Using bands to change the nature of the resistance during a bench press is something many powerlifters swear by, while others choose to go without. Some questions surrounding this practice remain unanswered, such as how sports experience impacts the effect of bands and the importance of deceleration at the top of the range of motion. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research addressed some of these questions.
A major difference between using a standard plate load and an elastic band is the change in load over time. At the bottom of the bench press, when the bar is near the chest, the bands will contribute much less force to the press than they do at the top of the movement. This is often thought to teach acceleration of the bar, which is an important factor in overcoming sticking points in a lifter’s range of motion.
In the new study, the bands amounted to about 21% of the total load. The group that did not use the bands benched 85% of their max, and on average so did the group using bands. However, since the distribution of force was not even for the group using the bands, the actual weight was less than 85% of their max at the bottom of the bench press and more than 85% at the top of the range of motion.
The researchers discovered that the bands did indeed create a condition in which the bar was accelerated for a longer portion of the range of motion than normal. The rate increased by about 35% in the participants who were rugby players and 17% in those who were recreationally trained. Maximal velocity, and thus power, was also shown to be 17% higher in the group that used bands.
The authors of the study hypothesized that part of the reason for the differences was a reduced need to decelerate the bar at the top in the group that used bands. It seemed that despite an increase in acceleration and speed when using bands, the increased tension at the top of the press reduced the need to slow the weight. The researchers noted this quality may give the bench press with bands greater sports applications.
One possible failing of this study has to do with the mechanics of the bench press, particularly regarding the change in load distribution. If you measured your bench press using just the top portion of the lift, you would find that you could lift more. This is because you are more mechanically advantaged at the top portion of a bench press. Notice this study was based around using 85% of one rep max. Since the participants using the bands were actually using a bar loaded with less than 85% of their one rep max, the improved kinematics the researchers noticed might have been just a result of this condition. Lighter weight relative to one rep max would also mean faster lifts.
Ultimately, when it comes to load it’s difficult to determine a true equivalency between a press with bands and one without. However, when they are similar on average, it seems as though acceleration and maximal power are indeed expressed to a greater degree through the use of bands.
1. David García-López, et. al., “Free-weight augmentation with elastic bands improves bench-press kinematics in professional rugby players,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000374
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.