Band pull aparts are a real hidden gem when it comes to upper back isolation exercises.
Using resistance bands to do pull aparts is incredibly beneficial for upper back strength, shoulder stability and postural health.
In this post I want to tell you about the benefits of this exercise, how to do it and what kind of bands you should use.
What are resistance band pull aparts?
The band pull apart is an upper back strength exercise which involves stretching a resistance band apart laterally with your arms in front of you.
This is an isolation exercise which targets the muscles in your upper back and shoulders, in particular:
Benefits of band pull aparts
Apart from increasing the mass and strength of the muscles mentioned above, band pull aparts are excellent for counteracting the effects of bad postural habits.
Sitting at a computer all day or being glued to your phone can result in so-called “geek neck”, where your head, upper back and shoulders slump forward. It doesn’t look good, and it can develop into chronic neck and back problems as you grow older.
Exercises like band pull aparts which involve retraction of the shoulder blades, opening up of the chest and development of the rhomboids are one of best ways to correct a bad posture.
This is also highly beneficial for shoulder stability because of the activation of your rotator cuff and other stabilizer muscles.
What kind of resistance bands to use
The best kind of resistance band to use for pull aparts and many other strength exercises is a resistance loop band:
These are available in 5 resistance levels. For pull aparts it’s better to begin with the red band, which is the lightest. If you’re strong you can use the black or even the purple band. For the seriously elite, go for the green.
To see 50 strength exercises using these bands, see our ultimate loop band workout guide.
Alternatively, you can also use flat resistance bands:
The resistance level of these bands is generally lighter than for the loop bands, but doubling them up will also double the resistance level.
How to do band pull aparts
Here’s how to do pull aparts using a resistance loop band:
- Hold the band horizontally in front of you with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart (you can vary the difficulty of the exercise by spacing your hands closer or further apart). You can use either an underhand or overhand grip.
- Be sure to keep your upper back and neck straight, not hunched forward, with shoulders back and chin tucked in. Keep your elbows just slightly unlocked. Feet should be weighted equally on the ground with a slight bend in your knees.
- Now stretch the band apart laterally, without altering the upright posture of your trunk, neck and head. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and stick your chest out as you complete the movement. Your arms should be stretched out to the side as wide as possible.
- Hold for a moment in the final position and then return in a slow and controlled movement. Aim to do at least 2 or 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions.
If you’re using the flat resistance bands the movement is exactly the same:
Band pull apart variations
The exercise as described above is all you really need to get the benefits of upper back strength, better posture and shoulder stability.
But the great thing about resistance bands is that it’s always easy to create variations on any exercise. Here are some variations of band pull aparts which can be done using either of these two types of band:
Rear pull apart
Hold the band behind you with your arms straight, then pull it apart as far as possible. Don’t let your shoulders hunch up during the exercise.
Hold the band with forearms extended in front of you, elbows in to your sides. Stretch the band by rotating your shoulders outward, keeping your forearms parallel with the ground. Make sure to keep your shoulders in a natural position – not hunched up or forward.
Overhead pull apart
Hold the band directly over your head with both arms straight and some tension in the band. Now lower your arms until they are horizontal and stretched as far apart as possible. To increase the difficulty, start with your hands spaced closer together.
Hold the band with arms extended over your head. Slowly lower your elbows, stretching the band apart behind your head. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and maintain an upright posture.
Vertical pull apart
Hold the band with arms extended straight in front of you, one higher than the other. Pull the band apart, moving the arms in a vertical plane.
Click here to see our full range of resistance bands for pull aparts and other back exercises.