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Heavy Resistance Bands - Part 2

Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, as Dan addresses strength and power development using bands and the practical application of using heavy resistance bands for outdoor training sessions.

Strength and Power Development

Strength is defined as the ability to apply force and/or overcome large or heavy resistances to movement. Maximum strength is best developed by lifting heavy resistances for lower repetitions. When lifting heavy weights in traditional strength exercises (i.e., squat, deadlifts, bench presses, chin ups, etc), the movement speed can be quite slow, which is not ideal for power development with more experienced athletes (however, it may still work to enhance power in less experienced athletes though). But heavy weights and low reps in the basic exercises are best for maximal strength.

Power is defined as the work done per unit of time (strength x speed), and it is best developed by use of a broader range of resistances. However, there must be acceleration and high movement speed for power to be fully developed. “True” power training exercises are exercises that entail acceleration throughout the entire range of movement (eg. Olympic lifts, jump squats, throws, etc).

Therefore, there may appear to be a quandary between the development of strength and power. Strength entails heavy resistances, typically performed at slower speeds, whereas power entails acceleration throughout the range of movement and faster movement speeds.

This would seem to imply that training for strength and power are or can be quite separate in terms of programming exercises, resistances and lifting speeds for more experienced trainers. The use of bands can blur the distinction between strength and power training because of how they alter lifting speed and force throughout a lift, and accordingly they are a great vehicle for enhancing both qualities of strength and power when combined with the right barbell resistance. In fact, a recent study reported that band training with barbells was more effective than traditional barbell training in improving strength and power in experienced athletes.

Table 2 is a detailed and systematic approach to safely introducing bands into your strength and power training programs. It is based upon the premise that athletes need both strength and power, and most athletes neglect power training in favour of very general strength and muscle building training. By following this systematic approach, as well as using some band resistance (among other methods), you can revolutionize your clients’ training.

Table 2 - A systematic approach to using bands to enhance strength and power training. Determine the objective of the set and follow the basic guidelines.

For the safest and most efficient use of bands, employ them in the continuum of resistances as described above and as outlined in Table 1 (in Part 1 of this series), introducing them for max power training, progressing to explosive power training before using them in heavier strength work. For example, power training would be done on a different day to strength training, so that you would have two multiplied by two weeks of band usage in lighter power training (max power for two weeks, the explosive power for two weeks) to get used to the nuances of combined band and barbell resistance before you start using bands for heavy strength training. There may not appear to much difference between the higher explosive power intensities (e.g., total 80% 1RM) and the lower base strength (also 80% 1RM), but remember for explosive power, you would only perform two to three reps at that intensity (emphasizing speed of movement), but for strength work, it would be a more difficult proposition of five to six sets of five to six reps. Base and max strength work should precede any supra-max work, if indeed this is needed at all.

Basically, you can alter the barbell resistance or the band resistance (by changing band size or broadening the anchoring base) to achieve the different objectives. If you follow each “block” for two to three weeks initially, then your introduction to bands should be safe and seamless. After this, you can use bands as per your training requirements dictate. Sounds easy, right? Let us look at an example of how it can actually de done.

Heavy Squat Training 

I have included in Table 3 the last seven weeks of the strength day squat training cycle of a professional rugby league player, depicting the periodization of barbell and band resistance across that time. The power training day is not detailed but contained box squats with bands according to the explosive power recommendation in Table 2. Clearly, it can be seen that although the barbell resistance was moderate to heavy, the combined top resistance was extremely heavy (>90%1RM for 5 weeks). Note also that after three weeks, the band size changed from #3 to #2, but the barbell resistance was also increased accordingly such that the top resistance remained very high. As this top resistance is especially fatiguing, an inverse sets and reps method was also used (i.e., instead of 4 sets of 6 reps, 6 sets of 4 reps, etc). That allows the athlete to keep high lifting speed in the bottom portion of the movement, to allow improvements in both strength and power.

Table 3 - The progression of combined barbell and band resistance during heavy squat training for a professional rugby league player across the last seven weeks of a training cycle. The previous 1RM was 165 kg.

Assisted Band Training

While bands typically provide accommodating resistance throughout a range of movement, they can also be used in a reverse or assisted manner. The two main exercises they are used for in this manner are chin/pull ups and bench press. Figure ?? depicts the setup for assisted or reverse bench press in a power rack. A heavier than usual weight is used with the bands, assisting the movement off the chest, but the athlete has to lock out the weight without any band assistance. This is really an exercise used by competitive powerlifters, and most other people do not gain benefit from this method (over and above other bands methods).

However, band assisted chin/pull ups benefit everyone. Figure 11 shows an athlete with the band under his knee during chin ups. The band provides assistance in the lower portion of the lift. The amount of assistance can be easily regulated and monitored for progression and depends upon the band stretch (bent knee versus straight leg), the size of the band (#1, 2 or 3) or how many bands. So virtually every person is now capable of doing chin/pull ups without the trainer forced into providing manual assistance. The muscle development recommendations also contain a chin/pull up combination with bands that is quite difficult.

