Is it possible for trained subjects to improve maximal strength levels without any resistance training equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, weight machines and so forth? What can coaches who have limited access to equipment or are on a tight budget do? The answer is resistance bands. Resistance bands offer several advantages over traditional training tools and implements that can be bulky, heavy and non-transportable. Resistance bands are inexpensive compared to free weights, they are easily transportable to the field, they are light and fit easily into a gym bag. Perhaps most importantly for younger or inexperienced athletes, they are considerably safer to use, limiting the risk of injury. Aside from the enhanced convenience, affordability and practicality, you may be wondering if its possible to get really strong with bands. Well, if muscle activation levels are within comparable levels between biomechanically similar movements (e.g., a bench press vs. a band-resisted push-up) similar strength improvements may be observed… Hypothetically.
In a recently published study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Calatayud and coworkers put this theory to the test.
The research question:
‘‘Do two biomechanically comparable exercises – the push-up and bench press – performed at the same relative intensity, as defined by relative EMG amplitude, result in similar strength gains?’’
To answer this, 30 college-aged students with training experience (including band training) were divided into a bench press group, a banded push-up group and a control group after 6RM and 1RM values were attained during EMG recording. The training period lasted 5 weeks with two training sessions per week (Mon/Wed). Each workout lasted 25 minutes and involved 5 sets of 6 repetitions with the same load/resistance that was used during 6RM testing. The same rest (4 minutes), speed of movement and exercise technique (grip width) was used at each session for consistency. The results showed that the two training groups both significantly improved their 6RM bench press by just over 20% while the control group showed no change. The bench press group did however improve 1RM strength a little more than the band group (19.84% vs. 13.65%, respectively).
This study demonstrated that when muscle activation levels are matched with biomechanically similar movements, similar strength gains can be made following training. In addition, it appears that training with resistance bands is a suitable alternative to free weight training with trained individuals. Therefore, when on a limited budget or when you may not have access to proper equipment, band training would be a great plan b. The key however, is too ensure sufficient levels of muscle activation, therefore sufficient resistance must be used with the bands to elicit maximal strength gains.
Calatayud, J., Borreani, S., Colado, J. C., Martin, F., Tella, V., & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Ahead of Print.