Are Power bands the new king of the (home) gym?
As a Strength & Conditioning coach the Power Band certainly isn’t an exciting ‘big-money-signing’. It makes the team, but plays mainly from the bench coming off for small tasks like rehab, some sprint training and (rarely) some fancy pants strength development. Aside from that it doesn’t make many coaches salivate.
Along came the COVID-19 lock down and all of a sudden the power band is the star player. Since quarantine began my consumption of The Strongest has increased and the power band has become my absolute essential for clients training from home. Power bands offer a highly versatile, inexpensive and portable training solution that can be used to develop a huge variety of physical facets.
Unsure about investing in some? In this blog, I’ll answer all your questions and hopefully you’ll work out if they suit your needs + my top tips on how to make the most of them.
Can the Power band build strength?
Before that question can be answered, you need to understand what your strength training age is i.e how long you’ve been consistently engaged with resistance training.
Your current strength:
If you are a beginner or just somebody who is trying to stay healthy during lockdown then congratulations power bands are for you. Do not take offence, but it is likely that your absolute strength levels are quite low and you will be receiving ‘noob gainz’ from everything you do. Please enjoy this time and I hope that it fuels your desire to keep going.
If you are an intermediate then you might feel a little frustrated. You’re probably shitting yourself about losing everything that you have achieved in the last 24-36 months.
Firstly, chill out. Unnecessary stress and hormones create an inhospitable environment for building muscle mass.
Secondly, as you progress in your training you will realise as long as you keep the plate spinning a little you can bounce back pretty quickly. A power band may not be able to pack assist in massive strength, but you can use it creatively to address weak areas and also accommodate other resistance tools. Please keep reading…
If you are an advanced lifter i.e somebody frequently squatting >2.5x bodyweight then realistically a power band isn’t going to touch the sides.
There is research comparing elastic resistance bands to conventional resistance-training equipment (barbells) which found that there was minimal difference in muscle activation - IF they were matched for resistance.
This is a big if as of course the results were similar if you were squatting or pulling against a similar resistance (Iversen, Mork, Vasseljen, Bergquist, & Fimland, 2017). Barbells have evolved because they provide an easy way to increase and measure load. In comparison, a power band with 200kg worth of resistance would be highly impractical and would look like a Dunlop car tyre.
If you are an advanced lifter you probably have invested in a good home set up or are spending your time hustling to build one.
Developing maximal strength (force) is a specific adaptation requiring you to overcome progressively higher forces in order to improve your neuromuscular connections. This can be done by lifting something heavy or by completing high force plyometrics (jumping). More on that in another article.
Whether a band provides a high enough force for you to increase your maximal strength depends on your training age. My mother might find a banded shoulder press exerting (at peak) 11kg of force enough of a stimulus to increase her strength. On the other hand, if you want to squat 200kg you need to lift weights that are close to 200kg. A band alone is not going to cut it.
Secondary Training Transfer
Power bands can provide a secondary training transfer to maximal strength. They can be used to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy), which is the corner stone for future strength development.
Hypertrophy refers to the increase in the muscle due to an increase in the muscle cell size. A larger muscle has more volume to produce a greater force. With this in mind, you should chuck out the old bro science that hypertrophy is only possible if you are doing 3 sets of 12-15. Your rep count is irrelevant. Working the muscle close to failure, to increase mechanical tension, is.
Also, power bands can be used to accommodate the other pieces of strength equipment that you have lying around. The home gym companies have sold out of all the good shit so you need to get in the loft/garage and find that dusty old set of York Dumbbells. Alone, they will not provide much of a stimulus, but if you attach them to your other kit and anchor it creatively you might be able to squeeze out a strength stimulus.
If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter then you will have to shift your goals and understand that it is unlikely that you are going to hit competition PB’s for now, but it is a time to build the foundations. With this in mind power bands should be in your toolkit.
How much resistance do the bands provide?
This depends on a variety of factors such as the type of material used, resting length, density, band width, rate of deformation and environmental factors (McMaster, Cronin, & McGuigan, 2010).
The standard categorisation for band tension goes from yellow (14mm) through to, red, blue, green and finishing on black (67mm). You may find that some manufacturers deviate from this just to make your life a little more challenging/make their shiny bands stand out.
Below is an adapted table produced by ‘Science for sport’ using data from the McMaster study which provides the average amount of tension(kg) at various band lengths.
Depending on the exercise and anthropometrics of an individual we can see that at full stretch the standard bands range from 11.5kgs right up to 57.2kg. Not an earth-shattering load, but combined with other weights or strategically set up, it can still be effective.
When bands are attached to another piece of resistance equipment it is classed as Variable Resistance Training’. As you can see from table 1, as the band stretches from 110cm deformation to 150cm it will produce approximately 4x the amount of resistance. This is important to remember as the band will perform differently to your conventional resistance equipment.
Which leads neatly onto my final thoughts…
How to get the most out of your Power Band?
- Anchor points: You don’t need to start drilling holes in walls to get the most out of your power bands, but you should be looking for safe points around the house to anchor them. This can include door frames, door handles, table legs or other humans (NB – avoid kids).
- Band Slack: If you are used to using a barbell, a movement will normally be difficult to begin with and become easier as you progress through it. This is due to biomechanical (moment arms) and physiological (muscle cross bridging) factors. This is reversed with the use of bands, as they move from slack to tight throughout the lift. This will affect your joint angle specific strength.
Don’t settle: If you are finding an exercise is extremely easy then don’t become complacent. Getting good gainz is going to be hard enough with limited equipment so look for ways to increase the intensity. Here are just a couple:
- Accommodate resistance – Mentioned already but use your band in conjunction with other pieces of equipment. e. Loop it through your kettlebell and stand on it to enhance your deadlifts.
- Single limb variation – Switching your bilateral strength exercises for unilateral every so often is only going to be a good thing. It increases muscular co-contraction and transfers fantastically to most sporting actions.
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Iversen, V. M., Mork, P. J., Vasseljen, O., Bergquist, R., & Fimland, M. S. (2017). Multiple-joint exercises using elastic resistance bands vs. conventional resistance-training equipment: A cross-over study. European Journal of Sport Science, 17(8), 973–982. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1337229
McMaster, D. T., Cronin, J., & McGuigan, M. R. (2010). Quantification of rubber and chain-based resistance modes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2056–2064. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181dc4200