Everyone steps into the gym with a goal.
Some want to be bigger, faster and stronger. Some want to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle. Some people are just looking for a nice change of pace to clear their mind. No matter your goal, there’s one tool that can play a HUGE role in your success. Bands!
In my opinion, bands are one of the most underutilized tools in the gym. By bands, I’m referring to the elastic loops or lengths that provide increasing resistance the further they’re stretched. Often referred to as exercise bands or resistance bands, they’re available in a wide array of colors, sizes and strengths.
Many athletes interested in strength obsess over iron implements. Many folks interested in general weight loss gravitate toward certain types of cardio equipment. Whether they’re looking to bulk up or slim down, most people think bands are simply for stretching, which is a vast underestimation of their capabilities.
Here’s why no matter what your fitness goals are, bands can help you reach them faster.
First, let’s talk about the most common application for the resistance band—accommodating resistance. You may have seen other gym patrons squatting, benching or deadlifting with a set of bands strapped around the bar.
Adding resistance bands to a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell can provide what is called “accommodating resistance.” This adds an extra degree of resistance where the exercise is usually easiest. The “sticking point” of an exercise is where most people usually fail a lift. On the Bench Press, for example, it’s when the bar’s just a couple inches off your chest on the way up. But once you get past the sticking point, the remainder of the lift is usually quite easy. You’ve got momentum on your side.
Have you ever seen someone fail a Squat in the last foot of a rep? Probably not. By adding bands to the lift, you can create a situation where you have to be strong through every phase of the lift. Take the Deadlift for example. By strapping a pair of bands on the deadlift bar and attaching them to a fixed implement on the ground, the resistance of the bands will increase exponentially as you get to the top of the repetition. This forces your body to adapt and be strong through various phases of the lift, which can be especially useful for athletes. A 2009 study found that Band-Resisted Squats with moderate load produced superior improvements in power compared to both “fast” Squats with light weight and slower squats with heavier weight.
But using bands to assist rather than resist certain moves can also be beneficial. For people who struggle to complete bodyweight Pull-Ups, for example, a band can be used to help provide a little upwards propulsion.
Two of my favorite banded exercises are Band-Resisted Back Squats and Band-Resisted Deficit Deadlifts. Both require a band of equal resistance to be attached to the barbell collars on either side and then anchored to equidistant fixed points on or close to the ground.
For the Band-Resisted Back Squat, once you get the hang of it, try to work up to a one-rep max with a given band. The goal is to hit the heaviest weight possible with a predetermined amount of band tension. This will teach your body to be explosive out of the bottom of the Squat and learn to push through heavy weights when the bands are removed.
For the Band-Resisted Deficit Deadlifts, once you get the hang of it, try to perform 10 sets of one rep on a given day. I will use this exercise during my speed or dynamic effort days. The goal is to create a deficit by standing on a small mat or plate. This will force your body to be explosive off the ground and create enough speed to not only pull the bar a longer distance, but beat the bands to finish the lockout portion of the lift. If I’m having trouble creating speed off the ground, this is my go-to exercise to hone and enhance explosiveness.
Delivering an Unparalleled Pump
Hypertrophy training is important when it comes to packing on slabs of muscle to your frame. The problem with typical barbell and dumbbell training is that it can leave your body sore, injured and tired.
While training with barbells and dumbbells is important, I like to add hypertrophy work with bands to give my joints a rest and help aid recovery. Using bands for high-repetition work will not only add size, but also help bulletproof your body by strengthening the soft connective tissue. I like to use bands to perform the type of high-rep work that would be nearly impossible with other implements. I often aim for 50-200 reps and will often challenge myself by trying to complete 100 consecutive reps without stopping. If you’re new to band trying, you can aim for 50 and going from there. Here are some examples of hypertrophy exercises I perform with bands:
- Banded Curls, Tricep Extensions, Pull-Aparts and Face Pulls: perform 50-100 reps in the least amount of sets as possible
- Banded Leg Curls: Perform four sets of 50-75 reps
- Banded Hip Thrust: Perform two sets of 50 reps
A Quick, Effective Warm-Up
Another great benefit of bands is to help prime your body to perform at the highest level. Exercises like Face Pulls, Pull-Aparts, Hamstring Curls, Rows, Tricep Extensions and Push-Ups can all be performed with a band as part of a great warm-up.
Bands also present one of the absolute best ways to activate/train your glutes, as Mike Boyle explains here. Activating the glutes can be exceptionally difficult for many people, leading to “dead butt” and serious deficiencies in strength, speed and power. Integrating glute-targeted band work into your routine/warm-up can quickly help you strengthen inactive areas of your hips and butt and bring your most powerful muscle group back to lift.
Bands can become a busy strength coach’s best friend very quickly. They take up minimal space and can provide resistance to many popular moves, including jumps, sprints and bounds. If you’re limited on space, try attaching a resistance band to a brace and have your athlete perform broad jumps or sprint starts. These exercises can be performed for high repetitions without fear of overworking the athlete. These are also great tools in assessing athletes limitations and correcting improper technique for running and jumping. I typically perform anywhere from 10-30 jumps per session broken down to as many or as few sets as desired. I will allow the athlete to work on their sprint starts in sets of 3-5 until the proper movement pattern is learned.
Bands also play a pivotal role in “overspeed” training by assisting a person to run faster than they otherwise would be able to.
No matter what your goal may be, bands can help get you there. That rings true even if you’re geriatric. A 2018 study found a twice-weekly resistance band training program helped seniors improve their balance and functional mobility after 12 weeks. They can also go a long way toward fixing your posture, which is something almost everyone struggles with in our modern society of staring at laptops and smartphones.
The only limit to bands’ role in your training is really your imagination.
Photo Credit: A&J Fotos/iStock