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Training with Resistance Bands

In the first edition of my book "Goblin's Gym", I had resistance bands in the category "things you don't need yet". I did some experiments while away from the gym, and have developed more of a "rubber fetish". Try the challenging exercises and workouts listed below.

Disadvantages of resistance bands

Advantages of resistance bands

Safety - respect the power of rubber !

A slingshot uses a rather small rubber band to throw stones at dangerously high speed. Imagine the smack that a strong resistance band can give you when released abruptly, or when it breaks.

Buying bands

You can find resistance bands in sporting good stores, or from suppliers like Intelligent Strength (Austria / Germany / Switzerland), Elitefts (USA) or Serious Steel. If you are more adventurous and patient, you can find basic bands for less silver from vendors at Aliexpress. The best bands are made of multiple layers of natural latex.

I don't like the force curve of the bands from Decathlon - they don't get the Göblinfakta Labs seal of approval.

Typical band widths and colors:

The resistance of a band should be directly proportional to its width, at least when looking at bands from the same supplier. Combine bands to progress the load in small steps. Examples:

To start, I recommend a full set from yellow to green, with an extra red band added. Most bands are 41" / 104 cm long (measured when laid flat). For smaller people, shorter 32" bands would be an interesting addition (available e.g. at Serious Steel).

Accessories

While you can do a lot of exercises with just your body and bands, a few accessories can make your training more pleasant. I have something very interesting cooking in my workshop, but have to keep shtum on the details for now. Watch this space !

Cool resistance band tricks

Are you ready to join the Goblin Resistance ?

Flubberize your training ! I have selected a range of exercises for you, including some isometric holds. The exercises work for my size (168 cm / about 5'6"), and may need adjustment for shorter or taller trainees. Some exercises may seem unusual, please keep an open mind. Some of the exercises are a bit harder than what you usually see done with resistance bands.

Ratings: * meh... ** good *** must try !

Back

 
Bent-over row ** Double up the band. Pull towards your belly button. The force curve is not ideal, but it works. Isometrically hold the top position for a second before releasing.

Seated row ** to *** Double up the band. Same as above. This is a bit easier on the lower back than the bent-over row, as you don't have to support the weight of your torso. Isometrically hold the top position for a second before releasing.

One-arm row * to ** Double up the band. Lean on a bed or chair for support. Good tension at the top, but there is too little load in the stretched position for my taste.
Unilateral pull-down ** Hook the band to a high attachment point. Get down in a half kneeling position, turn a bit towards the line of pull.
Assisted pull-up / chin-up ** Attach a band to the chin-up bar, step in the band. The stronger the band, the more it will help reduce your weight on pull-ups or chin-ups.
Lat prayer ** Hook the band to a high attachment point. Pull down, keeping your arms straight. Option: Bend your hip at the top for a better lat stretch, and straighten it as you pull down.
Isometric pull-over *** Some people claim that the lats cannot work past 120 degree shoulder angle. Somebody must have forgotten to tell mine. This exercise will stress your lats in the stretched position for better growth.

No band needed. Lie down on your bed, hold the cross member behind / below your head, and try to pull it up with all your might for 20 to 30 seconds per set. I hold with the hands about shoulder width apart, but you can also try different positions. Also try lying down a little sideways, and do them one side at a time - better lat isolation this way.

Legs

 
X squat * to ** Use two bands - one band around your left shoulder to the right foot, the other band around your right shoulder to the left foot. Start in the squat position to step on the bands, then stand up. Be careful when you take off the bands so they don't slingshot your privates... Clench Fitness explains them well.

For me this movement does not give enough tension at the bottom position. I can stand up with an absurd amount of rubber (grey + orange band combined !), and my barbell squat really isn't impressive at all. It should get more interesting if you are taller than me, or use shorter bands.

Front squat * to ** I hate them (poor wrist and shoulder mobility), but maybe you are different ? Best done with a bar. Rocka.fit shows how they are done.
Zercher squat *** Double up the band. Stand on the band, get into a deep squat and place the band in the crook of your elbows. Hold your hands together. Brace and stand up. At the bottom, the band will not give so much resistance - towards the top, a lot. Since you don't have a barbell getting in the way, and don't have to worry about balance, you can get a very good ROM, and apply lots of violence.

The bands can be hard on the skin of your forearms. Use an EZ-curl bar to focus pain and suffering on your legs rather than your skin.

