In most team sports, power is likely the most important determinant of performance among athletes. Taking this a step further, the rate of which power is developed should be the ultimate goal for most training programs seeking to improve athletic performance. This is especially true when sufficient strength levels have been attained, at which point, the ability to express that strength as rapidly as possible becomes critical to improving performance. Various training methodologies exist that aim to improve this quality in athletes. An old concept that has gained popularity in the powerlifting community is the application of band tension during barbell movements (i.e. squats, bench presses, deadlifts) and is termed “variable resistance training”. Variable resistance training has also increased in popularity among the strength and conditioning community due to its reported benefits on both strength and power.
Research demonstrating the efficacy of band usage in athletes over a longitudinal training program is lacking. Recently, Joy and colleagues (2013) investigated the effects of a 5 week pre-season training program with and without variable resistance training in a team of Division II male basketball players. The team of athletes underwent baseline performance testing in the bench press, squat, hang clean and vertical jump. The training program consisted of 4 training days per week including two power sessions, one strength sessions and one hypertrophy session performed in an undulating format. The only difference between the two groups was that the experimental group trained with 30% band tension on squats and bench press during one power session each week. Post performance testing showed that the group training with bands once per week showed greater improvements in 1rm bench press, squat and all jumping measurements including rate of power development.
The amount of time we are given to improve performance in our athletes is often less than desired. Therefore, we need to be as efficient as possible with our exercise selection and programming to maximize the training response. It appears that the inclusion of bands may provide superior results over traditional training methods alone. Further, it appears that variable resistance training improves a crucial performance quality (rate of power development) in a relatively short period of time (5 weeks). Prior to incorporating variable resistance training, coach’s first need to consider if this is appropriate for their athletes. It is unlikely that novice athletes with a very young training age would require advanced training methods. Further, coaches should be aware that appropriate equipment is required to facilitate band usage. However, with the appropriate group of athletes, variable resistance training may be a great tool to improve power and break through a training plateau leading to improved performance on the playing field.
Joy, J. M., Lowery, R. P., de Souza, E. O., & Wilson, J. M. (2013). Elastic Bands as a Component of Periodized Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Epub Ahead of Print.