Powerlifters will use a variety of tools and methods that promise to get their bench press stronger.
Using bands is one of these tools, but do bands actually help the bench press? Yes, using bands on bench press will help you increase force production, breakthrough sticking points, and practice greater control of the barbell.
With that said, the banded bench press is definitely NOT for everyone and you might get the same benefits by doing other methods. So in this article, we’ll identify whether the banded bench press is an exercise that is worth your time investment, and if so, how to properly perform the movement.
When I do banded bench press, I use the 0.5 inch (red) and 1-inch (black) bands from WOD Nation (click to check band size and price on Amazon).
What is Banded Bench Press?
The banded bench press is a method of attaching a band to the barbell in order to add greater resistance as you press the weight into the mid and top end range of motion.
When you perform a banded bench press, it will feel harder and harder as you lock the weight out. This will require you to produce more force to overcome the additional resistance that otherwise wouldn’t be present.
Take a listen to my video on why I love the banded bench press. There are 3 reasons discussed.
Why Bands Help Your Bench Press?
Powerlifters started to use banded bench press because they wanted to manipulate the “strength curve”.
The “strength curve” refers to a gap between the force that you need to produce in order to move the barbell to completion versus the force that you are actually able to produce.
To give you an example, think of how it feels lifting a 70% of 1RM load for a single rep:
As you bring the bar down to your chest and initiate the ascent, you will need to produce a moderate amount of force to drive the bar to lock-out. But is that the maximum amount of force you can produce?
The force required to lift 70% for a single rep isn’t actually the maximum amount of force that you can exert. In fact, once you drive through your sticking point, you may actually stop producing the same amount of force that was required to get the bar off your chest.
In other words, as you push the bar to completion, you know you can casually lock your arms and still finish the lift without trying as hard as you possibly could.
It’s this ‘gap’ between the force you need to produce versus the force you can produce that creates the ‘strength curve’.
Using bands for bench press help add a form of resistance that accommodates the strength curve.
In other words, the bands act as an external loading tool that forces you to produce more force in ranges of motion that otherwise wouldn’t require you to ‘push’ as hard as possible.
Let’s now talk about the three specific use cases for doing the banded bench press.
Three Reasons To Use Bands For Bench Press
The three reasons why you would use banded bench press are:
- Increase Force Production
- Break Through Sticking Points
- Practice Eccentric Control
1. Increase Force Production
Adding a band to the bench press will force you not to be lazy with how fast you press the barbell.
When powerlifters are programmed to do loads between 65-80% of their 1 rep max for a lower number of reps (1-5), they tend not to drive the bar as hard as they can. They only produce the minimum amount of force that’s required to complete the movement.
When you lift light weights, you will accelerate quickly off your chest, cruise through the mid-range, and decelerate toward the lock-out.
As such, using a band will teach you to keep driving the bar through the full range of motion. You will accelerate and reach faster speeds in each phase of the lift than you otherwise would using conventional weights. This is also referred to as the “Dynamic Effort Method“.
The goal is to produce maximum force at all times, even when using sub-maximal loads.
Here’s a protocol I would use for increasing force production:
Intensity: 60-70% of 1RM
Banded Resistance: 15-20% of the overall bar load. For most people, this would be the red band from WOD Nation (click to check band size and price). For example, if 60% of your 1 rep max is 100lbs, then you should use 80-85lb bar load with 15-20lbs band resistance at the top end.
2. Break Through Sticking Points
Adding a band to your bench press will allow you to overload the top range of motion with greater resistance.
If you have a sticking point at lock-out then training with a band could produce positive results in overcoming this deficiency.
Since the triceps are responsible for extending the arm, if you’re failing at lock-out then it’s most likely the case that your triceps have a weakness. Read our full guide to training the bench press lockout.
As such, you’ll want to train your triceps specific to the adaptation that’s required. In order to do this, you’ll want to load your triceps at lock-out so that the length of the muscles are adapting to the mechanics of the movement.
