In strength training, the body has what is known as the strength curve with different lifts. Basically, this shows that we are stronger at different points of a lift depending on lever lengths, leverages, position and joint angle. For different movements, maximal values of force output are obtained at different joint angles. The curve will vary depending on the movement and the phase of the movement. Something like a biceps curl will be a much simpler curve than a multi joint movement like a squat, which would have multiple changes.
Lets look at the bench press for example. People will generally be stronger at different points of the lift. You press the bar off of your chest and at some point during the upward phase, there is a sticking point, or minimax. This is the hardest point of the lift . Once you get past this point, the finish is usually easier. In Science and Practice of Strength Training, it is stated that "the heaviest weight that is lifted through a full range of motion cannot be greater than the strength at the weakest point." The problem with this is that the muscles and nervous system are not trained optimally throughout the entire lift. They are working harder or easier at various positions and at the end of the lift, the bar must be decelerated. So how do we fix this?
With the use of accommodating resistance, we are able to work hard throughout the entire lift and accelerate through the end range. This leads to more explosive and stronger individuals. Louie Simmons and a lot of the great lifters at Westside Barbell helped to educate many people all over about this wonderful training method. I have even read that training with bands was a secret used by the old Soviet Union.
With the use of bands and chains, this practice is made possible.
With bands, tension grows as the lift moves higher. Continuing with our bench press example, a pair of mini bands will generally add about 40 lbs of tension off of the chest and about 90 lbs at the top. So if you had 200lbs of straight weight on the bar, it would be 240lbs total at chest level and would constantly raise until it reached 290lbs of resistance at the top of the press. This ensures that we have an optimal challenge at both the weakest point (off the chest) and the strongest point (the very top at lockout). Thus, the strength curve is changed and instead of going up and down, it will continually raise. This teaches you to accelerate through the lift, develops the muscles and nervous system optimally and makes people explosive and brutally strong.
In the above example, bands are anchored under a rack or dumbbell and pulled up over the barbell. Bands can also be set up in a reverse manner. They can be anchored to the top of a rack and pulled down over the bar. Used this way, the bands stretch as the bar travels lower; thus, helping you off of your chest the most and providing less help as you press the bar. With this method, more straight weight can be used and the nervous system can be trained to handle heavier weights. The concept is the same as above in that the resistance grows as the bar is pressed to lockout. Both of these methods build very strong lockouts, develop explosiveness and great strength and get the body used to moving heavier resistance fast.
With chains, a few links of chain lay on the floor at the beginning of the lift. As the bar travels down, more and more chain is deloaded onto the floor. As you press back up, more and more chain comes off of the floor. So you might have 15lbs of chain off the chest and 40lbs of chain at lockout. As you can see, the concept is similar to the bands in that each point of the lift is challenged optimally as the resistance continually grows throughout the lift. Where the bands add tension as resistance, the chains add real weight. Both methods are brutally effective and have helped to develop some of the best lifters and athletes in the world.
Another added benefit of the bands is the fact that they cause one to lower the bar much faster than normal. This in turn causes one to come up much faster than normal, developing acceleration and speed strength.
Using accommodating resistance like this works great with squats, deadlifts and bench presses, but can also be used for an unlimited number of things. If you want to get brutally strong, fast and explosive, you are selling yourself short if you are not training with this method from time to time. I can use a specific example from my own lifting to support the effectiveness. In May of 08, I deadlifted 540lbs in a meet in about 4.5 seconds. After doing some speed and max effort work with bands and chains all that summer, I deadlifted 560 lbs that August in about 3 seconds. Athletes and strength coaches all over the world use this method and if you are not, you need to start.
Now that we know a little bit about the background of the use of this stuff, in the next post, we will discuss how to use them in a program.