Single leg push ** Double up the band. Get your nekkid foot through both loops, hold the other end with a hand (easier) or the crook of your elbow (harder). Start with your leg bent, straighten your leg. Be mindful of your knees, as you get a bit of sideways loading. You consciously have to push out your knee to keep them from caving in. Be careful so the band won't slip off your foot and slap you.

Calf "raise" * to ** Double up the band. Get your nekkid foot through both loops, hold the other end with a hand (easier) or the crook of your elbow (harder). Place your other foot in front of the active foot as a backstop in case the band slips off your foot. Then let the tension of your band stretch your calf, and your calves stretch the band.

Zercher stiff-legged deadlift *** Double up the band. Stand on the band, hold the band in the crook of your elbows. Hold your hands together. Your knees should keep their angle, hinge at the hip and at the ankles. Keep your back straight !!! At the bottom you should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings, at the top you have to fight against the resistance of the band to straighten out. Always lower under control. Start with a lighter band than for Zercher squats, and don't be surprised if you get really sore hamstrings... Again, an EZ-curl bar lets you focus the pain on where it belongs.

Hamstring isometrics ** No band needed. See my book for exercise description.

Leg abduction ** Lie down, knees up to about right angle. Place a short band around the knees, spread your legs as far as they go.
Monster walk ** Place a short band around your knees. Crouch down a bit, semi-squat. Keep constant tension on the band, and walk sideways.
Leg adduction ** No band needed, isometric hold: Stand with your legs spread on a non-slip floor, let the adductors try to pull your feet together.
Hip flexors ** Lie down, one leg extended, the other bent up. Place the doubled-up band between the extended foot and the bent-up knee. Then either actively try to pull the knee toward your face (dynamic movement), or resist the tension from the other leg (isometric hold).
Tibia ** Lie down, extend one leg, pull the other knee towards you. The doubled-up band goes between the arch of the foot on the extended leg, to the instep of the other foot. Let the tibialis muscle try to stretch the band, or let it resist the pull from the other leg.

Chest

 
Loaded push-up * to ** You can make push-ups more challenging by holding a band in your hands, and looping it around your back. For my size, this does not work so well, not enough tension at the bottom position, only at the top. More interesting for people with longer arms and a wider torso.
Floor press * to ** Run the band behind your back, lie down, press up like a flat bench press. Like the loaded push-up, you get good tension when your arms are extended, but too little at the bottom.
High press-around *** Some people say that you cannot isolate the lower or upper chest. I say, bah humbug. Exhibit 1: Franco Columbu - one of the finest chests in bodybuilding history. Resistance bands let you focus the direction of force very precisely. Your body is smart and will activate the muscle fibers that pull in the right direction.

Loop the band behind your back, hold in both hands. One hand is extended forward / down, the other hand moves slightly upwards across your chest, until your upper chest is fully contracted. Adjust the tension by more or less extension of the inactive hand. Alternate sets with the left and right hand. Power should come from your chest and front delts, not your triceps. This is the most direct way to develop your upper chest fibers, once you find the right angle.

Low press-around *** Same as above, but your active hand moves down, until the lower chest is fully contracted. If you lock out your arm at the end, you can also nail your triceps at the same time.

Triceps

 
Triceps extension ** Lie down on your side. Hook one end of the band on a foot, the other end in your hand. Start with the arm fully bent, with your triceps fully stretched, hand near the base of your neck. Straighten your arm against the resistance of the band. You can vary the tension by extending your leg, or keeping it slightly bent.

Triceps pushdown ** Hook the band to a high attachment point. Push the band down and apart, squeeze your triceps at the bottom.

If you are big enough, you can loop the band behind your neck, and push down from there. For me, the active range of motion is too small.

Biceps

 
Biceps curls ** Lie down (or stand up), hold the band with both hands and loop it around your feet. Then do the usual curl motion. Try neutral grip (hammer curl), or underhand grip (regular curl). The bands tend to snap over when you hold them directly. For me, it feels better with an EZ curl bar.

Shoulders

 
High row *** Start with a similar position as the bent-over row, but pull up towards your upper chest / clavicle. This will stress your rear delts and upper back, and also train your lower back. If your spinal erectors already had enough fun for the day, support your head on the back of a sofa or a table, and focus on loading your upper back.