By using a band you place more emphasis on your triceps when compared with using conventional weights. (Note: I also recommend using the banded bench press if you’re weak in the middle of the bench press, which I explain in another article).
You can learn more about the muscles used in bench press in my recent article.
Here’s a protocol I would use for increasing your strength through a sticking point:
Intensity: 70-85% of 1RM
Rest: 3-5 minutes
Banded Resistance: 20-30% of the overall bar load. For most people this would be the black band from WOD Nation (click to check band size and price). For example, if 85% of your 1 rep max is 100lbs, then you should use 70-80lb bar load with 20-30lb band resistance at the top end.
3. Practice Eccentric Control
If it’s true that bands produce greater resistance as you drive the weight through the concentric range of motion, peaking at lock-out, then the opposite effect is also true when bringing the weight down.
As you bring the bar down, also known as the eccentric range of motion, you will need to start the movement with greater levels of force production than you otherwise would without the band.
Think of it like this: the band is actively trying to pull the bar down toward your chest.
As such, when you begin the movement, you need to exert greater control of the bar. Rather than letting the band pull the bar down rapidly, you’ll need to manage the eccentric tempo so that you can keep the bar within the right bar path and prevent the bar from slamming into your chest.
Studies have shown that you produce two times more pec activation as you bring the weight down compared with pressing it up. The research also says that several stabilizing muscle groups, such as the lats and upper back, are activated on the way down in order to assist with decelerating the bar toward the chest.
What this means is that by using a band you are challenging your pecs and stabilizing muscles to control the tempo of the movement on the way down.
So, if you find that you lack eccentric control, then using a band could be an effective tool in emphasizing the muscles responsible for producing stability.
Here’s a protocol I would use for practicing eccentric control:
Intensity: 65-75% of 1RM
Tempo: Bring the bar down with a 2-3 second count, then drive fast off the chest.
Rest: 2-3 minutes
Banded Resistance: 15-20% of the overall bar load (for most people this would be the red band from WOD Nation (click to check band size and price). For example, if 70% of your 1 rep max is 100lbs, then you should use 80-85lbs bar load with 15-20lbs band resistance at the top end.
Band training was mentioned as a “special method” in my article on 10 Special Exercises To Improve Your Powerlifting Movements.
What’s The Proof That Banded Bench Press Works?
A study by Garcia-Lopez et al. (2016), published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, showed that by using a banded bench press it increased the acceleration of the barbell and maximal power by 17% when compared with a group who didn’t use bands.
What this shows is that the athletes who train with a band become much more adept in driving through the entire range of motion for longer periods, rather than decelerating the bar as it reaches the top end.
But what effect does this have on max strength?
A study by Bellar et al. (2011), published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, investigated the effects of training with a banded bench press over a 13-week timeframe on maximal strength. After testing 1 rep maxes before and after the training period with a group who used bands and a group who didn’t use bands, both groups saw an increase in strength. However, the group who trained using the banded bench press produced a 2.39kg / 5.23lbs greater increase in 1 rep max strength relative to the group who didn’t use bands.
While this only shows a 5lb relative difference between the groups, this still marks a statistically significant dataset that demonstrates greater performance benefits with the use of bands.
Training with chains is a similar modality to training with bands. Check out our guide to training with chains in powerlifting.
Who Should Use Bands For Bench Press?
Bands are not a tool for beginners.
A beginner would be defined as someone who has less than two years of strength training experience.
Just because you may want to use bands for one of the three reasons mentioned above, it may not be the most productive tool to accomplishing those goals.
For each of the three reasons why I argued banded bench press was an effective method, a beginner would likely get greater benefit from simply benching more.
“Benching more” could mean
(1) benching more frequently throughout the week, such as going from one to two bench sessions, or
(2) benching more over a longer period of time as in continuing to hone the bench technique over several months of training.
For beginners, you should try to extract as much benefit from conventional benching as long as possible, and then only apply external tools or methods as those benefits begin to disappear.
I would recommend using the banded bench for intermediate or advanced lifters who already have two or more years of experience bench pressing twice per week.
