How to Use Resistance Bands to Increase Strength, Power, and 1-RMs

One of the many ways strength athletes can increase their power and force production under the bar is with the use of resistance bands. Bands are an awesome modality to incorporate in programming when you find a lift lagging in various areas.

The areas of your lift that are lagging will influence how you can utilize resistance bands (accommodated resistance) to produce benefit. For this article, we’ll discuss three typical reasons to use bands for a lagging lift.

  • Sticking Point Issues
  • Eccentric/Concentric Control Work
  • Power Production

All of these points will have areas of overlap, because more often than not, when one of these is lagging, then the others are also contributing factors. This article will discuss why you can use resistance bands, what science suggests about bands, who should use them, how to use them, and where to find them.

Why Resistance Bands?

The utilization of resistance bands is often a go-to for coaches trying to improve their athlete’s movement velocity, strength, force production, and all around power output. Bands are great for adding an additional challenge in compound movements such as the squat, bench press, and sometimes deadlift. Can they be used for smaller lifts? Of course, but these are the big three you’ll often see them used for.

[Don’t know where to find resistance bands? Check out our review of four of the most commonly used resistance and pull-up bands!]

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A resistance band adds a level of resistance that normal weight can’t typically provide. The added resistance from the band increases tension through both the eccentric and concentric portion of lifts, but accentuates in the completion of the concentric portion of movements. This in return, will require athletes to recruit increased musculature/motor neurons normal weight may not facilitate.

Resistance Bands and Science

There’s been a fair amount of research performed on this topic. That makes sense when you consider the topic of power production being widely sought in all areas of athletics, not just strength sports.

Power production can be defined in many ways, but for the sake of brevity and this article, we’re going to address power production as multiple joints producing power together, or generating force.

In a 2011 study, 29 novice collegiate aged lifters (both female & male) were prescribed a 24-week training program, then assessed in muscular performance. These 29 lifters were split into three group, which included a control group, free weight group, and free weight plus resistance band group. The 24-week macrocycle was split into two 12-week mesocycles with a temporary stoppage for winter break.

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Subjects followed an undulated periodized program. Researchers followed the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) guidelines for strength and power development to adjust increased intensity. Their program varied in intensities ranging from 67-95% lifter’s 1-RM, with light, medium, and heavy days.

[Want to start self programming? Learn more about the Three Most Common Types of Periodization Programs!]

Resistance bands were kept to 20-35% of total resistance, which has been suggested as an optimal range for increasing power (too heavy may limit their benefit due to speed inhibition, too much overload). 1-RMs were increased accordingly by the 2×2 rule (if a subject could perform two or more reps of a prescribed load for two consecutive workouts, then load was increased for the following workout).

After testing on the 24th week, researchers documented that lifters who trained with free weights and free weights with resistance bands experienced increased power, torque, and 1-RM strength. The resistance band group had slightly higher results in all three disciplines.

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Alterations of squat speed with resistance bands can also improve force production. In 2009, researchers compared 48 D-I collegiate athletes who were split into three groups: heavy resistance/slow movements, lighter resistance/fast movements, and fast movements/accommodated resistance (use of bands).

These athletes followed a 12-week training intervention, which had them lift 2-3 days a week, and perform sprint/plyometric training 1-2 days a week. Intensities were adjusted to adhere to each group’s desired movement tempos, aka bands/weight were adjusted to accommodate the fast movements/accommodated resistance desired tempo.

Researchers found that both the heavy resistance/slow movement and fast movements/accommodated resistance groups improved maximal strength significantly. The heavy resistance/slow movement group found a slightly higher increase in strength. In terms of force production, the fast movements/accommodated resistance group saw the greatest increase of the three groups with an averaged 17% improvement.

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Keep in mind, like most strength & conditioning concepts, some research has suggested that resistance bands may not provide as much benefits as the two studies provided above.

Personally, I think these two studies did an exceptional job at providing a real life comparison for a lot of strength athletes. Yes, their study populations were small, but the programming and weights used seem to be similar to what a lot of strength athletes normally employ.

Who Should Use Resistance Bands?

The water gets a little murky in respect to this question. Why? There’s not a clear cut answer for when an athlete should use resistance bands. Different strength coaches will have their own philosophies and reasoning for when they employ this modality.

In a lot of cases, it’s generally agreed upon that novice (nearing elite status) – elite/experienced lifters are the ones who should be using resistance bands. From the research above, they suggest that true novice lifters should utilize a coach if they’re using bands. They recommend doing so for the lifter’s safety and form critique.

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Beginners are often advised to avoid using resistance bands. In short, beginners will still be developing movement mechanics, neural adaptations to strength training, and a muscular base, so bands can actually inhibit proper progress. A beginner should make an effort to avoid slowing the quick acquisition of muscle/strength, aka newbie gains, which bands could potentially get in the way of.

