Why bench press with bands?
Bands can enhance your training especially for developing speed and explosiveness. This article will provide more detail into the theory and applications of bench pressing with bands for more experienced lifters who are toying with the idea of implementing them in their training for the first time.
What is going on with these bands?
After being in the gym for quite a time and depending on where you do your exercise you might see some people bench pressing with bands. Especially if you are in a gym that has athletes on the conjugated method by Louie Simmons. The closer you are to a sport that involves strength and dynamic movement, the more likely it is that someone trains with bands. Good examples would be establishments specialized in rugby, football, and MMA training. Still, all of that training does not look like a lot. 10 sets by two or three repetitions? What is that all about? Apart from the fact that you are even more likely to bash your head in in case you fail a rep because the bands will do their dirty work to bring the weight down to your chest in no time.
Still, why would people who only have a limited amount of time in the day and want to get the most out of it to increase their performance go through the hassle of spending more time on the setup to do bench presses with bands and also more money on the equipment you need for this? You need resistance bands of several lengths and sizes, special rack systems to which you can attach the bands and also special training schedules to make the exercises work for you. There must be something that you overlook if these athletes, which most likely are stronger and faster than you spent all that extra time and money.
Strength curves and how they apply to bench pressing
To fully understand the benefit of adding bands to your bench press, you need to understand strength curves. Strength curves are mathematical models which represent how much force can be produced at specific joint angles. In laymen terms, a strength curve is the amount of force produced during a range of motion. There are exercises with ascending and descending strength curves. Where the squat has an ascending strength curve in which the exercise becomes easiest at the top of the movement a pull up has a descending strength curve as it is hardest at the highest point of the movement. That is why people like to to do quarter squats or pull ups without touching the bar with their chest because it is easier to perform only a part of the full motion.
The bench press has an ascending strength curve which means it becomes the easiest at the top range of the motion. Therefore you can move more weight in the upper third of the movement than in the middle and lower part. Once you get to a plateau that leaves you with the challenge that the bottom or middle part of the lift becomes your limiting factor. Translated in easier terms you would be able to bench press 150kg if you were not to touch your chest but only 130kg when you lower the weight to your chest fully. This is more likely applicable to more experienced lifters, as there is enough stress that these different phases of the lift actually become relevant. Here chains and bands come into play to manipulate the strength curve in your favor.
Why bench press with bands
Bench pressing with bands has, therefore, following benefits to your training depending on what your goals are:
The Speed of your bench press and force development will increase when you bench press with bands. The bands help to push through sticking points by increasing the load on the way up. Bands accommodate for the fact that you are the weakest at the lowest point of the bench press as they provide less resistance when there is less tension on them. The more tense they get the higher the load and therefore the load is the highest at the top point of the lift. This will help you to train with more speed and become more explosive.
Working around sticking points is another benefit of utilizing bands for your bench press. If you experience that some part of the press is sluggish, that millisecond more you need at that point of the lift to push through. Setting up bands will help you to push through those. Your natural reaction to the bands is to put more rather than less force into the barbell when you are pushing upwards. This helps with sticking points when you go back from the uneven to the even strength curve of the regular bench press.
Active recovery can also be a benefit of bench pressing with bands, especially when you work with very high loads. Experienced lifters might want to train most days of the week and also not longer to recover from their very heavy sessions due to the larger toll it takes on their bodies. Including bands on the recovery, days can help to spice up the routine and provide active recovery which is still challenging without taking too much of a toll on the body. Same can be achieved with chains. Chains are generally deemed less taxing than bands for the bench press due to the nature of the resistance they provide.
Bands can be a plateau buster when you are stuck on a certain one repetition maximum for quite a while. For this to work you have to combine bands together with some regular load to get to your current one repetition maximum. You should be able to perform the lift as the maximum load will only hit you at the top of the movement and not through the entire movement like back when you did your actual one repetition maximum. Once you got a feel for this start to experiment with bands and regular load to increase above and beyond your current one repetition maximum.
All in all, bands are a tool for experienced lifters to break through their limits by developing more speed and explosiveness. They can also be used to break through 1RM plateaus. Bands require knowledge around your own limits and mastery of the basic, regular bench press and are therefore not recommended for beginners who are not able to control the regular movement yet.
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