How to do the Band Pull Apart Exercise

The band pull apart is an awesome exercise for the rear delts and muscles of your upper back.

For hunky-dory shoulder health add band pull apart variations to your workout routine. They’re guaranteed to make your shoulders feel like new.

Band pull aparts are an essential exercise for those who love to bench, and those who spend the majority of their day hunched over a computer keyboard or, behind the wheel of a car. Basically everyone.

Why Do Band Pull Aparts

Without doing any strength building exercises or mobility work, sitting and standing hunched over reading texts, typing, and driving takes it toll on your shoulders and upper back.

Over time this position becomes permanent. If not addressed you develop a condition called Dowager’s Hump. You may know it as roundback or Kelso’s hunchback.

hunched shoulders

Left unchecked, these poor postures manifest leading into  aggravating shoulder and neck issues. Not something you want to deal with. And it’s not a good look. Definitely not what you’re looking for when building an athletic physique.

However, scapular retraction work, and band pull aparts can combat all that. They’re great for building strength in the upper back and rotator cuff muscles.
Add pull apart into your daily routine and expect to see an improvement in your shoulder health in just a few weeks.

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Traditional Band Pull Apart

There are lots of pull apart variations on this page worth trying. Try them all. Then hit me up and let me know your favorites.

But let’s keep it simple and get you doing them right away. So, start with with the original.

In the video below Joe Defranco demonstrates the classic pull apart. And he points out a few common mistake you’ll want to avoid.

Joe Defranco On Band Pull Aparts

In this video coach Joe shows how the band pull apart goes wrong and his 4 main pointers for perfect technique.

How to do the band pull apart exercise.

  1. Start with one of with a band of lighter tension.
  2. Contract your abs. (This brings your ribs closer to your pelvis eliminating back extension.)
  3. Arms, elbows, and wrists are straight and fully extended in front of you.
  4. Protract your shoulder blades. (Reach as far forward with your arms as you can.)
  5. With your arms parallel to the floor, palms facing up, and your shoulders protracted,  slowly pull the band apart by extending your arms to either side of your body.
  6. When the band hits your chest make an effort to pull it through your body.
  7. Hold the fully contracted position for 2 seconds, then return to the starting position.
  8. Repeat for prescribed sets and reps.



As you’ll see in a bit, there’s more than one way to properly do a band pull apart.

However, I prefer to have my palms turned up to counteract the internal rotation sitting, texting, and benching causes. I find this approach emphasizes the rotator cuff muscular more than other variations.

Adding a wrinkle to the pull apart.

If you have shoulder pain doing your pull apart like this is your best bet.

I like to to start with my hands above my head. Then move down them down to my lower chest as I pull the band apart.

This high to low motor pattern enhances both scapular mobility and stability. Two critical components of shoulder health that every athlete and weekend warrior benefits from.

When To Do Band Pull Aparts

Programing for pull aparts is simple.

Do them all the time.

  • Incorporate them into your warm up.
  • Do them between sets.
  • Add them to an upper back finisher.
  • Do them at the office, around the house, or on vacation. It on takes 60 seconds, and your shoulders will thank you.

Reps And Sets For The Band Pull Apart

Many coaches recommend 100 reps a day with light tension. I know it sounds like a lot but it isn’t. Here are a few ways to break it down…

  • 10 sets of 10
  • 8 sets of 12
  • 5 sets of 20
  • any combination in-between.

Of course you don’t have to start there. You can start out doing 30 reps a day. Stay there for a couple of weeks. Then add in 10 more reps. Continue this process until you reach 100 reps a day.

All your reps can be done as part of your warm up. I prefer to use them as active recovery. For example…

Between each set of squats knock out 8-15 reps. They’re not metabolically demanding so your heart rate and legs can still recover. Yet you’re getting quality work in.

Not All Reps Need To Be The Same

Feel free to spice up you the band pull apart by changing the tempo. My favorite option is using a slow tempo.

Slowing down the exercise allows you to concentrate on the the rear delts and minimize the involvement of larger muscles that like to dominate.

A lot of athletes like to gain range of motion through the low back. Slowing down, concentrating and flexing the abs all help to combat excessive lumbar extension and put the tension where it belongs.

Static holds are another great option. Start out with 15 second holds. Progress by adding 5 seconds every couple of weeks. Work up to 60 seconds.

What band to get to do band pull aparts?

Don’t fuss too much about what band to get. Just make sure it’s a thin band with light tension about 30″ long.

Thick bands have too much tension. The little muscles being trained aren’t strong enough. Thus, other muscles overcompensate and your technique breaks down.

