| The How-To Guide for Bands and Chains

Author / Hunter Waldman

5-7 min read

Anyone familiar with the Power Athlete Methodology has heard the crew say, “Train Fast, Be Fast”. This statement lays the foundation for one of Power Athlete’s Coaching Principles: Compensatory Acceleration (CAT). Originally popularized by the International Sports Science Association (ISSA)-co-founder Fred Hatfield (aka Dr. Squat), CAT is when a lifter accelerates a barbell at maximal speed through the concentric portion of a lift, rather than allowing load to dictate speed. As anyone can attest that has lifted weights, there are segments of a lift that are harder (e.g., coming out of the “hole” in a squat), while other portions of the lift become easier. From a neuromechanical standpoint, your brain is the most efficient with the least bit of work in all aspects of physiology, from cellular biochemistry to lifting weights. As joint angles change during a lift, your brain will literally decrease the activation of some neurons so that the minimum number of neurons fire to get the job done. The brain does this based on joint position, length-tension relationships, and what muscles are acting as primary stabilizers or movers. From an evolution standpoint, this is a brilliant set-up for conserving energy, but its 2022 bruh and last I checked, there were no Sabretooths that needed fighting off.

In Power Athlete land, we are all about maximizing adaptations and to accomplish this with the barbell, you must move every rep with the fury of a 1000 suns. So what’s an easy way to do with, along with trying to move that barbell at the speed of light? A popular technique some of you may have heard of: accommodating resistance.

Viva La Resistance!

So then, what is accommodating resistance (AR) and where does it fit into a Power Athlete’s programming? Popularized by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, AR is the attachment of elastic bands or chains to each respective end of a barbell during the bench press, deadlift, or squat. As mentioned earlier, we know that muscle activation varies depending the phase of the lift that is being accomplished at any given time. This means that neuron activation also varies, unless the individual is applying CAT during their lifts. However, what happens when you or your athlete are unfamiliar with what it means to truly apply CAT to a barbell during training? Maybe you’ve never seen someone move a barbell with hellacious intensity, or maybe you know what CAT is, but even applying CAT you feel you are missing something. I like to use the example from when I was a college linebacker. I thought I was NFL material…and then I played with men who went to the NFL, soon thereafter I became a college professor.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This is where AR can assist in you or your athlete’s training. When applied correctly, AR will force you to move with conscious speed, at unconscious efficiency, and while maintaining perfect posture and position. Otherwise, those chains or bands will bury you if you start to negatively accelerate (aka slow TF down) the barbell during any portion of the concentric phase. However, if done correctly in a training session or cycle, the research is clear that AR will improve barbell velocity (1), rate of force development (2), and elicit greater muscle activation (3) (i.e., accelerated adaptation).

Applying the Band-Aid

First, it is important to understand that AR is not a periodization scheme, such as daily undulating or conjugate. AR is also not velocity-based training, which is moving the barbell at a set velocity with the user receiving immediate feedback once the lift has been executed. AR is simply one tool that can be programmed inside of a training cycle, or even a single day, and can be used as much or little as the athlete chooses. From my own experience, I will often use AR with an intermediate athlete (6+ months of training consistently and established a Base Level of Strength) so they can understand what moving a barbell at maximum velocity through an entire range of motion actually should look and feel like. Once they have established this connection, we generally move back towards CAT for the remainder of their training for practicality purposes. However, the research is clear that if the goal is to program AR with the intent of maximizing adaptations during a set duration, 5-12 weeks appears to be the sweet spot (4). In addition, the majority of research has found a positive effect when using resistance from bands or chains that equate to 15-20% of the total resistive load and there is some research to suggest that upwards of ~35% may maximize rate of force development (4). So then, how do we apply this on a training day?

Simple, see below:

It’s Monday. Universal squat day. You are about to load that bar up and put it on your back.

  • On today’s docket, you have – 3×5 at 85% of your 1-RM.
  • Let us assume your 1-RM on squat is 300 lbs (137 kg), so 85% would be 3×5 at 255 lbs.
  • We want to add and twist and incorporate AR today, with 20% of resistance to the barbell.
  • You would simply calculate 65% of 300 (195 lbs) and then calculate 20% of 300 (60 lbs).
    • From this, we know we can add 195 lbs of plates to the barbell.
    • Then for the remaining 20%, or 60 lbs (this is our resistive weight), would come from our band tension (measured at the top of the lift).

The question that I always get is, “well how the hell do you know what the band tension/resistance is to do these calculations?” Easy. EliteFTS has resistance bands and a chart that tells the buyer the exact resistance of each band, measured when fully stretched (also, I have zero affiliation with this company). Further, these bands and their tension have been validated in past research (5).

Making the Band

First, some exercises I have found AR to really go well with are:

  • Box squats, Front Squats, and our Primal Squat
  • Deadlifts and Rack Pulls
  • Bench Press, specifically close grip due to the greater ROM
  • Bent-Over Rows
  • Barbell Shrugs
    • Not the Press, due to risk vs. reward unless you have a chubby and cushioned head should the barbell come crashing down.

Lastly and of note, the research in AR has mostly all been done in men, both trained and untrained. In fact, my lab and doctoral student (Alyssa Parten) are the first to do a chronic AR training study in an exclusively trained-women cohort. Though these data are currently under review (its summer 2022 right now), our findings were in contrast to past research in men. We actually found that chronic AR training may not be as effective in women as traditional resistance training for power and strength development.

There is a lot to unpack here and is better served for a separate blog regarding women and recovery/fatigue management, but the first ever chronic AR study in women (8-weeks) showed that the women in the traditional resistance training group actually performed the same or in some measures of power, outperformed the AR women. Still, this is ONE study and much more is needed in this population before any conclusions can start to be discussed.

Remember, Train Fast, Be Fast.

Related Content

PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 208 w/ Dr. Fred Hatfield

BLOG: Battle The Bullshit – Skill and Speed Resistance Training by Tex McQuilkin

BLOG: You Need to Try this CAT Shit! by Luke Summers

EDU: Power Athlete Methodology

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SOURCES

(1) Kubo, T., Hirayama, K., Nakamura, N., & Higuchi, M. (2018). Effect of Accommodating Elastic Bands on Mechanical Power Output during Back Squats. Sports, 6(4), 151.

(2) Rhea, M. R., Kenn, J. G., & Dermody, B. M. (2009). Alterations in speed of squat movement and the use of accommodated resistance among college athletes training for power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(9), 2645-2650.

(3) Anderson, C. E., Sforzo, G. A., & Sigg, J. A. (2008). The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(2), 567-574.

(4) Soria-Gila, M. A., Chirosa, I. J., Bautista, I. J., Baena, S., & Chirosa, L. J. (2015). Effects of variable resistance training on maximal strength: A meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(11), 3260-3270.

(5) Fuentes, A. D., Smith, C. J., & Shoepe, T. C. (2019). Loading patterns of rubber-based resistance bands across distributors. Sports, 7(1), 21.

AUTHOR

Hunter Waldman

Hunter Waldman is a former DII collegiate linebacker who found his passion in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology during his undergraduate years. After working as a Strength and Conditioning coach/personal trainer for several years, Hunter pursued his doctorate in Exercise Physiology while also serving as a Sweat Scientist for the Gatorade Sport Science Institute (GSSI) in Florida. Hunter is now a Professor of Exercise Science at the University of North Alabama, Researcher, Director of the Exercise Biochemistry Laboratory, and Power Athlete Block-1 Coach. Hunter's research area is in Nutrition and Metabolic Health/Performance, where his lab is attempting to understand how to increase cell stress resiliency via nutrition, supplements, and exercise.

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