Workout Tips

Bring the Bands for a Bigger Bench

It’s not a training fad. Resistance bands can help you to eliminate sticking points and work your way to a greater 1RM.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES
The Ultimate Chest Exercise for Increased Size and Strength

Recently, resistance bands have starting popping up in gyms around the world like the leotards-and-spandex invasion of the 1980s. Should you jump on the bandwagon (zing) or should bands go the way of the Dodo bird, along with your hypercolor leotards? The truth is, bands offer a fantastic edge in building breakthrough strength and power and if you’re not using them, then you’re not using every tool in the toolbox in building your body.

Anecdotally, strong, muscular men are using bands and touting the results. But if you’re not a believer in “Bro Science” we can take a look at what laboratory science has to a say.

The Research

A recent study examined the effects of adding additional elastic bands to free weight barbells when professional rugby players and experienced recreational athletes bench pressed. The study examined the acceleration-deceleration and velocity profiles of the subjects’ bench press. Conditions were assessed bench pressing a loaded barbell and a barbell with additional band resistance. Both conditions were performed to volitional exhaustion with the equivalent of 85 percent of the subjects’ bench press one-rep max.

When elastic bands were added, they were 20 percent of the total resistance used.  Results indicate that when elastic bands were added to the barbell, subjects had a significantly longer acceleration phase. Results ranged from 13-35 percent greater acceleration. Maximal velocity additionally increased with additional band resistance.

Researchers concluded that barbell bench presses with additional band resistance seem to be more evenly distributed over the full range of motion, decreasing the need for dramatic deceleration as a lifter approaches lockout, which can completely stall a lift. In lay terms, using bands, subjects reached a faster top speed and increased speed longer. The faster you accelerate a barbell, the greater the odds are of by-passing potential sticking points.

This benefits athletes in sports like rugby that require high levels of strength and explosive power. A more explosive bench press is a stronger bench press! Greater bar speed under heavy load also means increased recruitment of growth-prone fast-twitch muscle fiber.