Push-up is one of the staple exercises in calisthenics. Push-up is also one of the compound exercises, which is considered superior to the bench press workouts.
The glorified history of push-ups comes to a halt when it comes to loading them for further progression.
The resistance bands can play a vital role in activating a larger size of muscle fibers during push-up workouts and help with progression.
So what are the benefits of band-assisted push-ups? Every exercise, including push-ups, has a strength curve, which is the function of torque developed by the muscles vs. the joint angle. There is an ascending strength curve for push-ups during the lifting phase, which matches with the ascending resistance curve of resistance bands. In short, resistance bands provide resistance in proportion to the torque developed by the engaged muscles during push-ups.
What is torque, and how it changes with a joint angle? What are resistance and strength curves? Why push-up works best with weights having an ascending resistance curve? Follow me to find the most elaborate answer to the above queries in easy to understand words.
Here I am going to briefly introduce the importance of push-ups as compared to conventional exercises like bench presses.
After that, I shall be discussing the traditional methods of making push-ups harder before I finally explain how resistance bands can take push-ups to the next level in comparison to the conventional ways.
Here is the index of what you are going to learn throughout this article-
What terms you will learn while reading – Open and closed kinetic chains, strength curves & its types, exercise examples for different kinetic chains, and strength curves.
Jump anywhere you want if you are short of time.
However, I recommend you read right from the start, as it is essential to understand the working of the biomechanical system behind the push-up before you finally grab the detailed explanation for the main question.
As such, you would be able to absorb the information that I am going to reveal about the crucial role of resistance bands in making push-ups safe and more efficient for faster muscle gains.
❝ Hi, I am Ravi, your companion and a passionate fitness athlete, cyclist, runner, gym enthusiast who just loves the concept of resistance bands for their extreme flexibility. I have been using resistance bands as one of my primary fitness equipment for the last many years ❞
Let us begin
Why is push-up exercise a better alternative to the bench presses?
The bench presses are open kinetic chain exercises, whereas push-ups are close kinetic chain exercises.
But what you mean by open and closed kinetic chain exercises?
A human body can be considered as a kinetic chain. Each body part can be named as a fixed segment which is connected to other fixed segments through a movable joint.
OPEN KINETIC CHAIN-
The open kinetic chain refers to a kind of exercise where one of the fixed segment i.e., a body part, is free to move without any resistance. An example of such exercises is bench chest press, where the upper arms are open to moving due to the absence of external resistance.
CLOSE KINETIC CHAIN-
The closed kinetic chain refers to the kind of exercises where all the segments i.e., body parts, are facing the external force. An example of such exercises is a push-up workout. Here, the upper arms are pressing against the floor.
That means the arms are getting a reaction from the floor in the form of the equivalent counter-resistance.
? For answers to the follow-up questions on the implications of kinetic chains, I recommend to go through this article – Kinetic Chain Exercises: Open and Closed by Healthline.
So how do closed kinetic chain exercises are better than open kinetic chain exercises?
In the case of closed kinetic chain exercises, any action of a body part creates a counter-reaction by the other fixed segment of the human body, which is attached to this body part. As a result, the multiple body parts/muscle groups have to work in coordination.
As per Physio-Pedia
“Because of the simultaneous segmental movement, an increase in muscular co-contraction is required to stabilize and control the movements across the joints in the chain.“
That means, to keep multiple muscle groups recruited and stabilized at the same time, the central nervous system needs to fire multiple muscle fibers into the job in case of exercises such as deadlifts, squats, push-ups, etc.
Now let us co-relate push-up exercise with the concept of the kinetic chain.
In the case of push-up exercise, a closed kinetic chain is formed where multiple body parts such as shoulders, arms, chest, back, glute, and leg muscles have to work together to maintain the form.
? That means, the body learns to recruit multiple muscle groups at the same time by engaging a large number of stabilizing muscles. Closed kinetic chain exercise also assists you in real-life situations like lifting, pulling, and pushing activities in day to day activities.
In contrast, the bench press exercise involves open kinetic chain mechanism. That means the upper arms and feet are not interconnected through any external surface.
When we are lifting dumbbells in a flat bench press, the external force produced by dumbbells at the arm level is not transferred to the whole body. Only shoulder blades, shoulder joints, and chest muscles are affected by the impact of dumbbells.
? In other words, the back, glutes, and leg muscles are not actively engaged, unlike push-up exercise. That also means that the nervous system needs to recruit a much lesser number of muscle fibers for similar biomechanical workouts like a bench chest press.
Traditional methods of loading push-ups-
The push-up exercise is driven by the bodyweight, where the ground provides equal reaction. However, this exercise is limited by body weight.
