How to Band and Reverse Band Your Lifts

How to Band and Reverse Band Your Lifts


Resistance bands may very well be the most versatile piece of equipment that we have access to as fitness enthusiasts. 

No matter if you're traveling, in the park or restricted at the gym, you can get in a pretty well-rounded and stimulating workout with nothing more than a few bands and a little ingenuity.

Bands can be specifically used to improve mobility, train around injuries, test stability, and even increase power output. They can act as the primary modality (as with something like a band pull-apart) or play a supportive role (like in a Spanish squat). And bands come in every shape, size, tension, color and material you could ever imagine. 

There are very few aspects of training that can't be replicated, supplemented or improved by the intelligent use of resistance bands. 

In my opinion, their most expansive use case is utilizing the properties of bands to either add tension through the concentric (known as banding a movement) or reducing the tension through the eccentric (known as reverse banding an exercise). 

If this is confusing, don't worry! Let's break this down into simpler terms:

When you BAND an exercise, what you're really doing is using the band tension to make the movement harder at lockout. Due to the elastic properties of the band, the more you stretch it, the more potential energy and reciprocal force that is generated trying to return to its natural state. This is obviously great as a stand-alone feature, but when combined with straight weight (like a barbell squat for example), we get a stimulus that is overloading at the top but manageable at the bottom of the rep when the bands are more slack. The idea here is to accelerate through the exponentially increasing tension to develop power, level the resistance curve, and learn to "strain".

Banding will involve taking two equal length and tension resistance bands (typically, open loop and ~24in when relaxed) and anchoring one end of the band to a stable, stationary object that would be at the bottom/under the path of the exercise and the other around the bar/sled/modality that is the primary source of resistance and will be moving away from the anchor point. For a squat, this would involve looping the band around a band-peg or cross-bar at the bottom of the rack you're in and then stretching that band up and over the barbell to sit snugly against the collar. Notably, the bands will be applying downward pressure on the bar even with no added load. Taking the bar out of the rack should feel like the bands are trying to slingshot you through the floor. 

REVERSE BANDING is actually a very similar idea and has many of the same properties as banding which can create some of the confusion that is so often seen when differentiating these techniques. However, reverse banding is going to entail looping the bands from the top/over the path of the exercise to actually reduce the resistance from the primary modality. The set-up is exactly the same as with banding but just reversed (makes sense now right?!)!

The reverse banded set-up shifts the load burden from the trainee to the bands as the eccentric is carried out. And this has multiple benefits including leveling the resistance curve (same as banding), reducing risk of injury, and allowing for supra-maximal loading. 

If each of these techniques involve the same general mechanisms of action (decreasing load at the bottom and increasing it at the top of the rep—also known as accommodating resistance), why would we choose one over the other in training?

Let's look at some of the pros and cons of each:

- Flattens the resistance curve eliminating the "dead" regions of the rep
- Forces an increase in acceleration and thus power output
- Allows overload of specific muscles and ROMs due to the increased demand at lockout
- Easily increases the total tension without needing more external load or equipment
- Transferrable to just about any movement
- Should be reserved for high level intermediate-to-advanced athletes
- Harsh on joints due to the compressive forces
- Creates larger nervous system recovery decrements than straight weight 
- Tends to feel pretty unstable when using free weight
- Can alter the movement pattern of free weight exercises substantially if the setup isn't perfect

- Similarly, flattens the resistance curve and allows for specific overload of muscles/ROMs
- Feels much smoother than banded movements without the same instability concerns
- Larger margin of error when using free weight movements
- Reduces risk of injury due to the "unloading" effect in the bottom of the ROM where we are typically most vulnerable
- Effective for priming the nervous/skeletal system to handle more load 
- Should be reserved for high level intermediate-to-advanced athletes
- Much harder to setup generally and a lot of movements/machines don't have an easy way to actually utilize this technique 
- It can be challenging to get the band tension right in all parts of the ROM (especially the first time you try to do it)
- Though the risk of injury is reduced, an argument can be made that the same mechanisms are actually reducing the hypertrophic stimuli as well (due to less stretch under load)
- Can be prone to encourage ego lifting; Reverse banding allows for more straight weight to be added which gives off the illusion of lifting more load

Whereas banding is more universal and portable, reverse banding tends to be more sustainable and scalable. If you're lacking in equipment/space or trying to increase your explosiveness, you'd probably be better suited banding your movements. If you're struggling with injuries or looking to sustainably alter the resistance curve of an exercise, reverse banding is most likely your better option. 

However, most of us will have a very limited need to delve into the world of accommodating resistance regularly, especially when goals are more aligned with aesthetics rather than strength or power. As outlined above, there are some pretty clear and persistent drawbacks to the overuse and recklessness of attempting to band and reverse band everything in sight. 

But when used correctly and accounting for negative potentialities, banding and/or reverse banding can be the plateau-busting tools that take your training to the next level. 

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