Strand Pulling: Missing Strength

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Level 3 Valued Member
I noticed a common theme around here with teaching and rehab exercises, often involving a kettlebell. "Crush curls", "bat wings", "goblet squats", etc. Enforcing total body tension and training functions which may be weak (such as scapular retraction) are the major concerns.

For those not familiar, the common tool is a "chest expander". It is called this because "chest" measurements in the past were not about bloated pecs, but about torso measurements (ie, shirt size). The chest expander does not work the pectorals like a bench press, dip, or fly. Bodies developed with chest expanders will be familiar to the kettlebell crowd, as it is results in very strong and prominent backs and shoulders and arms. Because it does allow for unusually rapid hypertrophy, strand pulling has two main camps, one for strength, and one for looks. Historically, they were used for competitions (single heavy reps), and trained with higher reps often, but training was often more frequent. So, references on how to use chest expanders vary a lot, but in general, they are used like any other form of resistance.

The difference of strands (assuming rubber strands, although steel springs are also used, rubber is superior in my opinion and in many historical assessments) is that their mass is insignificant, but the resistance they provide when stretched increases. Unlike any iron or bodyweight exercise, there is no inertia. One can throw a kettlebell or kip a pullup, but trying that with strands will result in completely failure in the lift. One MUST use continuous tension, and for heavy resistance, total body tension.

The biceps curl thread I made has a link in it to a video of a strong GS athlete curling a barbell "strictly", but as you watch it, you can see it is not super strict. The hips move as the weight is moved, probably as a resulting of a shifting balance. With strands, a heavy curl does not shift one's balance, and there is no inertia in the movement.

Likewise, with overhead presses, with weights, unless one is stopping the weight every inch, there is going to be some inertia and the body naturally holds back to protect itself (ie, as one gets to the top of the lift, the body will drop tension and slow down), but with strands, there is no inertia and the resistance increases, so pressing a chest expander requires one to not just have total body tension, but maintain and increase it throughout the entire lift. I think most here would find strands beneficial if only for the benefit in pressing. Powerlifters have been doing this now, with bands.

Here is a video of the one arm press being done. Note, it is with light resistance and the holding hand is positioned in the weaker position. Heavy presses would hold the other end differently.

And here is an exercise which I think most people would do well to do, the Front Pull:

Note, that is also a light set, and heavy pulls are slightly different, with elbows slightly bent, and with a forward crunch usually.

And here is a Curl (also, done light):

And a "Back Press":

Those two are known for creating big arms.

And the Archer Pull: (requires short strands)

The videos are a good series on basic exercises. The expander is a custom built one with steel springs, his site is good too:

Strand pulling has become less popular, but many old sources are still available and there are strand pullers around now. A theory is that it is less popular because it is inherently hard. One can start push pressing ("jerk") a kettlebell when one gets tired to get one's body involved, but with strands, it is not possible and even with light strands, high reps are quickly very difficult. Some trainers recommend training with 20 or more reps a set, however, I do not do more than 10, usually sticking to around 5, or with singles.

Sources for expanders are Lifeline USA (good expanders, good videos, but the cables are shorter and make some presses difficult, especially the Back Press). They have longer strands and other handles too. I use the hard handles now with Lifeline USA cables. The 5' cables allow one to work one's entire body, and people may find that superior for press assistance.

The "best" and most flexible system is perhaps the Hook. Never heard a bad thing about them and built to last.

Good reviews, but expensive, the Samson Chest Expander. I never used this, but cable loops are very useful.

Perhaps people here will be interested in a light, inexpensive, yet highly effect means of strength training. Whether for strength increases, balance, or corrective exercise, I think they should be tried. One may be missing out in something great.


Level 6 Valued Member
Master Certified Instructor
ah! thanks for reminding me! I was just thinking about getting one of these again from Ironmind a few days ago and forgot about it.These are great for many things but they also work the triceps in a very unique way as well
thanks for the reminder, the info and the links.


Level 2 Valued Member
A very under-rated piece of equipment.They hit muscles especially the back that weights/bodyweight cant .Look up a picture of Fred Rollon who used them as the mainstay of his training.I have used them for all body parts including heavy bands for squats and deadlifts-much less pressure on the joints than with conventional weight training.Also excellent for pre and rehab.They are unique in that one can build strength/muscle and stretch all at once.In all,an excellent tool for getting stronger and flexible.Thanks for posting.

Jason Ginsberg

Level 4 Valued Member
Interesting, thanks for posting.  Is there a way to train the squat or deadlift with these? Almost everything I could find was upper-body only, except for a few very unconvincing squat variations. If so, this would have good applications for me and several of my patients, so I'd be interested to see.

