pull-Apart Variations

Variations on the original pull-apart exercise are just as straightforward and easy to do. Some of them hit the same muscles differently and others bring new muscles and muscle groups into the mix.

Use some of these effective band pull-apart variations in your workout routine to make your mid-back look ripped and build well-rounded functional strength in your upper back and shoulders.

1. Overhead Pull-Aparts

For a really simple variation on the classic pull-apart, all you need to do is lift your hands above your head. Rather than holding them out in front of your chest, hold the band up as high as you can get it without stretching. The overhead variation targets your upper back and shoulders and also puts your triceps to work.

Your traps, delts, and lats will be activated.As you pull the band apart, bring the band down behind your neck. At the bottom of the move, the band will be stretched across your shoulders and your hands will be fully extended out to both sides.

2. Bent Over Pull-Aparts

If you want to bring in some upper body action on leg day or give your lower body a workout, you can hinge at the hips before you start your pull-aparts. The hamstrings will be activated and you can also build some strength around the hip joint.

Hold the resistance band exactly as you would in a traditional pull-apart. It will be closer to the ground, but it should nonetheless be held out in front of your chest. Pull it apart and bring it back together repeatedly.

You can add other lower body movements to this exercise. For example, you could stand on the edge of a small platform to give your calves and hamstrings an even greater workout.

3. Side Plank Single-Arm Pull-Apart

If you want to build core strength, a toned mid-back, and boulder shoulders, this is the move for you. It combines two different exercises that help you improve balance. A strong core also helps protect your hip joints from injury, which means this pull-apart variation works to prevent injury in two of the most vulnerable joints in your body.

Here’s how you can do a side plank with a single-arm pull-apart:

  • Lie on the ground on one side. One foot should be on the side of the other.
  • Support your upper body with the hand of the bottom arm. Place one end of a therapy band or the bottom of a loop band under the bottom hand.
  • Take the other end of the resistance band in the hand of the top arm.
  • Lift your hips off the ground by engaging your abs. There should be a straight line running from your shoulder to your heel.
  • Pull the band with your top hand and then slowly return it to the starting position.

You can repeat your reps while maintaining the same plank position or you can drop back after each one. When you first start, you can lower more frequently. But once you have the core strength to remain in the side plank position for long enough, you should try to get your pull-aparts done without dropping out of position for the best workout possible.

4. Incline Pull-Aparts

Another simple variation on the original band pull-apart exercise in the incline. Rather than keeping the band in front of your chest throughout the move, you’re going to start with it above your head a short distance in front of your body and bring it down to shoulder height at the bottom of the move.

Lowering the band as you pull it apart introduces a new type of movement for the same shoulder and upper back muscles. If you’re performing these band pull-aparts to build strength in preparation for presses and other strength training exercises, then the incline variation will prepare you much better than the original will.

5. Banded Face Pull

For this variation, you’ll need some kind of anchor point. You can perform it with a cable machine as well, but the banded variation keeps this a bodyweight exercise that’s suitable for a home workout.

Find an anchor point that’s between the chest and hip level and attach one end of the resistance band to it. Take the other end in both hands. Loop bands work best because they have enough room to hold onto with both hands. Alternatively, you could use a therapy band and train one arm at a time.

Band Resisted Face Pull Gym Exercise

Once you have the band in hand, step back until it’s taut. It should show some resistance but not tons. Pull it up toward your face slowly and then return to the starting position to complete one rep.

6. Pull-Apart with Lateral Step

Incorporate your lower body with a lateral step in this variation. Your glutes, quads, and hamstrings will get a workout and you can even add a bit of cardio to your routine. This move is performed exactly the way you’d expect. Hold the band in front of your chest like you would in the original pull-apart and take one step to either side as you pull on the band.

It works best if you take one step out with one leg as you pull apart and then return the leg to the starting position as you allow the band to come back together.You can also do this move when you have limited space if you take the sidestep in one direction and then return versus taking the step and ‘walking’ around the room.

Just make sure you remember to alternate the stepping leg with each rep so that you get an even workout on both sides of your body.

7. Single-Arm Pull-Aparts

When you focus on one arm at a time, you can correct strength imbalances or deficiencies. This variation will work best with a large loop band that you can fit around your body, although you can still use a therapy band if you have enough grip strength.

Rather than pulling the band apart with both hands simultaneously, you’re going to pull one side of the band with one hand and leave the other stationary straight out in front of your chest. Make sure you have a really good grip on the still side and don’t let any sweat get on the band or you could get a hard slap on the other arm.

Several of these variations can be made into single-arm exercises in the same way as this one is. You can give one arm a tougher workout since it has to do all the work, preventing your dominant arm from taking over and robbing the weaker arm of its deserved strength gains.

Conclusion

Resistance band pull-aparts are one of those deceptively simple exercises that pack a punch. They’re great back exercises and help improve shoulder stability. If you use the right variations, you can also work on your glutes, hamstrings, and hip joints at the same time.

If you’re looking for a bodyweight exercise for your upper body, the pull-apart fits the bill. It’s ideal for targeting your rear delts and pushing shoulder and upper back muscles toward failure if that’s the kind of training you do.

Like many simple exercises, band pull-aparts are highly versatile. You can use them to warm up or as a finisher after your routine is over. Best of all, you can do them pretty much anywhere. Try them out before, after, or during your next training session and you’ll soon discover how beneficial band pull-aparts can be.


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