Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Benefits of Adding Bands to Resistence Training

by Ron Kennedy • March 21, 2017
When pursuing a serious fitness lifestyle, there is an ever-evolving debate about which technique of fitness training produces the best results. Choosing to avoid the obvious disqualifying training theories such as cross-fit, fad dieting, and extreme maximum weight training, our focus in this article is to discuss the benefits of functional training over traditional free weight training for strength. When using “meta-endurance” scientific training methods, the core fundamental behind our science is dynamic training, meaning we change techniques for every client, every session, every time. That said, we will take an objective approach in our opinions about the facts.

Working in the fitness industry for over 14 years, I personally have heard a great diversity of professional points of view in proper training techniques; 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,” spouts the meat head trainer as he adjusts his overly tight spandex. The humorous aspect is that though fictitious perspectives, both have foundations in the truth.
To better explain the differences is techniques, let’s use a very basic and familiar strength training movement... the common squat. A half squat is much easier than a full squat because of this kind of exercise. Just like deadlifts and bench press, there is an ascending strength curve. 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.

I know what you’re thinking; “That all sounds very complicated”. So, allow me to simply the fitness science previously discussed with explaining how it applies to functional training and more specifically resistance bands.

If you have a band attached to the weight during you squat, resistance will increase as you lift upwards 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. In other words, the closer you get to completing the movement, the more performance your muscle fibers will be forced to produce.

Now that you have a solid understanding of what CAT training encompasses and the benefits of the technique, let’s apply the use to typical training movements that you should be implementing (or your fitness trainer should be implementing) for your fitness training programs.

Traditional squat with a weight 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 must use dumbbells, make sure you place a barrier like plates around them, so they don’t roll when you walk the weight out.

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.

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.

If you have strong quadriceps (for example), 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. Another factor to consider is that many fitness enthusiasts 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.

The conjunction of incorporating bands into traditional strength training tactics is a very wise and effect way to progress with a concentrated fitness training program. Just as the old saying goes, “Work smarter... not harder” resistance bands allows the muscles to have a deeper concentration of contraction, and force the muscle fibers to function at higher levels that can be produced with a straight forward, meat and potatoes planned strength training routine.