Make new gains in size and strength using accommodating resistance. Add bands to these time-tested exercises.
When you think of building a strong, muscular physique, bands aren’t the first thing to come to mind. You naturally think of free weights and machines. But there are shortcomings.
On any given free weight or machine exercise, you’re limited by the level of strength you can produce in the least mechanically advantageous portion of the lift. For example, think about how much force your chest can produce from the bottom position of a bench press. Another shortcoming occurs in some exercises once you pass the sticking point and the strength curve drops off dramatically. For example, when you pass the midrange of a bicep curl, the last 25 percent of the rep is fairly easy.
This is where bands and accommodating resistance enhance your training. Bands allow you to make a lift harder or easier in certain ranges of motion and manipulate the force/velocity curve.
Here are ten upper-body exercises for strength and hypertrophy:
The stable Smith machine allows you to exert maximum force. Add bands to stimulate your upper pecs in a way you’ve never felt before.
The bands pull the weight down from the top and force you to fight/resist on the eccentric or negative portion of the lift. On the concentric or lifting portion, you’ll feel increased tension past the sticking point, forcing you to contract your muscles as you complete each rep.
For a smoother feel, loop the bands on first, then add plates. You’ll know the bar is in the correct position if it’s touching the area between the bottom of your clavicle and top of your sternum.
You have a couple of loading options: use strong bands with moderately heavy plates, or use light bands with heavier plates on the bar. This can be set up for various goals and set/rep schemes. Use this exercise as a primary lift and push it to failure.
This one also allows for a high level of mechanical tension and effort with a high level of stability. The band setup is the same as the incline bench variation except for seat position and bar height.
Set up the seat so the bar clears your face on the way down. Pay attention to your elbow position; your forearms should run directly in line with the bar path. You’ll know you’re in the right position if your elbows are directly under the bar with straight wrists.
Use this variation as a primary movement for a designated shoulder day. Go with heavy plate loading and light-to-moderate band tension. Or use it as an accessory movement on a push/pull day with lighter plate loading and moderate-to-heavy band loading.
The band’s accommodating resistance curve makes for a much better contraction at the top of the lift. More importantly, the positioning of the bands forces you to pull up and back simultaneously, which auto-corrects a common form mistake.
Most people pull the dumbbells straight up, causing the traps to shrug (you’ll feel it in the neck). The directional pull of the bands encourages you to pull up and back, hitting more mid-trap and lats.
To set up, attach two separate bands to an anchor point. Then set up a bench far enough in front of the anchor so that when you loop the bands around the dumbbells, you have constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. The bands should be directly in line with the dumbbells so the line of pull is straight up and back.
Use this one as a primary or accessory exercise on any push/pull session or designated back day. Try different combos of band resistance and dumbbell weight for various set/rep schemes and goals.
Attach a band to the back of a Smith machine. Set the bar to an appropriate height. The higher the bar, the easier the row will be. Loop the band over your body and adjust it so it’s over your chest and snugly under your armpits.
Pull yourself to the bar. The bottom of your chest should touch it at the peak of the concentric. Turn your elbows in with the intention of breaking the bar in half to create rotational torque in the shoulders. As you see in the video, after a few reps I walk my feet down a few steps to increase the difficulty.
Program this exercise as a finisher on either a designated back day or push/pull day. Moderate band tension with higher reps is best.
The accommodating resistance makes the curl hardest at the top, where it normally loses a significant amount of tension.
To do it, just loop a band around something in front of you. Loop the other end directly in the middle of the EZ-curl bar. Take a few steps back to get tension in the band from the bottom position. Keep the shoulders back, core braced, and elbows tight to the body while curling. Fight the band as it pulls the bar down.
Use this one as your primary biceps exercise. For an insane arm pump, complete as many reps as possible with the band, take the band off, and immediately do a set to failure.
This exercise accomplishes two goals. First, the constant tension of the band gives you peak tension at the top of the movement, which normally dissipates when the elbows lock out. Second, the backward pull from the band teaches you how to effectively use your lats to stabilize the shoulders.
Attach a band to something sturdy, loop it around the center of the EZ-curl bar (or barbell), and lay on the floor. Pull the bar just behind your head with lats engaged – think about squeezing a tennis ball under your arms. From here, press the bar straight to the ceiling. Try to press UP, not forward.
Maintain rigidity by keeping your back slightly arched, core flexed, and heels driven into the ground. Come to a dead stop at the bottom and create full body tension before initiating the next rep.
Use it as a primary triceps movement on an arm day or an accessory movement on a chest/triceps workout.
Use a band instead of a rope attachment. This variation is humbling if the weight is too heavy or your form and cadence are subpar.
Using the band forces you to move with control on both the concentric and eccentric. Push down too fast or lose control of the weight on the way back up and the band will start bouncing around, throwing the whole movement off. But with proper execution, you’ll feel those triceps in a whole new way, especially at the bottom of the concentric, where you can pull the band apart more than a rope.
Use this exercise as an accessory on any arm day, chest/triceps workout, or just to fit in some extra triceps work. Use a medium-to-heavy band; a light band may not be able to sustain the load from the machine.
With the ability to maintain and increase tension throughout the range of motion, the band variation beats the dumbbell variation.
Attach a band to a low apparatus with a bench in front of it. Ensure the band aligns with the arm you’re pushing with. You may have to adjust the bench slightly when switching arms.
Pull your elbow up, lock the shoulder blade of the side you’re pushing with, and extend the arm fully, holding the peak concentric for one second. Fight the band on the negative.
Use this one as either a primer or a finisher on any day you’re training triceps. As a primer, it really warms up your elbows. As a finisher, it’s great for high-rep pump work.
Try this if you have trouble feeling your traps work with regular exercises. The increasing tension of the band as you raise your traps makes a big difference.
To set up, loop a band around each side of the trap bar so you can step on it in the middle. Shrug the bar up, hold and pause for one second, and slowly lower your traps back down. Add plates as needed.
Loop a light band under your feet and around your wrists. Keep your elbows slightly bent with your shoulders back. Raise your arms with the intention of pushing the dumbbells away from you, forming what looks like a big U with your arms.
Control the motion with the intention of pulling your arms back down to your side and repeat without swinging your body. Use a light band and a dumbbell slightly lighter than you’d normally use.
Try a drop set, too. At failure or close to it, drop the band and go to failure again with just the dumbbells.
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