Resistance bands are great for youth and adult athletes because they use variable linear resistance. This reduces the stress on tendons and joints reducing the risk of injury. Phase 1 is ideal for youth athletes typically age 8 - 12 with little or no experience in strength training. It is also great for teens and college athletes returning from rehab or adults looking to maintain performance for years to come. These athletes will especially benefit from bands instead of weights, pulleys, or TRX/suspension body weight exercises.
Starting with Phase 1 before progressing to Phase 2 in important because as athletes are growing and developing, their muscles can develop faster than their tendons and often times they lack good stability in their joints. This makes tendonitis and joint injuries common in youth athletes. Athletes in their mid-20s can also start to become more injury prone and switching more exercises back to bands from weights will reduce their risk of injury while maintaining their strength and speed later in life.
Tom Brady is a great example of maintaining high levels of performance by using resistance bands. He is one of the biggest advocates for using resistance bands for athletic training and even wrote a book discussing why. Playing at near peak performance levels into his 40s is proof of the results. As athletes continue to train through adulthood, they will benefit from switching even more exercises over to bands. Older athletes benefit from using lots of banded exercises focusing on stability and muscular balance with strength exercises for all the major muscle groups.
There are 5 main variables that should be adjusted as athletes progress: Reps, Sets, Frequency, Resistance, and Tempo. I will break this up into 3 phases of progression. This article gives you guidance on how to progress through Phase 1. Phase 2 becomes more complex, factoring in additional types of training cycles to transfer more strength and stability into power, speed, and endurance for improved performance. Phase 3 will build on the previous phase and take athletes to peak levels of training with modern training methods designed to achieve optimal performance at a lower risk of injury. Elite Athletes training at a high level use many types of exercises with a variety of equipment but still use bands for optimal results with certain exercises.
There is also a progression of exercises and the complexity of exercises an athlete should do, but these articles are not going to tell you the exact exercises an athlete should be doing for their sport. Elite Athlete does have some sport specific workout guides and videos that can give you more guidance in those sports. Make sure to subscribe to both the website and YouTube channel to get updates as we add to our training resources. We do recommend having a qualified coach or trainer determine the specific exercises and intensity of training phases for your personal athletic goals.
Here are some terms to better understand this phase.
Reps, or repetitions, are how many times you perform an exercises in a row. 5-30 reps in a row will make a set for this phase of progression, depending on their progression and the exercises being done.
Sets will repeat the number of reps a certain number of times. For instance, 3 sets of 20 reps means you will do an exercise 20 times in a row then stop for short period of rest and repeat till it has been done 3 times.
Frequency is how many times you will perform an exercise that primary works a certain muscle group in a week. In Phase 1 it is ideal to primarily train each muscle group once per week with certain muscles being trained a second or third time as a secondary muscle group. It is good to train the core muscles more than once per week as they progress.
Resistance from power bands are increased by making micro adjustment, macro adjustments, or switching to higher weight band.
Here are some examples of micro adjustments:
Moving slightly farther from an anchor by taking a small step back.
Adjusting your grip or foot placement to stretch the band slightly farther.
Here are examples of macro adjustments:
Adding an extra loop around your foot.
Doubling a band or using two at the same time.
Using a handle on both ends of the same band.
Elite Athlete Bands have a smaller increase in weight from one to the next compared to other loop style power bands. This makes it easier to progress from one band to the next.
Tempo is a factor that many athletes do not focus on enough but is very important in learning good technique and reducing the risk of injury. There are three types of contractions and a pause that combine to make the total tempo. It is important to understand how long each part should be for achieving different goals.
Concentric Contraction, the shortening of the muscles and typically lengthening of the band.
Static Contraction, holding or pausing a contraction.
Eccentric Contraction, the lengthening of the muscles and typically shortening of the band.
Recovery Pause, a pause in a position with little or no tension before starting the next rep.
Stability exercises should all be slow and controlled taking 5-6 seconds per rep with an equal length concentric and eccentric contraction. In phase 1 strength exercises should take 2-4 seconds per rep depending on their progression for each exercise.
Micro Training Cycles, each is typically 3-5 weeks with a recovery week as the last week.
Phase 1 will mostly focus on anatomical adaptation and strength cycles with frequent stability exercises to reduce the risk of injury and prepare them for more intense workouts in future seasons. There can also be a speed and recovery cycle to finish off a training season.
Super Sets, are a series of exercises in a row. This allows one muscle group to recover while training another muscle group and add a little bit of cardio into a strength workout. They are typically 3 - 5 different exercises and repeated 2 - 3 times with a couple minutes of rest or stretching between.
