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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.
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.
The obvious way to build explosive bench pressing prowess is to bench press lighter weights with maximum speed and acceleration; this is called Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT), but this method does have limitations.
Bench Press: Phase 1, 2, & 3
In the bench press, as the barbell is pushed off the chest to lockout, I divide the upward movement into three phases.
Phase 1 – Initial Acceleration Phase
The weight is pushed from a paused position on the chest to maximum speed.
Phase 2 – Constant Speed Phase
The objective is to maintain the speed off the chest.
Phase 3 – Deceleration Phase
The weight slows toward lockout to avoid hyperextension of the joint. This sounds like a blessing but it’s a bench pressing curse – this safety mechanism acts way too early, especially in less-experienced lifters.
Phase 3 is the training limitation of explosive bench pressing. Phase 3 is shorter in duration with additional bands added to the barbell while Phases 1 and 2 are longer. This is a recipe to bench press bigger weights. Because bands teach you to accelerate longer and harder, they serve as a teaching tool to move straight barbells more explosively.
Bands complement the strength curve of a bench press. In other words, they allow the athlete to produce more force longer. Eccentrically, because of the overload, this enhances the elastic energy that will aid the lifter in pushing the weight back up forcefully. Physiologically, bands can help increase pressing power and neurologically inhibit potentially inhibitory forces.
The issue with partials that overload specific ranges of motion is simply the lack of transitional phases that all real core lifts have. The solution that makes the most sense is using bands. Bands allow you to still perform the full range of motion. Transitional phases are not eliminated, but sufficient overload is achieved because as leverage improves, resistance increases. You perform a full range of motion but get the benefits of partials.
Because of the accentuated negative portion of the bench press, this aids in you pushing the weight up faster. Bands cause an over speed effect on the negative, leading to more muscle damage (a good thing) that leads to size and strength gains but takes longer to recover from so I recommend doing a majority of your pressing with straight barbell weight.
With bands, keep sets under eight reps and do not use them for more than three weeks in a row. Keep band tension 10-25 percent of total loaded bar weight; using more changes the lift and effects transference.
Bands may seem like a colorful training gimmick – some sporty trend contrived by meatheads in chalk-laden gyms designed to get you to add more expensive gadgets to your gym bag. But the science speaks volumes. Bands and the type of resistance they offer can have a drastic impact on your ability to push max weight loads. The same principles can also be applied to your squat…you know, if you’re interested in building bigger legs to go with the new barrel chest you’ll be sporting.
More and more gyms are equipping their weight rooms with bands but if you need to grab a set of your own, check out www.elitefts.com.