T Nation

Bands and Free Weights

I’m a recreational lifter. I’ve been lifting weights for 3 years now. I want to start using bands with barbell weight to force me to lift more weight and also develop more explosiveness, but I have no idea where to start.

The thing that confuses me the most is what percentage of the weight should be bands. Does this change if I can lift a lot more? like say my 1RM for bench press is 135lbs. Do I use 100lbs free weight and 40lbs band? Or would you say that if my 1RM is only 135 (which it isn’t), that I shouldn’t be using bands? What if my 1RM was 225… would I use a larger band because I can lift more free weight? The numbers are just an example, I’m not entirely sure what my bench 1RM is as I haven’t tested it in a long time. I’m guessing around 200lbs, which definitely could be improved on.

Another thing I’m unsure of, is how often I should use bands. I have read that they can really tax the CNS so it may not be wise to use them consistently. Some go for 4-6 months of bands/chains then 4-6 months w/o, others seem to go like one on and one off.

Thanks for the help.

Based on what little information about you there is in your post, I’d say you don’t need bands or chains or anything like that yet. Stick to straight weight, aim to add weight to the bar or reps consistently and you’ll be fine.

Maybe when you’re benching over 1.5 times your bodyweight and squatting and pulling 2.75 times your bodyweight or more you’ll benefit from adding bands and stuff - and maybe you won’t. I’ve used bands and chains, when I was below those benchmarks. I’ve made better progress without them.

If you want to develop explosiveness, pause your bench and squat.

There’s some really good guidelines on elitefts for which bands to use when your maxes are at a particular level.

If those 3 years have actually been training and not just ‘working out’, I’d say your good to go with them.

Just don’t neglect straight weight work. And they are hard on the joints and ‘CNS’ if that’s even the right way to say it, granted people know what your talking about when you put it that way. I personally can’t go more than 3 weeks in a row with them without going back to straight weight or chains.

With straight weight, your body will naturally slow down the rep once your out of the bottom position with straight weights at the top of some movements. With the bands, you have to explode out of the bottom and keep applying force as you move the weight and much less slowing down is done.

If you have a sticking point at say the midpoint in bench, the bands can teach you to explode out of the bottom and keep on applying max force through the sticking point. This gives you more momentum to work with once you approach your sticking point and gives you a better shot at grinding it out.

They’ll also punish you more for getting out of your groove.

Don’t forget about reverse bands. I like them because it’s a way of handling supra maximal weight without getting burnt out. They actually pull the weight into the groove if your slightly off.

Bench is always a doubled red mini band. For squat and deadlift, bands should add 25% at the top. This is per my last coach.

That being said, if your bench max is really 200 lbs and you’re a regular-sized dude I’d have to agree with @MarkKO and say you’ve got considerable progress you can make with straight weight. I do all of my speed and heavy work with straight weight, and will consider adding bands when my lifts start to stall (which won’t be any time soon).

Oh… just noticed 200lb max bench.

If you’re average weight, that suggests to me that you haven’t been training those 3 years but you’ve been more ‘working out’ or you suffer from some sort of affliction that holds you back.

Yeah, if you’re close to average weight then forget about bands for now and hop on a tried and proven beginners program and stick with it for a minimum of many months.

edit: Something else I thought of is that you’re a woman? If you’re a guy, I don’t mean any offense but it’s not at all unreasonable for a woman to work up to a 200lb bench max in 3 years.

You could do some band Pull aparts, and some band Tricep Pushdowns.

The bands are great for exercises like that, lots of tension at the “end” of the move.


I’m a guy. 175lbs, 5’11". approx 20% bf.

Its fair to say I haven’t been “training” for 3 years… it took me a while to learn proper form, what exercises work, what don’t, etc. Also been recovering from a low back conditional called SI joint dysfunction, but that doesn’t explain my bench press.

