Use Accommodating Resistance to Break Through Strength Plateaus

Have trouble locking out your bench press? Need to improve your squat speed? Here's how accommodating resistance can help.

Plateauing in the gym on key movements is common. It’s also really frustrating. At some point, your body adapts to the weight you’re using, and even a five-pound increase in weight can feel like a month away. With accommodating resistance, you can bust down these stubborn barriers surrounding you hitting new personal records (PRs) and greatly increase your power production.

In this article, we’ll cover the reasons you should start using accommodating resistance on key movements, such as barbell squats and barbell deadlifts

What is Accommodating Resistance? 

Accommodating resistance (AR) is when you make a movement difficult through its entire range of motion — typically with the use of resistance bands and chains. For example, a deadlift is heaviest at the bottom when the lifter is pulling static weight from the floor. Once the bar is in motion, the lifts, albeit still challenging, get a tad easier.

Man doing dips with chains
Andy Gin/Shutterstock

[Related: 4 Barbell Exercises You Should Try Adding Bands to]

That said, it’s common for powerlifters to loop a band around the center of a deadlift bar, stand on that band, and perform standard deadlifts. Everything about the movement is the same, except the increased tension from the bands now makes the exercise harder toward the top. Because the band is loose at the bottom, they offer no additional resistance. But as it gets taut throughout the lift, the band pulls the bar down. 

Most lifters think of AR as a way to bust through sticking points — particular portions of a lift that pose a problem  — but they offer a couple more benefits (which we touch on below). They make your work harder since you’re now lifting weights through a range of motion that is entirely challenging. You can do AR with lighter weights to make yourself more powerful and speedy, and, on the whole, it’ll progress your barbell training

Types of Accommodating Resistance

There are two types of methods for using accommodating resistance on exercises: resistance bands and chains. Below, we’ll cover the similarities and differences between the two. 

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are probably the most utilitarian of the two main options here. The more a band stretches, the more tension it provides, and this can work for you in a few ways.

If you have trouble with pull-ups, dips, and push-ups, you can loop a band above you to help pull your body weight. You can work these bodyweight movements with bands — slowly progressing from a heavy band to a medium band to a light band — before trying a pure bodyweight rep. 

Loop a band around band pegs or dumbbells on the floor, and you can apply downward tension to movements like the barbell overhead press, deadlift, bench press, and squat. As you lift the weight, those exercises typically get easier, but the band tension will now make this movement far harder. If you’re a lifter who struggles toward the top of barbell exercises, using bands this way will help you strengthen your speed and power.  

Then there’s the option to loop bands around the top of a power rack so you can pull heavier weight from the floor and lockout that increased load. Have trouble locking out weights? The ability to lock out more weight than you’re used to handling will build your ability. 

Resistance bands
Goolia Photography/Shutterstock

[Related: The Best Resistance Bands for Prehab, Home Gyms, and More]

Chains 

Chains are another option you can use to add resistance to your lifts. They feel more like additional free weights being added to a lift rather than resistance bands. Although the weight won’t accelerate on the eccentric portion of the lift with chains, they’ll add additional weight to your exercises, especially during the lifting phase, to help you break past strength plateaus. 

Related: The Best Lifting Chains for Beginners, Variety, Length, and More

Accommodating Resistance Benefits

Using accommodating resistance for additional resistance instead of adding more weight to a barbell will give your body benefits that just the use of free weights alone won’t provide. Below are the different benefits you’ll receive from adding accommodating resistance bands to exercises. 

Break Past Sticking Points

There are two common ways a lifter progresses their training — by adding more weight or adding more sets and reps (total volume). Everyone has a limit as to how much weight they can lift and for how many reps. As you get stronger, it gets harder to progress using weight and reps. Enter: AR.

Say you’ve finally benched 315 pounds. Your rep work will be in the high 200s, and you can’t fathom benching 315 for another single rep. Maybe you’re slow to get the bar off of your chest. Being slow off the chest is a sticking point, and it’s a common problem lifters face.

To fix this, you can bench press inside a power rack, loop a resistance band on the top of the rack, on both sides, and loop the other ends around each side of a barbell (inside the weight plates). The bands, which are extended from the start, will pull the barbell up but become less of a factor as the bar rises. So, you’ll get the most help at the start of the lift (where you need it in this hypothetical scenario) but none at the top. You’ll gain confidence benching that much weight and let your body acclimate to that particular load. When you’re ready, you can add a few more pounds — say, 325 pounds in total — to this band-assisted bench so you can get used to a new PR. 

Here’s another example: You have trouble locking out heavy deadlifts. In this instance, you have two options. Option A is to stand inside a band that is looped around the center of a deadlift bar. As you lift the bar, the band will stretch, making the lifter harder at the top. You’ll be lifting, say, 315 from the floor and then locking out around 355 pounds (depending on the size of the band you use).

Another option is to drape chains over the bar. At the start, the chains will merely be dead weight, but as you pull up, gravity will come into play, and you’ll be tugging on a whole lot more weight. 

[Related: The Ultimate Guide on How to Choose a Barbell]

More Muscle Activation

When you’re using free weights, you won’t always be able to stimulate your muscles throughout the entirety of the movement. For example, on barbell biceps curls, there’s no resistance at the top of the movement. However, with resistance bands, you’ll be keeping the stress on your muscles throughout the entire range of motion, which will result in bigger biceps and targeting parts of the biceps free weights can’t. This increases your muscle’s time under tension, and the longer your muscles are under resistance, the bigger and stronger they become. 

