Fitness Communism and the End of Pull-ups?

Updated: February 27, 2014


By Nick Barringer, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS (EIEIO)

The first time you achieve a pull-up is a substantial milestone in one’s life but today my friends that milestone is being threatened…

I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in the 4th grade and we were doing the presidential fitness test for PE class.  I thought I was a pretty strong kid since I played pop warner football and regularly reenacted the moves of the WWF greats on the playground. That is why what happened next was the most humbling experience of my childhood. PullupBaby

We were lined up to do pull-ups and the boys in front of me seemed to be having difficulty in what I perceived as a simple task.  One after another were defeated by the metal bar.

I proudly stepped up ready to slay this proverbial dragon so I grasped the bar with authority and pulled with all my might.  I pulled harder….and harder…yet nothing was happening…I pulled so hard that I thought if I could not make it to the bar surely I would pull the bar down to me…yet still nothing.

I left the line defeated like the others in front of me and then the scrawniest kid in our class went and knocked out not one but four pull-ups!  It was that very day that I made a vow to train so one day I could proudly see the world with my head over the bar.

I achieved my pull-up goal a year later and was able to join the relatively elite club of those who have seen the other side of the bar.  Granted, it looks a lot like the underside—but that knowledge should be earned.


Boing boing boing

Today that accomplishment is sullied by a dastardly piece of equipment that once was a fitness friend but now has turned into a fitness foe…the rubber band.  You see my friends what once was a crowning achievement that had to be paid with blood, sweat, and tears now can be achieved with a quick trip to your local sporting goods store.  No longer do you have to worry about bracing your core and squeezing your lats to achieve the gravity defying movement that makes your body feel as though it is ascending into the heavens.  Nope, now all you need is a strong enough rubber band to launch your body mass over the bar while you feint maximal effort.

What used to require calculated judgments like losing a certain amount of weight while maintaining a certain amount of strength in order to get a ticket to the pull-up Promised Land can quickly be solved by just buying a thicker band.  Now I don’t lay the blame on the rubber bands because I remember when they all were rightfully called “Resistance Bands” and were used to make something hard even harder.  Resistance bands are great because they matched the human strength curve so as you get stronger at the peak of a movement the band provides more resistance.  Great strength coaches like the legendary Louie Simmons have used tools like resistance bands to produce some of the strongest male and females to ever walk the planet.

But then there was that guy…let’s call him Steve… who thought “if bands make things harder if I reverse them it should make things easier.” (Author is not sure if this is historically accurate but that is the way it happened in his head.)  The rest is history.

Some of the readers at this point might be thinking, “Well it can’t be all bad if rubber bands have more people doing pull-ups right?”  Wrong.  I equate this line of thinking to fitness communism. On the surface it might appear like equality but all it is truly doing is lowering the standard so we accept the fitness equivalent of porridge, the banded pull-up, versus striving to feast on the fitness filet mignon of true pull-ups.

Now if you currently are doing banded pull-ups or have a friend who does banded pull-ups, don’t worry; all is not lost.  I’m going to lay out a simple 4 step program for banded pull-up recovery:

Step 1: Repeat the following phrase every morning five times upon waking: “Bands are for resistance, not assistance.”

Step 2: Turn a positive into a negative (yes, I said that correctly).  Try utilizing eccentric pull-ups in your program.  Use a box or simply jump-up to the top position of the pull-up and slowly lower yourself down for an 8-count.  Substitute those for banded pull-ups.

Step 3: Ensure you are including plenty of other pulling movements into your exercise program.  Most people tend to press much more than they pull so ensure you are hitting a 50/50 balance.


Suck it, fitness commies!

Step 4: Insert hard work here.

There you go, the road to pull-up glory is laid out for you so let the journey begin.

But before I leave you I will provide a quick word about “kipping” pull-ups. If you are kipping to get a few more reps out of a set, cool. But if your entire set looks like you are having a seizure, that falls into the banded pull-up category—so please stop it.  Pull-ups are a fitness treasure that, given the current rubber band infestation, we could easily lose.  Do your part to protect the pull-up by say no to rubber bands.

Because if we lose the pull-up to extruded rubber the communists win…




  1. Emma

    February 27, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Glad you’re back Nick. Pull ups are the best! And kipping anything is the worst.

    • Nick Barringer

      February 27, 2014 at 6:10 pm

      Thank you Emma. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  2. Jonboy

    February 27, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Pull ups with weight belt. You’re doing it right.

    • Nick Barringer

      February 27, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      Jonboy, I could not agree more.

