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Secrets of Speed and Quickness Training
A collection of articles
by Dr. Larry Van Such - Vol. 17 - Part 1

Part 1 - Resistance Band Training For Athletes
Part 2 - Resistance Band Training vs Weights - Do The Math
Part 3 - Resistance Band Training vwith Isometrics
Part 4 - Becoming An All-Star Athlete

Why Isometrics With Resistance Band Training Helps Athletes Beyond the Capabilities of Weights

Part 1 of 4

We receive numerous requests from trainers, coaches and athletes of all ages and sports backgrounds asking us to explain how our programs are different from others.

We also receive similar requests from developers of other speed training programs and jump training programs to explain the same.

In particular, most would like to know how isometric training with the resistance band differs from isometric training with weights. Most of them don’t see a difference and would like to know. Their initial gut feeling is that, “they’ve got to be the same”.

There is no quick and easy way to answer their question in simple layman’s terms that everyone could immediately understand, without first explaining a few basic engineering principles regarding forces.

Sometimes I feel that it would be a lot easier not to assume anything about the educational background regarding the person inquiring and simply answer their question the best and most accurate way I know how.

While I don’t expect the average person without a professional background in anatomy and engineering mechanics to understand everything in the sample exchange that I have prepared below, I think it’s worth at least putting out the answer to this question “the best way I know how.”

Dear Athlete, Coach, or Trainer,

Thank you for your inquiry.

The answer to your question, “How does isometric training with the resistance band differ from isometric training with weights?” is as follows:

There are several differences between the two. One has to deal with the calculation of the moment of force at the joint being exercised. Let’s leave aside any training strategy for a minute and focus on this first.

The moment of force at the joint being exercised is first calculated by determining the perpendicular equivalent of the force acting on the moment arm, providing the angle of force (F1) in relation to the moment arm, LA, isn’t already at 90 degrees and isn’t acting parallel to it either.

If the angle of this force is some other number besides 90 or 180 degrees, the perpendicular equivalent force (FP) can be calculated by simple geometry by first determining the exact angle required to bring the force perpendicular.

By knowing the exact angle to bring the force perpendicular, we can calculate this new force, FP, on the moment arm as follows:

FPerpendicular = FP = F1 x cosine (A)

Here, “A” represents the angle required to bring the force perpendicular to the moment arm and F1 represents the original weight being exercised. FP, will never be greater than the original force, F1, only less than or equal to it.

Once we know the value of FP we can then determine the moment of force, Mo, acting on the joint if we know the length of the moment arm, L A. This equation is:

Moment of Force = Mo = FP x L A

When using a static weight such as a dumbbell, there is only one variable in this equation (FP = F1 x cosine (A)) and that is the angle “A” of the joint in which the calculation of the perpendicular force is determined prior to the final calculation of the moment of force, Mo. For now, this assumes that one will be performing a repetition with the weight. This is when the angle changes throughout the motion, thus constantly changing the value of the final moment of force calculation. We will relate this to isometric training here shortly.

When using a variable elastic resistance band instead of a dumbbell to perform a repetition, (not an isometric contraction hold just yet), there are now two variables in the equation. The second variable is F2, represents the force of the resistance band. It changes in length when it is stretched during a repetition and thus its resistance changes. This is not the case with weights since they have a static force which does not change with a change in position. The first variable however, is the same as before - the angle of the joint.

Both of these variables change the perpendicular calculation of the force in the equation differently than with a static weight, because now both F2 and angle “A” are subject to change:

FPerpendicular = Fp = F2 x cosine (A)

And it then changes the final calculation of the moment of force in this equation:

Moment of Force = Mo = FP x L A

The force using the resistance band while performing repetitions is only the same as with weights in just one location, and it is not necessarily at 90 degrees, if the exercise being performed allows for that much motion.

Everywhere else throughout the range of motion will have a different final moment of force calculation when using the resistance band. You probably already knew this or at least suspected it.

Now, the idea with most exercises is to push the limits of your muscles. This means that depending on the exercise, you should try to push your muscles to contract harder, faster and perhaps longer, depending on your fitness goals.

With this being the case then, the difference between isometric training with weights and isometric training with the resistance band depends on several factors. This first one is how much effort you are using while doing the exercise.

If a 250 lbs. athlete is holding a biceps curl at a position half way into the rep with a 1 lbs. weight in one hand and a stretched resistance band equivalent to 1 lb. in the other, then trying to see any difference between the two is rather difficult. Even though there are differences at this low effort level, the athlete may not perceive or appreciate any benefit with the exercise either with the weight or resistance band since his muscle’s physical limits are not being tested.

The first real difference between isometric training with weights and isometric training with the resistance band occurs when you decide to put considerably more effort into an exercise. This is where the differences can start to be appreciated and become more visible.

