The vertical pull is an important exercise for general upper back and shoulder health. Particularly for the teen and adult autism population, back and shoulder stability becomes a significant factor in quality of life. Pushing exercises are usually the go-to for strength. Here we have overhead presses and other press variations.

In our Autism Fitness programming, we seldom include pushups as they are usually contraindicated by an inability to hold a neutral spine position or brace sufficiently during the movement. This causes what is referred to as a stability “leak,” and can result in more harm than benefit for the individual. As is always the case, we have to understand the function/purpose of the exercise and know what we’re looking at with respect to performance.

Pulling exercises for the teen and adult autism population are very often overlooked and omitted from programs. In our original version of the Autism Fitness 15, the fundamental exercises included in our curriculum, the standing band pull-down was a fixture of the strength phase. And then something happened; some of my athletes were taller than I was, and an alternative was needed.

Since the purpose of the band pull-down is to provide a vertical pull motion, the arms need to travel in as straight a path as possible with full range of motion (arms extending fully and flexing completely during the path of the pull). Think about a pull-up. The keys to success are range of motion and control. We want the same in the band pull-down.

The band pull-down is a great substitute for the pull-up, particularly for the ASD population, for the following reasons;

  • Not everyone has access to a pull-up bar or safe and practical area to perform pull-ups
  • Many adolescents, teens, and adults with autism have strength and stability deficits that will prohibit them from performing a pull-up, even when modified
  • The band version allows the instructor/coach to control the amount of resistance/tension in the band
  • Limited equipment is required (particularly for the half-kneeling version) and the resistance band(s) can be used for numerous exercises

The half-kneeling version of the band pull-down accounts for when your athlete, or athletes, are taller than you and/or you do not have a stable overhead area to fix the resistance band. Again, the goal is to approximate a straight pull as much as possible. A taller athlete paired with a shorter coach creates a situation in which the range of motion will not be sufficient as the coach cannot hold the band over the athlete’s head. While the shorter coach could stand on a box or higher surface, this creates a safety issue (for both coach and athlete).

The half-kneeling pull-down addresses the height issue gloriously, providing a safe alternative to a sub-optimal standing version while adding a hip stability component. In the half-kneeling position, the athlete must maintain a stable lower body with one foot planted in front (the lead leg) and the shin of the rear foot on the floor.

Rather than describe this exercise in full, complex detail, watch the Let’s Look @ Half-Kneeling Band Pull-Downs video below.

For practical programming use, we aim for 3-4 sets of 8-10 pull-downs, switching legs between the first 4-5 repetitions. Band pull-downs pair well with Sandbell overhead presses as a superset, or in a circuit with squats, presses, and/or chest carries. A few examples:

Strength Circuit

A1) Standing Sandbell Presses/4 sets of 8-10

A2) Half-Kneeling Band Pull-Downs/4 sets of 8-10 (4-5/side)

A3) Sandbag Chest Carry/4 sets of 1 round trip (20ft each way)


A1) Single Arm Sandbell Overhead Presses/3-4 sets of 8-10 reps per arm

A2) Half-Kneeling Band Pull-Downs/3-4 sets of 8-10 reps (4-5 side)

Learn MLet's Look @ Half Kneeling Pull-Downsore