5 Band Pull Apart Alternatives to Target the Delts

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 17, 2022

The band pull apart is a unique resistance exercise commonly seen in both physical rehabilitation plans and training programs alike - usually due to its reputation for rehabilitating and strengthening the shoulder girdle or deltoid muscle group.

Unfortunately, because resistance bands are not something everyone has access to - or for a number of other reasons - many exercisers may seek out an alternative to band pull aparts that shares its primary benefits without the same disadvantages.

Quite a number of alternatives to the band pull apart do indeed exist, each exemplifying a certain aspect of the band pull apart that can fit an individual’s training program and goals without the same drawbacks associated with the former exercise.

Why Should the Band Pull Apart be Substituted?

The main reason many lifters seek out an alternative to the band pull apart is due to the relatively low intensity associated with resistance bands. 

band pull apart

Although band pull aparts are most often used as a rehabilitative or low intensity isolation exercise, individuals of more advanced training capabilities will find that the use of resistance bands (however intense) can generally be ineffective for proper muscular hypertrophy.

In addition to this, several issues with the usage of resistance bands themselves can also be to blame for substitution of the band pull apart, with the most common reasons being that the exerciser does not have access to proper resistance bands or that progressing with resistance bands is inconvenient due to the differences in resistance levels.

What are the Characteristics of a Band Pull Apart Alternative?

The most important aspect of a proper band pull apart substitute exercise is in what particular muscles are worked by said substitute.

As the band pull apart is a posterior deltoid head isolation exercise, so too must its alternative exercise train the same muscle - though whether or not the substitute exercise solely trains the rear deltoid head will be up to the needs of the exerciser themselves.

bodyweight pull apart muscles

Furthermore, the alternative exercise should also share a similar intensity and type of training stimulus to the band pull apart, meaning that it is of low to moderate intensity while providing recruitment of both type one and type two muscle fibers.

How to Program a Band Pull Apart Alternative

As the band pull apart is either used as a rehabilitative exercise or as an accessory movement in a pull-day workout, programming an alternative can be as simple as replacing one exercise with the other, requiring no further alteration in the programming of the workout.

However, if the alternative exercise is of a higher intensity or trains muscle groups alongside the posterior deltoid head, subsequent changes must be made to the training program so as to avoid overtraining, premature fatigue or injuries.

For the most part, this simply equates to reducing the total volume or resistance of the exercise while maintaining its accessory role at the end of the workout. 

However, if the alternative trains more muscle groups than just the posterior deltoid head, reducing the volume of other exercises sharing such a muscle activation pattern will also be required.

If you are unsure of how to go about making these workout programming changes, seek out the advice of an athletic coach so as to ensure that your training is optimized to its highest level.

Free Weight Band Pull Apart Alternatives

For the absolute maximum number of benefits, substituting the band pull apart with a free weight alternative will ensure that full synergist muscle recruitment will take place alongside the other positive effects of the band pull apart as well.

As a downside however, free weight exercises are less suitable for physical rehabilitation and will generally present a higher risk of injury - making the decision to substitute band pull aparts with the following exercises up to the lifter themselves.

1. Rear Deltoid Rows

A compound free weight exercise that trains the muscles of the upper back just as readily as it does the posterior deltoid head, rear deltoid rows are first on this list as they may be integrated into many pull-day workout sessions without interrupting the flow of the workout to a significant extent.

dumbbell rear delt row

Who Should Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Rear Deltoid Rows?

Rear deltoid rows are most suitable as an alternative exercise for bodybuilders or athletes who find the band pull apart to be too easy and insufficient in terms of intensity.

Like other row variations, the rear deltoid row will consequently train the trapezius, biceps brachii, rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscle groups - requiring that the exerciser replace another row exercise within their pull workout session in order to make space for this particular substitute.

dumbbell rear delt row steps

Unfortunately, due to the pressure and shear force rear deltoid rows will place on the shoulder joint, it is not a suitable exercise for physical rehabilitation patients or lifters recovering from upper body injuries.

How to Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Rear Deltoid Rows

To substitute band pull aparts with rear deltoid rows, the exerciser must do so on a back training day or pull training day, both of which will normally involve row exercises. 

Substituting the band pull apart with the rear deltoid row on days where the back muscles are not otherwise trained can result in the flow of a training program being altered.

Furthermore, while band pull aparts are generally performed at high volumes per set, it is more advisable to perform the rear deltoid row at a more moderate amount of volume due to the stress it places on the shoulder joint - consequently also allowing a greater amount of resistance to be used.

2. Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Flyes

Among one of the most common free weight rear deltoid accessory exercises, the rear deltoid dumbbell fly or simply the “rear delt fly” is one of the most suitable alternatives to the band pull apart due to their similarities in intensity, muscles trained and biomechanics involved.

dumbbell rear delt fly

Unlike other free weight alternatives to the band pull apart, rear delt flys place little to no shear force or pressure on the shoulder joint, and otherwise can function perfectly well as a rehabilitative exercise save for individuals with a history of rotator cuff injuries, as rear deltoid flys make use of internal and external shoulder rotation quite well.

Who Should Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Flyes?

Rear deltoid dumbbell flyes are a catch-all alternative to the band pull apart, being perfectly suitable for athletes, physical rehabilitation patients and regular exercisers who do not have access to a resistance band.

In addition, individuals normally performing the band pull apart for the purposes of posture improvement will also see similar benefits with this exercise.

For novice exercisers or individuals that are unfamiliar with workout programming, the rear deltoid dumbbell fly is the best possible free weight option.

How to Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Flyes

Due to the similarity in intensity and complexity of form, substituting band pull aparts with rear deltoid dumbbell flyes requires no further reprogramming or alterations be made in the training program.

dumbbell rear delt fly step

This allows the rear deltoid dumbbell fly to act as the most convenient go-to alternative, allowing volume and resistance level to be transplanted directly from one exercise to the other.