  3. Eric

    February 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

    I have to disagree, back when I was a young Marine I used the pull up hesitance machine to drastically increase the amount of pull ups I was able to do. The bands, like the machine, can be very effective tools for helping someone increase the amount of pull ups they are able to accomplish, just the same as doing the other pulling exercises like you said

    • Nick Barringer

      February 27, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      Yes, but the key point is you transitioned to real pull-ups. This is for people who might need the extra nudge to break their band dependency. Plus it was a little tongue in cheek.

      • Eric

        March 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

        I 100% agree, but I have also yet to meet a person who has not used these methods as a way to transition to real pull ups…

  4. matt

    February 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Crossfit killed pull ups years ago. I only ever see morons kipping as hard as they can and high fiving each other after 10 “reps”

    • Craig

      February 27, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      I disagree. I just believe that kipping pull-ups are a completely different exercise. Just like I bench press v. incline bench press. I never tell people yeah I can do 38 pull ups just because that’s how many kipping ones I can do, I tell them I can do 16, because pull-ups are pull-ups.

    • matt

      February 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Kipping pull-ups will get your upper body stronger. Most folks who step into my gym for the first time can not perform a free, dead-hang pull-up. After several weeks of mastering the kip, and stringing several together, I ask them to attempt a dead-hang and most are able to get two or three. Nothing is more exciting than getting that first dead-hang! I do not have my folks use bands, though. The jumping pull-up is much more beneficial.

      • craig

        February 27, 2014 at 8:41 pm

        Yeah, bands are pretty useless. Jumping pull-ups, negatives or kipping pull-ups are much better.

      • Common Sense

        February 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm

        Kipping should come AFTER dead hang. The complicated timing, and proper muscle recruitment necessary to properly and safely kip is only something that can properly be developed after dead hang. If you are not strong enough to do at least a few dead hang pullups, then you have no business attempting to kip- you will be relying too much on the shoulder joint, causing impingement and damage over time. Do some negatives, do some jumps, kip after you are ready.

        The problem is that Crossfit has drastically inflated the number of people who think they should kip regularly. Kipping pull ups are great, but they are also very hard on your shoulder, and take very specific practice and timing to be completed safely. Too many people think that just flopping their legs around is the same as kipping, obviously is isn’t.

        The benefit to a pullup, is that you can do it- or you can’t. Negatives and weighted sets are key.

  5. Dave (ArcticAirborne)

    February 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Pull-ups or Chin-up. As we who have had to do them know they are very different and although look similar really stress the lats and biceps in different manners.

    Pull Ups = Use a overhand grip where your palms point outwards so that they are facing away from you. The most common grip width is just slightly wider than shoulder width.
    Chin Ups = Use a underhand grip where your palms point inwards so that they are facing you. The most common grip width is shoulder width.

    In the images above the girl is doing a Pull-up while the Marine is doing a Chin-up.

    Now at almost 60 years old, I can’t do either any more.

  6. Ed

    February 27, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Nick – you were the Regimental dietician when I was there many years ago. Hope you are doing well.

    This was a fantastic article. Especially the part about Kipping.


    • Nick Barringer

      February 28, 2014 at 4:52 pm

      Thank you; glad you enjoyed the article. Doing great besides missing my old job. RLTW!

  7. collin

    February 28, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Moderations for cowards and crutches are for the disabled… No rubber bands taking off weight…

  8. Michael

    March 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Crossfit used to recommend jumping pull-ups as a scaled substitute for a workouts involving pull-ups. What the community found was that eccentric pull-ups, done by weak beginners, could lead to a very small number of cases of Rhabdo. So, the community has now gone to using bands. So one, recommending eccentric movements to weak beginners, may not be the best idea, as historically this has lead to issues. Two, there are countless numbers of people who have used banded pull-ups to get to a point where they could do a regular pull-ups, some in a quick amount of time. So, unless you can prove to me that in large quantity, eccentric pull-ups are a safer, more effective way to get someone closer to doing normal pull-ups, I’m going to have to respectfully call bullshit on this article. It did make for a good read.

  9. Jeremiah

    March 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I actually am currently using a pullup assistance machine at the gym to do pull-ups. I stopped working out for a bit (few months) for reasons that basically come down to laziness, and went to do pull-ups with my buddy, and found I could not do pull-ups from a straight arm position anymore (flexed arm I can still rack out a few, but what is the point in those?) Then again I do use the counterweight machine with the proper levels of shame at my weakness, and will transition to unassisted as soon as physically possible, then to weighted pull-ups to make me feel better. As long as you use it as a tool to get to the normal pullups, I have no problems with the resistance band assist.

  10. Virgil

    March 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Hooray for assistance bands! Anything that gets you closer to real pullups works for me. When I began, I used to brace myself on a chair, and did lots of negatives. These bands can help, but it’s true, they should never be considered a “real” pull up.

  11. anthony haas

    March 6, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    I did 4 sets of twelve on pull ups, chin up, and v bar pull ups yesterday.

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