You may be wondering what accommodating resistance is, and if you’ve been working out at commercial gyms you may have never seen it. Accommodating resistance is the use of resistance bands, or chains, attached to the barbell when using Olympic, weightlifting, or powerlifting movements. The idea is that the bands or chains decrease the amount of weight in the bottom of the lift, and increase the load as the weight is lifted from the floor. This technique has been made hugely popular by powerlifting legend Louie Simmons from Westside barbell, and has been recently backed up by some interesting scientific literature. The Westside barbell team has been an incredibly successful powerlifting gym that has accredited much of its success to the use of these bands, and its hard to refute due to their consistent record breaking efforts.
Why use this instead of just standard weight on the barbell? Well there’s multiple uses for athlete development, strength increases, as well as possible rehab potential for the sports therapist. Let’s start with the strength and athlete development.
There’s an interesting study done by Galpin et al. on the effects of resistance bands on the deadlift. In order to paint the picture we’ll use the deadlift as an example with some of the findings from this study as a demonstration. When lifting the barbell from the floor in the deadlift, this is what we would call a “concentric” movement of the muscles. This means that the muscles are contracting, or shortening, in order to lift the barbell from the floor. Now if we were to lower the weight back down slowly, this would be an “eccentric” movement of the muscle, or lengthening. During concentric movements, we are able to move much heavier weights while moving them slower. Think of the bench press, if you were to load up the barbell with your 1 rep max, as you lift it off your chest it would be in a slow and controlled manor. This is because concentrically, we are much stronger at slower speeds, but if we lighten the load you may be much faster. But what if we were able to move that heavy weight with much more speed and acceleration? That’s where the use of accommodating resistance may come into play.
Force and power are two of the most important components needed in almost every competitive sport, whether it be to tackle in football, jump in basketball, or even drive a golfball, Force = Mass x Acceleration and power is force x velocity, so in our earlier example of the bench press, as the mass of the barbell went up, our acceleration went down in order to maintain our peak force on the barbell. If we were able to increase our acceleration at larger loads, we should be able to increase our force, and that’s exactly what this study had shown. It had been shown that in the deadlift peak power was increased when using bands as compared to no bands, and the time to get to peak force was decreased compared to no bands. This is extremely important for explosive athletes because they are able to get to their greatest force much quicker and faster through training with bands, and who doesn’t want that?
Finally those physics classes you were forced to take in undergrad are coming in handy now. Who knew it actually had an impact on strength and speed? Now how would we use these bands and what’s the best method?
Well it has been shown that the more band resistance that is put on the bar, compared to bar weight, actually decreases these affects. One of the techniques that Louie Simmons describes through is online content is that 50% of barbell weight and 30% of band tension is the most optimal percentage. This equals to 80% of your 1rm which is what we usually use when building muscle and strength. In order to get the most out of the bands, I would recommend exploding through the movement at the highest speed while maintaining proper form. As for the reps/sets, instead of using 3×8 or 2×10, I would reverse that and do 8 sets of 3 or 10 sets of 2 in order to increase the speed and decrease rep fatigue. The purpose is to increase power, and bar speed is KEY to this. Keep the reps low and the quality high. I know that I had mentioned chains earlier in the article and haven’t referenced them much, but the same principles apply to them as well.
From a rehab perspective, there are many possible reasons why we might want to use accommodating resistance if power isn’t our goal early on in rehab. If the athlete is someone who is having trouble in the bottom of a squat, deadlift, or even the bench, the bands may be a huge catalyst in breaking these sticking points. This is because at the bottom of the lift, the bands are on slack and the weight is significantly decreased as compared to the top of the lift. This makes it easier in the bottom for the athlete, and heavier as they reach the top. Accommodating resistances gives the advantage of being able to build confidence in the difficult part of the lift, all while increasing the demand towards the top where they may feel more comfortable.
These are only a few of the many ways we can utilize bands and chains for athletes no matter where they are in their training routine. Whether recovering from an injury, learning to perfect lifting technique, or just trying to gain an explosive edge on the competition, accommodating resistance is just another tool in the toolbox to help achieve these goals. If your gym doesn’t have chains or bands, check out this website to order yourself a pair. I ordered the complete set, but the red/black set of bands are honestly all you may need to start implementing into your workout routine. There are plenty of other websites offering these as well.
Experiment for yourself, and find out what works for you!
Student Doctor of Physical Therapy at Widener University