3. Standing Dumbbell Y Raises

Standing dumbbell Y raises are often likened to rear delt flyes - though with the caveat that the exerciser continues the motion until the dumbbells are raised overhead, presenting several drawbacks and advantages that change its function as an exercise.

As an alternative to the band pull apart, standing dumbbell Y raises are most suitable for bodybuilders or athletes who wish to intensify the deltoid muscle activation seen in the band pull apart.

Who Should Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Standing Dumbbell Y Raises?

Standing dumbbell Y raises are most suitable for lifters seeking out a more intensified version of the deltoid muscle recruitment seen in the band pull apart - as regular performance of the former exercise will reinforce shoulder extension and rotation while still retaining the posterior deltoid head development of the latter movement.

How to Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Standing Dumbbell Y Raises

Due to the higher risk of injury and greater intensity of the standing dumbbell Y raise, substituting the band pull apart with such an exercise will require a significant reduction in total volume.

Furthermore, if any sort of press is present in the workout program, it is important to place the standing dumbbell Y raise lower in the order of exercises so as to avoid prematurely fatiguing the deltoids and resulting in reduced pushing-motion performance.

Machine-Based Band Pull Apart Alternatives

It is in replicating the rehabilitative or posture-correcting benefits of the band pull apart that machine-based substitutes truly shine, as their reduced risk of injury and improved muscle activation specificity allow the lifter to further intensity such benefits.

1. Cable Face Pulls

The cable face pull is the most commonly seen posture-correcting exercise, surpassing even that of the band pull apart.

cable face pull

This is due to the fact that it not only trains the posterior deltoid head, but also the trapezius muscle - reinforcing such biomechanics like scapular retraction, external shoulder rotation and cervical spinal curvature near the base of the neck.

Who Should Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Cable Face Pulls?

Cable face pulls are most suitable as a substitute for individuals performing band pull aparts as a rehabilitative or posture-correcting tool, rather than for its bodybuilding applications.

As such, while cable face pulls may also be used as a training substitute, it is overshadowed by other exercises that build muscle in a more effective manner, such as rear delt flyes or T-raises.

How to Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Cable Face Pulls

As the cable face pull is mechanically similar to band pull aparts, the exerciser may simply “plug and play” when using it as a substitute exercise, directly copying the number of sets and volume of repetitions per set with no need for further alterations in the workout or rehabilitation plan.

2. Cable Y Raises

Cable Y raises are the machine-based counterpart to dumbbell Y raises, both sharing the overhead shoulder extension biomechanic that makes them a progression exercise from the band pull apart.

cable y raise

Much like its free weight counterpart, cable Y raises place significant training stimulus on the posterior deltoid head alongside the rest of the deltoid muscle group, making it an excellent alternative for individuals who find the band pull apart to be insufficient in terms of inducing proper muscular hypertrophy.

Who Should Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Cable Y Raises?

Cable Y raises are most suitable for bodybuilders or athletes that wish to induce a greater level of deltoid muscle development than what the band pull apart is capable of presenting.

cable y raise muscles

Additionally, unlike its free weight counterpart, cable Y raises greatly reduce the amount of stress placed on the shoulder joint as a natural benefit of being a machine-based exercise, allowing a greater number of repetitions to be performed per set.

How to Substitute Band Pull Aparts With Cable Y Raises

Depending on the level of resistance used for the cable Y raise, the exerciser may directly translate the volume of the band pull apart to its substitute in a 1:1 ratio, or otherwise reduce the number of repetitions per set if the resistance and intensity is distinctly greater.

For Physical Rehabilitation, Posture Correction or Mobility Work: Bodyweight T Raises

Though a few previously mentioned exercises are perfectly suitable to be used as rehabilitative or mobility-improving exercises, few are as effective as the bodyweight T raise - of which will not only reinforce the strength and stability of the posterior deltoid head, but also aid in recovering the various mechanics of the shoulder joint as well.

supermans

This is due to the relatively low level of resistance involved in the exercise alongside its wide range of dynamic motion, resulting in not only minor muscular hypertrophy but also a stretching effect that aids in rehabilitation.

Such factors brought into play alongside the lack of resistance involved create a tool perfect for improving posture, rehabilitating shoulder injuries or increasing the shoulder joint’s stable range of movement.

When choosing to substitute band pull aparts for the bodyweight T raise exercise, exercisers will be better served with a high volume of repetitions per set, with each repetition performed in a slow and controlled manner.

Final Thoughts

Though the band pull apart may seem to be an exercise that is rather difficult to substitute, all the aforementioned exercises can more than replicate the benefits it provides.

So long as you perform these potential substitute exercises with the correct form and workout programming, it is entirely possible to recreate the original purpose of the band pull apart without the risks or disadvantages normally associated with the latter exercise’s performance.

References

1. Fukunaga T, Fedge C, Tyler T, Mullaney M, Schmitt B, Orishimo K, McHugh M, Nicholas S. Band Pull-Apart Exercise: Effects of Movement Direction and Hand Position on Shoulder Muscle Activity. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2022 Apr 2;17(3):400-408. doi: 10.26603/001c.33026. PMID: 35391860; PMCID: PMC8975561.

2. Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, Oliveira JLD, Hernández-Mosqueira C, da Silva SF, Marchetti PH. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct 31;75:5-14. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2020-0033. PMID: 33312291; PMCID: PMC7706677.

3. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. An Electromyographic Analysis of Lateral Raise Variations and Frontal Raise in Competitive Bodybuilders. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Aug 19;17(17):6015. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17176015. PMID: 32824894; PMCID: PMC7503819.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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