If the isometric hold is done with enough effort then there should come a point in the exercise where the strength and coordination of the muscle begins to dissipate. If you are not getting to this point, the exercise will still be effective, just not as much. Now if you do get to this point, whether you are using isometric training with resistance bands or isometric training with weights, the differences between the two are like night and day.

As your muscles start to fail with an isometric contraction using weights, such as might be done while trying to get past a sticking point with your bench press where you try to hold the bar in one spot, the length of your muscles resisting the weight will at some point begin to change. Your arms may go down a little; maybe even up a little; perhaps side to side a little; and even rock forward and back as you attempt to hold a steady isometric contraction. With all of these small adjustments to the resistance, the weight being held never changes in value; it is always constant regardless of position. The only change these small stabilizing movements in your arms will have is on the final moment of force calculation at each new position shift of elbow and shoulder joint movement.

These are considered one dimensional changes; they are very easy for trained muscles to adjust to and adapt to because there is only one variable in the equation leading up to the final moment of force calculation. If you happen to be familiar with the exercise prior to attempting to hold a position with an isometric contraction, then your strength and coordination with this particular exercise is probably more developed to begin with.

Therefore, whenever you use isometric training with weights on an exercise or position you are already familiar with, there may not be much left to develop in the way of strength and coordination and ultimately speed of muscle contraction with this method.

Most people who have trouble seeing the difference between isometric training with weights versus resistance bands typically view the application of the resistance band as simply replacing the weights in conventional exercises. This makes it more difficult to see any real difference between the two.

Now if a variable resistance band were used in place of the weights on the bar, as one might be able to recreate by attaching two bands of similar length and resistance on each side of the bar, in place of the steel plates, and fastened to the ground below, then you will have multidimensional changes taking place when muscles begin to fail.

This is because as your arms go down a little, up a little, side to side a little, and forward and back a little, and the muscles begin to fail as you try to maintain an isometric hold, not only is the moment of force calculation changing with each small position change in the elbow and shoulder joints, but now the initial force you started with is changing also.

This is because the resistance band’s resistance is entirely a function of it's length and it therefore has the ability to create continuous changes in its force. Even when you think you are holding the resistance band steady, you should still be able to feel the subtle changes in tension taking place in your muscles provided the resistance is high enough.

The band is far more dynamic in nature than a steel plate because you are no longer resisting a static force but rather a force that instantly and infinitely changes in every direction of movement. Even with the slightest movement in joint position as well as with the ongoing recruitment of motor units during an attempt at an isometric hold will alter the force supplied by the resistance band.

Muscles exposed to this type of training are forced to either over-compensate or under-compensate to these changes in resistance as you try to maintain the steady position of an isometric hold. This also occurs when weights are being held with an isometric contraction.

The difference is that during an isometric contraction with resistance bands, the muscles’ motor unit recruitment patterns are entirely new and different than what is expected by a muscle that has only been trained using a static weight. This again is because of the two variables leading up to the final moment of force calculation when resistance bands are used instead of just one variable when weights are used.

When using the resistance band with an isometric training strategy, each attempt by the muscle at balancing and stabilizing the force while in a weakened state helps to create and re-enforce new neuro-pathways that accelerate the development of strength and coordination within it. These changes become even more pronounced the weaker the muscle gets and the longer the attempt at holding the isometric contraction becomes.

Applying this strategy of isometric training with resistance bands that simulate conventional exercises like the bench press has great value to an athlete. However, athletes will experience significantly more benefit when this strategy is applied during an exercise to joints in different planes and angles from what they normally perform in the gym.

By doing this, they are less likely to be pre-conditioned to the guided pathways of the machines or similar exercises. Coordination issues and strength levels within the muscles can then be developed far beyond their current level.

Muscle contraction speed is the net result of these improvements in strength and coordination.

By further targeting the muscles surrounding the less stable, and significantly more mobile, ball and socket joints of the shoulders and hips, it opens up incredible possibilities for athletic development.

The goal of all of our programs is to push the athlete into as many different zones of training as possible. This means finding new exercises and positions that expose immediate weaknesses in both strength and coordination. Using the resistance band with an isometric training strategy provides us with that opportunity.

Thanks again for your inquiry,

Dr. Larry Van Such

This would be considered a brief answer to the question of how the results of training using the resistance band differs from using weights.

In case you didn’t grasp the whole idea behind this letter, I have included additional information on this subject in parts 2 and 3 that may help you to appreciate the value even more of using the resistance band with an isometric training strategy in your next workout.

“We’ll bring you up to speed!”®

Part 1 - Resistance Band Training For Athletes
Part 2 - Resistance Band Training vs Weights - Do The Math
Part 3 - Resistance Band Training vwith Isometrics
Part 4 - Becoming An All-Star Athlete

Always glad to help!
Dr. Larry Van Such

Speed Training For All Sports
Speed Training Exercises For Faster Muscles

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