If you are going to implement the banded bench press, you should be able to clearly communicate which of the three reasons above relate to your situation, and then only apply the band if your conventional bench press hasn’t been able to solve your specific issue.
Check out my other article discussing the Reverse Band Bench Press, which attaches the bands from the top (not bottom).
Coaching Tips For The Banded Bench Press (From Top Coaches)
Like any tool in powerlifting, you’ll have different coaches believe different things when it comes to its effectiveness in building strength.
So in order to include other opinions in our discussion on using bands for bench press, I asked two top powerlifting coaches whether they use bands with their athletes, and why or why not.
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner of Reactive Training Systems and the coach of several World Champion Powerlifters.
Mike said that:
The primary benefit (of using bands for bench press) is overloading the lockout, but also not totally neglecting the bottom range of motion. It’s also going to have a more specific bar path than a board press or a pin press. Usually, we train the banded bench heavy — 1 to 5 reps. Occasionally I’ll throw a band on a close grip bench for some high rep triceps work, but it’s typically used in those heavier settings.
You can see that Mike uses banded bench press for building up tricep strength using heavier protocols. He also recognizes the benefit of using it as a tool to increase eccentric control, especially in the bottom range of motion to pause the bar on the chest.
On the other hand, Arian Khameshi, the Head Coach for USA Powerlifting, doesn’t use banded bench press with his athletes.
I don’t use banded bench with my athletes. For one, most people don’t have access to bands and the proper setup to execute them. Second, most of my athletes are raw lifters and don’t have a lockout weakness, which is where the bands help strengthen the most. And finally, most of my athletes are beginners when it comes to training age, so I don’t think it’s necessary to implement a complex movement like banded bench into their programming just yet.
As Arian says, because banded bench press requires you to have an additional piece of training equipment, it’s much easier to implement other methods to build tricep strength versus relying on an external tool.
Arian and I also agree that banded bench press is not a tool for beginners because there are likely other exercises that will increase strength before implementing this method.
Let’s now talk about how to set up a banded bench press effectively.
How To Set Up Banded Bench Press (Demo)
If you have a fancy rig for setting up bands on the bench press that’s great.
But, most people don’t have a fancy rig. So, here’s how I would set up the band:
Step 1: Put the band over one end of the barbell
Step 2: Pull the band underneath the bench
Step 3: Wrap the band over the opposite end of the barbell
Step 4: Put the bands inside the sleeve of the collar
Which Bands Should You Use?
I get the most benefit from using 0.5 inch or 1-inch bands for bench press.
Any thicker bands and the bar load will need to reduce quite drastically as the lock-out will be too difficult — even for people who don’t have a lock-out weakness.
My choice of bands come from Iron Bull. You can get the whole set on Amazon, which would allow you to progress through different resistance levels (click HERE to check the price).
I use these bands not only for banded bench press but also a series of other exercises, including several of my warm-up exercises.
You can read about my complete warm-up routine in my step-by-step guide. Also, check out my 10 best bench press accessories for increasing strength and technique.
Using the banded bench press can help increase performance by changing the nature of the “strength curve”. You should use the banded bench press as an intermediate or advanced lifter who either wants to improve force produce, breakthrough a sticking point or practice greater eccentric control.
Bellar, D., Muller, M., Barkley, J., Jim, C., Ida, K., Ryan, E., Bliss, M., Glickman, E. (2011). The effects of combined Elastic and Free Weight Tension vs. Free weight Tension on One Repetition Maximum Strength In The Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(2), 459-463.
Duffey, M. A Biomechanical Analysis of The Bench Press. A Dissertation in Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University. 2008. https://etda.libraries.psu.edu/files/final_submissions/4136
Garcia-Lopez, D., Hernandez-Sanchez, S., Martin, E., Marin, P., Zarzosa, F., Herroro, A. (2016). Free-weight augmentation with elastic bands improves bench-press kinematics in professional rugby players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(9), 2493-2499.