Last Updated on October 28, 2021 by Andrew Blakey
Band Pull aparts are one of those exercises you’ve probably seen someone performing at the gym but thought to yourself “what the heck is that person doing?”. Well believe it or not, band pull aparts are actually one of the best exercises you can do for strengthening your upper back.
More importantly, it can drastically help individuals who suffer from poor posture due to underdeveloped muscles in our mid to upper back.
The band pull aparts are in my opinion one of the most valuable exercises and one of the most under rated exercises you will see in the gym and when performed correctly can help promote a strong, healthy shoulder complex. Without any further ado let’s get into everything you need to know about band pull aparts!
muscles worked by Band Pull Aparts
For those of you who want to learn a bit more about the anatomy of the muscles worked while doing the band pull apart, read on… If that doesn’t interest you, skip this part for now!
Our backs are made up of a complex series of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels that help the body to function as designed. The back is home for many of the muscles that help keep our entire body upright, and proper back function is only possible when we maintain strong, healthy muscles. Let’s dive a bit deeper into that…
More specifically lets talk about the muscles that the band pull aparts help to strengthen. When we pull apart the band there are many muscles working together in unison to allow us to horizontally abduct our arm and retract our shoulder blades.
The muscles responsible for this movement include:
- The Trapezius
- Posterior Deltoid
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Rhomboid major and minor
Needless to say there is quite the organizational structure required to perform this complex movement we call band pull aparts. The 4 muscles listed above among others are all required to perform the horizontal abduction that occurs during the band pull apart.
Anatomy Of The Back
Using band pull aparts for rounded Shoulders
For individuals who suffer from rounded shoulders or slight versions of something called kyphosis (commonly characterized by rounded shoulders and a forward leaning head), this is one of the low intensity exercises that can help to promote strengthening of the muscles that help to keep our shoulders in a healthy, retracted position. That being said, rounded shoulders aren’t always solely caused by weak back muscles so it’s important to be assessed by a proper health professional to determine what the best course of action is regarding your particular case.
One common approach for correcting rounded shoulders includes a 4 step approach. The first step involves inhibition, followed by lengthening techniques, the third step requires strengthening, and finally functional movement/reintroduction. When you combine all four of these steps together, you will be putting yourself in a better position to correct rounded shoulders.
Typically when dealing with someone who has slightly rounded shoulders, it’s crucial to be properly assessed in order to determine the severity and determine which approach is best for that situation.
Correction of Rounded Shoulders
Step 1: Inhibition
This first step is primarily about ensuring that the overactive muscles in our chest aren’t preventing us from keeping our shoulders retracted in a healthy position.
Think about it like this, if your pectoral (chest) muscles are overactive and tight, how can you ever expect to be able to have your shoulder moved back into a healthy neutral position? You can’t and shouldn’t ever force your body into positions that it is incapable of moving into. This is why the first step is so crucial as it allows us to breakdown and address any muscular adhesion’s that are causing our muscles to perform sub optimally and inefficiently.
So how can you use this step to specifically help in correcting rounded shoulders?
Try foam rolling or self performed trigger point! Foam rolling is such a great way to work your muscles and breakup any knots or adhesion’s that are causing your body to move inefficiently. If you have never tried foam rolling before, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because typically for most people it does cause some tenderness and pain during the experience. That being said, if you experience any sort of shooting or stabbing pain STOP, shooting and stabbing pain is never good and shoulder be avoided.
Here is a great link to a video that can explain everything you need to know about foam rolling.
Here is another video explaining how you can use this method on your overactive or tight chest muscles.
Step 2: Lengthening
The second step in this method involves lengthening techniques. More specifically we’re talking about stretching right now! Who doesn’t love stretching right? Now that we’ve helped to address the overactive muscles, now it’s time to stretch them and begin working on allowing our shoulders the freedom and range of motion needed to go into a healthy position. There are a couple different chest stretches that can be performed to stretch the pectoral muscles.
The Wall Stretch: You can use the wall stretch to comfortably and safely stretch the pectoral muscles. As with any stretch its important to not overdo it so listen to your body and ensure you’re doing the stretch with proper form and with a proper warmup to ensure that your body is prepared for the stretching routine
For the stretching, I recommend holding it for between 30-45 seconds per side and repeating once more additionally. Try to avoid any sort of rocking or movement while performing stretches.