I can deadlift 275lbs for reps. I do rack pulls above knee with 405. I used to not be able to do a single dip, now I can do 5 sets of 6 with 70lbs extra weight. Used to not be able to do pullups, now I can do sets of 8 (its an area I’m working on improving). So I am getting stronger but definitely have areas for improvement. I don’t bench often because I get a better chest workout with weighted dips, decline bench press, and reverse grip bench press. Also I don’t have a workout partner currently so there’s the death factor to consider.

I guess I could start using bands for deadlift accessory work, but perhaps you guys are right and I’m just not strong enough to add them into my workouts.

1 Like

Its not like they won’t work for you, you just may be better off saving them as a tool to use when the gains are harder to come by.


Do you have a power rack? You might be able to set up the safety pins so that they protect your neck, but let you touch your chest. You could even lift the bench up a little with plates to make the perfect fit.

You can also make up the difference of not being able to push your bench with some of those other exercises you mentioned.

I can’t help but question your dip numbers. I wonder if you’re using a full range of motion. Are the top of your shoulders making at least parallel with the top of your elbows? Full range of motion dips can help bench out a lot.

I have a self inflicted SI issue myself. It sucks. But I’ve learned to work around my issue. Yours may very well be much more severe, but if you wanna exchange notes on that one feel free to ask.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of programming your running and what your method of progression is.

Oh and one more thing. Welcome to T-nation! Best of luck with your goals.


Thanks for the help Fletch!

Yea, I have SI Joint Hypermobility. It really sucks but it has gotten a ton better than where it was. Actually, my SIJD pain has gone down by 90% or more (depending on the day), but my knees seem to be getting worse. Its interesting, I never had any kind of knee pain until I went through unbearable SI joint pain. I’m hoping that as I continue to strengthen my low back and hips, knee pain will go down.

Actually, back when I was at my worst, it hurt to do anything. I couldn’t even do strengthening exercises without being in the worst pain. I ended up getting Radio Frequency Ablation done to it and that bought be some time (about a year). I have been wanting to start lifting weights for a long time, but I never knew where to begin. Often I’d go to the gym, fiddle with machines, and leave 5 minutes later. One day my coworker was like “You’re going to the gym with me” and he showed me the ropes. I’m convinced, if he hadn’t gotten me in the gym I would be out of the military (I’m in the Air Force) now, as I was going through a med board at the time. So strengthening my low back and hips has helped tremendously. I used to not do deadlifts because I knew it’d trigger my pain, but now I can deadlift near 300lbs for reps. Yesterday I did several sets of 4 with 405 rack pulls, it felt so good.

Anyways, dips. I make extra sure to lock the shoulders down and back and I don’t have full range of motion. I go down until I feel a good stretch in the chest and elbows at or slightly below 90 degrees. Bad form benching hurt my left shoulder (which is mostly better now thanks to learning proper form, improving posture, and strengthening exercises) and I’m kinda afraid to do anything that could hurt it again.

I do have access to a power rack in the civilian gym I go to. If working out on base, they only have one and I’d feel like a dick if I didn’t let someone squat in it. I really need to start using it more. For me, there’s just something about how it feels to have heavy weight directly in front of me… even if in a power rack, I know I’m not pushing as much as I could. I mean, if doing a curl or deadlifting/rack pull, I can easily drop a failed rep. Its like the fear of death is holding me back on my bench, and thats probably why other chest exercises are going up.

Program. Originally, I did whatever my gym bro did. Half the time I didn’t even know what the exercises were called. For the past few months, I have been following a 6 day PPL program and it has been working out very well for me. I’ve put on noticeable muscle mass. The program was structured as such that I would pick 1-3 main exercises which I want to get stronger at. For push day it might be chest dips. Pull day could be rack pulls. Leg day, squats. etc. I’d do several sets with very heavy weight and low reps. Each workout, I would try to do more weight than the last workout, even if only slightly. afterwhich, I would do assistance exercises with lighter weight in 8-12 rep range.

As of last week I have changed my program. I now do 3 days heavy, 3 days light PPL. Thus far I like this better but it is too early to tell what the long term benefits are. Also, I have bought a workout log (from bb.com) and started tracking my workouts, something I have never done (I know, right?).

