I'm a huge fan of using variable resistance. I use it almost weekly for my athletes. I work almost exclusively with elastic bands (and not chains) for two main reasons: practicality (setup and cost) and transfer to sport (see below). 

This article will focus exclusively on working with variable resistance from elastic bands—Variable Resistance Training (VRT) type of work. The elastic resistance will overload the high portion by adding resistance. As an example for the squat, the bands attach to the floor and the bar. It's not the reverse method where the low portion is lightened via elastic bands attached to the bar and the top of the rack.

Power is Key

When talking about team sports today and asking a strength and conditioning coach to determine the priority physical quality for his athletes, he will probably answer power. Power is the quality that distinguishes a high-level athlete from an average athlete (Baker & Newton, 2008) (Baker, 2001). 

Power is the ability to generate force per unit of time. The force-velocity relationship tells us that the theoretical maximum force is developed at or near zero velocity and the theoretical maximum velocity against the lowest resistance. The power that results from this association between force and speed can be divided into several zones characterized by their associated speed and resistance.

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No matter what power zone you want to develop for your athletes, it requires maximum engagement and a desire to complete the movements as fast as possible. "The process of attempting to achieve maximal acceleration" is Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) (Jones, 2014). 

Popularized by Dr. Hatfield, the effectiveness of CAT has been demonstrated by numerous studies and field experiments. CAT may allow for greater gains in strength and power than working at reduced speed or without speed (Juan José González-Badilloa, 2014) (Ken Jones, 1999).

Unfortunately, when you train large groups of athletes simultaneously as in team sports, the implementation of CAT is not simple. If you are training 20 athletes simultaneously, it is not easy to keep them focused and stimulated to apply CAT at each repetition. 

One way to do this is to use expensive technology such as accelerometers or force platforms that will give feedback to the athlete on their bar speed and thus boost their motivation to compete. 

The other problem with CAT is that it involves minimal education for the athletes and results in braking at the end of the movement. As Dr. Hatfield reinforces, "slamming a weight to the end point in the range of motion certainly would cause injury." 

The learning curve involved in slowing the movement down just before lockout is very small. In team sports, the use of VRT can counter the problems inherent in CAT.

Why Use VRT

VRT is a training principle where accessories vary the resistance during a movement. The most common forms of VRT are the use of elastics bands or chains directly attached to the bar. VRT will provide all the benefits of CAT and allow for greater strength and speed development compared to conventional training (Miguel A. Soria-Gila, 2015), but with easier and faster implementation for groups of athletes. 

Adding elastic resistance to a traditional movement will increase resistance during the execution of the movement. The gradual addition of resistance helps athletes accelerate their movement as much as possible to counteract this elastic resistance. Elastic resistance naturally develops the use of CAT in athletes because instinctively, when they perform a movement with elastic resistance, they will accelerate the movement. So with VRT, it is easier to implement the CAT principle. VRT also brings many other benefits, especially for athletes practicing power sports where the notion of the speed of movement is very important.

 Other Benefits of VRT

  • Increase in power and RFD (Rate of Force Development).
  • Compared to CAT, the use of elastic bands allows acceleration to be maintained longer during the movement and reduces deceleration (by decreasing reflex activation of antagonistic muscles) in the final range of motion (Bellar, 2011). If the acceleration is maintained longer, it's possible for the athlete to perform the movement with more speed and power. Additionally, this brings the movement closer to the ballistic and plyometrics movements performed in sports such as jumps or throws, where the deceleration is also less. 
  • VRT modifies the speed of movements. Elastic bands will increase the eccentric speed of movement. With the increased speed of the eccentric phase, the "muscle is able to store elastic energy during the eccentric phase of movement and then releases this energy as kinetic energy during the concentric phase of the lift" (Cronin, 2003). This increase in kinetic energy during the concentric phase "indicates that VRT leads to a greater RFD and muscular power than the more conventional form of resistance training." RFD and maximal power are two determinants of performance in power sports like team sports. (Miguel A. Soria-Gila, 2015). Lastly, the use of VRT "serves to improve the transition from eccentric to concentric phase exercise, and thus, shortens the stretch-shortening cycle, which would potentiate the concentric phase" (Miguel A. Soria-Gila, 2015). Reducing the transition between the eccentric and concentric phase is one of the foundations of the triphasic training popularized by Cal Dietz . "The key to improved sport performance is producing more force in less time" (Cal Dietz & Ben Peterson, 2012).
  • Overload the strongest range of motion to improve transfer to the sport. If we take the example of a squat, our 1RM corresponds to the strength that we can develop in the most unfavorable amplitude (the bottom position). We are generally much stronger in a third of the squat than in the full squat. Both full and partial range of motion work has its advantages. However, if we work only on a full range, we overload less the high portion, which is much stronger since we work with the load allowing us to lift the weight in the bottom position. However, it turns out that when we talk about transfer in sports, work in the amplitudes corresponding to the sport would perhaps be more interesting (principle of accentuation). The principle of accentuation is best described as the "main idea is to train strength only in the range of the main sport movement where the demand for high force production is maximal" (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). By using the principle of accentuation, we could have better transfers in sport performance. For example, one-third squat work would produce better gains in vertical jumps and speed (Rhea, 2016). With VRT, we simultaneously benefit from the best of both worlds: full range of motion work while respecting the principle of accentuation due to the overload created by the elastic resistance.
  • Indirect reduction of the risk of injury. If we take the example of the squat, the load is the lowest in the bottom position, where the leverage on the spine is the most unfavorable (because of the inclination of the torso). On the other hand, the load is greatest in the top zone where the leverage on the spine is more favorable (lower inclination). This limitation of stress on the spine in unfavorable or risky areas is very relevant for athletes in team sports. The volume of running (which also represents significant stress on the spine) is important. Personally, the use of VRT allows me to maintain development work using high intensities even during a sports season. The risk of injury is also reduced compared to CAT because there is no need to slow down the movement to protect the joints. After all, the elastic resistance (if it is sufficient) will do it automatically.

