The use of bands as a supplement to the good old iron is nothing new in the strength training game.
But what lifters quickly forget is the multitude of benefits that accommodating banded resistance provides not only to develop raw power, but also strength and muscle hypertrophy.
From a simplicity standpoint, bands are one of the best tools available that have the ability to add variety to staple compound movements while also having the added benefit of being highly accessible in any type of fitness facility.
By investing a few bucks on bands for your gym bag, and a few to continue your education on how to perfectly execute the top three forms of band training for strength, you’ll have the ability to revolutionize your training.
Welcome to the banded training gain train.
The Benefit of Accommodating Banded Resistance
Before we jump into how to properly perform staple banded resistance training, it’s important to get an appreciation for why bands work, and the unique and novel stimulus they add to the neuro-muscular system.
Bands have the ability to create accommodating resistance, meaning that the mechanical load of an exercise will vary through the range of motion. More loads in the stronger ranges creates great adaptation, while less load in the weaker ranges of motion can protect from acute overload and possibly even injuries.
Another novel stimulus that accommodating banded resistance provides is the acceleration of the lowering or eccentric phase of a movement. Because the band is storing elastic energy at the top of the range where it is stretched the most, it will accelerate the load in the lowering portion of the lift more than just a standard load itself.
The accelerated eccentric loaded sounds great, but it’s important to understand that it’s this mechanism that makes banded training a double-edged sword. More eccentric speed of the load means more stress to the contractile and non-contractile units active in the movement.
This can lead to chronic fatigue of the central nervous system and be hard on the joints long term, hence the reason why banded resistance should be sprinkled into programs strategically and phased out every 4-6 weeks.
3 Ways to Use Bands to Get Strong
Though bands can be implemented into training and programming in many ways, here are the top three methods to build resilient strength that have been battle tested over time.
While each of these three methods have their specific place in programming, the best strength results will be achieved by synergizing them all together to create a truly unique training stimulus to spark strength gains.
1. Traditional Banded Training
Traditional banded training involves attaching bands to a bar or loaded implement from a stable base close to the ground. This setup provides overloading at the top of a range of motion while also reducing overall mechanical load in the bottom range.
While traditional banded training can be implemented into both compound and isolation movements and exercises, the most advantageous way to utilize the effects of banded training is by loading heavy compound movement patterns with additional banded resistance.
Since most lifters are familiar with the mechanics and loading of the big three barbell strength movements, the squat, deadlift and bench press, we’ll stick with these to feature as examples for your traditional banded training.
Since the addition of bands will increase the overall mechanical load that will be exerted onto the body, you will need to reduce your iron weight slightly to be able to complete the allotted number or reps in the strength scheme programmed.
It should also be noted that different sizes and thickness of bands will alter the amount of weight you’ll have to take off the bar. For lifters just getting into traditional banded training, using an extra-light to light band is a great place to start. From there, the amount of band resistance can be increased over time to create a more polarizing training effect.
Below is a video on how to rig bands onto a bench press setup. The same technique can be used for setting up bands for squats in the power rack. As for deadlifting, this setup will be a bit more challenging. I recommend anchoring bands over the bar from the back and front with heavy dumbbells.
So four heavy dumbbells will be placed around the bar, with the bands taught over the bar on both sides for even resistance. Give these a try!
2. Reverse Banding Method
For those of you lifters who pride themselves on going heavy, almost to a fault, the reverse banding method may just become the best way to boost your ego. Using thicker bands in the supported power rack, we will be looping the bands around the top of the rack and “hanging” the bar from the bands to deload the bar.
Remember, because the bands above are essentially supporting the bar, this accommodating resistance technique will allow you to move heavier loads than with the iron alone. This provides one heck of a training stimulus to develop both strength and muscle while keeping the bottom portions of the range of motion on many big staple compound movements better tolerated.
While reverse banding can be implemented into nearly any type of movement, this method is best suited for movements that have a clear cut start and end point of the range of motion. Simply put, exercises like the bench press and squat start off with the bar in the same position as it ends in, being reversed at a point in the movement called the amortization phase.
A lack of an amortization phase in a movements such as a deadlift limit the efficacy of the reverse band method. Stick to pressing, squatting, lunging, pressing movements to start, and skip the hinges and pulls.
Below is a video featuring the Reverse Banded Bench Press. Note the position of the bands directly above the load (making them perpendicular to the ground) and the stable support of the rack and setup.
3. Band Only Training
While there are obvious benefits to adding bands to barbells and dumbbells such as looking like a boss moving some serious weight, one of the most overlooked aspects of building strength and muscle from banded resistance are band only movements.
Using only a band and your bodyweight, there are some great movements that you can quickly and effectively overload while once again reaping the benefits of accommodating resistance.
While I program a number of movements with band only resistance, some of my favorites are centered on the shoulders and upper body. The shoulders are common pain points for most lifters, so altering the resistance and providing a pain-free way to develop strength and muscle proves hugely helpful.
From face pulls to pull aparts, push-ups to front raises, bands have you covered. And lets be honest, bands can deload some common notoriously painful movements like the good morning and back hyperextensions as well. Be creative with your band only training, and don’t forget the only rule… Train hard, drive against the band resistance and elicit the pump!