Step 3: Strengthening
It’s finally time for the band pull aparts. As mentioned, the band pull aparts are a fantastic exercise that can help to develop the muscles needed to help promote proper posture and proper movement of the shoulder blades. Below is a video that shows proper demonstration of the band pull aparts. When focusing on the strengthening portion of this approach to helping correct posture, a good rep and set scheme would be as follows:
Sets: 1-2 sets for the first 2-3 weeks (Increase to 3 sets as you progress)
Common mistakes when performing the band pull aparts:
1. Elevation of the shoulders
One of the first things I commonly see with someone performing this exercise is the tendency to elevate or shrug your shoulders. In order to overcome this, think about keeping your shoulders pinched back (almost like your pinching something between your shoulder blades) Tip: If you’re finding that your shoulders keep elevating during this exercise try using a lighter band.
2. Protraction of the shoulders
This is one of those things that are hard to realize you’re doing unless someone points it out. If you find that your shoulders are continually protracting or pushing forward as you perform this exercise, try using a lighter band until you feel comfortable with it before increasing the tension by using a heavier band.
Tip: Have a friend or family member place their hand in the middle of your upper back. Think about pushing your shoulders back into their hands to promote retraction of your shoulder blades and prevent your shoulders from rolling forward or protracting.
3. Arching of the lower back
This is another common mistake I see people performing while doing the band pull aparts. This typically happens if someone lacks the range of motion needed to perform it correctly, or if they are using a band that is too heavy. This is an exercise that typically does not require much resistance in order to achieve the positive benefits associated with this exercise.
Tip: Think about bracing your core, the same contraction of the core that occurs when you cough or when you tense up as if someone is about to punch your ab muscles. Here are 3 other exercises that can help with correcting poor posture.
As you begin to get stronger, you may find that you want to make this exercise a bit more difficult, there a couple different ways I’m going to mention that will help you add an additional level of difficulty to help keep you progressing.
1. Use a heavier band
Of course this is the simplest way of increasing the difficulty of the band pull aparts is to increase the resistance associated with it.
2. Increase the number of reps
Another way you can increase the difficulty of this exercise is to increase the number of reps. Typically starting out at around 10 reps is a great way to introduce yourself to the exercise. I recommend increasing your reps to 15 and once that begins to feel less challenging – lower the number of reps back to 10 and increasing your resistance to the next band heavier. Want to learn more about how the number of reps is affecting your progress?
3. Slow the speed of the exercise
This is one of the most under-rated ways of progressing exercises. I see many individuals who think that by going through a movement more quickly, it means they’re doing it correctly. This is absolutely false.
The slower you perform an exercise, the more time under tension your muscles face. By increasing the amount of time that you put your muscles under tension during the band pull aparts, the more you will promote the positive adaptations associated with a given exercise (in most cases).
What sorts of bands should you use?
There a couple different types of bands that would work well for performing the band pull aparts, below we will go through the pros and cons of each.
Mini-bands are a great form of resistance for a lot of different exercises. They are very multi functional and come in multiple different colours and strengths.
- Easy to find online
- Most portable of all of these bands
- Won’t allow full range of motion like the other bands
- Will require a slightly modified grip
Tube Resistance bands
Resistance bands are my most recommended exercise equipment for people who travel or are looking to begin their journey with fitness. The amount of exercises you can do with resistance bands are almost endless. You can even find these bands in sets with different handles, door attachments, and wrist straps. They are truly the Swiss army knife of exercise equipment
- Extremely versatile
- Will work for your other fitness goals
- Allows you to keep your workouts fresh and new
- Hard to track your progress due to differing colours between companies (your resistance band at a gym may be a different resistance than the same colours at your house)
Pull up bands
These bands are slightly stronger than the other bands mentioned on this list. They are slightly heavier duty and are commonly used to help progress individuals to begin doing pull-ups.
- Heavy duty and strong
- Can be used to help assist in other exercises
- Not as versatile as the resistance bands listed above
All in all, the banded pull apart is one of those exercises that is extremely valuable but also very under utilized. It is an exercise that will help you strengthen the muscles of the mid and upper back and is extremely effective when performed properly.
It can help with a variety of conditions and can be a key staple for an exercise routine designed at helping to promote proper posture and fix rounded shoulders. The band pull aparts are extremely effective for strengthening muscles such as the rhomboids and mid to upper trapezius which are both key players in helping to keep your shoulders in a neutral, healthy position.
There are also a few common mistakes which I often see individuals doing when performing this exercise so I recommend filming yourself doing the exercise so you can determine if you see any elevation of the shoulders, protracting of the shoulders, or rounding of the low back.
If you see any of those issues, use the tips listed in this article to help you fix any imbalances or poor form. By doing the tips listed in this article you will be setting yourself up for a strong, healthy shoulder complex and upper back.
As always, send us a message if you have any specific questions regarding this article. We always love helping individuals looking to take control of their health and fitness!