Rubber bands have been used as a source of resistance in one shape or another for a long time. Rehab specialists have been utilizing this tool a lot in the past and now it's worked its way into the hardcore powerlifting crowd who use mega rubber bands that provide several hundred pounds of added resistance on top of the free-weight they're lifting.
This method–popularized by the Westside Barbell Club (the strongest gym in the world)–is now widespread throughout strength sports. More and more strength coaches are also using this tool in the training for their athletes. The efficacy of this type of training on power and limit strength is well established; however, is there a way to use that method to launch your bodybuilding progress in the stratosphere? Well if there wasn't I wouldn't be writing this article, would I?!
To understand what a combo of elastic and free-weight resistance can do to help you in your quest to look good nekkid, we must first understand what these bands are and exactly how they affect the resistance being lifted
What are resistance or strength bands?
If you walk into a sporting goods store, chances are that you'll find those cute little elastic tubing with handles. These are not the strength bands I'm talking about; they are best suited to children, rehab purposes and Richard Simmons followers. No, what I'm talking about are big continuous rubber bands that can be wrapped around a bar.
There are two companies making these resistance bands: Jumpstretch and Iron Woody. Each company makes several bands which, depending on their width, provide more or less resistance. Here's a comparison of the products available:
Both products are of equal quality. I have used both and liked them equally. Jumpstretch is the company that started it all, but Iron Woody seems to have better prices.
Benefits of the bands
Adjusted mechanical load
One problem with regular lifting is that the load doesn't change during the movement. This is because you're lifting an object (in this case a free-weight) of a constant mass. The problem with this is that this constant load will not place a maximal stimulation throughout the whole range of motion.
Let me explain: we all know that we're stronger in a quarter squat than in a half squat, and we're stronger in a half squat than in a full squat. This is nothing groundbreaking. But this means that the constant load will not provide the same impact during the whole range of motion. It will place the greatest overload in the initial portion of the lift because that's where the relative importance of the load compared to the strength at the specific joint angle is the largest.
If you're an athlete, this is an obvious problem because it deemphasizes the most important portion of the range of motion. And if you're training to gain muscle it's also a shortcoming of free-weight exercises since you're basically using about half the rep to stimulate muscle growth while the other half doesn't do much.
By using a combination of free-weight with additional band resistance at the same time, you can overload the whole range of motion since the bands will increase resistance as they're stretched (toward the finishing portion of the movement), while the free-weight places the greatest overload in the initial portion. Thus the whole movement becomes effective at stimulating muscle growth!
Magnified eccentric loading
Another good thing that comes from using bands is the accentuated eccentric stress they provide. You see, the bands don't just add resistance at various portions of the lift. They're actually trying to throw the bar down to the ground! Thus they try to increase eccentric acceleration. By trying to lower the weight slowly against that additional eccentric stress, you place a tremendous growth stimulus on your muscle since the eccentric portion of the movement is what causes much of the growth to occur. What we mean is that the greatest the eccentric loading is, the greater the growth will be!
Ways of using the strength bands
When using the bands in conjunction with free weights, it can become difficult to imagine how to place the bands on certain exercises. For example, for a squat it's easy: you loop one end of the bands on the bar and the other end around the base of the power rack or around two big hex dumbbells. But what about barbell curls and dumbbell triceps extensions, for example?
To make this simple we will first describe the "basic band positions". By understanding these BBP you'll be able to easily figure out how to perform any specific exercise you like.
- Position 1 – Bar and object: This is our squat example; one end is looped around the bar and the other end on an object (heavy hex dumbbell or power rack) close to or on the floor.
- Position 2 – Around the back: To take this position you pass the band behind your back (scapular height) and grab one end of the band with each arm. This position can also be taken lying down to perform exercises such as lying triceps extensions and bench presses.
- Position 3 – Stumping: You once again grab one end of the band with each hand. This time the middle portion of the band lies on the floor and you stand on it. This position can be used for standing curls, upright rows, front deltoid raises, bent over laterals and side lateral raises.
From these three basic positions you can do a wide variety of combo exercises.
|Bar and object
|Back squat, front squat, split squat, bench press (flat, incline and decline)
|Around the back
|Dumbbell flies (flat, incline, decline), dumbbell bench press (flat, incline, decline), lying triceps extension (barbell or dumbbell), bench press (flat, incline, decline), push ups
|Standing curl, upright rowing, front raises (all with a barbell or dumbbells), lateral raises, bent over raises, bent over rowing (barbell or dumbbells)
The Jettison technique
If you want to gain a lot of muscle real fast you can try this simple training technique. It can be used with any exercises performed from positions 2 and 3, although it's much easier with position no.3 (Stumping).
Each set has three phases:
- a combo phase where free-weight and bands both provide resistance
- a free-weight phase where the bands are removed leaving only the bar/dumbbell
- a band phase where you only use the bands as a source of resistance
There is obviously no rest interval between each phase; no more than 5-10 seconds are allowed to make the necessary adjustments. You want to work to muscle failure (or close to it) for each of these three phases.
Bands as a stand-alone
Resistance bands can also be used alone, without any additional free-weight resistance. This is interesting if you go on a trip and won't have access to a proper gym for a few days/weeks. Again, any exercise from position 2 and 3 can be performed with the bands only. You can also perform various rowing motions by attaching (or wrapping around) a band to a solid anchor in front of you. You can even do seated leg curls by sitting down on a bench or chair. Standing triceps extensions can also be done by attaching the band above you.
By being creative, you can come up with a lot of various exercises to perform!
- For maximum hypertrophy keep the reps between 6 and 10 reps while using a bar weight of 65-75%.
- To reap maximum benefit from hypertrophy band training you should use a slow eccentric tempo (lowering the bar in 4-6 seconds) and try to lift the resistance as fast as possible.
- Because of the high degree of eccentric stress from this method, the volume of training for each muscle group should be slightly lower than with your regular training.
- Only use this combo method for, at most, 4-6 weeks in a row as it's very stressful on the body and nervous system.
- Because of the high trauma this approach inflicts on the muscle fibers, a proper post-workout shake like Surge is an absolute must if you want to progress at an optimum rate.
By applying the techniques presented in this article you'll be able to spark new muscle growth at an amazing pace and you'll rediscover the meaning of being sore! So give them a try and see for yourself how fast you can progress!