As we settle into our new strength cycle, you will notice that we will be using resistance bands quite often for our assistance work. The method of using bands (in our case) and chains is known as “accommodating resistance.” Accommodating resistance is defined as “using a special means to accommodate resistance throughout the entire range of motion.” As you are about to learn, the body has weak positions and strong positions due to the angle of the joints and the leverage those joint angles create.
First, let’s begin by breaking down any lift or movement into simple terminology. In simple terms, we have the “top” of the lift and the “bottom” of the lift. Not to be confused with the start and finish of a lift. The top of some lifts happen to be the start of the lift, for example the squat or the bench press. However, the bottom of some lifts can also be the start of your lift, for example the deadlift. The top of every lift (photo on left), is the portion of the lift that is the “easiest” and the bottom of the lift is the most challenging portion of the lift (photo on right).
Why is it that even though you have the same weight on your back throughout the entire motion, are some portions of the lift weaker or stronger than others? The simple reason for this change in difficulty is that your body changes joint angles, which changes posture/leverage of the body throughout the movement. At the top position of the lift, the body has the most leverage and is in the most mechanically efficient position which means the body is strongest at the top. As we lower to the bottom of the lift, our leverage decreases, as a result our mechanical efficiency decreases and our lift weakens.
Let me take you through the entire squat. The “top” of the squat is when the body is in full extension/standing. At this point our joints are stacked on top of one another and the body has the most leverage (maximum mechanical efficiency). As you move from the top of your squat to the bottom of your squat, your joint angles change and leverage decreases. When you hit the “bottom” of the squat at full ROM (hip crease is below your knee), your body’s leverage and efficiency is at its weakest point which makes this the most challenging portion of the lift. As you ascend back to the top of your squat, your body’s leverage begins to increase and the lift continues to get easier as you stand.
Now the question is, how can we “make up” these differences and maximize muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion? In simple terms, how can we strengthen both the stronger positions and continue to strengthen the weaker positions without compromising full range of motion? We can’t exactly add weight to the bar at the top of the lift, then take weight off the bar at the bottom of the lift, and then add weight again.
Instead, we will use resistance, in our case we will be using bands, but chains can also be used. Although you can use this method for both your main lifts and your assistance exercises, for the purpose of safety and in order to accommodate a wide variety of athletes, we are going to use them mainly during our assistance exercises.
For the purposes of understanding, I am going to continue to use the squat as an example. Imagine standing on the blue band in a squat stance and wrapping the other end around your neck. Standing in a fully extended position (photo on left), our strongest position, the tension of the band is at its greatest. As you squat down, the tension in the band actually pushes you down and forces you to control that tension (eccentric overload). At the bottom of the squat, our weakest position, the tension of the band is at its minimum (photo on right). This allows us to continue to strengthen the bottom position without any added tension. As we begin to ascend to the top of our squat, our body’s leverage and mechanical efficiency increases, and the squat begins to get “easier.” During this time, the tension in the band increases, placing more stress on the “easier/stronger” portion of our lift.
In summary, bands do an excellent job of matching the body’s leverage. The bar is lightest and the band has the least tension when your body’s leverage is at its weakest (bottom position of the lift). From bottom to top, the bar gradually increases in weight as the tension of the band increases and the body’s leverage improves (top portion of the lift). This allows for us to train under constant stress/strain throughout the entire range of motion of the lift.