We’ve been conditioned to relate strength training to lifting heavy things like barbells and dumbbells. As a result, most people don’t consider resistance bands to be serious alternatives when it comes to getting strong. While it’s true that you will never get the same benefit with resistance bands that you will by doing heavy barbell squats or deadlifts, they do play an important role in a complete strength program.
In this article, we go in depth to discover just how you can best use resistance bands in your strength routine.
How Resistance Bands Build Strength
The secret to elastic resistance is simple. As you stretch the elastic band, the resistance increases. This resistance provides stimulus to the muscle to build strength and help increase muscle mass. Elastic resistance training (ERT) allows us to exercise single or multiple joints at the same time. This makes your training more functional and efficient than conventional weight training.
Regular exercise machines and dumbbells use gravity against the weights (isotonic resistance) and often limit you to one particular exercise machine. Elastic resistance, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on gravity; rather, it’s resistance depends on how much the band or tubing is stretched.
Many exercises can be performed with a single band or tube, and the resistance can easily be increased by moving to the next higher color of band or tube. The different colors of bands represent increasing thicknesses of the band, which ultimately increases the force. Moving from one color band to the next increases resistance by 20 to 30 percent when the bands are stretched to twice their resting length.
The following chart shows the resistance levels of the Fit Simplify resistance band set.
|Yellow||Extra Light||2-4 lbs|
|Red||Extra Heavy||25-30 lbs|
The force produced by an elastic band or tube is determined by this formula:
Force = cross section area x percent elongation
The cross section area is essentially the total amount of elastic material (width x height) while the percent elongation is the percentage of change in length from the resting (no tension) length. for example, a three foot length of band with no tension stretched to a final length of 6 feet has elongated 100 percent.
One resistance band can be used to strengthen all the major muscle groups with exercises, such as bench press, seated row, upright row, lat pulldown, leg press, knee extension, or hamstring curl. Elastic bands may also be used to strengthen specific muscles that can’t be activated with selectorized (muscle-specific) machines, such as the rotator cuff and peroneus longus (a muscle important to foot pronation). In addition, bands can also be used to perform flexibility or balance exercises.
Resistance Band Research
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), strength training is an important part of any well-rounded exercise program for all adults, including older adults. In 2008, the United Sates Department of Health and Human Services included strength training in national physical activity guidelines, recommending that two or more days a week, adults perform moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activities of all the major muscle groups.
Research demonstrates that ERT provides as much benefit in strength gains as the use of more expensive and bulky weight training equipment. a 2008 study by Colado & Triplett compared 10 weeks of elastic and machine based exercise at the same intensities. The researchers found no significant difference between the groups; both the elastic and machine based groups significantly increased their strength and muscle mass. Furthermore, the researchers pointed out that the elastic resistance exercisers benefited from lower cost and less pace for training compared to the machine based exercisers.
Simply performing an exercise program for as little as six weeks with elastic resistance can increase strength 10 to 30 percent in both younger and older adults. The added benefits of ERT include increasing muscle mass, lowering body fat, and increasing power and endurance. In fact, strength training of the legs with elastic resistance can even help improve your balance, gait, and mobility. Elastic resistance training provides a variety of training methods. In addition to strength training, elastic resistance is used for retraining movement patterns by creating a vector of resistance during sport-specific activities such as a golf swing or baseball pitch. Elastic resistance can also be used for stabilization training by targeting the core muscles through whole-body exercises.
Elastic bands have also been combined with isotonic resistance for high-performance training, particularly when paired with a bench press or squat movement. Theoretically, combining elastic and isotonic resistance complements both concentric and eccentric movement phases to provide greater acceleration in the initial movement, possibly enhancing power. However, the literature is somewhat conflicting; some studies report improvements in strength and power with combined elastic and isotonic resistance, while others do not. More research is needed to confirm the theory.
Advantages of Resistance Band Training
The greatest advantages of elastic resistance are its portability, low cost, and versatility. Unlike isotonic resistance (free weights, machines and pulleys), elastic resistance relies on the tension with the band rather than the pull of gravity. While isotonic resistance exercises are limited to directions of movement in which gravity provides resistance (such as upward movement against gravity), elastic resistance offers many more movements and directions of movement for exercises (such as side-to-side movements). This imparts a higher level of neuromuscular control compared to selectorized machines. Elastic resistance allows us to exercise multiple joints and planes in a standing position (rather than seated on machines), thus bringing more core muscle activation into the same machine-based exercise. In addition, it’s much harder to cheat with an elastic resistance exercise because you can’t use momentum to jerk the weight into position.
In contrast to pulley and machine based resistance, elastic resistance offers inherent and smoother eccentric resistance during the return phase of the movement, thus stimulating the anti-gravity function of muscles. Finally, elastic bands also allow for higher speed movements and plyometric exercises, whereas isotonic resistance and machines do not.
Disadvantages of Resistance Band Training
While elastic resistance training has several advantages, it does have some disadvantages. Unfortunately, elastic bands and tubing do occasionally break. While they are more subject to wear and tear than isotonic weights, advances in the manufacturing of elastic resistance products has lengthened their useful life. Care must be taken when using bands to inspect them and avoid sharp objects. Be sure the bands are securely attached so they don’t snap and injure you. It is also difficult to quantify the specific amount of resistance of an elastic band compared to an isotonic weight. For example, we can’t say that a particular band is equal to a specific amount of resistance as you can with a dumbbell; the force produced by each band depends on how much it is stretched.
Most elastic bands and tubing contain natural latex rubber to which some people may be allergic. The symptoms of a latex allergy are:
- Welts where the skin contacts the band or tubing
People who are sensitive to latex should use latex-free bands and tubing to avoid allergic reactions. It is reasonable to say, however, that the advantages of elastic resistance outweigh the disadvantages.
Is ERT Functional Training?
Some have said that training with bands is not functional, arguing that the increasing force of the bands is counter to the increasing-decreasing bell-shaped muscular strength curve. Their argument is that the band is at its highest force when the muscle is least able to produce force at the end of the range. However, research has shown that the strength curve produced by elastic research is, in fact, similar to strength curves of isotonic resistance: both produce a bell-shaped curve. In addition, elastic resistance exercises are not restricted by a single plane of motion as typical isotonic resistances provide.
Elastic resistance offers multiple planes of resistance, providing resistance in the frontal, sagittal, or transverse planes (front and back, left and right, and, at the midsection, top and bottom), offering resistance to both isolated and integrated movements. Elastic resistance is uniquely suited for replicating whole-body, multiple-joint movements of functional activities such as simulated throwing, lifting, or running. Based on biomechanical and clinical evidence, elastic resistance is definitely ideal for functional fitness.
ERT Strength Training Tips
- Start your program with lighter resistances to emphasize proper form and movements.
- Perform movements slowly and with control and emphasize the negative (eccentric, or returning) part of the movement.
- Don’t let the band snap quickly back to the resting position.
- Balance your exercises by performing exercises for your muscles on the front of the body as well as the rear.
- Breathe properly during resistance exercises – never hold your breath while doing resistance exercises.
- Perform a proper warm-up and cool-down.
- Always use proper posture when performing resistance training exercises.
- Progression is the key to strength training programs
- Elastic bands and tubing come in a variety of strengths and can be easily changed as your strength progresses. For example, FitSimplify bands are color coded to help you to progressively increase the resistance level.