To resume, the use of VRT allows us to easily coach and implement the CAT principle with groups of athletes. Additionally, there are other advantages compared to conventional training such as an increase in power development, a better RFD, and a possible better transfer in sports where the notion of speed of movement is always omnipresent.

Implementation of VRT for Groups of Athletes

My goal is to present a simple guide on how to implement but without sacrificing accuracy. What I'm presenting is exactly how I implement the use of VRT with my athletes:

  1. Determine the movements you will use VRT.
  2. Measure the average height of the players and the heights of the bars at the extreme amplitudes of each movement.
  3. Set the bar supports to the different heights of the movements.
  4. Place bars at heights and bands.
  5. Using a scale, measure the resistance of ALL your different elastics on ALL your movements in the extreme high and low positions.
  6. Remember to multiply your results by two because you use two elastic bands! 

Then I compile these rounded results into a reference chart for each movement, which I display in the room or on individual programs (example below).

Each player's program automatically calculates the loads placed on the bar and the elastic resistance they should use according to the percentage of VRT you want to use (here 20%). They then select the elastics corresponding to the resistance according to the table displayed in the gym.

For the example above, the athlete must perform four sets of four repetitions at 80% of his 1RM (115kg) of which 20% comes from the elastics. As noted on his program, he must use a load of 72.5kg and add 20kg from the elastics (18.4kg rounded up to 20kg). He then refers to the table and selects the yellow or orange bands with the same resistance. For practical reasons, I round the bar loads to the nearest 2.5kg (because I use 1.25kg plates) and the resistance of the elastics to the nearest 5kg. 


  • I am conscious that the accuracy of measuring the elastic resistance is not perfect because of the use of an average height and the rounding of the resistance. However, this is the best compromise for large groups between the simplicity of use and accuracy that I have found. It is always possible to increase a band's resistance by simply adding a loop around the peg where it is attached.
  • Remember to standardize the placement of your elastic bands. Moving the peg bands forward or backward (if possible) will change the stretch of the rubber band and, therefore its resistance, but also the leverage on the movement. Do a squat with the bands placed 1 m in front of your hips or at the same level and you will understand (to go further, look at the principle of Reactive Neuro Training or RNT).
  • Always check the state of wear of your bands because you don't want a band to snap when one of your athletes is in the middle of a squat.
  • VRT may not be very effective with beginners, as studies have shown identical gains with traditional training. So you might save some of your bullets for later.


Athletes can benefit from training with maximum speed intent. However, achieving maximum speed intention and commitment to work is not necessarily simple for groups of athletes. The use of the VRT principle makes it possible to facilitate the commitment and utilization of CAT in a simple and inexpensive way, even with groups, and it brings other significant benefits.

Let's develop the power!

P.S. The starting point for all my research and experimentation on the use of VRT is due to the huge work of Louie Simmons.


  1. Baker. (2001). A Series of Studies on the Training of High-Intensity Muscle Power in Rugby League Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  2. Baker, & Newton. (2008). Comparison Of Lower Body Strength, Power, Acceleration, Speed, Agility, And Sprint Momentum To Describe Andcompare Playing Rank Among professional Rugby League Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  3. Bellar, D. M. (2011). The effects of combined elastic- and free-weight tension vs. free-weight tension on one-repetition maximum strength in the bench press. Journal of strength and conditioning research.
  4. Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson. (2012). Triphasic Training: A Systematic Approach To Elite Speed And Explosive Strength Performance. 
  5. Cronin, J. M. (2003). The effects of bungy weight training on muscle function and functional performance. J Sports Sci.
  6. Jones, M. T. (2014). Effect of compensatory acceleration training in combination with accommodating resistance on upper body strength in collegiate athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine.
  7. Juan José González-Badilloa, D. R.-R.-M.-B. (2014). Maximal intended velocity training induces greater gains in bench press performance than deliberately slower half-velocity training. European Journal of Sport Science.
  8. Ken Jones, G. H. (1999). The Effects of Compensatory Acceleration on Upper-Body Strength and Power in Collegiate Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  9. Miguel A. Soria-Gila, I. J. (2015). Effects Of Variable Resistance Training On Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research ·.
  10. Rhea, M. R. (2016, Mars). Joint-Angle Specific Strength Adaptations Influence Improvements in Power in Highly Trained Athletes. Human Movement.
  11. Zatsiorsky, & Kraemer. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength training 2nd edition. Human Kinetics.

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Romain Guerin is a French strength and conditioning coach for professional rugby. He worked with the under 16 France team rugby league, rugby league academy, and police special forces. Romain earned his master's degree in sport science and other certifications like Westside Barbell® Special Strength Certificate and EXOS® certification. He can be reached at romainguerin.coachsport@gmail.com. Follow him on Instagram @romainguerin_pro.

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