Reading about Fred Rollon, it seems that the strands/cables didn't translate very well to strength with a barbell, more of a bodybuilding effect for him, until he started training with the barbell as well.


Level 2 Valued Member

Alfred Danks was pretty strong and apparently all from strands. Many old time strongmen and wrestlers used them.

The guy who makes The Hook has a squat harness that I hear good things about.


The Hook is cheap and really versatile…. I’d look into that.


I’m about to start an experiment with strand training and will report back once I have some data.



Level 3 Valued Member
Jason, yes, there is. But not with the classic chest expander. One needs accessories. I hear they are very effective.

See this:

And the long Lifeline USA cables:

You'll notice that classic chest expander manuals often tried to use the chest expander for everything. It was marketed to the masses as a whole body gym...much like people with kettlebells today. People doing half bodyweight presses, and then holding a light kettlebell in both hands and squating with it. Such is life.

People generally do not have a direct carry over without some practice. One may be shocked at how weak one is in strand pulling even if one has a lot of strength developed with iron. What does this mean? I do not know, but I think here most would agree that a single form of resistance makes one good at that form, and it takes some practice to translate it to others. Some very strong people, such as Thomas Inch, used them and competed with them. Many people built very strong and impressive bodies using only the chest expander, however, you'll notice that such people also generally engaged in other athletic activities.

In terms of carry over, I heard from others that it is very much like wrestling. But, in all forms of training, there is specificity. One thing which is often noted is that strand pullers are generally a lot stronger than they look in the context of strands, ie, a lean strand puller can pull more than an otherwise stronger larger person could. Also, muscles grow before the strength is set. Thomas Inch found that his transition to a heavy weight did not make him much stronger at first, but afterwards, he became much stronger. I noticed in myself that it caused muscle growth rapidly. I am not training or eating for that, so it did not sustain itself, and the difference was in strength after that.

I personally generally view chest expanders and cables for the upper body, like bending steel. If I had to recommend one thing, it would be the Front Pull. This pull will not only build strong shoulders, but it will greatly compensate for issues people have with their upper backs and shoulders.

There are other things using cables, such as the vertical jumper and power pushup from Lifeline USA. And with loops, and can use the loops without handles. They can be easily used for pushups and dips, and I have found a good way to use them for pullups.


I use strands and calisthenics now.


Level 3 Valued Member
I’m about to start an experiment with strand training and will report back once I have some data.
Let us know. I look forward to hearing others' experiences. There are not a lot of strand pullers, and we do not have a lot of resources.

It is like a secret weapon, but I do not like secrets.
The Hook is cheap and really versatile…. I’d look into that.
And very high quality and strong. When I got my pair, I hooked them over my pullup bar for pullups to see how they handle. Very solid.  They are tested to a ridiculously high rating and I have not heard complaints about the cables snapping.

That is one of the major concerns of strand pullers...cables snapping. Always inspect the cables and look for fraying. Some people occasionally complain that the force is decreasing, but I usually note that they are getting stronger rapidly, which makes them feel like they lose tension initially. I have tested my cables on a spring scale. They do not lose tension or get longer.

Another issue is that letting go under tension is very dangerous. It is actually hard to do (that is generally not the point of failure), but careless people have done it. Letting cables snap back is also a very bad idea.


Bruce Tackett

Level 1 Valued Member
Boy! My ears were ringing!


Thank you for saying such nice things about <a title="The Hook" href="">The Hook</a>! What ya'll should realize is that The Hook can easily be used as a chest expander as well as a pair of dumbbells, and with the door attachment, you've got a complete gym. If anyone should visit my site, please look over the various pages to see exactly how versatile and effective The Hook is.

Thanks again!

- B


Level 3 Valued Member
Small Internet these days :)

Do you do everything yourself in making and shipping the Hook and its accessories and bands?


Bruce Tackett

Level 1 Valued Member
Yes, Herr, I do everything - I make all my equipment from start to finish, ship everything myself, and sit on my customer support hot line.


Level 3 Valued Member
Admirable. I hope people here give you some business. This should appeal to them...aside from calisthenics, nothing is more effective for the cost and weight.

The cables are great. They are eminently useful even by themselves. Thanks.


Bruce Tackett

Level 1 Valued Member
Thanks. Well, giving me business aside, The Hook is simply a great investment. I mean, it provides virtually every exercise you'll find on gym machines, changing resistance is practically instantaneous (which is much appreciated when doing sets), and everything will easily fit into a suitcase along with your clothing when going on business trips or vacations. I also guarantee my equipment. If by some impossible, bizarre quirk of fate, something should go wrong, no one has to worry about going through s corporate maze to get through to someone. I take all calls and emails directly, and I immediately resolve anything. Again, lining my pockets aside, I derive a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that there are hundreds of people from around the world who are getting in the most efficient and effective workouts possible right in the privacy of their own homes.

