As you become more advanced in your weight training, simply adding more weight to the bar does not guarantee better results. Adding resistance bands to conventional exercises where weight is already a component increases the difficulty of a movement without having to pile more weight on the bar itself. If you want to increase your power output, you could surely benefit from training with bands, because the force required is magnified on the concentric (explosive) portion of the movement. Studies of training with bands added to the Bench Press and Squat have shown two to three times the strength gains in athletes who already had 4-plus years of resistance training experience, compared to traditional resistance training without bands. Check out the video player above for a demonstration of how to add resistance bands to your lifts.
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Bands accommodate resistance through the entire range of motion, matching your strength curve. In other words, bands offer the most resistance when you’re at your strongest—e.g., the band is fully lengthened at the peak of a Dumbbell Press, when you’re near full extension—challenging you equally throughout the entire range of motion of your targeted muscle group. This adds a higher level of difficulty to almost any exercise, without having to go too heavy and sacrifice form. For example, when you rep out a set on the Vertical Leg Press minus bands, the weight “de-loads” at peak contraction when you lock out. But with bands, you have to apply moreforce to overcome the additional resistance as you push the weight up, creating a new stimulus not achieved by a Dumbbell Press on its own. There’s no break at the top of the movement.
You also get the benefit of eccentric overload, which is a fancy term for adding tension to a movement during the eccentric/negative phase. On a standard barbell Bench Press, for example, the eccentric portion is when you bring the bar down to your chest. The concentric portion is when you push it back up to full extension. For those pursuing bigger muscles and greater strength, the eccentric (negative) portion of a rep is hugely important and too often overlooked. By doubling up and wrapping a thick Pro Light or Average band around the barbell with the other end tied underneath the power rack, you get more resistance on the bar as you bring it down on the eccentric.
RELATED: Mechanical Overload: The Strategy for Bigger Muscles
Reverse banding allows you to overcome weak points in your strength curve. You know you’re weaker during certain parts of an exercise, and this method helps you get beyond those sticking points. Instead of hooking the bands to the bottom of a power rack, like you would when you focus on eccentric overload, you attach bands to the top of the rack. The bands assist you with the weight when the bar is closest to your chest (at your weakest point), and become slack as you move the bar farther away from your chest. Most everyone is stronger at lockout, so you could use a weight you normally only lock out with and get full range of motion reps with it. For example, 315 feels like 225 coming off your chest, but as you lift it up, it’ll feel like 315 when you’re near peak contraction again.
Resistance Band Exercises
Hammer Strength Bench Press
Double up on Pro Light or Average bands on the incline Hammer Strength Press. This is a good warm-up exercise to pump blood into the chest and shoulders before getting into your bench or overhead pressing work for the day. Using the bands with the added tension throughout the movement really magnifies the pump and mind-muscle connection, forcing your pecs to contract.
Standing Calf Raises
Too many trainees have the tendency to “cheat” on calf movements, missing benefits that extended time under tension and slow eccentrics can confer on this muscle group. The constant tension the bands create really helps keep you in form. The video shows the Pro Mini bands in action, creating tension even at the fully extended portion of the movement. There’s no rest at the top, which is sometimes where a trainee will pause to take the pressure off.
A Word of Caution
Too much of a good thing can be bad. There is a point of diminishing returns with band use. Using bands every workout—and for every exercise—will quickly lead to burnout and a beat-up central nervous system. Instead, slowly incorporate bands into your periodized training program and take time to de-load, when you don’t train with bands at all. As for sets and reps, that’s an individual thing to a degree, but you’ll find failure comes earlier with bands, so sets of 6-10 reps should suffice in most cases. If you want to learn more about band use specifically in a bodybuilding approach, check out John Meadows on YouTube.
Reference: Anderson, C.E., et al., “The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes.” J Strength Cond Res, 2008. 22(2): p. 567-74.