Here are the traditional methods of loading push-ups –
a. You must have seen a guy doing push-ups while his/her partner is progressively adding weight plates over the back of that guy.
b. Alternatively, some people make use of a weighted vest that is worn around the chest area to intensify the push-ups.
c. Another way of making push-ups harder is while doing elevated push-ups where feet are placed at a higher place such as a bench.
So, what is wrong with these traditional methods of loading push-ups-
For every exercise we perform, during the range of motion, muscles follow a strength curve. That means the torque developed by the muscles during the range of motion keeps varying. It implies the focused muscles are weak at some points, while they are more potent at some other points depending upon the joint angle.
However, the resistance produced by the weighted plates or a vest is fixed during the complete range of motion. When muscles are weak and need to be compensated by a reduction in external force, the weighted plates provide the same resistance.
? The inability of the weighted plates/vest to accommodate the varying strength of muscles at different joint angles increases the risk of injury.
? NOTE –
The concept of the strength curve is applicable in every exercise. It is always preferred to have a kind of external resistance that can adjust according to the strength curve of muscles during the entire range of motion.
The more details about the types of strength curves and the role of resistance bands in push-ups shall be discussed in the next section.
The benefits of resistance bands when used for push-ups-
Before I unravel the benefits of resistance bands for loading push-up workout, it is necessary to understand the strength curve and their types.
Once you thoroughly understand the underlying phenomena behind strength curves, you would be able to relate that to the benefits resistance bands provides for push-ups.
What do you mean by the strength curve?
The strength curve is the function of the torque developed by the muscles vs. joint angle. Torque refers to the force produced by the muscles to turn the Limbs involved in the exercise around the joints.
The muscle torque is not equal at all joint angles, which takes us to the next topic, which is the types of strength curves.
There are three types of the strength curve, depending upon the behavior of muscles at different joint angles.
1) Ascending strength curve exercises-
These are the exercises where the torque produced by the muscles increases during the concentric phase of the range of motion and achieves maximum value when we reach at the end of the concentric/lifting phase of the range of motion.
That means, the initial phase of the concentric cycle when we just start contracting the focused muscles and lifting the weight, is the most difficult. This happens due to a lower torque developed by engaged muscles at the initial stages of the contraction phase of the range of motion.
? Examples of ascending strength curve exercises are a chest fly, chest press, push-ups, squat, etc. In a nutshell, most pushing exercises come under the ascending strength curve.
2) Parabolic strength curve exercises-
These are the exercises where the middle part of the contraction phase/lifting phase is the most difficult as compared to the initial and final stages of the range of motion.
? The example of the parabolic strength curve is a biceps curl exercise in standing position where the middle part of the lifting phase is most difficult when the forearm is at a 90° angle to the upper arm.
3) Descending strength curve exercises-
In the case of falling strength curve exercises, the torque produced by muscles is highest during the initial phase of the contraction. In contrast, the final stages of contraction are weak, where muscles are not able to produce enough torque.
? Examples of descending strength curve exercises are rowing, pull-ups, and chin-ups.
Let us take an example of rowing exercise. In the case of rowing, when hands are furthest away from the body, it is way easier to pull the weights towards the back.
However, when hands come closer to the back during the final phase of the contraction, the progression becomes much more difficult to sustain.
So how do resistance bands behave while doing banded push-ups?
Now that you are well aware of the basics of strength curves and the exercises with different strength curves. It shall be much easier to understand how resistance bands smartly assist you while ensuring the adequate loading of relevant muscle groups.
To this point, you must have realized that push-up is one of the exercises where the ascending strength curve is followed.
For newbies, there are two types of phases involved in a push-up repetition-
1) Eccentric phase.
2) Concentric phase.
During the eccentric phase, the body is lowered towards the ground in a plank position where arms are flexed and makes a 90° angle.
During the concentric phase, the body moves in the upper direction, and chest muscles get contracted to lift the weight of the body.
Many of you may ask, why do push-ups have an ascending strength curve?
When the body is in the bottom-most position of the push-up exercise, the elbow and chest are furthest away from each other. The horizontal distance between the elbow and chest becomes a deciding factor for the amount of torque that shall be produced preliminary by the chest muscles.
The higher horizontal distance between elbow and chest muscles during the bottom-most position of push-ups makes it extremely difficult to stay in this position for a long time. It actually happens due to lower resultant torque developed by engaged muscles due to the peculiar biomechanical status of the body.
As we lift our body upwards, the elbow joint and shoulder joints start coming in line with each other, thereby reducing the leverage and increasing the muscle torque. You feel more robust when the hands are extended due to the final phase of contraction. The extended arms refer to the last point in the ascending strength curve.
Final; how resistance bands assist you with push-ups?