Anyway, if any one here might be interested in visiting my forum, you can link to it from my website. I have to warn you, though, the only rule I stipulate is that you be warm and breathing to post.

Steve B.

Level 5 Valued Member
A good friend of mine and one of the strongest guys i know with resistant bands and clubs has put out a dvd called the Orion Program at Heroic that is worth a look if your interested in training with resistance bands.Bands definitely a different means of strength resistance and very handy if your traveling.I have long and short versions.The only drawback if you want to call it that is you have to have many bands at various strengths for different movements, and changing them is not that fast but still a nice tool to have in your strength arsenal.

Bruce Tackett

Level 1 Valued Member
Steve Belanger wrote:

The only drawback if you want to call it that is you have to have many bands at various strengths for different movements, and changing them is not that fast but still a nice tool to have in your strength arsenal.

That's exactly the problem solved by <a title="The Hook" href="">The Hook</a>


Level 3 Valued Member
A good friend of mine and one of the strongest guys i know with resistant bands and clubs has put out a dvd called the Orion Program at Heroic that is worth a look if your interested in training with resistance bands.Bands definitely a different means of strength resistance and very handy if your traveling.
You know Kevin Wikse?

Here is an example of his abilities for those not familiar with him:

Note, that the resistance ratings of strands are based on a certain stretch distance. The numbers therefore are not that useful. A 53 lb kettlebell is 53 lbs for everyone. A 80 lb strand is...anything from 0 lbs to over 80 lbs. For training, it is better to go by relative resistance. To test the actual resistance, a spring scale can be used.

For competition, there are other methods for comparing and rating pulls among people.

In that video, he says strong people he knows cannot Front Pull 120 lbs. I am assuming he is using Lifeline USA ratings in the same manner he is using them for what he is holding. I can Front Pull that, and more. However, when I started, I was no where near that, but with training, strength comes quickly, and it builds the shoulders and back like nothing else.

Like I think I wrote earlier, the Front Pull is the one pull I'd recommend to everyone.
 I have long and short versions.The only drawback if you want to call it that is you have to have many bands at various strengths for different movements, and changing them is not that fast but still a nice tool to have in your strength arsenal.
For Lifeline USA, one just gets multiple handle sets. They are cheaper and having pre-set expanders ready to go is very valuable.

For the Hook, that is not an issue, because resistance is easy to add and remove.


Jack Walczak

First Post
Resistance Cable training, and specifically chest expander training, is one of the best overall, all around, training tool a person can use. They are not real fancy or flashy, and in the past have been associated with women in aerobic classes than a serious hardcore training tool, but that is definitely not the case. Lifeline Fitness puts out very progressive and durable resistance cables with handles that can accomodate multiple cables at once. They have 10 levels of resistance bands, from 10 lbs all the way up to 100 lbs cables. Try pressing three of the 100 lbs cables at one time and you will be quickly humbled. And unless your intentionally abusing these cables, you cannot wear them out. Believe me, I've tried. It matter not how strong you are from pumping hundreds of pounds of iron weights, the resistance is a constant force of resistance and momentum will not help you get over the sticking points, or workout with more resistance. Lifeline also makes a fantastic chest expander with the shorter cables with two multi-pocket handles, and those are extremely challenging, just as much so as the regular resistance bands. They can work all parts of your body, including legs and calves. A little imagination and ingenuity is all you need.
I also have a set of Sierra Exercise Equipment's The Hook with both the longer looped cables and the shorter looped cables for the chest expander exercises. They have 15lbs looped bands and 5lbs looped bands that you can purchase and when combined between the two, you can create as much or as little resistance as you want on the fly. They also have a door attachment hook that makes having a anchor point to do things like standing chest presses, lat pulldowns, etc. a breeze, Excellent product and the creator/manufacturer Bruce is very easy to do business with.
The bottom line is, if you enjoy going to a gym, go to the gym. Some folks believe they cannot make muscular or strength gains by working out at home or with anything other than iron weights. This is a false assumption. If you work out often and hard enough with resistance bands and chest expanders, you will see gains in strength and size just as quickly. The resistance is just different. It is a constant force type of resistance rather than a dead weight type of resistance. It all just depends on what you prefer.


Level 7 Valued Member
I like to use bands and I can just double them, knot, or twist them to change resistance, I like to find multiple uses for a training tool. I use bands a lot as warmup, finisher, superset, and tinker day.

There is an awesome free pdf "fatmans guide to cable training" check it out it's very comprehensive.
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