Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Using Resistance Bands in Strength Training

Adam Cristantello, part of the coaching staff here at Hammerhead, gives his take on using resistance bands as a supplement to strength training:

In the previous post on incorporating resistance bands in training we covered the concepts used to get the most out of our band training. This post will get into the practical application, and more specifically the use of bands in strength training. 

My philosophy is that while resistance bands can increase strength (especially in the untrained), their limitations make them better suited to strengthen weak points/positions that impede heavier work. Yes you can pretty much do all the same exercises as weight training, but rubber will never truly replace weights. For example, doing triceps pushdowns is a great way to strengthen the lockout of the elbow in pressing, the snatch and the jerk. BUT doing some banded presses and triceps extension is unlikely to get you a 300 pound bench press.

Bands are more aptly suited to be the primary strength tool with instances you cannot use weights (i.e. traveling, deployment, before bodybuilding shows, intimidating your daughter’s boyfriend with a pump, etc.). They are also incredibly effective for auxiliary work in the group class settings such as CrossFit.


Here are some general rep ranges* to use when programming your band exercises:

Strength: 3 to 6 reps - Strength gains in this rep range are more from neurological adaptations than increases in muscle size (some increase in size will occur). 

Hypertrophy (Mass Building): 7 to 12 reps - Moderate strength gains due to increased muscular size.

Endurance: 12 + reps – Conditions the muscle to buffer acid accumulation that interferes with contractions.

* Due to the nature of resistance bands, strength work in the low rep range is usually impractical unless used with a loaded barbell. The other ranges are best when only using a band.


Example Auxiliary Strength Circuit:
Single Arm Pull Downs x 8 each side
Banded Hip Flexion x 8 each side
Side Plank x sub max hold each side
*Rest 60 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times

Now that you have an idea of how to program resistance bands into your training, it’s time to see what type of exercises you can do with them. Certain videos will include variations as well. This is by no way all-inclusive list, just a starting point with the some of the most effective exercises. The videos do not include the technical breakdown. If you are unfamiliar with the technique, seek out a qualified coach.

*Remember to change band or adjust band tension to get proper resistance.
Exercises for strength [videos coming soon]:

  • Pull Aparts: Great for building a strong base for bench, finishing overhead movement, and general scapular strength.
  • Good Mornings: Quick and dirty way to help build up the lower back endurance. Research shows that low back endurance, not maximal strength, is more important in maintaining back health. Use this to supplement your heavy Dead Lifts.
  • Triceps Extension: Builds triceps strength that is essential in all pressing movements, especially the lockout.
  • Bicep Curls: This exercise may not be the definition of functional strength, but it can help with building chin up and row strength/endurance (especially for women).
  • Pull Powns (variations included): One of the downsides of bands for assistance is that the bottom is the easiest. This is not only a way to build strength for pull ups, but also get stronger at the bottom.
  • Sprints: The resisted sprint helps with creating greater acceleration and force production when sprinting. Another variation having someone run behind you with the band to resist your run for a slightly longer distance.
  • Resisted Push Up: Slightly awkward, but a good addition to building a more explosive push up.
  • Straight Arm Pull Downs: One of the biggest weaknesses I see with people when it comes from pulling from the floor (DL, Cleans, Snatches, etc.) is limited Latissimus Dorsi Activation. This is a great way to build awareness, proper muscle activation (pull from the back not the arms), and keep you over the bar and maintain balance.
  • Row (Variations): Rows are a great way to balance your posterior torso with the anterior torso, and are an extremely functional movement.
  • Presses: Overhead presses are actually one of the better “strength” movements. Not because I think they will get you a 200lb press, but because they are pretty well loaded at the top and the balance effect has a huge neurological effect. 
  • Squat Variations:  Definitely cannot replace a bar, but this can still have use especially with traveling/air squats. The overhead variation is a great way to start to build some strength while perfecting the bottom position. Not having much load at the bottom, nor having to worry about a barbell can help build success.
  • Deadlift: Similar to squats, you just can’t replace the barbell. 
  • Back Extensions/Glute-Ham Raises: Adding weight is probably easier than using the band, but the band will force you to accelerate through hip-extension.
  • Sit-ups: This is a great way to overload and progress your sit ups. However, due to the injury potential of the sit up you may want to use this sparingly, or not at all if you have a history of back problems.
  • Leg Curls: This is best used as an auxiliary exercise or for injury prevention in athletes.
  • Baby Jumper: Who says you can’t be strong and goofy?!

In the next post in the series, I’ll give you some ideas on how to incorporate some of these exercises to specifically work on increasing strength for a pull up.

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