Doing resistance band pull-aparts can be useful but they may not be for you. Discover some effective exercise alternatives with similar effects.
Resistance band pull-aparts are mainly done to isolate the rear/back/posterior part of your shoulder muscles. Depending on how you do them exactly you may also work your trapezius upper back muscles.
In turn, that means that band pull-aparts can help you build muscle mass, improve your posture, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy doing band pull-aparts, you don’t have resistance bands, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to band pull-aparts can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Reverse cable crossovers
For this first band pull-apart alternative, you want a double pulley cable machine. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a standing reverse cable crossover:
- Set the cable machine pulleys at a high setting, attach a single rope handle on both sides, and select your desired weight. This exercise will be done with your sides facing the pulleys.
- Go to one side and grab the rope handle with the hand of the opposite side. Walk to the other pulley and do the same. Then move to the middle of the two pulleys.
- Take a step back and hold your arms forward in a horizontal line. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- Slowly move your hands out to the side until your upper arms are in about a horizontal line.
- Move your hands back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Reverse cable crossovers have a few advantages over band pull-aparts.
First of all, the range of motion under tension during reverse cable crossover is bigger. This is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.
Additionally, it is easier to adjust the resistance precisely and a cable machine generally offers higher resistances. The tension during reverse cable crossovers is also more constant.
The potential downside of this band pull-apart alternative is that you need a double pulley cable machine. Especially at home, you likely don’t have this fitness machine laying around.
2. Rear delt fly
For this next exercise, you can use a wide variety of one-handed shoulder workout equipment options like dumbbells, resistance bands, kettlebells, a cable machine, etc.
As an example, take the following steps to do a bent-over rear delt fly with dumbbells:
- Start standing up with your feet shoulder-width apart, your body upright, and one dumbbell in each hand with your hand palms facing each other. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
- While keeping your back straight bend your knees and slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground while keeping your posture good. Let gravity do its work on your arms so that they point vertically to the ground.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side until they are at shoulder height.
- Move the dumbbells back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
Other ways to do the rear delt fly include seated bent-over, while lying stomach-first on an incline bench, or standing up with a cable machine or resistance bands.
A potential upside or downside, depending on your training goals, of this band pull-apart alternative is that your lower back, erector spinae, and core muscles have to work more.
That being said, the main focus is still on your rear deltoids and possibly your back muscles depending on your exact movement.
3. Rear delt rows
Similar to the rear delt fly, rear delt rows can be done in a variety of positions with a variety of fitness equipment options. Take the following steps to do a bent-over rear delt row with a barbell:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the barbell and stand in front of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the barbell with an overhanded grip and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift up the barbell with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the barbell tightly.
- Lift the barbell towards your chest as far as comfortable by bringing your elbows outward. Your upper arms are at angles slightly less than 90 degrees to your sides. Keep your spine in a straight line, upper body still, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Regular bent-over rows with your elbows close to your body focus more on your upper back muscles. By moving your elbows outward your rear deltoids have to work.
This makes the exercise resemble band pull-aparts more.
One thing to keep in mind is that bent-over rear delt rows are a lot more challenging for your lower back muscles than resistance band pull-aparts.
If you keep using the right technique, doing bent-over rear delt rows instead of band pull-aparts can lead to more lower back strengthening.
The downside is that it also becomes easier to implement a suboptimal technique.
4. Reverse pec deck fly
The pec deck is a gym machine where you sit up straight with your arms folded and your upper arms behind pads.
To do the exercise you then push these pads toward each other engaging your chest muscles in the process.
By sitting in reverse on the machine and adjusting the settings of the handles you can also make this an exercise that works your rear deltoid muscles and in turn, can be a good alternative to band pull-aparts.
Because of this machine, you don’t even have to engage your tricep muscles to keep your arms stretched. In addition, you are sitting down and the resistance goes through a fixed range of motion.
These things allow you to isolate your rear deltoids almost completely.
5. W raises
For the next substitute for band pull-aparts you need an incline weight bench and one-handed resistance, preferably two dumbbells.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do W raises:
- Set up the incline weight bench at an angle of about 45 degrees.
- Lie down on the incline weight bench with your chest in a safe way. Hold the dumbbells in your hands with a neutral grip but let your arms hang down for now.
- Move the dumbbells forward and upward until your elbows are at 90-degree angles.
- Slowly raise your elbows sideways outward and upward until they are horizontal while keeping your elbows at the same angles.
- Lower your arms again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
W raises engage your muscles very similar to band pull-aparts but instead of isometric tricep engagement, you implement isometric bicep engagement. Additionally, the tension of resistance bands increases as you go farther.
6. Face pulls
For the next exercise, you preferably want to use a cable machine with the double rope grip cable attachment. Take the following steps to do a cable face pull:
- Set the cable machine at about the height of the bottom of your face, attach a double rope grip handle, and select your desired weight.
- Grab the handle in your hands, hand palms facing each other, with your face towards the anchor. Take a step or two backward with your arms stretched forward. Stand with your 2 feet at about shoulder width.
- Move your arms in a smooth motion towards a position where your upper arms are at a 90-degree angle with your body and your lower arms are pointing up and are at a 45-degree angle with your upper arms. Keep your feet in the same position and your back straight during the exercise.
- Slowly move your arms back into the position of step 2.
Similar to band pull-aparts, face pulls engage your rear deltoids a lot. On top of that, face pulls generally work your upper back muscles slightly more.
If you want to stick to resistance band shoulder exercises and you have a suited anchor you can also do face pulls with resistance bands.
7. T raises
For the next resistance band pull-apart alternative you preferably want a yoga mat or other soft surface to lie on. Take the following steps to do a T raise:
- Lie down on your stomach with your arms at 90-degree angles to your body. Looking from above your body makes a T-shape.
- Slowly raise your hands as far as comfortable. Keep your neck in lign with your upper body.
- Lower your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Keep your movements slow and controlled to make your shoulder and upper back muscles really work hard and to avoid elevating your hands too much. Also avoid looking up too much. This can lead to neck pain and injuries.
A benefit of T-raises is that it is a no-equipment way to train muscles similar to band pull-aparts without equipment.
The downside is that for individuals more experienced with resistance training, T raises will likely not be enough to grow and strengthen these muscles a lot.