Want to take your workouts up a notch? Add a resistance band or two. Love 'em.
Resistance Bands are really just enormous (and incredibly tough) rubber bands. Looped over the bar, handles, bench or your body; they'll help make the exercise more challenging at one extreme than the other.
Here's an example to show you what I mean. At the top of the pull (when the bands are stretched), the bar will feel significantly heavier than at the start of the lift, when the bands are slack.
The equipment is pretty simple. The bands come in couple of basic sizes, and a range of strengths. By 'strength' I mean the resistance at the top of the lift, when the band is at full stretch.
Although it's easy enough to buy them one at a time, I personally found it cheaper to buy a set. There are several available, and the ones are got are from Iron Woody - which are great - I use them daily. Never had a problem with them.
In addition to the cost savings is another benefit with buying a package - it enables you to test out different strengths in different exercises, and see which works best for you. Really though, you'll always use all the ones you have. You'll never 'outgrow' the bands of a particular strength, you'll just use them in different ways.
There are many ways to set up the bands, depending on how you plan to use them (a few common setups are listed below).
As you can see, the basic process is : fold the band in half, loop one end through the other, and pull tight. This allows you to connect the band to just about anything.
NB : in many cases, it's even easier than that - just loop it over a heavy object, and get to work.
Regarding hooks : they're great if available (if buying a new rack for example, that's definitely something to bear in mind), but certainly not essential. There are plenty of things to loop the bands around.
There are many, many ways to use the bands. Here are a few of my favourites :
Identification of Weaknesses and Their Correction
Knees caving in when you're squatting? Rick explains the problem and solution here : put a band around your legs at knee height, and perform a few light squats. Consciously stop the band from slipping down to the floor, by pushing your legs outward during the squat.
Bands are also ideal for tackling sticking points. You can set up the lift so that it's comparatively easy at the start, and difficult around the range of the sticking point; or the reverse.
As an example, here are a few sets of squats using The Lightened Method (band resistance is greatest at the bottom of the squat) :
Assisting With Exercises : Band-Assisted Chin-Ups
Haven't yet mastered the chin-up? No problem.
NB : this approach also works particularly well for dips.
Making Exercises More Challenging
Once you begin to experiment, you'll find a wealth of potential variations like this. No two workouts need ever be the same.
Warm-ups, Cooldowns and Light Sessions : Band Triceps Pushdown
This is a beautifully simple, multi-purpose exercise.
At the beginning or end of your workout (or as part of a 'feeder' session), loop the band around the top of a rack. Perform triceps pushdowns as normal.
Quick demo :
Training When Travelling : Band Pull-Apart
I love these things.
One of my early 'training when travelling' kits consisted solely of a fairly hefty resistance band (just the one). It can either be stretched apart in various ways (such as the Band Pull-Apart shown below), or looped around a heavy, stationary object for a number of cable-machine-like exercises.
Either way, it's great fun.
Stretching : Hamstrings
There's actually quite a bit of info (both online and offline) available on training with Resistance Bands, including :
Resistance Bands are incredibly versatile things, and I've been using them daily for almost 7 years now. Whether you plan to use them in the home gym, a commercial facility or on-the-road; you'll discover many, many ways to add them to your routines.
Now it's over to you - grab some bands, and let me know how you put them to work. Love 'em.
Incidentally, if you’d like to discuss any of the stuff above, come and join us on the Straight to the Bar Community over on Google+. Absolutely free.