September 28, 2023 5 min read
USING BANDS with Shane Robert
Last week I shared a snapshot of my training. It included squats against bands. I want to spend some time this week discussing exactly what this means, since we had some confusion, why use them, and how to set the bands up.
For the uninitiated, squats against bands is not just using a band for resistance while squatting (or any lift). Rather, it is using a band attached to an external load, in this case a barbell loaded with weights. Any weight listed is the weight of the bar and plates. The attached bands add load, however it is hard to quantify how much load. The thickness of the band is the biggest factor in additional load, but you also have to take into account how the band stretches, which is influenced by how the band is set up.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about the benefits of bands.
BAND TRAINING BENEFITS
To understand the benefits of bands, you need to understand three important concepts:
In almost all free weight exercises, the bottom of the movement, where the muscles are under the greatest stretch, will be the most challenging. Anyone who has done squats knows that you can quarter squat with significantly more weight than you can through a full range (ROM). Without getting into too much detail, this is due to gaining a leverage advantage as you reach the top range of motion.
Which brings us to concept #2
COMPENSATORY ACCELERATION TRAINING
This is a concept that was popularized by the late Dr. Fred Hatfield, the first person to squat over 1000 pounds at a lighter weight class (242). It is a fancy way of saying don’t just lift the weight or even just move it quickly, rather “ACCELERATE the weight as you lift it.” The reason for this is the leverage gain that I alluded to earlier. Since you gain leverage as you go up in ROM, the force that your muscles need to generate to move the weight actually goes DOWN, resulting in lower recruitment of those muscle fibers (this is bad for building muscle and strength).
That is unless you start to move that weight faster.
Muscle recruitment exists on a force/velocity curve that states that there is an optimal velocity at which muscles can produce the maximum power (force x velocity). By compensating for this lower force with higher velocity, you keep muscle fiber recruitment optimized. You can’t just move the weight quickly, it needs to be your intention to accelerate the weight as you lift. Since you gain leverage with every inch you move up, you need to attempt to compensate for it by increasing the velocity, or accelerating, of the bar.
Here is where point #3 becomes useful.
There have been numerous attempts at creating accommodating or, as it is sometimes known, variable resistance devices - from lifting in shallow pools to the unique shell shaped cam of Nautilus Machines to bungee cords and chains - but bands have become a staple in this pursuit. Louie Simmons, the founder of Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, is often credited with popularizing the use of bands for accommodating resistance in the late 1980s and early 1990s after Lou and his lifters found great success with them.
Accommodating resistance involves altering the resistance throughout a range of motion to match the lifter's strength curve. Put simply it means you aim to add more resistance to the strongest portion of the lift. By doing this, you have NO CHOICE but to use compensatory acceleration because the resistance is literally increasing with each inch. Bands do this incredibly well because they are not just adding resistance, as a chain would, but are actively trying to pull you down at the same time, forcing you to try and move faster to reach the end of the ROM.
Due to all of these reasons, and more, the use of bands versus straight weight has been studied to show greater muscle activation in the muscles being used, greater power output, and greater improvements in peak force and peak power.
How exactly you set your bands up can vary significantly based on several factors, and each of those can alter the amount of resistance that the band is providing. Is the band slightly behind the bar? Is it slightly in front of the bar? Is it directly under the bar? Is it single or double looped? What part of the bar is it looped on? How much slack are you allowing for at the bottom? For these reasons, let’s end with things to consider for incorporating bands into your own training.
As much as there is solid science behind the WHY of using bands, the how is a little less black and white. To keep it simple, follow the rules below for your first few cycles:
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