The biggest drawback to resistance bands is after a certain point, they will not get you stronger. They only come so thick and stretch so far before they snap. Ever had a band break and smack you? Not pretty.
However, using them for accessory exercises is an excellent way to help improve your squat, bench and deadlift by working on weaknesses, particularly at the end ranges of movements.
The beauty of bands is that they don’t rely on gravity for resistance, so you can perform a variety of exercises at different angles and you can add them to a variety of dumbbell, kettlebell, and barbell exercises.
Using bands for accessory exercises is a great way to add variety to your routine and it gives your joints a break from the constant pounding of gravity and the barbell. Consider adding these banded accessory exercises to your routine for a stronger big three.
1. Deadlift accessories
Half Kneeling Split Stance Pallof Press
Two big factors for effective deadlifting are full body tension and hip mobility.
And performing this exercise before deadlifting will help “prime” your muscles (much like plyometric jumps before squatting) around the core to provide the tension needed to protect your spine while working on your hip mobility.(1)
The trick here is not to fatigue your core musculature before lifting heavy but to prime it. Doing 15- 20 seconds (or 8-12 reps) on each side before you lift is enough.
1A. Half kneeling split stance Pallof press 15 seconds each side
1B. Deadlift 3-5 reps
[Learn everything there is to know in our ultimate video guide to the Pallof press!]
Horizontal Band Resisted Deadlift
If you’ve been deadlifting for a while you’ve heard the terms ‘squeeze your armpits’ or ‘chest up” or ‘pull the slack out of the bar.’ All these terms activate the lats.
Lats play a huge role in the deadlift. Keeping them “tight” before and during the pull keeps the bar traveling on a straight path and the spine neutral, which is essential for a strong deadlift.
This exercise encourages a tight starting position, essentially forcing the lifter to pull slack out of the bar because if you don’t, the bar will get away from you.
Perform this accessory move on upper body or squat days, or replace your regular deadlifts if you’re having trouble keeping your lats tight.
Note: Loop the band around the middle of the bar before your put plates on.
1A. Band resisted deadlift 6-8 reps (use 70-80% 1 RM)
1B. Hamstring curl variation 8-12 reps
2. Squat Accessories
Band Around Knees Squat
Knees caving in excessively, known as knee valgus, during the squat is a common squat error and one the lifter can’t (usually) tell is happening. Enter the looped band around the knees to ‘feed the dysfunction’
This is what’s called reactive neuromuscular training or RNT.
RNT uses outside resistance to turn on an automatic response, which in this case is to push the knees out. RNT exercises improve stability, enhance motor-control skills and helps clean up faulty movement patterns by employing instinct as the body resist and reacts to the band.
If your knees are caving in during the banded squat, you’ll know. And another benefit is it will encourage the lifter to maintain full body tension in the hole. To further enhance this effect, use a 3 second pause because combining a pause with the band can help fix many technique issues.
This can be used as an accessory movement on leg day or your main squat movement if you’re having issues with knee valgus.
1A. Paused squat with band above knees (3 second pause) 6-8 reps
1B. Lateral band walk 15 reps each side.
[Learn more movements in our guide to preventing knee valgus.]
Band Around Waist Squat
If you’ve noticed a weight shift to one side during your squat, using RNT will also help fix this faulty pattern too by feeding the dysfunction. Some reasons for a weight shift in the squat are:
– Those with Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI) on any given side will block/impinge more quickly on that side and cause the shift as a form of compensation.
– Lack of kinesthetic awareness or unaware of your body’s position while squatting.
Either way, using RNT can help clean this up. This method is best used for any type of dumbbell/kettlebell squat as you can tie the looped band around squat rack.
1A. Goblet squat with band around waist 8-12 reps
1B. One arm resistance band row 12-15 reps on both sides
3. Bench Press Accessories
Dumbbell Bench Press with Bands
The resisted dumbbell bench band press allows you to challenge the range of motion where you and the band are strongest (when the band is stretched) to help build lockout strength.(2)
This variation increases shoulder stability and helps improve strength imbalances that can exist between arms. Ever favor one side over the other when pressing up a heavy barbell? This will help.
Do this as an accessory exercise on upper body days. Use dumbbells you can press for 12-15 reps or around 50% 1RM.
1A. Dumbbell bench press with bands 8-12 reps
1B. Band pull apart 12-15 reps
Band-Assisted Bench Press
If you’re having trouble at the bottom of the bench press this exercise is for you, which I learned from Travis Pollen.
When the band stretches as you lower the bar, it helps brings your arms back together and provides assistance off the chest because of the rebound effect of the stretched band.
Furthermore, while in the bottom position (when the bar is at the chest) the band is stretched and it assists the shoulders in horizontal abduction which can make the weight easier and may allow you to use more weight. (But don’t exceed your max without slowly increasing the weight.)
You can use this exercise in two ways:
– Use a load of 90% 1 RM and, with use of a spotter, go till technical failure
– Use a load of between 70-85% 1 RM to develop muscular endurance/hypertrophy
– Pairing this with a band exercise in a superset works well.
1A. Band assisted bench press
1B. Band bent over row 12-15 reps
Using bands for assistance, extra resistance, or to clean up faulty movements can be a great way to get stronger and keep you injury free longer. Using bands in your training will give a big bang for your exercise buck.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image via TENphoto/Shutterstock
- McBride JM, et al. The effect of heavy- vs. light-load jump squats on the development of strength, power, and speed. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):75-82.
- García-López D, et al. Free-Weight Augmentation With Elastic Bands Improves Bench Press Kinematics in Professional Rugby Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Sep;30(9):2493-9.