  • Beginner Lifters (0-1.5 years) – Not Recommended
  • Novice Lifters (1.5-3 years) – Used Sparingly/Correctly With a Coach
  • Experienced Lifters (>3+ years) – Recommended for Specific Adaptations

Three Reasons to Use Resistance Bands for Compound Lifts

This section will detail how I’ve used and seen other coaches utilize resistance bands for the three lagging adaptations listed above. Are these the only ways bands can be used? No, but these are a few of the main reasons. We’re not even diving into negatives (aka bands helping with free weight resistance).

1. Sticking Point Problems

Bands increase tension through the concentric portion of lifts, this makes them a great tool for improving a troubling sticking point. Let’s say your issue is coming out of the hole on the squat, or locking out on the bench press.

The use of bands will help recruit musculature regular weight may not be able to. Below is an example of how I’d recommend using bands to improve on sticking points. These recommendations can vary pending on athlete, lift performed (squat, bench, etc), and actual location of sticking point.

  • Intensity: 65-85% of 1-RM
  • Reps: 3-5
  • Tempo: 3-second eccentric, 1-2 second concentric
  • Banded Resistance: 15% – 35% resistance of weight used at lockout (if your max is a 315 lb bench, and you’re using 70% of that (205 lbs), then you’ll aim to utilize around 30% of your resistance from bands). This percentage can also be lessened if an athlete finds that equating their percentages to 100% is too much.
    • Static Holds: You can also do 1-3 second holds at numerous sticking points to help improve performance. For example, pausing 1-second just before lockout, then finishing the movement. I’d highly recommend using a coach or spotter if you plan to do holds in your banded training. 
  • Rest: 2-4 minutes

2. Eccentric and Concentric Control Work

The manipulation of tempos can be a great way to improve a compound’s strength. Resistance bands accentuate tension at the beginning of the eccentric portion (pull you down) and at the end of the concentric (resist you from locking out/standing up).

This makes bands a great tool for overloading specific portions of the lift. For example, I’ll utilize bands to help control my eccentric movement (slow down the tempo) during the bench, as it helps me absorb the weight/force better before I apply force (press).

  • Intensity: 60-85% of 1-RM
  • Reps: 4-8
  • Tempo: 4-6 second eccentric, 2-3 second concentric
  • Banded Resistance
    • Eccentric Work: 20-35% with 70-85% intensity. If your goal is eccentric specifically, then it can be beneficial to overload this movement. For this, I’d fully recommend having someone spot or a coach present, because as you fatigue moving the weight concentrically will become noticeably harder. Remember, the goal is to control your eccentric.
    • Concentric Work: 10-15% with 60-75% intensity. For concentric work, I’d recommend using a lighter resistance with bands, as your goal is the tempo, not the weight. A band will already help provide additional resistance, so you want a weight you can adhere to the tempo with to achieve concentric benefits.
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes

3. Power Production

The above two points will help improve power, but if you’re training for a sport specific power adaptation, then some of the heavier loading schemes may not be as beneficial (not all athletes will be the most experienced lifters).

[Working with athletes, or want to improve your power? Check out these 5 Plyometric Exercises to Develop More Power]

For this purpose, I’d manipulate banded resistance and training intensity to be lighter.

  • Intensity: 50-65% of 1-RM
  • Reps: 4-10 (pending on training goal and weight used, lighter weight/higher reps)
  • Tempo: 2-3 second eccentric, 1-2 second concentric (explosive)
  • Banded Resistance: 10-20%
  • Rest: 2-3 minutes

Duration of Banded Training

Banded training is a great way to increase power, muscular size, and strength, but it’s a method that should be used sparingly. Heavy resistance training is already very taxing on the central nervous system (CNS), and when you overload with bands, then you’ll be taxing/asking the CNS to perform at an even higher rate.

For this reason, banded training is usually recommended to be kept at a duration of one mesocycle, which could equate to 1-3 months (one training block), pending on your training goals. This timeline isn’t an end all be all, so if you’re programming for yourself, consider your previous training history, current goal, and body’s level of fatigue, as these will all contribute to the successful use of bands.

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Where to Find Resistance Bands

Resistance bands can be purchased from a variety of online merchants. Before purchasing (I’ve made this mistake), I’d recommend researching the company’s guidelines for how much tension a band will provide, not just looking at width and hoping it works. Pull-up bands can also be used as resistance bands.

If you’re interested in using this training modality, then check out our review of the four best (well-known) resistance bands. This could be a great starting place for your search.

In Closing

Resistance bands are a training modality that novice and experienced lifter can utilize to increase their strength, power, and force production. They should be used sparingly due to their taxing nature on the nervous system.

If you’re new to banded (accommodated resistance) training, then I’d highly recommend seeking out a coach, or a medium that provides in-depth descriptions to the training adaptation you desire.

Feature image screenshot from @sprintsandheavylifting Instagram page.