If you’re a regular at the gym and have noticed that some lifters add elastic bands or chains to the bar before a lift and wondered what’s that all about, let us introduce you to a training method that will upgrade your lifting experience beyond your imagination. This training style is called Variable Resistance Training (VRT), also known as accommodating resistance, and it has been a staple of the powerlifting community for quite some time now because it’s virtually unmatched in its ability to stimulate maximum muscular involvement and growth. If you haven’t tried VRT yet, consider this article to be the map to your dream physique, so read on!
Variable resistance training for maximum growth and strength gains
Muscular strength can be defined as the maximum force that can be developed by a muscle against resistance. In terms of athletic training, this resistance can be either constant or variable. The first refers to a resistance which doesn’t vary through the range of movement, and the second requires different degrees of force to be applied to the target muscle, thus pushing the muscle to work a lot harder to complete the trajectory of movement. The benefits of VRT are numerous, but let’s name the three most important ones: it allows extra resistance at the point where you are stronger, resulting with greater strength gains, it improves the rate of power development and it can help you overcome sticking points and eliminate weaknesses.
Typically, the use of variable resistance in weight training includes the attachment of elastic bands or chains to the barbell. This alters the resistance of the movement throughout the entire range of motion, effectively lowering the resistance during the lifter’s weakest range of the lift and increasing it during the stronger portion. For example, since most lifters are stronger at the lockout portion than at the middle or bottom portion of the lift, the bands can provide more assistance at the bottom and less at the top, optimizing the challenge for the lifter throughout the whole movement and resulting in greater muscular activity. Not to mention that decreasing the effects of the sticking point will increase the velocity of the bar and stimulate the activity of the more potent fast-twitch muscle fibers, thereby promoting greater strength gains.
Bands are superior to free weights
Variable resistance from elastic bands provide greater resistance as the band is stretched, causing increased tension within the band that’s exceptionally useful in terms of the bench press and similar lifts. When using free weights, which provide consistent resistance, the initial muscle force leads to the generation of greater momentum throughout the movement and that means less muscle activity (since this momentum assists in moving the weight) and a reduced training effect. But when lifting with an elastic band, the increased resistances neutralizes the production of momentum and a greater demand for muscle activity is created, which naturally leads to an optimally effective performance and bigger strength and size gains. Therefore, elastic resistance training tends to produce a greater amount of tension on the muscle compared to free weights. This significant difference between the two training styles was confirmed in a study by Jalal et al., which found that the increase in muscle activity during weight training with an elastic band was 15% greater than the muscle activity stimulated by free-weight training.
Furthermore, the resistance produced by elastic bands is largely independent of gravity, which increases the tension on the muscle during specific portions of the lift. Since free weights rely on gravity to provide resistance, they can only provide resistance in a vertical plane, i.e. the direction of gravitational forces. So for instance, free-weight biceps curls provide little muscle tension at the top of the concentric phase, due to the prominent horizontal movement of the weight, while adequately positioned elastic bands will provide a consistent level of resistance on the biceps throughout the entire range of motion, thus stimulating greater muscle growth. And because elastic bands don’t rely on gravity to provide resistance, their use makes it possible to change the emphasis placed on muscles on certain exercises by changing the direction of the pull. Obviously, this is very important for lifters who want to target specific lagging muscles.
The ability for linear variable resistance is another very unique advantage of the elastic resistance equipment. In other words, as the range of motion of a given exercise increases, same does the resistance provided by the elastic band which lengthens from being stretched. This translates to a bigger number of activated muscle fibers and greater adaptations in muscle strength.
Finally, free weights tend to be expensive and heavy, while elastic resistance equipment is rather inexpensive and easily stored and transported.
Use chains for massive strength gains
When chains are adequately positioned on the barbell that settle to the ground one link at a time during the bottom portion of the movement, they decrease the resistance on the bar. On the other hand, when you’re moving the weight in an upward direction, lifting one link at a time off the ground, the resistance on the bar effectively increases. Again, this provides assistance with the lifter’s weakest portion of the lift, while increasing the challenge at his/her strongest point, ultimately providing a substantial increase in strength gains.
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That being said, the crucial benefit provided by the use of chains is the greater velocity of the bar throughout the movement. Since an increase in velocity also increases acceleration, increased acceleration also increases the force required to lift the bar. In other words, greater velocity stimulates the activity of fast-twitch muscle fibers, resulting with superior strength gains. Therefore, the use of chains emphasizes the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers, decreasing the activation of the slow-twitch muscle fibers, thereby improving force production and increasing strength.