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Progressive Overload with Resistance Bands: How to Do It?

Progressive overload is a fairly simple concept to avoid plateauing in your workout. The most efficient way to progress in your workout is to track your progress and make a plan to methodically increase your weight, reps, or time.

Progressive overload is, at its core, the practice of gradually increasing the resistance and/or intensity of your exercise to keep your strength and endurance growing. To do it right, you must be mindful and methodical in your increases, tracking and recording them if necessary.

For those who work out with weights, progressive overload is as easy as grabbing the next heaviest weight or doing more reps per set. But how would you maintain progressive overload with resistance bands? The answer is easier than you might think. Resistance bands are a great way to exercise with low-impact. Many studies indicate that resistance bands, through variable resistance training (VRT), can actually build muscle more than free weights can.

Here are the best ways to do progressive overload with resistance bands:

1. Increase the distance from your anchor

Most resistance bands will have a stretch capacity long enough to give you enough range of motion to change your position. If you’re able to, the most convenient way to pursue progressive overload is to stretch longer on the band.

Variable resistance in elastic bands makes your workout more strenuous the longer they are stretched. For example, you’ll experience more resistance against your body by extending a 4-foot band to 10 feet than you would feel extending it to 8 feet. This added resistance makes it possible for you to progress and gain muscle in more functional areas.

The important thing to remember with this solution is that you don’t want to over-extend your resistance band. Elastic bands, based on their structure, have a max-out point. this point isn’t necessarily where the band stops moving, if that point exists. The max-out point defines the point at which your band would suffer immediate wear or damage by stretching any further. Working out with resistance bands, it’s best to mark off the parameters of your band’s stretch capability as a training zone so you can avoid this situation.

Many people aren’t entirely sure where the max point on their resistance band may be. Many bands have a stretch capacity anywhere between 3-4 times their standard length. What helps in this case is to invest in sleeved resistance bands. This is a special kind of band sold by only a few producers that manufactures it with a stitched sleeve around the band. The sleeve’s primary purpose is to keep it from breaking and causing you harm, and to protect the band from damage. However, if you have a Slastix resistance band, the sleeve also easily defines your max point because you can go up to where the sleeve fully stretches out.

stroops athlete working out with the spine attached to slastix with textured grip handles square

2. Increase your repetitions or pace

Stroops trainer Michelle doing VITL 1 squat 1 squat jump

You may not have the ability to increase your resistance with your bands, whether by distance from your anchor or limited band options. In that case, you can increase your repetitions to put more demand on your muscles. Higher repetitions with the same resistance will increase the breakdown of your muscle fibers and raise your endurance. This can take the form of either performing extra sets with the same number of reps, or you can increase reps with every set.

You can also up the pace or tempo of your exercise, or increase the intensity of your movement. This actually works better with resistance bands than it does with regular weight training due to elastic resistance.

Trying a faster lift on a free weight or a cable machine can actually end up turning gravity in your favor, lightening the resistance and taking away from your muscle breakdown. Resistance bands won’t do this, since the elastic nature of the band will only increase resistance the further it stretches. Pushing harder or faster will not take away from your workout.

3. Invest in stronger bands, or more of them

If you’ve done all you can do to safely progress in your exercise, naturally you’ll need to look at changing up your bands.

Resistance bands can be deceptively intense to use. Not only do they weigh a negligible amount by themselves, but the typical band is marked as between 10-30 pounds of resistance. This resistance is felt more at the peak of your movement (the band’s stretch) than at the beginning. If your band is marked for 20 pounds, the actual resistance you feel can be more or less depending on how much you stretch the band.

Transitioning to a stronger band offers the same progression as picking up the next heaviest set of weights at the gym. It can even offer more thanks to variable resistance, where you can use the length and stretch of the band to progress a long way without having to move up again.

Of course, some workouts may need more resistance than one standard band can offer. A 25-pound may be great for bicep curls or leg workouts but not nearly enough for chest exercises like a bench press. In this case, you can easily double your resistance or more by anchoring multiple resistance bands at the same and working against all of them. When you do this, you’ll still be able to get the heavy load of resistance you need while also benefitting from the muscle toning and growth that VRT offers.

Wrap It Up

If your goal is to become stronger, progressive overload is the key to your growth. Progressive overload with resistance band exercise, or VRT, is possible through a number of ways. You can extend the band further, increase your reps or tempo, or invest in stronger bands or multiple bands.

Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments, and follow Stroops to learn more.


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