Figure 9

Figure 9 - Band assisted bench press in a power rack. The bands suspended above reduce the resistance in the bottom portion of the lift. This can be considered an advanced powerlifters exercise for using supra-maximal intensities (103-110% 1RM).

Muscle Development Training

Bands can obviously be added to any exercise to add resistance to the end range. When training for some muscle development exercises such as tricep exercises, this is great ~ a harder lock out enhances the recruitment of fibers and really pumps the muscle. Consequently bands can be adding to any exercise with a lockout via extension (elbow or knee extension) to enhance the difficulty of the end position, which really taxes some muscle fibers in a way they are not used to. Dumbbell bench press (band across the upper back and held in the hands with the dumbbell), shoulder press, all tricep exercises, all squat exercises and so on can be greatly enhanced in difficulty by the addition of some band resistance. The other benefit is that also takes the stress of the joints in the bottom position, something most hard trainers interested in muscle development will benefit from (eg. the elbow joint during tricep extensions can experience some pain in the bottom position with heavy weights).

But for other exercises, the lock out can be the weakest point in the movement, as the highest strength for those muscles of movements occurs in the middle. Curls and upright rows are classic examples. Does this negate the use of bands in these types of exercises? No and here is what I suggest for exercises like curls and upright rows and the like. Band drop sets. This is how to do them and why.

Band Drop Sets

Simply choke a band onto the upright row bar with a 12 to 16 RM resistance, stand on it to secure it to the floor (see Figure 10). Again, the base can be altered or broadened by anchoring with one foot or both feet and by the width stance when using both feet to regulate the amount of band tension. Start doing reps. The band resistance may mean that only five to six hard reps are possible till fatigue is reached, so quickly step off the band but continue to do reps. Now that band does not act or exert upon the bar, the resistance reverts back to weight only and another five to 10 reps should be possible.

Figure 10

Figure 10 - Upright row plus band drop set. Stand on the band for the first few reps til fatigue, then step off and continue with only barbell resistance.

Another method is to chin/pull up drop sets. Start without the band and do the required number of reps. Once fatigue hits, have the client put his knees or feet in a band and keep going. Again, this extended drop set is very difficult.

This procedure is super effective for muscle development training because it entails 1) high force for the first few reps; 2) high reps; 3) a prolonged “time under tension;” and 4) and not one but two “train to fatigue points” in the set. These four factors are the main stimulants or variables needed for muscle growth, and band drop sets let them all occur in the one set. This super effective method is quite fatiguing and is normally only utilized for one to two sets. While it is fantastic for upright rows and curls, it can also be done on most of the tricep lock out exercises as well (e.g., dumbell shoulder press using one band under each foot) if you set it up so there is a seamless transition between the combined weight and band resistance portion of the set and the weight only portion of the set.

There are a seemingly endless number of ways that bands can be used with weights to augment muscle development.

Figure 11

Figure 11 - Band assisted chin/pull-ups can used by advanced athletes for a drop set or by female or less strong or heavier clients to enable them to perform the exercise for an adequate number of reps.

Outdoor and Hotel Room Training Sessions

More and more trainers now use the outdoor exercise facilities that many parks now provide to train their clients. They can’t be lugging around heavy weights. Bands, some mats, maybe a few light dumbbells/kettlebells, a TRX/Jungle Gym and medicine balls are all they need. The one heavy resistance you always have is your own bodyweight. So combining some bodyweight exercises with some band resistance exercises can produce a great workout. Band assisted chin/pull ups, band assisted dips, band resisted push ups (for those who want to train heavier), band resisted squats, step ups or lunges are basic, super effective exercises that not only produce good muscle training but also a pronounced heart rate response when programmed in a certain manner. Combining these exercises with higher rep basic trunk exercises (e.g., sit ups, crunches, reverse crunch etc) and some band trunk exercises (e.g., band rotations, band kneeling crunch) will enhance the effect. Now throw in some exercises such as curls, seated rows and shoulder press that utilize the heavy resistance bands, and we have a great workout.

Trainers who have clients who travel extensively often report the difficulty their clients have in maintaining their exercise routine. Seeking out, travelling to and paying casual gym membership when travelling for business or when on holidays are quite a hassle that prevents many travellers from maintaining their routine. Again, these sorts of clients could benefit from a routine they can perform in their hotel room, using a mixture of bodyweight exercises (push ups, squats, lunges, trunk work, etc) and heavy band resistance exercises (band bent rows, seated rows, upright rows, curls, presses). To pack a pair of #1 and #2 bands requires minimal bag space and weight, and you will be taking your bodyweight with you anyhow! So a great 20 to 30 minute routine can be done anywhere, even when travelling.


While it is up to each trainer to determine workout content as appropriate for his clients, utilizing heavy resistance bands can add a new dimension to training. For those seeking strength and power development for sports purposes, for those seeking muscle development, be it for sports or aesthetic reasons or for those who train to improve health and fitness in a more holistic manner, bands can be utilized in some manner to help achieve these goals.


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