After chatting with my good buddy Craig Rasmussen the other day, it reminded me of another discussion I had quite a while ago with Dave Tate. The topic was simple:
Should beginners use bands?
At first glance, the answer is a flat-out and obvious “NO!” But maybe if we delve a little deeper we can see where this seemingly wrong concept could be used effectively.
We’ve all been beginners at one time or another on the bench press. But, what changes between that time and 5 or 10 years later? Sure we get stronger, work on weaknesses, etc., but one thing that must also be learned over that course of time is the concept of total body tension.
Bench pressing (and especially competitive benching) turns you on to this idea really quick. You can be loosey-goosey and move your 10RM without too much issue; but start moving heavy singles, doubles or triples, and you’d better get tight or risk cracking your sternum! So what do bands have to do with all this?
Let’s take our beginner and assume he has no idea how to bench – he (or she) thinks it’s purely an exercise for the beach muscles. Now, instead of handing him an empty bar hand him one with bands and what happens? If he’s loose, even holding it at the top position will be difficult until he learns to bear down and get tight. Beyond that, he’ll very quickly learn the concept of total body tension. When benching maximal weights, there’s more to it than just moving the bar up and down – you’re driving your legs into the floor, flexing your quads, glutes and hams, arching the upper and lower back, pulling the bar apart, etc.
In the case of our beginner, he doesn’t even need to move the bar; he just needs to understand the concept of tension and “setting” his body before initiating the lift.
If you are having some issues with your set-up on the bench, or simply think you’re not tight enough, try throwing some bands on the bar and learning how to get super tight before you lift. Hopefully it will make a big difference and help you smash some new PR’s!
BTW, if you want to read up on a perfect set-up for benching, check out my “Yo How Much Ya Bench?” article featured previously at T-Nation.