Resistance bands and strength training…”Those two things don’t go together” you might think. “Resistance bands are for older and injured people” is another statement you might hear. Or that it is only for toning your muscles but not for building actual strength. I used to think about bands in the same way before I implemented them in my training. I only got to find out then that all the prejudice against bands comes from not trying them and assuming that they are not effective.
If you think about it…we build muscle and strength through resistance on our muscles. When we can handle this resistance better over time and even increase the resistance we get stronger and usually also get more muscles. The most common way for doing this is creating resistance through weights. But like the sentence already states we create RESISTANCE through weights. The key word here is resistance. And we can create resistance also through different tools.
Bands are one of them and are a great alternative to weights. Weights and bands have both their own pros and cons, and we will discuss those further down, so bear with me. I trained on my fitness journey with a lot of big and very strong guy. And when I proposed training with bands, they all had the same prejudice…”C’mon lets train hard and don’t do this easy band stuff”. Boy I loved to see them struggle and shake all over the place once they tried it.
Bands are not easy. You can create enormous tension and with that resistance if you use them correctly. This is the beauty of fitness. There is no one way to do things right. There are different alternatives and you can use every different way of creating resistance to reach higher strength or building bigger muscles. Whatever your goal might be.
Principal Behind Building Strength With Resistance Bands
Rep Ranges For Strength
To understand how to build strength with bands we first have to understand how bands are different from weights and what benefits bands have compared to other forms of resistance training tools. To get a more detailed insight, check out our specific articles covering these topics right here.
Key to building strength is choosing a resistance which lets you perform 1-6 reps per set. If it comes to weight training you would determine your 1 rep max by trying or by calculating it and then choose a weight which is 80% to 90% of that 1 rep max.
With bands, it’s not that easy, due to the fact that bands don’t have a constant resistance like weights. Band have a linear variable resistance curve. This means the more you stretch a band the more resistance it will produce. We all have different bodies and this means different limb lengths and training with bands often means using your body as an anchor point.
In conclusion this means that the resistance of a band is higher for a person with longer limbs that for a person with shorter ones. It’s simple longer limbs will result in a higher stretch in the starting position and the distance to the finish position is greater than for a person with shorter limbs.
What all this means is that to determine your optimal resistance (the band you chose) for building strength (1-6 reps) you will have to do it by trial. So simply start with a band for a given exercise and try to do 6 reps. If you had more in the tank chose a stronger band or add a band and try it again. Once you found the band which will result in you only being able to do 6 reps or fewer, you found the right resistance band for building strength.
We have a whole section where we give an in-depth description for exercises you can do with bands. In there you can find the right way to execute a given exercise and also way of how you can manipulate the resistance. Make sure to check it out here.
Strength Curve Of Resistance Bands
Another benefit of bands for building strength is that they will provide a relative constant resistance throughout the range of motion (ROM) of an exercise. Let’s look at the deadlift as our example exercise and first take a look at the more common way of performing it. So basically with a barbell and weights. We load our barbell with 90 lbs (135 lbs total weight) and perform the deadlift. Due to gravity we will have a resistance of 135 lbs in every position of the range of motion. Basically 135 lbs at the bottom and 135 lbs at the top. That means free weights provide an absolute constant resistance through ROM. And this is a weak spot of weights.
When it comes to deadlifts our body is naturally weaker in the starting position (bottom position) than in the finish position (top position). This means that with weights we would be able to handle more weight in the top position. But have to choose a weight that we can handle in the bottom position to be able to perform the lift.
Bands eliminate that weakness. Due to linear variable resistance we achieve a relative constant resistance through ROM. This means the further we stand up in a deadlift the more resistance bands will have, since they will be stretched more. Basically it means that you will provide the right amount of resistance to overload the bottom of your DL, stretch the band the further you stand up and have enough resistance to overload the top part of the lift.
This principle can be applied to all exercises performed with bands.
Negatives And Exercise Speed
Another two ways to increase intensity and provide a great stimulus for building strength are performing negatives and play around with exercise speed. Negatives are a great way to overload. You simply “cheat” your way into the finish position of an exercise and slowly get back into the starting position. With this method you can use a greater resistance (stronger band), only perform the negative portion of the motion and shock your muscles with greater load they are used to.
Controlling your speed is generally a great tip to get out of your comfort zone. Try counting to 2 on the way up and again on the down. Or try pausing in the finish position for a count of 2. This will make an exercise so much harder in an instant and you will find that it is a very effective way to building strength!
The last tip is performing exercises unilateral. So basically one limb at a time. Instead of doing lat pull-downs with both hands and using heavy bands, grab a lighter band and do it with one arm at a time. You will find that you can control the movement much better, work on your weaker side and get those imbalances in check. Your wall or door will also thank you in the long run.
Pros vs. Cons Of Resistance Bands For Building Strength
To sum it up the pros and cons of using bands for building strength followed by an extra tip to using bands as a strength booster:
- You don’t need a gym and a lot of weights. You basically can perform the exercises anywhere.
- You don’t need a lot of equipment compared to weights.
- You can adjust the resistance mid set.
- Bands follow your natural strength curve better than free weights (relative constant resistance through ROM)
- Bands are way cheaper than a gym membership or a home gym.
- Band are very versatile. With one band you can simulate a variety of resistances depending on the stretch.
- Bands enforce better form and less cheating
- Bands are very humbling and will force you to work on your form.
- Free-range of movement
- Bands prevent you from using momentum.
- Harder to find band (or set of bands) which provide the right resistance.
- Depending on your level of strength you will need several bands to get the right amount of resistance for strength training.
- In starting positions the resistance might be relatively low and sometimes it is hard to get the right amount of pre-stretch needed.
Combining Bands And Weights
So far we discussed bands as an alternative tool to weights for providing resistance. But bands don’t have to be an alternative, weights and bands can also be used together. This will combine the pros and eliminate the cons of both training options. To get a better idea of how to use bands and weights together, check out our section which covers exactly that right here.
There you have it folks. Theory, basic concept, extra tips, pros and cons. The next step would be getting to it. Grab yourself a set of bands. Check out our exercise section and get those strength gains!