Increase your power and velocity now with banded bench press for greater chest gains.
We all know how to make an exercise more difficult: add weight to the bar. But what if we cut the weight in half and added resistance bands? What you get is an exercise that puts constant tension on your muscles (growth!) and challenges your central nervous system (CNS).
Using resistance bands for more mechanical tension isn’t something new, but isn’t in the mainstream. It can be tricky to set up, nevermind there are few people who even know how to use it in their lifting program.
I find it’s more popular in powerlifting circles, as it’s a way to increase vertical velocity (squatting for example). Used correctly, banded anything is a staple in increasing the load on your body without increasing the load itself (weight used).
Why Banded Bench Press
Just like any new exercise, banded bench press is a way to stimulate your body and increase muscle growth. Over time, your body becomes accustomed to movements and becomes really efficient at it.
This is the reason why curling 10lb dumbbells when you first started lifting was really difficult, but now it’s easy.
This makes it necessary to make changes to your lifting program, whether it be load, time under tension, direction change or rest times. These changes are calculated and are the reasoning behind what trainers call “periodization“.
Periodization is using specific exercises in a training program (however long the length) to keep constant stimuli on the body, as a method to further progress.
We want to accustom our bodies to exercise and stimulate muscle fibres over and over again to gain the most amount of muscle possible (but make sure you get enough sleep). But after a few weeks of the same load/sets/reps, your body becomes efficient at that exercise, making it easier. This is where progress is halted and you plateau.
Sometimes adding more weight to the bar just isn’t possible week over week. Eventually, you’ll hit a wall and you’ll have to change a variable in your training program.
Rest pause sets are another method of increasing the difficulty of an exercise, but it doesn’t get the benefits of resistance bands.
Benefits of Banded Bench Press
Okay, let’s jump to the nitty-gritty.
Banded bench press increases the mechanical tension in your muscles. But why do you care?
Mechanical tension has been shown to be related in the change of muscle size. The more time spent under load, the more time the muscle receives mechanical tension.
Time under tension is the amount of time a muscle is under stress or work. If you slow down a rep on the eccentric, that’s time under tension right there!
While there’s still tons of science being researched in regards to muscle growth and the different pathways that it leads to it, mechanical tension is only one part of the equation.
So taking it all in together, we can increase the difficulty of the exercise while decreasing the load (weight on the bar), and also increase the time under tension.
Banded Bench vs Chains
There are a few reasons to use resistance bands for bench press versus chains.
Let’s break it down here.
When you add chains to a barbell, it becomes the heaviest at the top of the movement.
There are many different weights of chains you can use, versus single resistance bands.
Chains on bench press are effective to help you with the lockout, at the top of the movement. As you are driving the bar up, the chains come off the floor adding resistance to the bar.
What about time under tension (TUT)?
If you want to work on the top portion (1/3) of your bench press, use chains! Specificity is what you want here: if there’s a problem with the top third of your bench press, then work the hell out of that top third!
If you use resistance bands, there is constant tension throughout the entire movement.
As soon as you unrack the bar, that resistance band is pulling that bar down. As the resistance band is stretched at the top of the movement, tension is at the highest.
You will most likely have to cut the weight by at least 30% to account for the band pulling you down.
Best Bands For Banded Bench Press
Okay so now you want to try banded bench press at the gym, but you don’t have any bands! That’s okay, here are the ones I recommend on Amazon:
These aren’t your normal “booty” resistance bands. These ones are thicker and have resistances up to 125lbs. Made from natural latex, these are great for banded bench or banded deadlift.
These are multi-use as well, I’ve used these ones for banded bicep curl and banded deadlift!
I would recommend starting with cutting your normal bench press weight by 50% and adding the first resistance band. Complete a set of 10 reps and re-assess. The bands will fatigue the hell out of you! You’re going to be working harder with half the weight!
Depending on your goals in your training program, you may want to use a stronger resistance band.
Loop the band over the bar, and tie it to the rack (not bench).
Here’s me on bench press with bands. The bands are looped around the bar and tied to the rack (looped through).
You can also see that I struggle with the tension too! It really makes you work on stabilizing the lift at the top of the movement.
The band should be fairly tight on the bar. Make sure it’s tight enough once you unrack the bar too (so it doesn’t slip and fall off!).
Banded exercise anything is a great tool to add to your training program. I would add bands to one mesocycle in a training program, as fatigue can add up quickly.
You can’t progressively overload as easily since the bands increase in difficulty exponentially. Don’t rely on resistance bands increasing your bench press too much though. If you’re weak without bands, you’re weaker with! (Make sure you’re eating enough protein too)