A Bigger Bench Press with Bands
If you’re hitting a plateau on your bench press strength, hooking resistance bands to the bar could be your solution.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then there are a bunch of insane dudes lining up at the bench press station every week (probably Monday).
Why are they insane? Because they keep doing set after set of barbell bench presses without getting any stronger – the same one-rep max (1RM) month after month, year after year. What they need is a change, something different, a new piece of equipment. Luckily, research has already identified what that piece of equipment should be when dealing with a bench press 1RM that won’t budge: resistance bands.
Starting doing bench presses with bands instead of a barbell? Not exactly. Your best bet is to combine the two. In the below video, JYM Supplement Science co-owner Mike McErlane shows you how to add bands to your bench to overcome even the most stubborn strength plateau.
Why Benching with Bands is Best
The biggest reason guys (and gals, too) hit a ceiling on bench press strength is the sticking point. Those first 6-12 inches of range of motion (ROM) as you press the bar off your chest, that’s the sticking point. That’s the part of the rep where you’re weakest from a biomechanical standpoint. And because you’re so weak in that part of the ROM, you’re never able to truly overload your pressing muscles (pecs, delts, triceps) in the top half of the ROM, where they’re at their strongest – that is, if you’re just using free weights like a barbell, or even dumbbells.
That’s where resistance bands come in. Bench pressing with bands entails attaching each end of a band to the ends of a barbell and having the band run underneath the bench. Mike shows you exactly how to set this up in the aforementioned video, and he even demonstrates a few “tricks of the trade” to help you do it right.
What the bands do, of course, is add resistance to the exercise – but it’s variable resistance, where there’s not a lot at the beginning of the ROM (your sticking point) and an increasing amount as you press the bar upward. By the time the band is providing a considerable amount of resistance, you’re past your sticking point and in a biomechanically strong position.
Elastic Resistance Makes the Difference
Back in the day, guys like Mike would use a towel or wooden block to limit ROM on the bench and avoid the sticking point – but a banded bench press is much more effective for boosting bench press strength because you get the added resistance in the top half while not completing avoiding the weak part of your ROM. Using a block or a towel, sure, you get some good work on your lockout strength, but you’re not doing anything to address your sticking point – it stays weak. The bands give you the best of both worlds, training all portions of the rep in the most optimal ways and consistent with your natural pressing strength curve.
Let’s get a bit more specific here. In the video, Mike has 135 pounds on the bar (a 45-pound plate on each side) and a thick resistance band going from end to end, just outside the plates, and underneath the bench. The bar plus weight plates plus bands equals roughly 300 pounds of resistance — but that’s only at the top of the ROM. At the bottom, down near the chest, it’s considerably less than 300 pounds. And that’s great, because that’s your weak area, your sticking point; if it was 300 pounds the whole way, you likely wouldn’t be able to get it off your chest. The resistance being lighter in that first 6-12 inches of every rep allows you to easily overload the upper (stronger) portion of the ROM. That’s the beauty of bands!
The Best Time to Bench With Bands
If you have a goal to maximize your bench press strength, utilizing bands as described on a regular basis is a must. Do you need to use bands every time you bench? No. But at least a couple times a month is a good idea.
Benching with bands is effective on heavy days when you’re working with your six-rep max (6RM) or greater. But as Mike states in the video, bands also work well for high-rep sets of bench press, where the pecs and delts often stall out early and fail in the sticking point before you reach the desired rep count. With the bands, you’re always moving through the sticking point with the lightest amount of resistance possible, which will allow you to complete more reps – 10, 15, 20, or more.
So, if you find yourself frustrated come bench day, what are you waiting for? Get a good set of bands – and there’s no better set than JYM Strength Bands – and start getting stronger!