Anatomical Adaption, prepare the body to get stronger without injury. Start with a lighter resistance than you think and add resistance if it’s too easy. Using the lightest recommended Elite Athlete Power Band from their workout guides or videos is recommended in in Phase 1. Athletes should be able to comfortably do 3 sets of strength exercises with 10-30 reps per set and stop the set when a slight soreness starts to set in. They should only work through a slight soreness for the last 5 reps and only be slightly challenged on the last set.
Strength, developing a higher base level of strength in all the primary muscle groups. Use a resistance that can be done with 3 sets of 10-30 reps per set, stopping the set before technique becomes too difficult to maintain. It is okay for the tempo to pause slightly longer before each rep to help maintain good technique near the end of a set. The last set should be a little more challenging working through 5-10 reps after slight soreness begins. They can also do a few reps of slightly fatigued muscles if they can mostly maintain good technique.
Speed, once athletes are holding good technique at steady tempo during a strength cycle, they can then be trained at slightly faster tempos. It is ideal to progress to this phase directly from a strength phase when they are 2-4 weeks away from an end of season competition. They should perform 2-3 sets at the same resistance you used during your last strength cycle but with 1/2 or 2/3 the amount of reps. They should maintain a slightly faster tempo for all the reps to start developing speed combined with their strength improveme
Recovery, rebuilding your muscles to reduce fatigue and lower the risk of injury. It is also used to help athletes perform at their best for a competition. It is good to have a recovery week after 2-4 weeks of training in a strength cycle and also ideal to use just after a speed cycle just before an end of season competition. Only do 1-2 sets with 1/3 to 1/2 the number of reps and slightly less resistance that were used in the last strength cycle. The tempo should be the same as a speed cycle but will work them even less. This should be combined with about twice as much stretching as normal and can include other recovery activities like light foam rolling and savasana.
Applying Phase 1 Progression to Athletes
Start an athlete's progression with an anatomical adaptation cycle with all the exercises being done at a low resistance and a slow tempo. The focus is on learning the movements with a low amount of stress on the joints and connective tissues. Start new exercises using the lowest weight band recommended bands from the Elite Athlete workout guides and videos. Start in a position that has a little slack, so the band slightly sags then take a baby step back or micro adjust to remove the slack. This will allow the exercises to have the least amount of resistance at the beginning of the movement.
Some exercises use a long lever
and move a farther distance, requiring a little slack at the beginning of the movement. This ensures it is still low resistance at peak contraction. An example is, front lat pull downs. Because the athlete starts with their hands straight over head and end with their hands down on the sides of their thighs, the total distance stretched is double the length of their arm. This stretches the band much more than most other exercises and creates a higher increase in resistance from start to finish.
If an exercise is too easy or too difficult, athletes can adjust the resistance using the micro adjustments. Adjusting your distance is the easiest and most common way to adjust the resistance. Only if the resistance is very easy when the band is very easy when stretched to twice its length, then the athlete can switch to the next higher weight resistance band. This is typically only done early in a season with older athletes who can progress quicker. It is good to error on the side of taking more time before increasing the resistance.
In the anatomical adaptation cycle, it is also good to start by doing sets at 5-10 reps depending on the difficulty of the exercises. After just a couple weeks they can progress to 10-20 reps but do not increase the reps to a point in which they start losing their technique. It is good to start stability exercises with only 1 set and strength exercises at 2 sets, then progress to one more set of each once they are in their second training cycle, but it can be sooner for athletes that have some previous experience.
Stability exercises should be done for each joint once per week during anatomical adaptation phases. This will develop them in a way that reduces risk of injury for future strength development and during competitions. Stability exercises should take about 6 seconds total per rep, 3 second concentric and 3 second eccentric contractions. Stability exercise will only do 1 or 2 sets at about half the number of reps as strength exercises.
When starting new strength exercises it should take about 5 seconds per rep to promote good technique and development of muscle memory. The concentric contractions should be at a moderate to slow speed, pause at the peak contraction and have a slower eccentric contraction, taking 3 - 5 seconds per rep. Remind athletes to never let the bands fling back. For beginners, it is good to have 1 - 1.5 second concentric contraction with a .3 - .5 second pause, and a 2 - 3 second eccentric contractions for most exercises. As they learn the technique and start to develop good muscle memory, strength exercises can speed up slightly but should still be slow enough that they can control the motion. Over time this will develop a strong muscle memory for good technique and set them up to maintain that technique at faster tempos and higher resistances.
An example of anatomical adaptation workouts that will provide a good balance of exercises to work nearly all the major muscle groups can been seen in our Team Training Foundations Videos.