Bands to avoid:

  • ones with handles
  •  mini bands under 18″ long
  • heavy resistance

Shoulder Health On The Go

Bands are cheap.  Buy a set and you don’t have to limit yourself to doing band pull aparts in the gym.

Use them at home while watching TV.  Take them to the office to get in a few reps in throughout the day. This helps keep your shoulders healthy and happy all day long.

Fine-Tuning the Band Pullapart With Eric Cressey

One of the common errors when doing band pull apart is that there’s too much back extension. (Eric demos this in the video above.)

Back extension changes body position resulting in a shorter range of motion and changes in the muscles involved.

Now that you know how to do the band pull apart here is a band super series you can add to your programs.

Band Pull Apart Variations

For such a simple exercise there are a lot of great variations. Here a just a few. Try them out and let me know what you think.

Anchored Band Pull Apart Variations

Attaching one end of your band to a fixed object opens up even more options.

  • The Face-Pull Apart
  • The Chest Height Pull Apart
  • The Bellybutton Pull Apart

The Shoulder Killer

This pull apart variation starts with a front raise and burns the shoulders like a tiki torche.

Here’s how to do it…

  • With your feet close together stand in one end of the band.
  • With an overhand grip grab the free end. The further apart your hands, the easier the movement.
  • Holding the band, raise your hands to shoulder heigh. Make sure your arms remain straight through the exercise.
  • Keeping your arms straight and at shoulder height, pull the band apart.
  • Bring your hands back to center, lower and repeat.

Band Pull Apart Super Series

Band Pull Apart Super Series

  1. Pull Aparts x 10
  2. Reverse Pull Aparts x 10
  3. 90 Degree Pull Aparts  x 10
  4. 90 Degree Reverse Pull Aparts x 10
  5. Face Level 90 Degree Pull Aparts x 10
  6. Face Level 90 Degree Reverse Pull Aparts x 10
  7. Overhead Pull Aparts x 10

Warbird Pull Apart

(The world’s most difficult rotator cuff exercise.)

Warbird Pull Aparts have both static and dynamic muscle actions and a core stability component.

While both sides of the body are working, the stationary arm is working to stabilize. Controlling your static arm requires the majority of your attention because forces acting on it in multiple directions.

Above all, make sure you keep the stationary arm fully extended (scapula protraction). It’s going to want to collapse back on you. Fight to keep that scapula protraction. That’s where the magic of this exercise happens

Points To Keep In Mind

  • control the band at all times
  • don’t rip it apart as fast as you can
  • don’t let it snap back
  • movement comes from the shoulders (not low back, upper traps, or arms)
  • shoulders protract (reach forward)
  • work up to 100 reps a day (broken up anyway you like)
  • ribcage is pulled down and core stays tight
  • start each rep with a forceful exhalation

Shoulder Protraction

As with any exercise and it’s effectiveness, the devil is in the details. With band pull aparts the the devil is shoulder protraction.

Shoulder (shoulder blade) protraction or, abduction of the scapula can be seen in the picture and video below.

The idea is to have your shoulder blades separate on the back of your body as your shoulders and arms stretch forward.

shoulder protraction

In the video they mention keeping your thumbs up. This is difficult with the bands, but that’s OK. It’s not necessary. The purpose of the video was to show you how the solders extend forward.

Muscles Worked By Band Pull Aparts

Before explaining how to do the bad pull apart it may have been wise to answer the this question… what muscles do band pull aparts work?

With the band pull aparts the muscles worked depend on technique. It’s a single joint Isolation exercise that employs different hand positions.

Therefore, doing your pull aparts at different angles and with proper form changes the muscles worked. Target muscles include the muscles of the upper back and posterior deltoids.

Band Pull Apart Targets These Muscles

  • Posterior Deltoids,
  • Rhomboids
  • Middle traps

Synergist Muscles

  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor
  • Trapezius

Stabilizer Muscles

  • External Obliques
  • Erector Spinae (Core Stability)
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Multifidus

Secondary muscles involved in the band pull apart exercise include:

  • Forearms
  • Triceps

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Common Errors With The Band Pull Apart

A big mistake people make is routing the low bak and going into lumbar extension. When this occurs the movement occur at the low back instead of the upper back and shoulders creating a false sense of range of motion.

Two other common errors I see are:

  1. Bending the wrists back. (Keep them flexed and straight.)
  2. Bending the elbows. (Keep them straight.)

All three error shorten the range of motion and reduce the amount of work the targeted muscle do.

In Conclusion

In short, all these band exercise are great for the small muscle supporting the shoulder. However, they don’t normally get the attention they deserve. Thus, many lifters and non lifters run into shoulder problems. Don’t let that happen to you. Grab a band and start doing your pull aparts.

Get started today. Grab your own set of bands.

mini exercise bands for band pull apart