Strength Training 101: How to Use Resistance Bands for Quick Gains

Strength Training 101: How to Use Resistance Bands for Quick Gains

July 06, 2017 1 Comment

Technique is everything when you're strength training. Without it, you can kiss goodbye any chance of being a muscle-bound Adonis. But, what does "technique" mean exactly?

You might think to have "technique" means just having proper posture during your workout is enough. However, there is more to it than just that. Your technique involves everything down to the equipment used and how it's used to create a better workout to take your intermediate workout to the next level.

As you stumble into the gym, you'll notice the intense bodybuilders and heavy lifters improve their technique using chains. But, as an Average Joe, this may seem too intense for you, so you'll want to improvise a substitute for those 100 + pound chains.

Resistance bands come as a shocking surprise for most, as being one of the easiest ways to increase your fitness levels and technique. Before you eyeroll about the idea and give up reading, let's consider the positive effects of resistance bands.

Transforming Your Workout Technique with Resistance Bands

It's easy to overlook resistance bands as a possible solution for increasing your gains quicker during each workout. Being a forerunner fitness item used in most beginner-level workout videos and programs, it's often left people thinking it's not suitable when you get to an intermediate level. However, resistance bands can be an addition to your daily workout in the gym that pushes you to a more advanced level of training.

Sure, it's unlikely that these fitness bands work well enough on their own to increase your fitness. Though, attaching resistance bands to a machine or barbell can add as much as 150-pounds of resistance to it, which can and will increase the intensity of your workout. Compared to lugging around chains, resistance bands give you something light that packs a huge punch in your workout.

Using Resistance Bands for Ascending Strength Exercises

Most people use fitness bands and chains to help intensify any exercise that promotes an ascending strength curve. But, what does this mean to you if you're not overflowing with bulking knowledge?

Essentially, you can breakdown exercises into three specific strength curves: ascending, bell-shaped and descending. Each one differs based on the point of stress put on the muscles during each rep.

  • Ascending Strength Curve - Any workout that feels easier and less tense on your muscles when you reach full extension, you consider it an ascending strength curve. Often, you might associate these with workouts like the leg press, squat or even bench press. When you complete the movement in full extension, you put less strain on your muscles.
  • Parabolic/bar-shaped/concave Strength Curve - Infusing both ascending and descending strength curves, this strength curve offers you relief during both full extension and full flexion. You'll begin the workout using minimal tension, use most of your muscle during the middle of the rep and decrease as you finish to the other endpoint. Arm curls are a popular example of a concave strength curve.
  • Descending Strength Curve - Any exercise that requires more tension during full flexions, such as leg curls, are considered descending strength curves. Unlike ascending strength curve, which decreases tension throughout the range of motion, the descending curve increases the tension throughout the workout, until you finish the rep.

The Startup: Beginning Your Workout with Resistance Bands

Transitioning from weighted-only workouts to weight-and-resistance workouts takes some practice for beginners. It might seem customary to continue lifting the same amount of weights when you first start with the resistance bands. However, this leads to a very dangerous practice of hurting and straining yourself, causing irreparable damage to your muscles and bones.

Although basically giant rubber bands, don't let these small, weightless options deceive you. They add resistance to your workout and help remove the ease of full extension during your ascending strength curve workouts. So, it's recommended to start with the resistance bands with no weights first.

Practice with the resistance bands to get a better feel for them first. After you do one set, determine how much tension the bands added and the amount of weight you can handle during each set. Start off with a lower weight first, then slowly build your way up until you reach an ideal weight class that works for you.

Keep in mind that your resistance bands need to be balanced equally on both sides. If the band adds more tension on one side, it will cause an uneven workout. Eventually, one muscle can grow significantly larger than the other side if you're not keeping the resistance balanced on both ends.

Also, remember to keep enough slack on the band during the bottom portion of your movement. Failure to do so could lead to the straps falling off your weight machine or barbell during mid-set, leaving you frustrated and without full results.

Opt for single-banded resistance bands instead of ones that have two handles. These are also more likely to fall off during the bottom movement of your exercise, whereas a single resistance band looks and works like a huge rubber band.

Here are a few exercises involving an ascending strength curve that can increase your results while using a resistance band.

1. Leg Press

During a leg press, you'll need to have two fitness bands on you since one won't always fit the full length. Tie together two resistance bands, centering it behind the seat. Take each strap and connect them to the closest side of the plate rack. Shorter individuals may find the lower plate rack better, while those taller may need the upper plate rack pegs to attach the bands. Trying out the leg press with just the band will help you determine which one helps add the most tension to your workout.

2. Bench Press with Barbell

On the bottom of your bench press, you'll notice a little bar underneath it that curves. Use this to hold one portion of the band and bring the other end to the end of the barbell. Use another and do it on the other side of the barbell (remember, equal distribution matters).

As you move upward to full extension, you'll feel the added resistance that helps pump your muscles even more. As you work your way down to full flexion, the bands should still add some slack to the bar to keep them securely on the barbell.

3. Deadlift

Put the loops of your two bands on the inside of the weights for the deadlift. This will help secure the bands onto the bar without it constantly falling off since there is no way to add slack during the end movement of the deadlift. Find an anchor point that's low on the ground to attach both sides (usually two small poles near the bottom of the deadlift). For added tension, stand on any platform box.

4. Squat

This exercise involves uses dumbbells, a squat rack or kettlebells as an anchor point. If you have a squat rack, attach the ends of each band to an anchor point and then place the other ends on the bar before putting the weighted plates on. If you're freestyling your squats, run the end of the band around the dumbbell or kettlebell handle. Next, you take the other end and run it through the loop to fully attach and secure the handles. Take the free end and wrap it around the bar before the plates. This will fully secure it during the entire motion.

5. Shoulder Press

Attach one end of each resistance band to an anchor point (usually a bar below the seat). Attach the other ends to the bar and add weight as needed, keeping the bands on the inside of the bar.

Where to Get the Best Resistance Bands?

Some exercises require you to have two of these bands so you have added resistance on both ends of the bar. It's important to not use one because you could risk snapping it, which may cause more harm than good to your results. Remember to use the same band resistance on both sides to avoid overworking your muscles.

If you're just beginning, try with two 20-to-35lb bands, progressing to 50lbs, 80lbs and then 120lbs. Remember that two 35-pound resistance bands add 70 pounds of weight to the exercise. Likewise, two 120-pound bands equal to 240 added pounds of weight. So, it's best to start off on the smaller end and slowly increase the resistance strength as you become more accustomed to the workout.

1 Response

Tony Brady
Tony Brady

November 11, 2018

It would have been nice if you had recommended a set of bands and, perhaps, showed how to attach them to a home bench or power rack. There are a lot of bands on the market but many may only be suitable for Pilates and not for bodybuilding or power-lifting.

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