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Can Resistance Bands Substitute for the Pullup Bar?
Resistance bands, also called exercise bands, are a convenient and inexpensive strength training tool. You can do almost any strength exercise with resistance bands, including a lat pulldown, which mimics the movement pattern of the pullup. Substituting the pullup with a resistance band pulldown exercise has drawbacks and advantages.
Resistance bands are long, stretchy tubes that serve as exercise resistance. A band is between three and six feet long. Some resistance bands have handles at each end, but others do not. Manufacturers color code resistance bands. In general, the darker the color, the higher the resistance; the lighter the color, the lighter the resistance. A shorter band provides more resistance than a longer one.
Pullups are generally done with a bar, using your body weight for the resistance. Grab the bar with an overhand or underhand grip and pull yourself up until your chin reaches or passes the bar. The pullup targets several muscle groups in your back and arms, including your latissimus dorsi, biceps, rhomboids and trapezius muscles. You can adjust your grip -- close, wide or neutral -- to change the feel of the exercise.
Resistance Band Pulldown
The resistance band pulldown exercise mimics a pullup except you pull the weight down toward you instead of pulling yourself up. Anchor the middle of a resistance band at the top of a door or other tall object. Stand, sit or kneel in front of the anchored band. Start with your arms overhead and pull the handles down until your upper arms are next to your sides. The pulldown exercise targets the same muscle groups as the pullup, and you can use similar grips.
Although the resistance band pulldown mimics the pullup exercise, it does not offer as much resistance. You can use heavier bands or double up on the bands to increase the resistance, but this will not equal the resistance you create when you lift your body weight up to a bar. But a pullup bar is not always accessible. If you are traveling or can't make it to the gym, you may not have access to a bar. Resistance bands are lightweight and portable. You can use them most anywhere to do the pulldown.
- American Council on Exercise: Lat Pulldown
- ExRx: Pull-up
- Iversen VM, Mork PJ, Vasseljen O, Bergquist R, Fimland MS. Multiple-joint exercises using elastic resistance bands vs. conventional resistance-training equipment: A cross-over study. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017;17(8):973-982. doi:10.1080/17461391.2017.1337229
- Joy JM, Lowery RP, Oliveira de Souza E, Wilson JM. Elastic bands as a component of periodized resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(8):2100-2106. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182986bef
- Bergquist R, Iversen VM, Mork PJ, Fimland MS. Muscle activity in upper-body single-joint resistance exercises with elastic resistance bands vs. free weights. J Hum Kinet. 2018;61:5-13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0137
Based in Austin, Texas, Jolie Johnson has been in the fitness industry for over 12 years and has been writing fitness-related articles since 2008 for various websites. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Illinois.