Jump on the BANDwagon

Jump on the BANDwagon

Here’s why you need to forget the naysayers and introduce your clients to the resistance band…

Trainers will always disagree about which strength training methods are the best:

“Straight up lifting is over, move on to band training,” says the ‘functional’ personal trainer between sets of bicep curls with one leg in the air on a vibrating bosu ball.

“Bands are only a fad for people afraid of a little heavy lifting,” say the so-called traditional trainers.

Both of these statements are too black and white. When properly applied, bands are an effective supplemental tool for traditional lifting workouts. Let me explain why.

Why Bands Work

Consider the simple squat. A half squat is much easier than a full squat because of this kind of exercise—like deadlifts and bench presses too— has an ascending strength curve.

Think about it.

As you rise from the squatted position, lifting yourself and the weight gets easier and easier; this is an ascending strength curve.  

This matters because it means you are only getting adaptive overload at the bottom of the squat. The rest of the exercise is too easy, in other words, and won’t give you maximum results.

One way to combat this is to practice compensatory acceleration training or CAT. It sounds fancy, but it means that as you lift up from the squatted position, you accelerate. Start out slow and speed up.

Still, CAT cannot give you full adaptive overload because of a negative acceleration phase. This is when you decelerate or slow down at the very end of the movement. Research has shown that when people are training using CAT, they decelerate for up to 50 percent of the range of motion. Even if you try to go as fast as possible, your body naturally slows down and dampens your full adaptive overload.

Here’s where the resistance band comes in:

If you have a band attached to the weight during you squat, resistance will increase as you lift up and transform an ascending strength curve into a full lift overload.

As you get toward the completion of the lift, the bands will pull tighter and tighter and more force will be required to complete the lift;  More muscle fibers will be required to complete the lift and you will see greater gains in muscle mass and strength.

What does the science say…

There are still traditionalists in training who are not willing to look at bands as anything other than the latest fitness fad. But there is actual science to back up the benefits of using bands:

  • One study presented at the 2004 National Conference demonstrated that athletes who did band-resisted bench presses had a significantly greater increase in their bench press max as well as power produced compared to athletes that only trained with straight bar weight.
  • Another study from the University of Wisconsin found that athletes had 25 percent more leg power after using bands to do weighted squats as compared to athletes that performed the squats without bands.
  • A study conducted by Ithaca College demonstrated that athletes combining bands with bench presses and squats more than doubled their strength gains as compared to participants that only used free weights without additional bands.

Here’s How to Use the Band

Time for the practical stuff, how to use the bands to make some of the most notable strength moves:

1. Squatting in a Power Rack

You have a couple of options: set the safety pins at a low position, loop the bands around them and attach them to the barbell or loop the bands around the bottom of the safety rack. Typically, higher-end racks have special peg attachments just for bands.

Squat set-up in the power rackIf you are in free standing jacks and have to use dumbbells, make sure you place a barrier like plates around them, so they don’t roll when you walk the weight out.

2. The Bench Press

My favorite technique for bench press is to attach only one band to each end and then slide it under the bench. The bench press may also need to be performed in a power rack with the bands set up as suggested for the squat, or you can loop the bands around very heavy dumbbells. Regardless of what setup you use, make sure the bands are set evenly.

Bench presses – with the band under the bench

Bench press set up in the power rack

Bench press kettlebell set up

3. Deadlifts

Using the Bands: Deadlift

Some companies make a platform specifically for deadlifts, and this is a great investment. Another option is to use one band and step on the band to make sure it stays in place.

Romanian deadlifts on a specialty platform

Deadlifts with a homemade setup

Deadlifts while stepping on the band

More deadlift set-ups

Even single-joint movements and non-linear movements that are easiest at the top, like dumbbell flies, can benefit from added bands.  (Watch IFBB Pro Branch Warren performing band-resisted dumbbell flies with the ISSA trainer Josh Bryant)

4. Reverse Bands

Applying bands to barbells in the bottom-up fashion is not the only way to use resistance bands. You can also use a top-down, or reverse method. This is also known as the lightened method.

Using the squat as an example, attach the bands to the top of the rack instead of the bottom. The lower you squat, the more the band helps you. As you rise back up to the starting position, the band offers less assistance. This is the same resistance concept but in a reversed order.

Here’s how reverse band work can be useful:

If you have strong quads, they’re probably not getting a huge overload as you complete a squat; if your chest and anterior deltoids over power your triceps, it will be very difficult to sufficiently overload your triceps with a compound movement like a close-grip bench press.

With the reverse band technique, you can effectively overload your triceps with a compound movement because of the additional resistance. As you lock the weight out, your triceps are the prime mover and will be overloaded.

Many lifters have shoulders and pectoral injuries, and the reverse band reduces the load at the bottom in the most vulnerable position of a pressing exercise, allowing full range of motion pressing without the typical wear and tear.

Reverse band squats

Reverse band deadlifts

Reverse band bench press

Guidelines and Final Thoughts

Guidelines for Using Bands

  • Avoid sets of more than eight reps with bands.
  • Bands allow non-linear resistance.
  • Remember, it’s easier to over train with bands than with chains or traditional resistance.
  • Do not use additional band resistance more than three weeks in a row.
  • Use between 10-25 percent additional band resistance, for example with a 300-pound barbell you would use 30-75 pounds of additional resistance.
  • Bands can be used with barbells, dumbbells, and machines.  Be sure to limit their use to movements with an ascending strength curve.

We believe training is good, better and best.  Not only does the elite athlete need the best, your clients deserve nothing but the best. Bands, when properly applied, and used in conjunction with traditional resistance tools are worth trying to give you and your clients the best workout.

Josh Bryant