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Resistance / Strength Bands
Resistance bands have been around for some time, but have been more popularized by Louis Simmons in recent years. They are used by powerlifters, different athletes, bodybuilders, and even general weight trainers. Their use in powerlifting is well documented. Resistance bands are used for squatting, bench pressing, pulling movements such as deadlifting, and more. They can even be added to machines to vary the resistance.
What resistance bands do is that they will aid in the weight getting heavier as the lift is preformed. This is often called accommodating resistance. In many lifts, the weight seems to feel easier as it goes up and resistance bands will make the lift feel uniform or heavier at the top. Usually the bands are used to make the weight heavier at the top to cause the lifter to push harder or explode harder at the bottom. This will cause the movement to be worked harder and will also cause better size and strength gains. The bands are usually anchored at or near the floor and looped around the ends of the bar right outside the plates. Sometimes the bands are looped more than once around the ends of the bar to choke them or make them tighter. There should be some tension on the bands at the bottom of the stroke for the best effectiveness. Now adjusting the feel of the lifting stroke is easy. To add force to the bottom just add weight. To add force to the top just loop or choke the bands around the end of the bar additional times. If you want to add more tension to both the top and bottom, add more bands.
Reverse banding is another form of banding in which the bands are hooked from above and instead of adding to the resistance, they subtract from the resistance as the bar is lowered and allow more of the weight to be felt as the bar is lifted. The net effect is very similar in that as the weight goes up, so does the resistance. The main difference with reverse banding is that it allows a more accurate feel of the weight at the top when one feels the actual weight, rather than the weight plus bands. There are some powerlifters who would rather do reverse banding for this reason.
There is some terminology that one must understand. First is the base weight. The base weight is the weight on the bar or deadweight. Next is the top weight that is the apparent weight felt at the top. The top weight is the base weight plus the estimated pull of the bands . The bottom weight is the base weight plus any pull of the bands. If there is no pull of the bands at the bottom, then the bottom weight is the base weight. With reverse banding the top weight usually is the base weight or close to it, while the bottom weight is the base weight minus the pull of the bands. High percent banding uses a light base weight and a high amount of banding. The base weight is often as low as 50% of the total weight. Regular banding is where the base weight is 65-75% of the total weight. In low percent banding the base weight is 85% of the total weight. When top weight or total weight is mentioned the term “weight” loosely applies to the base weight plus the pull of the bands and is also called total resistance.
Bands are used to both gain more muscle mass and explosiveness. When bands are introduced to someone who hasn’t used them before, there is always a quick gain in strength as the bands will strengthen the muscle more evenly throughout the full length of contraction. An example here would be the squat where the weight is easier near the top and now the weight is harder near the top. The muscle will have to work harder to accomplish a lift. The bands are primarily used for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, although they have been used for other lifts such as cleans and high pulls. The bands may be used with certain machines such as reverse banding on the leg press to take stress of the bottom which help protect the knees and makes the press feel more even. High percent banding is very helpful in developing more muscle mass as it dramatically increases the resistance throughout the movement and will require a very hard effort throughout the movement. High percent banding is especially good in the bench and squat, especially where higher reps are used. In these lifts, one will be able to achieve a heavier load on the muscles with the same amount of reps leading to increased muscle growth. The relatively lower base weight allows for the lifter do place more stress on mid to upper range of the movement and be able do more reps due to the light amount of resistance at the bottom. Lower percent banding involves a heavier base weight and is used to develop more strength and explosiveness. The lifter will have to explode the weight. This will develop explosive strength. This is the way powerlifters train for maximum lifts. Other athletes such as football players and wrestlers will train in a similar way. The lifter will have to explode the heavier base weight out of the bottom in order to gain enough momentum to push through the sticking point.
The bench press is definitely helped by the use of bands. The bands can be attached in one of several ways. If there is a bottom rail on the bench the bands are looped around the rail and then to the ends of the bar. If there is no bottom rail, then the bottom rail of a power rack will work. If all else fails one can loop the band around a 2 ½ plate then through the hole in a 45 plate or more to hold the bands down and either one 45 under the bench. There is also another method that involves a board with hardware to attach the bands to and 45's are placed on top to weight it down. When you are anchoring a band to a plate or rail, just lay the band under the rail or through the plate and insert the band through the loop on the opposite end of the band and pull tight. To do the workout best, I suggest working up to one set of regular benches first then going to the bands. Often one starts out with less bands and adds bands to get the right feel for the sets. Loop or choke the bands more for more top tension and add weight for more at the bottom. It is important to have proper form when using bands as getting out of the groove can be dangerous. It is important to have someone hand you the bar as it is hard to take from the racks. The bar is lowered carefully to the chest, briefly paused and pressed. Bouncing the bar with bands is highly dangerous. When doing high percent banding, sets of up to 10-12 reps may be done, while in low percent banding sets of 5 or less are done. There is always a small amount of tension from the bands at the bottom. Reverse banding is also done for the bench press and is good as it gives one the real feel of the bar at the top. Here, if one is planning a 250 lb bench press, a 250 barbell can be used and the bottom weight can be 175 while the top 250 and the lifter will get a real good feel for the weight. All grips can be done with banding, however, one must be careful not to overload with very wide or narrow grips.
The squat is worked in much the same way as the bench press. The bands are attached to the bottom of a power rack or around a 2 ½ plate and through a 45 or more and looped around the bar. When you are anchoring a band to a plate or rail, just lay the band under the rail or through the plate and insert the band through the loop on the opposite end of the band and pull tight. They are choked or more bands added to increase the top weight and more plates added to increase the bottom weight. High percent banding if done for higher reps in free squats , while lower percent banding is done with box squats. One thing that is important is that one needs to be really careful when backing out of the rack , especially with high percent banding. In addition it is best to have good spotters. When squatting with high percent banding, you will feel it in the quads more than regular squats. Squatting with high % banding is also safer on the knees and hips as there is less stress at the bottom. Box squatting with bands is one of the favorite exercises of powerlifters. One uses a low % banding , lowers down to a box which places the thighs below parallel, relaxes the hip flexors, then blasts up. This is done to improve the speed and explosiveness of the movement. This exercise is good for all athletes as well as powerlifters.
Banding is used for the deadlift also to improve the explosiveness off the floor. The bands can be attached to a band board that the lifter stands on catching the bar as it rises. A lifter can also set the band across the bar , stand on the bar and pull. In addition the deadlift can be worked by reverse banding in a power rack. This will give the lifter the true feeling of the weight at the top. The whole purpose of banding here is to make the weight heavier as it rises so the lifter will have to explode to get the bar moving.
Resistance or strength bands can be purchased from Jumpstretch, Westside Barbell, or Muscledriver USA. I got mine from Muscledriver USA which carries a lot of different items for lifting. The link to the bands is http://www.muscledriverusa.com/Strength-Bands_c_287.html
I would expect most beginners to get 3 pair of the reds and one pair of purples. When one reaches a 400 lb squat it will be time for the greens. The 3 pair reds and one pair purple will cost just under $100.00 but will be well worth it in gains to come as the bands will last several years. I highly recommend them for any serious trainee.
One note to this is that I’m 59 years old and have had knee pain. Squatting with only 225, but with over 100 plus pounds of banding, for sets of 10 has made my legs grow and my squat go up. The same goes for the bench where I use a 135 base weight and over 100 lbs banding. I’ve made gains for over 6 weeks straight and no sore joints which often slows down an older lifter. The high percent banding really helps. I’m in a phase one and when I hit phase two, I’ll up my base weight and lower the bands to get pure strength and a maximum lift.