The resistance bands, as we all know, provides a variable resistance. For those who do not know much about the exercise bands, let me explain to you why resistance bands offer variable resistance.
The resistance bands provide resistance employing stretching. As we stretch bands during exercise, the higher resistance is provided by the resistance band due to the elastic properties of the natural rubber.
So, we can very quickly conclude that the resistance provided by the resistance bands follows an ascending resistance curve due to stretching.
Now, let us match the resistance curve of resistance bands with the strength curve of muscles during push-ups–
During the bottom-most position of banded push-ups, when the muscle torque is lowest, the resistance provided by the exercise bands is also at the lowest level.
That means the resistance band is accommodating the weak position of the body during the initial phase of the contraction/lifting phase of push-ups due to their least stretching.
As soon as we start contracting the chest muscles and extend the arms to lift the body, the resistance bands also start getting stretched. It implies that the resistance bands are loading the muscles at an appropriate time when the muscles are in the position to deal with higher resistance.
When we are at the topmost position of the push-ups where the muscles are strongest. The resistance provided by the bands is also at a maximum level due to the highest stretching of rubber.
? In this manner, the resistance bands offer an accommodating resistance/smart resistance, which adjusts itself according to the strength curve of the targeted muscles in the push-up routine.
Other Benefits of Resistance Bands based push-ups
In addition to the above benefits concerning the strength curve during push-ups, there are some other benefits of banded push-ups worth mentioning –
- Increases maximum power due to the ability to lift higher resistance bands in the final stages of contraction. The banded push-ups improve the maximum power of athletes as we are easily able to execute the weak bottom-most position of the banded push-ups due to lower resistance of bands.
- Increases muscle fibers recruitment due to fast acceleration and deacceleration in eccentric and concentric phases of banded push-ups. Rapid acceleration and deceleration mean that body needs to recruit more fast-twitch fibers, which are responsible for faster muscle gains.
? To know more about the technical and other commercial benefits of resistance bands, do visit this article – Benefits of resistance bands – with unique visual insights
Final Opinion –
While banded push-ups have several points in their favor, yet there are some limitations about the band-assisted push-ups. When we are doing banded push-ups, the bands are wrapped around the upper back/upper shoulders while pressing the loop ends with both hands against the floor.
As a result, the shoulders, arms, and pectoral muscles are directly affected. However, the lower body parts, including the back, are not exposed to higher resistance.
As such, banded push-ups have a significant contribution to the upper body while the lower body is preliminary meant to do a balancing act.
In contrast, while doing push-ups with weight plates, we can place the weight plates over the middle area of the back. As a result, the core, glute, and leg muscles also have to work harder along with the upper body to avoid sagging in the middle.
Alternatively, you can also add some resistance at the middle section of the body while doing banded push-ups by making use of lightweights. Or you can use a new resistance band’s set to cover the waist area.
Do try some other unique methods of doing the banded push-ups as discussed in the bonus resource section (at the bottom of this article), and modify them to your needs.
Closely Related Questions –
NOW, many readers might be scratching their head about the role of resistance bands in descending strength curve exercises-
It is worth resolving this query as it is closely related to what I have explained in this article.
The descending strength curve exercises such as chin-ups, pull-ups, lateral shoulder raise, rowing are not advised to be performed with resistance bands.
The reason is simple. Likely, you will heavily load the muscles when they need to be relieved of the pressure due to the mismatch between the strength curve of muscles and the resistance curve of resistance bands.
How do I train the muscles at the initial stages of the contraction phase of push-ups?
As I stated earlier, the resistance bands provide the maximum resistance/loading during the final phase of the push-up exercise. That means the bottom-most position of the push-ups is mostly relieved of the external resistance provided by the bands.
❝To overcome the under-training of other stages of the contraction phase during flat surface push-ups, a sequence of different chest exercise variations such as inclined chest press, declined chest press are advised to be followed up in succession by the coaches and trainers.❞
? Such modifications of the same exercises alter the strength curve of muscles and change the points where muscles can develop adequate torque.
By following a particular sequence of push-up variations, we can easily target the muscles at all angles during the complete range of motion while keeping injuries away from you.
This principle applies to the workout of all body parts.
Bonus Resource –
Knowing the benefits of resistance bands is not enough when you don’t know how to execute banded push-ups in a way that keeps you focussed on the form. As rolling of bands from the shoulders and uncomfort while holding bands are some of the practical issues that frustrate many people. Some athletes even discard band-assisted push-ups due to the above reasons forever.
? I have made a fantastic resource where some unique tips have been provided for doing banded push-ups in most efficient ways. Check this excellent article- Best Methods To Perform Banded Push-Ups – Practical | Prevent Rolling
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