Why Use Bands To Activate?
Did you ever look over at someone using a band at the start of a workout and ask yourself, why on earth are they using a little band to get their muscles working before a workout? You wouldn’t think that such a small resistance could get you ready for exercise right? You might be surprised (when used correctly) how and why bands are effective at getting your muscles and mind ready for the exercises you are completing in the session. You have to think about how to effectively activate muscles, what’s actually happening when you activate on the physical/ mental side of things and how the band is utilised more effectively over a static load (dead weight).
Activating muscles is a time investment that some people don’t think is worth their time- you can see this when people jump straight into an exercise without prior exercises before the start of the session. This is quite an old school or Starting Strength approach (book by Mark Rippetoe), where we are told and assume that a few warm ups will provide all the warmup and activation required to have all of our muscles working efficiently for the training session. The thing is there are muscles in the body which differs from person to person which are a lot harder to activate than others. An example would be activating the traps vs activating the lats- many people find it a lot harder to activate the lats than the traps, it takes more thought and more time exercising to find activation in the lat area, meaning it also requires more work to activate. Simply jumping into exercise will not provide the necessary balance of activation required to be most effective while completing a compound movement. As the lats are very important in all of the compound movements it would be very inefficient to have them being less active. Each individual will have different muscles that are weaker and harder to activate, meaning everyone should be focusing on activating the muscles that they find hard to switch on themselves.
When you activate a muscle you are trying to get it into a position where it is most effective for the exercise at hand. An example would be activating the glutes before squatting so that your extension in the lockout portion of the movement is at its most efficient state, making the movement as a whole easier, therefore allowing more weight to be lifted. You are trying to be as balanced as possible (in terms of activation) so that your movement as a whole is more efficient. Think about the example used before with glute activation except over the entire body. Do you ever find that after your first or second set that the reps ‘start to feel good’. Even though you’re slightly more fatigued, your warmth, activation and blood flow have increased considerably. Due to these increases, your mobility, reactiveness and power through the movements also improve, making the reps feel great. The aim with activation is to get to this point where you ‘start to feel good’ before the working sets of the moment.
As you activate a muscle you are driving a small contraction to the particular muscle you aim to activate, it is therefore done in isolation. Have you noticed that everyone activating repeats the same movement over and over again in isolation? The reason it needs to be completed like that is because you 1- Drive blood to the target muscle over time, which takes repetition to drive enough blood to saturate the muscle. 2- You have to get used to the movement mentally (AKA, mind muscle connection) you learn over repetition what it feels like to contract that muscle correctly and completely. 3- Warmth- The byproduct of each of these contractions is heat release. This means with every contraction more and more heat is built up in the muscle itself. A warmer muscle/ joint is a more mobile joint which not only reduces your risk of injury, it also helps you reach certain positions that makes the movement feel ‘smoother’. With all of the benefits received through activating muscles, who wouldn’t do it?
The major benefit that comes with using a band when activating is the fact that bands work perfectly with how muscles work. As muscles contract, they also shorten. Along with this they also become stronger as they get closer to the maximal contraction. Try thinking about doing a bicep curl (while you are fresh) as you contract with your arm fully extended it feels less secure and powerful. Now curl the weight up past half way and feel how much more secure and powerful the contraction feels from this point. The same thing happens with the other muscles in the body. Now you should have a mind frame as to why the bands are effective. As the muscle shortens and the contraction feels more powerful, the band is also increasing in resistance and tension as it stretched more and more. It is also quite easy to hang or attach a band and use it in any position you please as it is quite flexible and can be used at any angle you require. Basically it allows you to pinpoint what muscle you want to activate as well as being the perfect tool (builds resistance as the muscle shortens) for getting blood to the target areas and therefore ready for exercise.
So there you have it, activation should be used to increase your efficiency while lifting. Your aim when activating is to get into the ‘I feel good now’ stage when the body is warm and active, what actually happens when you activate muscles and why bands are the perfect tool to be used when activating your muscles.