Variable Resistance Training
By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT Men's Fitness
Think getting stronger is all about the weight on the bar? Turns out, there are other methods to set new personal records on the major lifts than just piling on the plates. Variable resistance – a method in which the difficulty is changing throughout the lift – is quickly becoming a mainstay in gyms all over the country. Lifters are hooking cables, bands, chains, and almost anything they can find to barbells and dumbbells to change the intensity of an exercise. How can you implement these techniques into your own workouts for added strength?
Give these strategies a try and leave your old personal records in the distant past. [see: The Fit 5: Training for Personal Records]
Implementing Variable Resistance Training
Your body is naturally stronger at certain parts of a lift. Using variable resistance during your workouts allows you to challenge portions of the lift more than others. For instance, if your lockout at the top of a deadlift is stronger than your initial squeeze off the ground, using bands can help develop better strength at the bottom portion of the lift while still challenging the top portion as well.
There are several methods of using variable resistance in your training. Most use bands to either increase or decrease the difficulty. [see: Exercise Bands: Best Practices]
Here are two of the most popular methods and how to implement them into your routine.
Note: When performing these exercises, always have a spotter. Also, use high-quality resistance bands to ensure safety.
When to use it:
Use progressive resistance when you’re stronger at the top portion of a lift but still need help with the bottom portion. This includes most total body exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses. How to use it: Anchor a band to the ground using either the bottom of a squat rack or another stable object. Slide a band around each side of a barbell. Un-rack the bar and proceed through the exercise as you normally would.
Why it works:
The tension on the band adds resistance to the bar. As you lower the bar during the lift, the band has less tension meaning the exercise is easier. As you press the bar back up, tension is added challenging you more at the top portion where you’re stronger. This technique can help add explosive power to your routine as well as get past sticking points and build more strength. [see: Building Explosive Power]
When to use it:
Regressive assistance is a great method to use for bodyweight movements like pull-ups and push-ups to maintain proper form throughout the lift by helping at weaker points. It can also be used for barbell exercises to help you to new PR’s. [see: Best Bodyweight Exercises for Men]
How to use it:
Hook two bands to each side of the top portion of a power rack. Pull them down and hook them around each side of a barbell. The band should be stretched more at the bottom portion of the lift than the top portion. To use this method for pull-ups or bodyweight moves, hook the band to a tall object (a pull-up bar usually works perfectly) and hook it around your feet for pull-ups or midsection with push-ups.
Why it works:
In the majority of exercises, lifters will be stronger at the lockout portion than at the bottom portion. Using bands can provide more assistance at the bottom and less at the top providing an equal challenge throughout the lift. For bodyweight exercises, bands can be hooked around the feet or the midsection to provide assistance on the way up and preserve good form while working on harder variations.