Coauthored by Scott H. Mendelson and Dr. Eric Serrano

Dr. Serrano and I found ourselves short on time to train, but big on ambition to increase strength and improve body composition. In 20 minutes we completed a very challenging training session that left us feeling energized with our muscles and nervous system fully stimulated! Band tension enabled us to increase the strategic challenge of initial work sets while setting the stage for high work capacity during the bodyweight-only finishing sets.

As working professionals, time is one of the most precious commodities, so having alternative training strategies available for short sessions is a very important tool for our clients. There are specific time periods, such as in-season for professional athletes or during recovery from an injury, when short training sessions are highly advantageous. For example, an athlete dealing with an injury must not even flirt with overtraining, so that the body can dedicate adequate resources to metabolic and neurological recovery.

Quality Over Quantity Benefits

Short training sessions are very important during periods of high stress or other hormonal problems when the recovery conditions are far less than ideal. In this case, it is best to emphasize quality over quantity to build up work capacity for future training cycles. Exceeding the capacity to recover can cause elevations in stress hormones associated with muscle wasting, body fat accumulation, reduced performance, and degraded injury recovery.

Adjusting Training Volume for the Stress Meter

Clients who have higher than average stress levels and frequent fluctuations of aggravation do fantastically when with personalized training program volume adjustments. Highly stressed trainees who have been struggling for years with improving body composition and performance can earn remarkable improvements with the right strategic adjustments.

Band Instability Becomes Our Friend

The unstable nature of band work lends very well to prepare for competition. The majority of sports require athletes to move in unstable environments. Contact sports such as football, hockey, and MMA demand athletes sustain a high level of function even when powerful external forces come into play, such as not seeing an opponent coming just before a big collision. Training in a multi-dimensional environment may reduce the risk of many injuries, especially for the core.

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The shorter the session, the more challenging the exercises must be.

Dr. Serrano chose two movements that we knew would be highly taxing due to our unfamiliarity with the exercises and the added band tension. Keep in mind that adding band tension adds tremendous metabolic (muscle) and nervous system (brain) challenges, making them perfect for shorter training sessions. A high volume of band tension movements in the same training session is not a good idea for beginners who may be more susceptible to neurological overtraining. The good news is that an inexperienced athlete does not need a high volume of complex movements to earn excellent rates of improvement.

Short Rest Advantages

While the nervous system can be manipulated to recover more quickly between sets, the muscles are often left “shocked” by the reduced periods that are highly unfamiliar for those accustomed to more rest between sets. These highly dense conditions can help to increase muscle fiber recruitment, optimize the anabolic hormonal environment, and provide a fresh set of stimuli.

Faster recovery between sets allows for shorter rest between sets, which is critical for both body composition and performance improvements when the total training time window is short. Our personalized programming clients, for example, benefit tremendously by way of increased muscle mass and reduced body fat with two short training sessions on the same day.

Not Your Gym Class Push-Up

Band tension push-ups and band resistance pull-ups should be performed in an antagonistic fashion to support faster nervous system recovery between sets. Alternating pushing and pulling movements is a proven strategy that takes advantage of a nervous system phenomenon for faster recovery. In other words, the nervous system, which in large part governs strength, will recover more quickly when alternating pushing and pulling than when doing all of the pushing or pulling sets all in a row.

Suspended band push-ups are highly challenging for the chest, forearms, and core! The unstable nature of the movement made our upper bodies shake like crazy for the first few sets. A clear sign of nervous system challenge would be the earlier set shaking, and ultimately beneficial recruitment can be indicated by the improved performance taking place during the later sets of the session.

Peak Core Engagement May Prevent Competition Injuries

Keeping core muscles engaged with a straight body proved to be highly challenging and rewarding. We used different hand widths to accommodate fatigue, avoid overuse injuries, and to stimulate a greater cross-section of muscle. The change in width for each grip was only a couple inches, but it made a big difference, especially with the closer grip and triceps emphasis.

Band Tension Pull-Up Opportunities

Similar core engagement benefits were earned during the band tension pull-ups. Pull-ups done right are difficult with only body weight, especially for those with higher body weights. Adding mini bands presents a whole new element of challenge and nervous system sharpening opportunities. The more advanced a trainee the greater band tension can be, used gradually over time with the correct spotter in place.

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Following six supersets of the band suspended push-ups and band tension pull-ups, we performed two finishing sets with bodyweight only. The finishing sets are excellent for stoking team environment competitions.

Let’s Get Excited

The bands excite the nervous system, which is one of the reasons they have been so prolific with powerlifters while training the bench, deadlift, and squat. The dynamic speed work developed by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, using various band tensions and loading percentages, is truly groundbreaking.

Push-ups with hands on the floor and only bodyweight felt very powerful. The first 10 reps were like being shot out of a cannon on the way up since the nervous system fully extended the added challenge of band tension. The finishing set is largely for body composition purposes, so we went for a 50-rep break set. A break set allows for a 10-second stoppage each time the trainee feels he or she is one rep short of failure. For example, crank out 12 reps, stop for 10 seconds, resume for eight reps, stop for 10 seconds, and continue in this manner for as long as it takes to get 50 reps with excellent form.

Effortless Pull-Ups

Much like the push-ups, the pull-ups without band tension felt nearly effortless, at least until about rep eight! Using the break set allowed for a highly dense finish to the workout with extra grip conditioning.

Due to the nature of pull-ups, we chose 25 reps as the break set target. The emphasis remained on proper form with the chin above the bar and at least 10 degrees of elbow flexion on the bottom. Going all the way down to a completely straight arm hang position when doing pull-ups can place tremendous stress on joints and tissues, making it a bad idea in our opinion.

Here's a way to set up a workout with band tension for the pull-up and push-up:

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Warning: Bands appropriate for these high-tension movements are required. All bands must be thoroughly inspected and tested before training sessions for safety reasons. This workout is not for beginners. Expert supervision and instruction are required.

Scott H. Mendelson, director of, is a highly regarded performance nutrition and training specialist. In addition to designing customized programs for his celebrity, weekend warrior and executive clients, Scott works daily with professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA and NCAA. Scott has built an excellent reputation providing effective supplements, cutting-edge information, and unmatched service to thousands of clients worldwide since 1999. Special assistant to Dr. Eric Serrano MD, Scott helps with the design of training, nutrition and supplementation trials to confirm the effectiveness of protocols and expand his expertise.

Dr. Eric Serrano, MD, is the ace sought out by elite athletes and business professionals around the world for help with the most difficult of problems.  Dr. Serrano spends a majority of his time promoting the success of his family practice patients in Pickerington; a suburb of Columbus Ohio.  Amongst the thousands of patients are elite athletes from around the globe who will travel to the ends of the earth to consult with Dr. Serrano.

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