Bands provide resistance throughout the full range of motion
Training through specific joint angles has greater transfer to sprint performance
Rate of force development trumps maximal strength in speed development
Overspeed training with bands can improve rate of force development
To this day, speed development remains the most requested and sought after goal for athletes of all ages. But can we develop speed in athletes, or are the Usain Bolt’s just blessed and the rest of us doomed? World class speed is arguably limited by genetic potential, but that does not mean athletes should give up on their dreams of developing some rubber burning wheels. Speed is certainly a quality that can be improved with proper training, and can be a huge separating factor in athletic performance. One simple way to improve speed and power in the weight room, is the use of banded resistance. Here we will discuss the possible benefits of band training, and how to implement them into your strength program to super charge your speed!
Resistance bands have hundreds of uses, but outside of high level Sports Performance Training facilities I rarely see them used to develop speed. The great part about banded resistance, when coupled with the right exercise selection, is the bands provide what is termed Accommodating Resistance. Accommodating resistance simply means that the band tension increases as the band is stretched. If a band has 50lbs of tension in the short stretch position, it could have 100lbs of tension when lengthened 18 inches. This can be a HUGE benefit when paired with the right exercises, where the band tension matches the strength curve of the movement.
In order to select a movement with the right strength curve, think of movements where the most difficult part, where the joints are in the least advantageous position, matches where the band tension is at its least. For example, in a squat, the lifter has the least mechanical advantage at the bottom of the movement. If bands were attached to the bar and to the bottom of the rack, they would be at the shortest point of stretch (lowest tension) when the lifter is at the weakest point of the movement. As the lifter rises, a greater mechanical advantage develops, therefore, the lifter is able to exert more force.
Since traditional barbell training is limited to the loads that a lifter can successfully move at his weakest point, he technically is barely taxing the body throughout the rest of the range of motion. If the lifter can only move 300lbs at the bottom of a squat, at 90 degrees of knee flexion, but can move 400lbs from 45 degrees of knee flexion into full extension, he is limited to only squatting 300lbs for full reps. The band tension increases during his ascent, matching his greater force production with greater resistance. This allows the lifter to tax the muscles and nervous system at a much higher rate throughout the entire range of motion. Training the body to exert more force at lesser joint angles can be directly correlated with forces exerted into the ground during acceleration, as a sprinting athlete is rarely exerting force at less than 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion (bottom of a squat). These increased force production capabilities at specific joint angles will be far superior in translating to improved sprint performance than traditional barbell loaded squats.
How to do it
Use bands for movements where the tension increases during the lockout portion of the movement, such as:
Attach bands so the direction of resistance matches the direction of force application.
Examples: At the mid foot and the ends of the barbell for squats or at a low attachment and on the hips of the athlete for step ups. The band angle should parallel the front shin angle of the athlete
Choose the proper length of bands so they don’t completely lose slack at the bottom of the movement. If your bands are too long, tie them through themselves or around a peg a few times.
Another benefit of adding band resistance, is the ability to accelerate the weight through the full range of motion. Since speed strength is developed at lower intensity and high velocity, the athlete should be able to move the weight rapidly to stimulate the proper training adaptation. When an athlete is using a very low load, relative to his 1RM, he will only be able to accelerate the weight during the bottom portion of the lift. If our athlete from before, with his 400lb 1RM squat, were training with 120lbs (30% of his 1RM), he could not possibly exert maximum force into the bar. If he did he would literally jump off the ground or drive the bar airborne off of his shoulders, so at some point near the top of the movement he will need to decelerate to stay in control.
Attaching bands to the bar will pull down with constant tension at the top. This will not only accelerate the bar down during the eccentric (lowering) phase, but will also keep the athlete grounded as he exerts maximum force during the concentric (rising) phase. This will allow the athlete to accelerate through the full range of motion, since he no longer needs to worry about decelerating the bar and his body at the top. He can now focus on producing maximum force, and accelerating with maximum speed, throughout the entire movement. This will lead to incredible enhancement in his ability to produce high levels of force, through full extension, at a high velocity.
How to do it
Attach bands matching the proper direction of force application
Make sure the bands are providing adequate tension, but not limiting the speed of the movement. Bar velocity is key
Cue the athlete to accelerate through the full range of motion, like he was trying to touch his head to the ceiling or snap his belt buckle to a fixed point above or ahead. Cues will vary to match the movement but externally focused cues are ideal
The third benefit to using banded resistance, and my personal favorite, is their use in overspeed training. Overspeed training is when an external modality is used to force the athlete to move at speeds that he is not capable of reaching on his own. This training method, generally reserved for intermediate and advanced athletes, can produce high levels of rate of force development and speed.
Rate of force development (RFD) refers to the speed at which an athlete can generate force. This is a crucial component of speed training, because an athlete can only use forces that he is able to generate in the time necessary for the specific movement. If a sport movement, like sprinting, requires an athlete to produce maximum force at 100ms, but it takes him 300ms to produce that force, he will never be able to realize his true speed and power potential in the sport setting. Nobody cares how much force an athlete can produce in the gym, it’s how that force production translates onto the field that really matters. This is where overspeed training can play a key role.
Bands can produce an overspeed effect by pulling the athlete in the intended direction. Since the athlete is being pulled in that direction, some of the forces he needs to overcome to move that direction are unloaded, therefore his muscles will be able to contract at a higher speed. We are essentially “tricking” the nervous system (CNS) into firing faster, since the muscles are able to produce a greater level of force than is required. This training stimulus over time can lead to neural adaptations, wherein the nervous system is firing at a faster rate, and therefore an improved rate of force development. When the athlete returns to a regularly loaded movement (bodyweight), he can take advantage of the improved CNS firing and RFD capabilities.
Overspeed training can be performed with a variety of sprinting and jumping exercises. To set up for overspeed movements with a band, simply attach a band to the athlete via a belt or shoulder harness, and to another point in front of where the athlete is going.
How to do it- Sprinting
Depending on the band length and tension you use, attach the band to the athlete’s hips and pull it out in front of the starting position. There should be some, but very little, tension on the band pulling the athlete forward. He can then sprint with the assistance of the band, allowing for an overspeed stimulus.
Make sure the band tension does not accelerate the athlete forward too fast resulting in a loss of control, the band should not change the running mechanics
Do not pull the band forward. Instead just extend it and allow the band tension to provide assistance
If you are using long bands over a far distance, make sure to pull the bands out of the way as the tension lessens, so the athlete does not trip over it
Only use this method with advanced sprinting athletes, who have a high level of relative strength and power
Overspeed will exacerbate any mechanical issues and breakdown, so only use with athletes who have efficient sprinting mechanics
How to do it- Jumping
Attach the band around the athlete’s shoulders, and to a point directly above the athlete
The athlete should still be able to drop down into the jumping position, without the band pulling him off the floor
Cue the athlete to jump explosively off the floor
The band will allow greater jump height and speed of RFD
Band will also provide a deload to the eccentric portion of the movement upon landing
This can allow rapid succession of jumps with minimal ground contact time
Adding banded resistance or assistance can have a huge impact on an athlete’s ability to produce high levels of force, at specific joint angles, and with high velocities. All of these training principles are key factors in improving sprint performance. Incorporating these methods with the right programming, rest intervals, and loads, will allow athletes to reach untapped speed potential. Game breaking speed is an achievable goal, and with the PROPER use of bands in your training program, you can see rapid gains and maximize your athletes’ speed capabilities.