The pull-up is one of the kings of all exercises. It requires a tremendous amount of functional upper-body strength and coordination. It is also a great muscle builder as it recruits the vast majority of muscle in the upper body. But they are not the easiest exercise to do. If you want the benefits of pull-up–but struggle to do them–assisted pull-ups are a great alternative.
An assisted pull-up is one where you are not required to lift your entire bodyweight. The assistance takes away from the full exertion and allows you to lift your body with assistance. This way, you can still get some of the benefits of the exercise. Assisted pull-ups can take on many forms. It could be as simple as someone helping to propel you upwards, using a box to start lifting yourself up, resistance bands, or an assisted pull-up machine.
Assisted Pull-ups Benefits
You will still work a large amount of muscle through the upper body and this is one of the best benefits of pull-ups: they are a great muscle builder. Assisted pull-ups are also great as they help you to master the movement which will help lead you to do them without any assistance at all.
Assisted pull-ups also help to improve your back and arm strength which can assist in other lifts such as deadlifts, barbell rows, lat pulldowns, and dumbbell rows. Assisted pull-ups also help to build core strength and can improve your grip strength. Improving grip strength is a massive benefit as it will help you in every exercise that requires grip. Most often, it’s the grip that gives out before the muscles do which can prevent your progression in strength and muscle.
Assisted Pull-ups Muscles Worked
Here are the muscles worked when performing an assisted pull up
- Latissimus dorsi
- External Obliques
- Erector spinae
- Posterior deltoid
Variations of assisted Pull-ups & How to do them
Two of the best variations to perform assisted pull-ups include machines and resistance bands. You will need a gym with an assisted pull-up machine, but most do have them. The advantage with resistance bands is you can do them in the gym, or at home.
Here is a look at each.
If you’ve never been able to do a single pull-up, you will want to select a weight to counterbalance your own body weight. The more weight you select on the machine, the easier it will be for you to do a pull-up. This can take some trial, but you want to select a weight where you can do about 10 repetitions without going too much further.
If you can do many more, there is too much assistance. If you can only do 3 or 4 reps, there is not enough assistance and you’ll need to select a higher-weight to assist you.
How To Do
- After selecting your weight you want to step up to grasp the pull-up handles and place your feet on the foot bar. Some machines will have a footbar, some will have a pad that you kneel on to support your weight.
- Start to pull upwards by focusing on pulling your elbows back behind you and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Lift yourself up until your chin is at least level with the bar above you. Pause for a second, and lower back under control to the starting position.
Resistance bands offer varying degrees of assistance during an assisted pull-up. The larger and thicker the resistance band, the more assistance it will provide. This will be the same as the machine as you will have to experiment with a few different band intensities to see which allows you to perform around 10 pull-ups.
- The easiest way to loop the band is to place it over the bar then loop it through itself so that the knot is around the bar, and the band loop hangs down below
- Pull the band down and place one knee into it. Make sure that the band is secure so it doesn’t fly back up and hit you. You might also need a stool to get up to the band loop depending on your height.
- Once in the band, grab hold of the pull-up bar and you will start at a hanging position
- Pull yourself upward making sure to keep the elbows close to your side and drive them behind you as you pull upward.
- Lift yourself up until your chin is at least even with the pull-up bar, pause for a second, and then lower back under control to the starting position.
Assisted Pull-Up Progression
The progression with pull-ups will involve using a form of resistance (band or machine) until you can complete 10 full pull-ups. You will want to stay at this resistance for a week or two as you learn to master the exercise and feel the muscles involved with the movement.
For the next week or two, you would select a lighter resistance that allows you to reach failure at around 10 reps. When you can get to ten reps, you can lighten the assistance for another week or two progressing onward until you are using the least amount of assistance to perform ten reps.
From here, you can start to do pull-ups using your own bodyweight. Using a strict form, perform as many pull-ups as you can, and then finish off the set by using the least amount of resistance you had previously been using. So if you can do 5 bodyweight pull-ups, grab the last band you have used to finish off the last 5 reps to complete the set.
This progression will take the longest as you work your way up to 10 complete reps using only your bodyweight.
Assisted Pull-Up Workout
A good assisted pull-up workout works well on a back or pulling day. After starting with a warm-up, and some light warm-up sets, aim for 2-4 sets of around 10 reps each. You will want to rest at least 90 seconds between each set for maximum recovery. Even though these are assisted, they are still a strenuous exercise and you shouldn’t be using so much assistance that you don’t feel you are doing much though the movement.
It can help to stretch the arms and back muscles in between sets to help with muscle engagement, range of motion, and flexibility. Your goal should be around 10 reps each set, but this will always vary a little. The main thing is to reach failure at about rep 10. If you can do 20 assisted pull-ups, you’ll need less assistance, and if you can only do 3-4 reps, you’ll need some more.
It’s important during an assisted pull-up workout not to go through the motion too fast. You should be focusing on a two-second concentric (pulling) phase followed by a 3-4 second eccentric (lowering back down) phase in order to build muscle and strength.
Assisted Pull-Ups vs Bodyweight Pull-Ups
The bodyweight pull-up will always be superior as all the muscles–and small stabiliser muscles, joints, and tendons–are forced to work. With an assisted pull-up, all of these things are not as fully recruited. The bodyweight pull-up will build true functional strength and more muscle and is considered one of the ultimate tests of fitness.
The assisted pull-up is still a worthy alternative–it just won’t be as effective as bodyweight. Assisted pull-ups can be the superior choice if you lack the strength for a bodyweight pull-ups, have joint, or shoulder injuries that prevent you from using just your body weight, or if you have any other mobility issues.
Personal Trainer Tips
A proper warmup is going to be important as quite a lot of stress can be placed on the joints and tendons while doing any form of pull up. You want to make sure you start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio to increase blood flow to the joints and muscles. Dynamic stretching is also helpful to engage the muscles, get the heart rate up, and increase blood flow.
Before doing any form of pull-up, it’s helpful to start with a few sets of light lat pull-downs, or barbell rows using just the bar. These movements use similar muscles as pull-ups so they can help get the body ready for the more intense exercise.
Pay attention to your breathing throughout the assisted pull-up. You want to exhale as you pull yourself upward, and inhale as you return back to the starting position