Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to Incorporate Resistance Bands in Your Training

Resistance Bands are a common fitness tool found in almost every gym and quite probably in most of our homes.  In spite of the great prevalence and accessibility of this effective, lightweight and inexpensive tool, most people use bands in a limited way and only get a fraction of the benefits that they can offer.

Hammerhead Strength Equipment is excited to announce the addition of Adam Cristantello** to our team.  Adam is a well respected and well known local trainer and we are looking forward to sharing Adam's knowledge and experience with you on a variety of training topics to better equip you with knowledge and understanding of training principles that will help you reach your fitness goals.  Our upcoming blog/video series authored by Adam, will teach you the basics of Elastic Training (aka “Band training), and how to incorporate resistance bands in your training to get stronger, prevent injury, and achieve a variety of goals.

Characteristics of Elastic (Band) Training

In order to best apply resistance bands to your training we first have to start with a basic understanding of Elastic Training. Thankfully if you have ever used a rubber band you should have a pretty good grasp of how elastic training works. The greater stretch on the band, the greater the resistive force. While this is relatively simple to understand, just strapping bands to a bar and pumping out a quick set will only lead to limited success. Just like any other training tool, there are both benefits and limitations that need to be considered to optimize training adaptations.

Based on our understanding of how resistance bands work; as you move through the initial part of an exercise there is relatively little resistance, while the end range is exponentially more difficult. This makes it critical to have the correct band tension for you and the exercise. For example, the thinnest bands will go from 5 pounds of resistance to 35 pounds. This large jump in tension can make something that goes from ridiculously easy with perfect form to a train wreck that makes me cringe.

Part of the problem is that having the greatest resistance at the end of the motion works in opposition to muscle force/contraction properties. According to the Length-Tension Relationship, a muscle is able to create the most force when there are the most cross-bridge formations of actin and myosin.

These proteins connect to each other and pull the ends of the muscle fiber together (i.e., a concentric contraction). However, at the fully lengthened and fully shortened positions of a muscle contraction, there are fewer of these connections formed. Less connections means less pulling power and less force. This is not a big deal when the band is “loosest” at the beginning of a movement. It can be problematic at the end when the band has the most tension, and the muscle cannot produce as much force. This means that you may not be getting enough resistance/assistance in one weak area of the muscle or movement, and too much at the other. Ultimately this is the major limitation with band training, especially in the muscle isolation movements used for weak point training and injury prevention.

Some of you might be throwing up a BS card (like a dramatic European soccer official) because you are not always weakest in the end position of a movement. For instance, the strongest position of the squat is normally found at the top half (finishing hip and knee extension). In large compound movements, many active muscles groups, combined with different anatomical positions (better mechanical advantages), result in strong and weak points. This difference in force distributions throughout the movement explains why you can quarter squat more than a full squat. Another reason is the movement of the bar creates inertia to make the lift easier.

In the squat scenario, the elastic property of the bands is actually an advantage as it creates accommodating resistance and reduces bar inertia. Simply put, the bands add difficulty by increasing resistance to the strongest positions of the movement. This forces muscles to increase force output throughout the movement. Bands also force the nervous system, and often overlooked muscles, to work more to stabilize. These factors combine to increase the total work throughout the movement, resulting in more strength and power from greater neuromuscular muscle activation. Keep in mind this is a simple summary of the concept of accommodating resistance to get the point across. Like I said earlier, don’t just slap bands on something and hope for the best. It may work initially, but it is less than optimal and potentially dangerous. Just like anything else, to get the most out of a tool you need to understand the what, why, and how of its use. Hence these two concepts, the Length-Tension relationship and Accommodating Resistance, are important to understand to get the most out of band training. In case your eyes glazed over, just keep in mind these few points to optimize your bad-assery through band training.
  1. Isolation Movements, and movements that are weaker close to the end of the lift, will be more difficult to precisely match band tension (i.e. too much at the end, not enough at the beginning). Examples: Pull Ups, Curls, Band Pulls, etc.
  2. In movements that you are stronger at the end of the lift, use bands to accommodate resistance. Examples: Deadlift, Bench Press, Squat, etc.

Why You Should Use Resistance Bands for Training

It’s great that you know the concepts of how to use bands, but why should you use them in training? While I won’t deny the power the iron and some appropriate machines bring to the table, there are some really good reasons to use resbands. First of all they are one of the biggest bang for the buck pieces of equipment to have in your gym bag. They are stupid inexpensive compared to free weights and machines, let you do pretty much any exercise, or add challenge to many others. That means they are good no matter your training style or goal. CrossFit®, Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Endurance sports, Injury Prevention/Rehabilitation, back flips into hot lava*…yes all of them.  

If you noticed, I said this is a great piece of equipment to put IN your gym bag. While bands are great in the gym setting, not all of us want or can be in the gym all the time. Sometimes fitness means succeeding outside the gym, right? Right! Throw them in your suitcase and now you have a traveling gym to keep fit on the road. Going to Vegas? Now you can hit the town with a pre-night out pump! Stuck with the in-laws? Get some feel-good endorphins with a band workout to keep you from punching someone you are not supposed to…which most likely is everyone. While these are just some funny examples, hopefully you get the idea.

Four Reasons to Put Resistance Bands in Your Gym Bag
  1. Inexpensive: this might be the biggest bang for buck piece of exercise equipment you can own
  2. Multiple Exercises: No matter your training style, there is something that you can do with bands that will help you get results
  3. Portable: Easily fits in your luggage to keep you fit even while travelling
  4. Multiple Purposes: Strength/power building, injury prevention, speed, bodybuilding, and more!
Overall, resistance band training has a lot to add to your training at a very low cost. There are some limitations, but these can be minimized with a bit of experience and common sense. Now that the What and Why of band training have been established, we can start to focus on the practical application. The upcoming posts in the series will address how to incorporate bands in your training to: build strength, increase speed, prevent injury, and make your fitness portable.

*PS Don’t actually do a back flip into hot lava…I am pretty sure my insurance won’t cover me!

- Adam Cristantello

Browse our Resistance Band Selection Here - They Ship Free to the Continental US!

** “Tello” is a Strength Coach who is detail oriented, constantly challenges himself, and strives for excellence in all he does. He has over 11 years of Strength and Conditioning experience which include: Weightlifting, Olympic Weight Lifting, Non-competitive Body-Building, Yoga, Swimming, Rock Climbing, Running, Soccer, Parkour, Hockey, Gymnastics and Nutritional Coaching.  His comprehensive fitness approach is a more traditional strength and conditioning model, based on the goals/needs of the client. This model incorporates elements of strength training, kinesthetic analysis, psychology, injury prevention, and CrossFit methodology. Tello can help all athletes, from the beginner to elite, achieve their fitness goals.
Bachelors Degree in Sports Medicine from SUNY Brockport
Served Honorably as a Non Commissioned officer in the US Army (5 years total service)
USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach
CrossFit Level 1 Certified
CrossFit Olympic Lifting Certification
CrossFit Kettlebell Certification
2009 CrossFit Games Northeast Qualifier competitor

  • Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.
  • Picture 2: Length Tension
  • Picture 3: Soccer Official