Getting Off The Crack: You’ve Been On The Bands Too Long


The bands we use to scale pull-ups are a great tool. A large number of the people who begin training at CrossFit RVA start on them, and it allows them to scale back pull-ups for the WODs and warm-up, and provides a way to progress towards unassisted pull-ups.

But here’s where the problem comes in – some people never progress towards the full pull-up. They camp out on whatever band they feel comfortable with, and stay there indefinitely. I’m assuming this occurs for two reasons – scaling up the intensity on any movement isn’t much fun sometimes, and, some people don’t know how to progress on the bands effectively.

I’m going to address issue #2, and give a nice little “program” you can complete during your warm-up.

Step 1: Finding the right band. Find a band you can do 5-7 reps on without kipping. If you can do 10 reps on the band without any issues, it’s too big. If you have to struggle for 3, the band is too small. Simple so far.

Step 2: Getting the Right Idea. Generally speaking, progress is made in any given physical capability because your body adapts to a stress to the extent that it is more capable to perform that action than it was before. Yet as your body’s ability to perform an action increases, it also requires a greater stimulus to cause adaptation. Simply put, if you stay on a given band, doing the same number of reps indefinitely, your progress will eventually halt. You have to increase the stress somehow, in this case we will be increasing the volume of pull-ups as well as decreasing band size over time.

Step 3: Get started. On your first workout, perform 3×3 (3 sets of 3) pull-ups with your band from step #1. Next workout, 4×3, and on the following, 5×3. Now that you’ve done 5 sets, drop back down to 3 sets, this time performing sets of 4, so 3×4, 4×4, 5×4. Drop back down to doing 3 sets, now with 5 reps: 3×5, 4×5, 5×5. At this point, you’ve gone from barely being able to do 5 reps on a band, to doing 5 sets of 5 on that same band, in just a few weeks. Pretty cool.

To keep it simple, just do the following (sets x reps)

Workout 1:3×3
Workout 2:4×3
Workout 3:5×3
Workout 4:3×4
Workout 5:4×4
Workout 6:5×4
Workout 7:3×5
Workout 8:4×5
Workout 9:5×5

When you have completed all 9 workouts, drop down a band size, and repeat the above.

Step 4: Don’t Get Stuck. If at some point you cannot complete the pull-ups in a given workout, which will most likely happen if you are dropping down in band, repeat the previous 3 workouts, and then give yourself a couple of days to recover, and try again. If that doesn’t work, see me.

This isn’t the quickest way of doing things, but for those who haven’t made progress on their pull-ups in awhile, it is effective. If your pull-up strength is a concern (which, if you are unable to get your chin over the bar by any means, it certainly should be), then do your pull-ups in the band strict (no kipping). Most of our people who can do kipping pull-ups can at least do strict pull-ups in the blue band. If you get to that point, teaching you the kipping pull-up will be extremely easy. Lastly, if you can kip, but can’t do a strict/dead-hang pull-up, give this a try. You should always be working towards a better pull-up.