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Resistance Band Pull Aparts: Exercise Overview and How-to Guide

resistance band pull aparts exercise overview

The resistance band pull apart essentially involves the use of arm abduction and scapular retraction as its primary biomechanical actions, with a small amount of shoulder rotation alongside.

In terms of muscular recruitment, band pull aparts target the trapezius, rotator cuff muscles and the rear shoulder muscles.

Resistance Band Pull Aparts at a Glance

Equipment Requirements

Resistance Band

Main Muscles Targeted

Traps, Posterior Deltoids, Rhomboids, Rotator Cuff Muscles

Difficulty

Easy

Sets, Reps, and Load Recommendations

2-4 Sets of 12-18 Repetitions with Light/Moderate Resistance (as an Accessory)

1-3 Sets of 6-10 Repetitions with Light Resistance (as a Warm-Up)

How to Do Resistance Band Pull Aparts

Resistance Band Pull Apart
  1. To perform a repetition of the banded pull apart, the lifter will stand (or sit) with the torso upright, their arms extended loosely at their front, shoulder-width apart and with both ends of a resistance band gripped in their hands.
  2. Keeping the arms straight but the elbows slightly bent, the lifter squeezes their scapula together as they pull both ends of the band out to the sides.
    This abduction of the arms should continue until the upper arms are practically parallel to the sides of the shoulders, the band stretched close to the trunk.
  3. Shoulder blades now fully retracted and the arms abducted parallel to the body, the lifter then slowly reverses the motion as they keep tension in their upper back.
  4. Once the arms are once again extended forwards at the front of the trunk, the repetition is considered to be complete.

Additional Tips:

Band pull aparts are meant to target the upper back and posterior deltoids, meaning that the arms should play as minimal a role as possible. This is best achieved by keeping the arms straight throughout the repetition while simultaneously avoiding full lock-out of the elbows.

Another good tip is to keep the elbows pointing away from the midline throughout the repetition – ensuring that the posterior deltoids can be contracted to their fullest degree. 

What Muscles Do Resistance Band Pull Aparts Work?

As a compound exercise, resistance band pull aparts will target more than a single muscle group throughout its movement pattern. These are chiefly the trapezius and the posterior deltoid muscles, of which act as primary mobilizers due to their involvement in scapular movement and horizontal abduction.

band pull apart movement

Apart from the traps and rear delts, resistance band pull aparts also have the secondary benefit of working the rhomboids, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, the teres minor and the subscapularis.

Common Resistance Band Pull Aparts Mistakes to Avoid

Even with its use as a warm-up or rehabilitation exercise, band pull aparts still present a small risk of injury if performed incorrectly. 

Ensure the following mistakes are not present in your technique for the best possible results.

Rounding the Shoulders

The main error to look out for when performing resistance band pull aparts is poor shoulder positioning – specifically forward rounding of the shoulders themselves. 

Allowing the shoulders to round in this way increases strain and pressure within the joint itself, of which is further compounded by the abduction of the humerus within said joint. 

In addition, positioning the shoulders further forwards can reduce the actual range of motion of the movement, limiting contraction of other muscle groups.

To prevent this internal rotation of the shoulders, the lifter should focus on the cue of “chest out, shoulder blades down”, where the shoulders are rotated into a neutral or externally rotated position and the scapula is retracted.

Bending the Elbows

Another common mistake to avoid is allowing the elbows to bend during the concentric phase of the repetition. 

resistance band pull apart muscles worked

As the elbows enter a state of flexion, the lifter may accidentally contract muscle groups other than those intended, such as the biceps brachii or triceps.

Of course, in order to truly work the trapezius and rear deltoids as much as possible, this must be entirely avoided. Each repetition of the band pull apart should feature the arms completely straight, with the elbows just shy of full extension so as to reduce strain on the joints.

Elevating the Scapula/Hunching the Shoulders

Much like allowing the shoulders to round forwards, shrugging them upwards by elevating the scapula can create a similar risk of impingement and other injuries to the joint. 

Fortunately, correcting this common mistake is much the same as the aforementioned internal rotation – ensuring that the scapula is depressed and retracted throughout the entire set. A good cue to follow is to visualize pinching a small object between the shoulder blades before pulling them downwards.

Another possible cause of hunched shoulders may be that the arms are positioned too high. As is covered in the following entry, arm positioning can also increase the risk of shoulder impingement and otherwise lead to poor scapular positioning.

Elbows or Upper Arms Too High

Lifters may accidentally make the mistake of positioning the band too high above chest-height, causing the humerus to create an impactful angle within the shoulder joint and leading to an overall breakdown in form.

Unless specifically performing overhead band pull aparts, the arms should never rise above the shoulders. 

Likewise, the band itself should remain at the same height as the chest throughout the entire set, keeping well below the clavicles.

Apart from increasing the risk of shoulder injuries, performing band pull aparts with the arms in such a high position will greatly reduce the involvement of the mid-back musculature as well.

Who Should Do Resistance Band Pull Aparts?

Resistance band pull aparts are a novice level exercise with a variety of applications in both training and rehabilitation. 

For lifters seeking reinforcement of their rotator cuff, stronger trapezius muscles or a pull day warm-up exercise, the band pull apart is the perfect choice.

However, those with a history of shoulder joint or rotator cuff injuries may be better served speaking to a medical professional prior to attempting banded pull aparts. Do not attempt to self-rehabilitate an injury without prior medical approval.

References

1. Fukunaga T, Fedge C, Tyler T, et al. Band Pull-Apart Exercise: Effects of Movement Direction and Hand Position on Shoulder Muscle Activity. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2022;17(3):400-408. Published 2022 Apr 2. doi:10.26603/001c.33026