Workout of the Day

Should You Always Use the Same Band for Pull-ups?


Let’s take a look at a hypothetical case study in scaling. I’m going to use the example of using bands for pull-ups, but it applies to any type of scaling, really.

Let’s say that one week you complete an abbreviated “sprint” version of the CrossFit workout “Cindy.” We’ll say that this abbreviated version of Cindy, which calls for as many rounds/reps as possible of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats in a given time, is an 8 minute workout. Let’s say that your pull-up strength has progressed nicely, and you’re able to string together anywhere for 4 to 6 pull-ups at a time using the light resistance band. This workout, which only calls for 5 pull-ups at a time, and is short to medium in length, is ideally suited for you to use the light band. You should be able to complete most rounds unbroken, and it is an opportunity to butt up against your strength endurance threshold without reaching a point of crushing fatigue. This band matches the intended stimulus.

Now let’s say that the next week you complete CrossFit hero workout “Josh,” which calls for 21 - 15 - 9 reps of overhead squats at 95lbs alternating with 42 - 30 - 18 reps of pull-ups, all to be completed for time. We know that you are able to complete a handful of pull-ups with a light resistance band, but your muscular endurance runs into a wall any time you have to do any more than 30 or 40 pull-ups in a workout, leaving you able to string only 2 or 3 reps together at a time. This light band may be your standard, and you may have used it for pull-ups last week, but as your coach, I would tell you to use a medium band for this workout. Why? Because we’re planning to do 90 reps of pull-ups in a short amount of time, and while you certainly could use a light band for this workout, that would miss the intended stimulus. To speak broadly (looking at the largest area under the bell curve), this workout should be completed in roughly 8 to 13 minutes. Choosing a modification that puts you in the 25-30 minute time frame misses the intended stimulus almost entirely.

With any scaling, there are two questions that must be a part of our decision-making process:

1) What is the intended stimulus?

2) What opportunity does this workout provide me to train X?

In our case studies above, the intended stimulus in our abbreviated version of Cindy was a shorter, faster-paced bodyweight workout to be completed entirely or almost entirely unbroken. The light band allows us to achieve this stimulus, and thus is suitable for this workout. In addition, it gives us an opportunity to train close to our strength endurance threshold in a range of volume that is manageable at our given level. While we could have perhaps chosen a slightly more assistive band and completed more rounds in this workout (which would still meet our criteria for intended stimulus), we would then miss an opportunity to push our threshold. Our goal, after all, is to move beyond using bands in our pull-ups, and we can’t get any better if we don’t challenge the system.

In our workout, Josh, the intended stimulus was a fast-paced test of muscular endurance in the shoulders and a heavy test of medium-time-domain stamina, with a heavy focus on pull-ups. The workout is not intended to be slow, heavily strength focused, or to be rest-filled. Using a medium band allows you to string more reps together and to maintain some strength endurance through a higher volume of rest, making the choice superior over the light band. This is also an opportunity to train stamina and moving through fatigue, an opportunity that is further enhanced by using a more assistive band that allows more volume in less time. On the continuum of pure strength to pure endurance, a light band would put us too far towards pure strength, a heavy band too far towards pure endurance, and a medium band would be just right.

Scaling workouts is not a matter of knowing which weights you always use for deadlifts or which bands you always use for pull-ups. It is a matter of matching the modification with the intended stimulus, and this means that some days you’ll use light bands and some days you’ll use no bands, some days you’ll use the prescribed weight and some days you’ll use a much lighter weight. Don’t get caught up in the identity trap of scaling -- proper training and scaling isn’t based on standard weights and exercise variations. Proper training and scaling is purpose-driven.

- PS


  • “Diane”

  • For time, 21-15-9 reps of:

    • Deadlift (225/155)

    • Handstand push-up


  • 3 rounds for quality:

    • Max time L-hang hold

    • 10 KB windmills (10/side)

    • 30s ring plank hold

    • Rest 1 min