It might have taken some time, but it sounds like you’ve figured thing out. At least for now. I kind of know what you mean by SI pain affecting everything. For me, the 1st couple of weeks, it was feet on the bench bench press because using leg drive would irritate. And for lower, the best I could do was very strict front squat bb position split squats in the smith machine.

I don’t know if this is old news to you or not regarding your SI joint, but I saved a text file about what I did for mine because this subject pops up every once in a while and I know how bad it is. Between the pain and the ‘gimpedness’ in the gym, I even started to get some minor depression.

Anyway, here goes:

I’ve like tractioning. I’ll set up a band up high, loop it around my ankle, lie down with my leg at a 45 degree angle up and out and kind of wiggle my hip around until the SI pops back into place. I really only find it useful if it’s out of place, but it can still nag you while it’s where it should be just because of inflammation.

For long term SI health, I found using minamalist footwear like 5 fingers or the Adidas minimus to be very helpful. I was landing with too hard a heel strike to let it heal and this taught how not to.

Clamshells might help shuttle blood in there and teach proper movement.

I like really light and easy goblet squats and 1 leg stiff legged db deadlifts. You’re just trying to stretch things out and ingrain proper movement patters, maybe get a light pump sometimes but that’s not even necessary.

Be sure to stretch out your piriformis. Also get a soft ball and work it into your entire hip complex. Stretch and do soft tissue work on your hip flexors. Sometimes they pull on your hip in a way that irritates the SI.

For SI the stuff on this link: http://thelowback.com/...x.htm#exercises The manual correction will work if you use a band set anchored up high too, just be sure to get the angle right.

These vids helped me too. For us weightlifters, you’ll need to use a bit more than pressure from your hands. http://www.do-it-yourself-join

I do this after first warming up the area with general light exercises. When my SI clicks out of place and I’m having a lot of trouble popping it back into place I’ll cross friction by placing a broom into a corner and lean the tight ropy parts of my hip close to the SI into the round part of the broom and hold it gently moving it into there for a minute or so. I do this only if lax ball work and stretching and tractioning doesn’t fix the problem because it does cause a good bit of inflamation and soreness and tenderness. The premise is that you’re basically opening up tight tissue and reinflaming the area but having it inflamed where the SI should be so your body can build back the correct way. Followed by lying clams and very strict one leg db romanian deadlifts and bird dogs with a very slow tempo to make sure it’s in the right place after loosening things up. Do not take anti-inflammatories. You actually want it to keep your SI there while it heals.

Google ‘band man dave tate’ and you’ll see a couple of things for band tractioning for the lower back.

It sounds like you could get tons and tons of use out of some bands! Just not for exactly the use you thought of first.

Like Fletch mentioned, you can “stretch” and “traction” with the bands. Donnie Thompson is another guy with some videos/information about using the hands this way.

You can also use the bands as resistance for “Rehab” kind of exercises like Clam Shells(Glute exercise) Terminal Knee Extensions(like a step up, for the knee) hip hikes (for keeping the pelvis level). You could also do stuff like pull aparts, external shoulder rotations or face pulls against small bands to strengthen/correct that left shoulder.

You don’t necessarily need to Speed Bench, Westside style, but you could loop a band across the back of your shoulders, and do dumbbell presses against the band resistance.

I like to do rack pulls against doubled up bands, to add a bunch of tension at the top and kill my traps without blowing out my back.

You can also do neck work against bands, to thicken your neck, If you ever get so fat that you need to get taped instead of weighed in.

I do this drill all the time too.

I got The John Meadows (Mountain Dog) Band Pack from Elite Fitness Systems. Its a good, versatile mix of 4 different tensions.

1 Like

When adding things to a routine, you should have a concise reason for doing so; ie what, specifically, are you looking to accomplish by adding x.

Exampl:, I occasionally use chains for pressing exercises. I do this because my sport (strongman) allows push pressing and I have trouble locking out. Now, has it benefited me a ton? Hard to say, but that’s WHY I added them.

1 Like