In fact, this 2011 study of collegiate athletes found that resistance band-trained athletes show slightly higher increases in power, torque, and one-rep maxes than when using free weights. (1)

Reduces Cheating

Accommodating resistance won’t allow you to use as much momentum and “cheat” per se on exercises as much as free weights will. For example, it’s much easier to sway your body on the bench press and use momentum to press the weight up than while performing the barbell bench press with accommodating resistance because of the continued resistance through the full rep. That means you’ll have better form, reduce your chances of injury, and target the muscle you’re trying to work. 

Bust Through Plateaus

If you’ve been struggling with big compound movements such as the barbell squat or barbell bench press, adding accommodating resistance to them can add a different force to the movement that you aren’t used to. This can help you hit new PRs and stimulate new muscle growth.

Oftentimes, people struggle with bodyweight exercises, too, like pull-ups. Well, if you’re not strong or light enough to lift your bodyweight yet or do the number of reps needed to build more muscle, then adding a resistance band to them can be a great aid to help you perform reps.  This study performed on D1 collegiate athletes showed that both the use of heavy resistance/slow movement and light resistance/fast movements accommodated resistance bands improve your maximal strength significantly. (2)

How Accommodating Resistance Improves Athlete’s Sticking Point

As mentioned above, the most significant benefit of AR for strength athletes is training through sticking points. Below, we’ll examine three ways how accommodating resistance can improve an athlete’s lockout, initial lift, and overall speed below. 

Improve Your Lockout

Many lifts require you to lockout at the top of the movement to complete the full rep of the lift. For example, in powerlifting and CrossFit, officials won’t count reps as complete unless you’re fully locked out on certain lifts, including the snatch, clean & press, and barbell bench press. And even if you aren’t a competitive athlete, locking out movements will increase your overall strength and build more muscle since you’ll be fully contracting your muscles through a full range of motion. 

Try it: Load a barbell with weight plates. To start, choose two chains of equal size and weigh them on a scale. You want 20 to 25% of your working deadlift to be in the form of chains. So, if you’re deadlifting 400 pounds, 80 to 100-pounds of that weight will be chains. To add the chains, the easiest option is to drape each chain one the inside of the barbell, halfway between your feet and the bar’s sleeve. At first, your deadlift will feel very easy. That’s because the chains sit on the floor, providing pretty much zero resistance. As you lift the bar, the lift will feel harder. That’s the point.

By using chains, you’re able to work with heavier weights at the lockout phase of your deadlift more consistently. 

[Related: The 8 Best Barbell Exercises for Mass, Strength, and Power]

Improve Your Initial Lift

Some lifts are more difficult at the start of the lift, such as barbell bench press. On these lifts, accommodating resistance can help you improve your initial lift so that eventually, you can use heavier weights if you’re struggling the most at the beginning of the movement. When you attach resistance bands to the barbell on the barbell bench press, the resistance bands will help spring the weight off your chest if that’s where you’re struggling, which is a sticking point for many lifters, even the most advanced. 

Try it: Set up a power rack so you can bench press within it. Then, loop a medium to heavy resistance band on each side of the top of the rack. Loop the other end inside the barbell, right up against where the sleeve meets the shaft. (You’ll need a buddy to hold the barbell in place until the weight is loaded. Then, load the barbell with about 10 percent more weight than your working set. Because the bands are taut from the start, they’ll immediately help pull the bar off of your chest, allowing you to acclimate to a heavier load. 

There are many variables involved in the reverse band bench press — the weight of the bands and the distance between the bar and the top of the rack are two notable ones. So, it’s hard to say for certain how much weight in relation to your working sets you should sub for band weight. Play around with it, and always have a spotter on hand if you load a bit too much weight on the bar.

[Related: Everything You Need to Know to Build Your First Workout Program]

Improve Your Overall Speed

If you want to produce more power, then you can perform compound lifts with band tension throughout the entire range of motion. You’ll need to load the bar with significantly fewer plates than you’re used to lifting, but the band tension will make the lift feel difficult the entire way through. And because you’re pressing, squatting, and deadlifting through constant tension, you’ll be able to produce more overall force when the constant tension is removed. 

Try it: Set up for back squats in a power rack. Anchor a band to the inside of the barbell, right up against where the shaft meets the sleeve, and then loop the other end of the band to the bottom of the power rack. (You can loop the band around the outside of the bar, too.) Repeat on the other side. Load the barbell with about 50 to 65% of your one-rep max, with 10 to 20% of the total load coming from bands. Now, perform standard back squats. 

[Related: 3 Steps to Rebuild Your Barbell Confidence]

Final Word

Accommodating resistance is a training modality that novice and experienced lifters can utilize to increase their strength and power. They’re perfect for adding additional resistance to compound movements via resistance bands or chains to break through sticking points and increase your force production, which athletes can especially benefit from. 

Reference

  1. Shoepe, T. C., Ramirez, D. A., Rovetti, R. J., Kohler, D. R., & Almstedt, H. C. (2011). The Effects of 24 weeks of Resistance Training with Simultaneous Elastic and Free Weight Loading on Muscular Performance of Novice Lifters. Journal of human kinetics, 29, 93–106. https://doi.org/10.2478/v10078-011-0043-8
  2. Rhea, Matthew & Kenn, Joseph & Dermody, Bryan. (2009). Alterations in Speed of Squat Movement and the Use of Accommodated Resistance Among College Athletes Training for Power. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 23. 2645-50. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b3e1b6. 

Featured image: Andy Gin/Shutterstock