Variable resistance exercise isn’t just for rehab, it can actually help you build real strength. With the right variable resistance equipment, you can move past plateaus and get stronger much faster than with free weights. Learn more about variable resistance training and how to put it to work for you.
What Is Variable Resistance Exercise? #
To build muscle and strength, you need to resistance train. But what type of resistance training is best? People typically turn to weight-lifting machines or free weights, but these methods of building muscle are outdated. Science now tells us there may be a better way.
We can build more muscle faster and break through plateaus by varying resistance. Let’s take a closer look at what is meant by variable resistance training.
Static Resistance #
When you’re lifting with free weights or kettlebells you’re making use of static resistance. This means the weight you’re using offers the same resistance when you first pick it up off the floor as it does when you’re swinging it overhead. Throughout the range of motion, no matter which lift you perform, resistance remains static and unchanging.
As you may know from experience, this has a limiting effect. You might be able to lift more when you’re thrusting your hips open in a squat, for example. But you just can’t move that same amount of weight from your starting position, deep in a knee bend.
What if there was a way to make lifting easier where you were most compromised, but challenge your muscles more thoroughly at the parts of the lift where you’re strongest? There is! And it’s called variable resistance training.
Variable Resistance #
Variable resistance equipment, such as latex bands, mimic the body’s natural power curve. They offer less resistance where you need it, at the very bottom of your lift, and generate more resistance where you can handle it, in your strongest, impact-ready postures.
By training with variable resistance bands you can ultimately lift more weight. At the bottom of the chest press, for example, your band is less stretched and easier to move. But as you push your arms away from your chest and get stronger, the band begins to stretch, delivering more resistance.
With variable resistance exercise, you’re maximally challenged at the point of the lift where you’re strongest. So, you can see how this might pay off when it comes to building strength.
What Is The Advantage Of Variable Resistance Training? #
Training with variable resistance equipment makes every exercise you do far more efficient, for bigger, faster gains.
Building Strength #
It’s essential to lift heavy if you want to build muscle and strength. Using traditional free-weights, strength building requires a heavy load (less reps with heavier weights) or greater overall work volume (more reps with lighter weight). Resistance bands provide both these methods of strength-building, in a single set!
Varying the resistance of each lift lets you lift heavy, challenging you with every rep. But because the load is lighter when your joints are most compromised, you can perform more reps that you would with weights alone.
Increasing Power #
Strength is a measure of how much resistance you can overcome. Power is a measure of how quickly you can overcome that same amount of resistance. Variable resistance training not only builds strength, but increases your power.
Studies show those who train with resistance bands, both with and without weights, generated more peak force and peak power than those who didn’t, especially when lifting heavier loads.1
Improves Neuromuscular Coordination #
Building strength and power might help you look better at the beach, but is it functional? Core engagement builds functional strength and enhances neuromuscular coordination, which improves force, control, skill and endurance.
Training with varying resistance recruits the muscles that improve balance and stability, turning the central nervous system on. When stabilizing muscle groups are recruited, you not only get stronger faster, but performance and function improves.
Prevent Injury #
Using weight-lifting machines prevents injury by safely guiding the weight along a fixed path. It takes very little skill to lift this way. But, it’s also the least efficient method for building strength.
Free weights improve strength building efficiency, but also increase risk. Lifting heavy loads the joints when they’re weakest, for example at the bottom of each lift. A spot is required for safety, and there’s always the risk of dropping a weight.
Variable resistance equipment minimizes this risk by reducing the load when joints are in their most compromised position.
Which Variable Resistance Equipment Is Best? #
When it comes to choosing how to vary your resistance, you have options. There are four primary methods of strength training with varying resistance.
Variable Resistance Machines #
Cam and lever machines, such as the Hammer Strength machine at your local gym do vary the resistance. Using a lever system, these machines mimic the body’s natural power curve.
The problem with variable resistance machines is that the variance offered is often too small to make a noticeable difference over free weight training. Greater variance leads to greater gains. The fixed movement also fails to recruit stabilization muscles, further reducing the effectiveness of the workout.
Chains and Free Weights #
Weightlifting chains or powerlifting chains are just what they sound like. These are heavy, steel chains that hang from your Olympic bar as you perform your lifts. Chains offer a small amount of variance, limited by gravity.
At the bottom of your lift, most of the chain lies coiled on the ground. As you progress through the movement, more of the chain hangs from the bar, offering greater resistance.
Bands and Free Weights #
Rubber resistance bands can be added to your free weights just as chains sometimes are. Combining free weights and bands can improve strength and power, but it’s not without risk. Bands can snap or make lifts less safe. Doing it correctly requires a very strong band and an understanding of where to best attach them.
To try it, use a strong, closed-loop band, and ensure you’re appropriately loading your weight. Generally, it’s recommended you remove 20-35% of the weight on your bar, and replace this with the equivalent band resistance.
Bands Alone #
Building strength with bands alone is possible, but only if you’re using strong enough bands. Bands are made from polymer, rubber, rubber tubing, vinyl and latex, and some are wrapped in fabric. Bungee-style bands may have handles and other attachments on each end, while closed loop bands work as a single unit.
Because the strongest bands are more difficult to grasp or stand on, a variable resistance device such as the X3 Bar makes working with strong bands safer. The device offers a stabilizing ground plate and familiar weight-lifting bar to improve safety and comfort during use.
How to Build Strength with Varying Resistance #
Using bands is the best way to build strength with varying resistance. Bands offer the most variance, and the strongest bands provide enough resistance to trigger gains. Strong resistance bands create the conditions necessary for hypertrophy, or muscular growth.
Workout Every Day #
Using traditional free weights damages muscle. This is one reason bodybuilders alternate between upper and lower body workouts. Damaged muscle needs time to rest and repair. But it’s a myth that this is the only way to build muscle. 2
Resistance bands build muscle by stimulating both myofibril and sarcoplasmic effects. Neither leads to muscular damage. Without the pain, you can actually workout more for faster gains.
Maintain Constant Tension #
With classic free weight, there’s a moment of rest in between each rep, and frequently at the ‘top’ of each rep. These breaks, although brief, interrupt the time spent under tension, slowing your strength-building progress.
When resistance bands are properly used, tension is constant. This triggers a brief episode of hypoxia, which promotes the release of growth hormone, for a muscle-building effect. 3
Trigger HGH Through Stabilization #
The core stabilization that’s required when working with bands not only recruits more muscle fiber with each rep, but calls in more HGH and testosterone too. In this way, bands create the perfect hormonal environment for strength building, by demanding the use of adjacent muscle fibers.
In one study, researchers found this stabilization effect may be responsible for more than a 200% increase in growth hormone production.4
Combine the above factors in a single set performed to complete fatigue, and you have a far more effective formula for strength building than with weights or even variable resistance machines.
So rest assured you can build strength with variable resistance training. Like all forms of strength training, it may not be easy, but it’s far more simple than you might think!
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