Resistance bands are one of the most versatile tools in the gym. There are 3 main uses for training with bands:
1.Providing accommodating resistance (makes barbell movements more effective).
Like chains, bands can be used to make certain barbell exercises more effective by providing ‘accommodating resistance.’
This means that the bands increase the load at what would otherwise be the easiest part of the lift (the band is stretched the most during the easy portion of the rep) and decrease the load at the hardest part of the lift (the band is stretched the least at the hardest portion of the lift).
This challenges you through the ENTIRE rep (unlike regular unbanded barbell movements where each rep gets easier as you approach the top), teaches you to accelerate through the whole movement and forces you to recruit more muscle fibres and larger motor units which is great for increasing gains in strength, power AND hypertrophy.
When training for power, it facilitates a better training response. if you don’t use bands on a bench press for example, you’ve got to slow down the bar as you near the top of the lift. This has a dampening effect on power development and expression.
Bands allow you to accelerate all the way through and not have to put as much effort into braking at end range. For best results when training power, do 1-3 reps only and focus on being FAST!
Bands work best for movements with an ‘ascending strength curve’ (exercises that get easier as you approach the top of the rep, such as the bench press, deadlift, squat and leg press).
Bands can also be great for hypertrophy as they increase the amount of time under tensions, create more cellular swelling, and as a result more micro-trauma to the muscle (this is an important part of stimulating growth. Just keep in mind that when using added band resistance, each rep essentially becomes two reps.
2. Providing assistance with bodyweight movements
Bands can also be used to provide assistance for people that haven’t yet acquired the strength to complete bodyweight movements.
As discussed above, this mechanism works best with movements that have an ASCENDING strength curve, such as dips and push-ups.
The band provides the most help where it is stretched the most (at the bottom of the dip or pushup) – which is the most challenging portion of each movement.
Bands are NOT suitable for as chin-ups, because chin-ups have a ‘descending strength curve’ (they get harder as you approach the top of each rep), which means the band is stretched the most and provides you with the most help during the easy portion of the lift (where you need it the least.)
Even though the band will help you clear your chin over the bar, the propulsion provided by the band causes your muscles to slack off during the first half of the rep, causing you to ‘de-train.’
To best improve your chin up, build a base level of strength with an assisted pull up or lat pull down, while developing eccentric strength on the lower phase of the chin up (we are stronger on the way down than what we are on the way up).
3. Improving mobility
Mobilising with resistance bands provides a more ‘bang for your buck’ effect than traditional stretching, because bands provide a ‘distraction’ for the joint (resets the joint into a good position.)
This is important, because what happens at the joint dictates what happens at the muscle. When you mobilise a joint into a good position, all the muscles turn on the way they’re supposed to and pain tends to disappear.
The band also allows you to hit different angles on the stretch that you otherwise may have struggled to achieve.