After 2 - 3 training cycles of anatomical adaptation, even younger athletes can safely progress to a strength cycle. Now athletes will develop a good base level of strength that will later be applied to improved performance and more advanced types of training. Initially use a similar resistance to the previous anatomical adaptation cycle but increase the reps to sets of 10-30 reps, so they fatigue the muscles a little more. They should feel slight soreness for the last 5 reps of the first 2 sets and last 5-10 reps of the third set. It is okay if the tempo slows slightly before the end of the sets and if their technique slightly falls apart on the last couple reps of the 3rd set. If it is too easy once they have reached 30 reps of a strength exercise, they should micro adjust to increase the resistance slightly. It is up to each athlete to understand this and adjust according to what they feel.
Make sure to give them a recovery week after 2-4 weeks of a strength cycle. When doing the next strength cycle some athletes may be ready to use the next higher weight band for some exercises. Elite Athlete Power Bands are made at resistance increases that allow this to be an easier transition than most other loop bands. Only increase to the higher weight bands if they have already done micro adjustments and are not being challenged enough using the current bands while stretching them to twice the length. They might need to do less reps of
the higher weight at first and progress back to the number of reps they used with the lower weight band throughout a cycle or two. I recommend when switching to a higher weight band to reduce the reps by 10 per set initially and working back up to the same number of reps over a few weeks.
After a couple strength cycles in phase 1, it is ideal to have a speed cycle 2 - 3 weeks before an important competition. Athletes should use the same resistance they used during the last strength cycle but perform one less set with about 1/2 or 2/3 the number of reps per set. They will also increase their tempo, making each rep about 1 - 2 seconds faster. They should be careful to maintain control of good technique for the movements with this slightly faster tempo. A good tempo for phase 1 speed cycle is, a 1 second concentric contraction with a .2 second pause, and a 2 second eccentric contractions or slightly faster for most exercises. It is more about reinforcing muscle memory at a slightly faster speed to prepare them for even faster tempos when they progress to phase 2.
A recovery week should be at the end of each strength or speed cycle. This week is to allow the muscles to rebuild and loosen up before further challenging them or to prepare for peak performance at a competition. The exercises should be at same tempo of which ever phase was just before it, since adjusting the tempo can create enough stress to reduce the bodies recovery process. If the season is long enough, athletes will have recovery weeks at the end of each strength cycle and after a speed cycle going into the last competition of the year. During a recovery week athletes should do twice as much stretching as normal and have some specific stretches based on what muscles each athlete would benefit from by improving their range of motion. Each athlete is different and will have a greater or lesser need to stretch certain muscles. If you can, factor this into what stretches they should be doing. Using gentle foam rolling after stretching can furth improve the recovery of muscles, especially if they have knots. Make sure athletes are well hydrated when stretching and foam rolling to get good results. Reducing stress is another important factor in recovering, guided meditation or Savasana is a good way to relieve stress but is ideally done near the end of their day. Having a practice after this is not recommended because they might become tired and not perform well right after. I have even had athletes fall asleep during Savasana's.
Here is an example of how training cycles can fit together making a 14-week season for athletes aged 9 - 10 will little to no strength training experience. You will want to map out your training season and create cycles to fit when you want the athletes to perform better. It is also ideal to line up recovery weeks with A or B competitions, so that their bodies are better prepared to perform well.
Anatomical Adaptation Cycle 1 3 weeks
Recovery week 1 week
Anatomical Adaptation Cycle 2 2 weeks
Recovery week 1 week Mid-Season B Tournament/Competition
Strength Cycle 1 3 weeks
Recovery Week 1 week
Speed Cycle 1 2 weeks
Recovery Week 1 week End of Season A Tournament/Competition
Here is an example of a preseason and in season program lasting 22 weeks for athletes aged 10-12 that have some strength training experience. It has a 4-week preseason training and 18-week season. Notice how the length of strength cycles are adjusted to allow for recovery weeks before each important competition and gives enough time for a speed cycle before the end of season competition. You will want to customize the length of the cycles to fit your athlete’s competition schedules in a similar way.
Anatomical Adaptation Cycle 1 3 weeks Preseason training
Strength Cycle 1 1 week
Anatomical Adaptation Cycle 2 2 weeks 1st in season cycle
Strength Cycle 2 3 weeks
Recovery Week 1 week Early-Season B Tournament/Competition
Strength Cycle 2 4 weeks
Recovery Week 1 week Mid-Season B Tournament/Competition
Strength Cycle 3 4 weeks
Recovery Week 1 week
Speed Cycle 1 1 week
Recovery Week 1 week End of Season A Tournament/Competition
I hope this article helps you set up your athletes for success and leads to further progression toward becoming Elite Athletes. Check out my article for Phase 2 progression to take your athletes to the next level or to start your experienced athletes using the Elite Athlete Power Bands. Keep in mind that this progression requires bands that are set at ideal resistances without adding too much weight from one band to the next. For taking time to read this article, use promo code Stability10 to receive extra padded ankle/wrist straps and 10% off your Elite Athlete Power Band Kit.
Be Strong and Be Elite!!!