Band pullapart *** Hold a single strand of the band in your hands, arms extended in front of you. Start at a bit more than shoulder width. Pull the hands apart, this will stress your rear delts.

Overhead press *** Stand on the band with your feet, hold with both hands in overhand grip. Lift your hands to the starting position in front of your clavicle. Press your hands up until your arms are fully extended above you. If your shoulder mobility is good, your hands should end up vertically above your shoulder joints and midfoot.

Lateral raise ** Use a light band. Spread your legs apart. Hold the band with your right hand and left foot, then do the lateral raise motion.

Shrug ** Stand on the doubled band, pull up with your hands between your legs. Let your traps do the work, not your arms. Go heavy, and consider isometrically holding the top position...

Abs

 
Cable crunch ** Hook the band to a high attachment point. Hold the band in your hands near your shoulders. Get on your knees, crunch down with ab tension.

Exercise form and tempo

Proper exercise form and bracing is just as important with exercise bands as when you are training with weights. If you load your joints in weird directions, you will reap what you sow.

Training with resistance bands is different from training with weights:

  • Weights have inertia. To accelerate them, or slow them down, additional force is needed. Even the widest resistance band weighs less than 2 lbs / 1kg, so there is virtually no inertia, just the weight of your limbs. The peak force on explosive movements is limited by the resistance of the band.
  • When you bench press a dumbbell, you have to stabilize it to keep your forearm vertical. A band will always exert resistance in a predictable direction.
  • With a barbell or dumbbell, momentum can help you get past sticking points. No such luck with resistance bands - they will keep your muscles working along the entire ROM.
  • Weights should always be lowered under control. With resistance bands, you have the choice - you can lower slowly, and emphasize the eccentric movement (likely more growth, but also more soreness), or you can let the band pull you back rather quickly, just control the bottom end of the movement so you don't crash into the end position of your joints.

I like to move fast on the concentric, and control the eccentric. If I can reach the full ROM, no need to pause at the top. If I cannot reach the full ROM (e.g. on rowing exercises), then I try to hold the top position for about a second before lowering. This isometric contraction will make you stronger at your sticking point. If I can still do the full ROM at the end of the set, I increase the load.

Changing bands is quick, so you can start with a light band for the first set, go a bit harder on the second set, and finish up with the heaviest band that still allows for a reasonable range of motion.

Training program

I recommend an upper/lower split for short, focused workouts. Do one of these workouts per day. Each workout should take about 30 to 40 minutes. Don't do the lower body workout first thing in the morning - not a good idea to put heavy pressure on the spine at this time.

I do 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps, starting a new set every 45 to 75 seconds (EMOM style). Doing multiple sets should give you plenty of time under tension. Short rest periods may not be ideal for maximum strength, but your body will adapt to them. Some muscle fibers may still be fatigued when you start a new set, so others will get their turn to play.

Your core muscles get plenty of love from the heavy lower body exercises. You may not need much direct abdominal training with this program.

Workout addicts can try two-a-day training: upper body in the morning, lower body in the evening. Don't attempt this high frequency, high volume training unless your recovery and nutrition are on point. You could try doing two-a-days during the weekend, when you can get more rest. Listen to your body, and rest when needed.

Upper body

  • Isometric pull-overs (lats, chest, done in bed)
  • Bent-over or seated row (back)
  • (optional) Pull-ups, or unilateral pull-down
  • High press-around (upper chest)
  • Low press-around (lower chest, triceps)
  • Triceps isolation (triceps)
  • Biceps curl (biceps)

Lower body + shoulders

  • Zercher squat (quads, glutes)
  • (optional) single leg push (quads, glutes)
  • Calf raise (calves)
  • Stiff-legged deadlift (glutes, hamstrings)
  • (optional) Band pull-apart (rear delts)
  • High row (rear delts, upper back)
  • Overhead press (front and side delts, triceps)
  • Lateral raise (side delts)
  • (optional) shrugs (traps)
  • (optional) something for abdominals

Training programs by others

You will have to try what works best for you. There are very different styles.

Rocka.fit suggests going by set duration, with ample rest periods.

The X3 bar program by Dr. John Jaquish is based on a single set of 15 to 40 reps per exercise. Go to total fatigue, start with full ROM and reduce the ROM (and thus the load) as the set progresses.

The Harambe System program recommends 3 sets. First two sets, 10 reps each, as many reps as possible (max. 20) on the last set.


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