There are many, many tools that successful powerlifters and deadlifters use in order to help them build muscle and get through their training program. For this reason, you may have actually already run into someone that uses bands in their workout and absolutely loves them.
But the question we will aim to answer in this article is - are resistance bands actually useful for bench pressing?
The short answer is yes, they will. They can help you increase your force production, breakthrough your sticking points, as well as give you greater control of the barbell or dumbell.
The long answer, however, is that not everyone should use them - you might get either similar or even better results by trying other methods of improving your bench pressing experience. So without further ado, let us get into what a banded bench press is and who it is most helpful to.
The banded bench press is a very simple exercise to understand. All it is is a method of attaching a band to the barbell so you are able to get more resistance while you are pressing the weight into both the mid and the top end of the range of motion.
You will make your bench pressing exercises harder by adding a band to the mix since you will have to account for the added resistance of the band.
The original purpose of the banded bench press was to manipulate the “strength curve”. This simply refers to the gap between the force that you are required to produce to completely move the barbell versus the amount of force that you actually can produce. This means the amount of force that you need to use to produce the entire movement, not just the amount of force that you will use to bring the bar to the lock-out position.
By adding this form of resistance band training into your workout routine, you are accommodating the strength curve of the chest press. You are also accommodating resistance.
The way this happens is quite simple - by adding an extra level of resistance, you are required to use more force than you actually would use when you are doing the bench press.
This means that once you do the bench press without the band, there will be no gap. You will be able to complete the entire range of motion without straining yourself too hard because you have been doing it with the added level of resistance before.
There are three reasons that would make you want to use the banded bench press.
We will go into detail on each of them, but as a summary, the three main reasons are:
By adding this extra spin on the bench press, you are demonstrating that you are serious about this skill. With this added tool, you are essentially not allowed to be lazy, and you are not allowed to use only the minimum amount of upper body force that is required to finish the movement.
What usually happens when you are lifting weights is that you will accelerate off of your chest, level out through the mid-range, and finally lose momentum during the lock-out. This means that using the elastic bands will force you to drive the bar through the full range of motion, and it will help you accelerate in every phase of your lift.
This is a method called the “dynamic effort method” - it makes you produce maximum force at all times, even when you are training with lighter weights.
Here is an example of a protocol that increases force production:
A sticking point refers to the point in the exercise where you have the most trouble. You might, for example, have an issue with lock-out, meaning you have a sticking point at lock-out. This would indicate that you have weaker triceps since these are the muscles responsible for extending your arm during the bench press.
By adding a band to your bench press, you are overworking your muscles to an extent, meaning you will get over your sticking point easier and faster than if you were training without it. You will essentially be loading your triceps so that they become stronger and the entire movement becomes easier to do.
This is what using the banded bench press would look like when you use it to get through a sticking point:
The eccentric range of motion refers to the act of bringing the bar down. We have already discussed how adding a band to your workout will help you with your concentric range of motion and your lock-out (the movements you do when you push up the bar), so it is only fair that we discuss how adding a band can help you on the way back down to the starting position.
You will need a lot more control when bringing the bar back down towards your chest, as the band will be actively forcing the bar back down and you cannot let it just slam down on your chest.There have been many studies that show that you are able to produce twice more pec activation when you perform the movement of bringing the weights back down rather than when you are pressing it up.
When you are bringing the bar back down, you are working out your lats as well as your upper back much more than when you push the bar upwards. Using a band will help you work out these muscles ever further.
Here is an example of what adding a band to your bench press would do when practicing eccentric control:
There is significant proof that shows that the banded bench press actually does work.
A 2016 study done by Garcia-Lopez et al. showed that you can increase the acceleration of the barbell as well as its maximal power by 17 percent when you use a band when compared to groups that did not use them. This essentially shows that when you use a band in your bench press, you become better at driving the bar through the full range of motion for longer periods of time.
Another 2011 study done by Bellar et al. showed that the max strength also increased when using a band over a 13 week period. While both the banded group and the control group managed to increase strength (as is to be expected), the banded bench press group developed a more significant increase when compared to the control group.
While the banded bench press can be extremely useful if you are looking to increase your strength and control, it should really not be used by beginners.
For the purpose of this article, we are defining a beginner as somebody that has less than two years of experience doing strength training exercises.If you identify as a beginner (and there is absolutely no shame in that), then you would most likely benefit from simply benching more.
This could mean:
Everyone should always start with the conventional exercise and keep it going for long enough for you to be comfortable with the exercise and know how best to perform it. Only once you get to the point where you feel that you have absolutely mastered the movement, and feel that you need more, then should you consider adding a band.
We recommend that the banded bench press be promoted to intermediate or advanced lifter only, meaning anyone with more than two years of experience (where you bench press at least twice a week.
Another important bit of information is that you should also feel that you are able to tell which of the above three reasons (if not all) is the reason why you would like to try the banded bench press. Being fully aware of your body’s strengths and limitations is key when developing as a lifter and bodybuilder.
In the world of powerlifting, there is never absolute consensus over how things should be done. This is not surprising, as there are little things in this world that are completely universal. So we thought it would be best for us to leave you with two different accounts from top powerlifting coaches about whether or not they prefer to use the banded bench press.
We will start with Mike Tuchscherer, owner of Reactive Training Systems as well as coach of many World Champion Powerlifters. Mike says that he prefers to use the banded bench press to build up the tricep strength in heavier protocols, as well as increasing eccentric control.
On the other hand, Arian Khameshi, who is the head coach of USA Powerlifting, says he prefers not to use the banded bench press with his athletes. This is because he does not see a lockout weakness in his athletes, so he does not see any virtue in it. Additionally, most of Arian’s athletes tend to be beginners with which the banded bench press would be absolutely unnecessary.
There is always the possibility of your (or your gym) purchasing an advanced rig for setting up your banded bench press, but most of the time, you will end up having to set it up yourself. You also might only have the opportunity to do a home workout (in a home gym of some sort).
So, in order to do that, here is a step-by-step guide of what you need to do:
You might also be wondering about the kind of bands that you should be using for the exercise. The answer to this will obviously depend on the kind of results that you are looking for, and how advanced you are at the conventional kind of bench pressing.
Ideally, your bands should be between 0.5 to 1 inches, since any ticker and you will have to start taking away way too much weight. It will also make lock-out way too difficult, even if you do not currently struggle with the lock-out. We recommend that you get a set of exercise bands of different thickness so that you can move from easiest to hardest with time and practice.
The takeaway here is that, unless you are a beginner, you will definitely benefit from trying a resistance band chest workout.
You will increase your performance, get through your sticking points and improve your eccentric control when you use resistance bands.
You will also learn more about your body and your physical performance, which is just an added bonus that is beneficial for anybody, not even just professional powerlifters. So check some weightlifting videos out, and see if the banded bench press is for you.