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All exercises using free weights and cables have a point within the range of motion (ROM) where the exercise is hardest and another point where the exercise is the easiest.
This means that although you may be moving through the full range of motion, you’re not effectively training throughout that ENTIRE range of motion.
Here’s how to add a band to get more out of staple, free-weight exercises by increasing the effective range of motion for true, full range strength. These exercises make the list because they’re super effective at increasing the effective range of motion so you can get better at the big basics.
1. Band Waist-Resisted RDL
This is the most familiar example of adding a band to enhance the benefits of an exercise. The deadlift and its variations maximally load the glutes more in the bottom range of the exercise. Adding the band around your waist allows you to load the portion of the ROM where you don’t get as much work – the top.
To make these more effective at hitting the top of the range of motion, place the band below your hip bones instead of around your waist. This prevents it from rolling up as you hinge, and it gives you more direct tension in-line with your glutes to drive your hips forward. This increases the demand on the glutes at the top.
Note that I’m using an NT Loop instead of a traditional latex band. These bands are far more comfortable and stable.
2. Band Single-Leg Thigh-Resisted RDL
This is the ultimate single-leg RDL for glute gains and performance. Take a split-stance and place the band around your front thigh to focus the resistance on one side at a time. You’ll feel it more at the top of each rep.
This single-leg version is actually better than the more common double-leg version. The split-stance gives you a great base of support to resist the pull of the band, which means you’ll be able to work against more band tension without being pulled off your feet. And that means a better training effect.
Plus, having the band wrapped high around your working thigh – your front leg – allows you to concentrate all of the band’s tension on the side you’re working. Plus, having the band placed somewhat in-line with your glutes is a lot more effective at training your glutes than when the band is placed around your waist.
See for yourself. You’ll feel the difference immediately, and you’ll never go back to placing the band around your waist.
3. Band Calf-Resisted Reverse Lunge
This is basically a combination of a reverse lunge and a terminal knee extension (TKE). The TKE is a common exercise for knee rehab patients who need to activate the quads. You place a band behind the knee then slightly bend and extend it against the band.
Placing the band behind the knee while doing a reverse lunge allows you to hit the quads harder at the top of each rep than without the band. Just make sure you place the band as high up on your calf as possible without causing it to roll up as you drop into the bottom of each rep.
4. Dumbbell One-Arm Row with Band Below Elbow
The best way to do banded dumbbell rows is with 1) the band anchored directly above the shoulder of your rowing arm when you’re in the bent-over position to begin the row, and 2) around the top of your forearm, just below your elbow.
This setup creates more mechanical tension at the bottom of the row where you’d normally allow your arm to just hang. Getting the bands on the right spot allows you to train through a greater range of motion.
It’s common to see people making the mistake of doing banded dumbbell rows with the band around their wrist or the band around the dumbbell handle, with the dumbbell anchored low.
This is a mistake because the top position of a banded row performed in this manner mimics that of the starting position of a low-cable triceps kickback, and all the band is going to do is either pull your elbow farther into flexion or increase the triceps demand to keep your elbow at 90-degrees. Not a great way to hit your lats.
It’s also a mistake because the low anchor point of the band creates UN-accommodating resistance to an exercise that already involves you losing a mechanical advantage as you pull the weight into you.
Placing the band just below your elbow will better fit your natural strength curve because it’ll give you a mechanical advantage on the band as you get closer to the top position.
5. Band Face-Away Biceps Curl with Dumbbell
Anchor the band at elbow height and do a face-away curl while holding a dumbbell. Make sure you keep your biceps by your side throughout each rep. Keep your elbow from moving in front of or behind your torso.
The band is set up to create tension at the bottom portion of the rep. This portion is what gets missed by the standard dumbbell curl, which creates the most tension on your biceps at the mid to top of the range of motion.
The nice thing about using the NT Loop band for this is its fabric design makes it easier to hold in your hand while you also grip the dumbbell. And, it also allows your forearm to travel between the band to keep a smooth, controlled range of motion. A different type of band will rub against your arm or flip around your arm and make each rep feel awkward.
Now, I’ve seen some people try to create this same effect by doing a preacher curl with a single dumbbell while also holding a band that’s anchored in-front of them.
Mechanically this setup makes sense because the band creates tension at the top of each curl where you don’t get tension from the preacher curl. However, I don’t recommend this setup because it’s an accident waiting to happen. It violates the number one rule of resistance band exercise safety: never pull a band toward your face.
Latex resistance bands pose a unique threat because they can strike you in the face, causing serious (possibly blinding) eye damage. A Google search results in hospital data providing a long list of eye injuries caused by resistance bands (1) along with numerous legal firms, safety commissions, and eye surgeons talking about serious face and eye injuries. Despite the overwhelming number of documented incidents, this reality is completely overlooked by the majority of lifters, trainers, and physiotherapists.
That said, you can get a more effective range of motion out of a curl when using a band anchored behind you. The face-away variation provides all the benefits and none of the risks you’d get from anchoring it in front of you. My version also doesn’t require the need for the additional preacher bench or incline bench.
Now, before you say “just don’t over-stretch the band” consider this:
The risk of a band snapping is further increased when you consider the way many gyms store their bands. It basically violates the storage and maintenance guidelines. The band you may be tempted to use in a risky manner has likely been abused beforehand.
If it’s been stored in heat or direct sunlight, kept in a cold environment, had knots tied in it, was cleaned with abrasive products, has been misused by other patrons, or if it’s just plain old, then it’s not super safe to use, let alone to pull toward your pretty face.
- Accidents, Exercise Equipment, 2010, Hospital-Data.com
- Resistance Band Safety, Culture of Safety, West Bend