Recently I gave up my gym membership, but not my fitness goals. They’re stronger than ever. You see, I’ve found the perfect gym replacement, resistance bands.
I used to think resistance bands were just for rehabilitation and light home workouts, but then I discovered they provide a more intense, well-rounded workout than free weights. Now I think everybody should be using them. Yet, misconceptions about resistance band training might be holding you back from trying this quality training tool. If so, you’re missing out on the best weight training available.
It’s time you discovered the awesome benefits of resistance band training. Let’s shatter 17 of the most persistent myths and help understand why everyone should use resistance bands and incorporate a training routine into their own workout plan.
1. Resistance band training is mainly useful for rehabilitation of injuries
It is true that elastic is used frequently in physical therapy and injury rehabilitation, but many people confuse the single layer elastic or tubular material used in rehabilitation with resistance bands used by fitness professionals. These have handles or are in a continuous loop.
2. Resistance band training is not as effective as free weight and machine-based training
Numerous studies have proven that peak load and muscle activity during elastic resistance is similar to free-weight and machine resistance. Both the number of muscle fibers activated and amount of force provided proved similar or better.
3. Resistance band training does not improve strength
Elastic resistance increases muscle strength and muscle size in a similar manner to free-weight training programs. In addition, resistance bands provide more functional strength, better injury prevention, the ability to change muscle emphasis during exercise and greater muscle power development. For this reason they are frequently used by power-lifters to develop their explosive power.
4. The efficacy of resistance bands has not been properly studied with clinical trials.
Elastic resistance has been studied in over 300 published randomized clinical trials. In addition, many published studies describe in depth the scientific foundation for the efficacy of resistance band training (1,2,3,4).
5. Resistance bands are not durable enough for high-level training
Made from super-strong thin rubber, they’re tough and come in various resistance strengths. Many studies have shown the amount of force exerted to be similar to free weights.
6. Resistance bands are low-cost so must not as effective as high-cost free weights and gym machines
They are essentially big elastic bands, but simple tools are often the best. Cost does not necessarily equal quality of performance.
In fact, there is some pretty convincing research that shows that resistance band training IS as effective as both free weights and machines. Specifically, they are able to build muscle, reduce body fat and and enhance muscular strength on par with a course of training using conventional gym training over a similar period of time. (1,2,3,4)
7. Resistance bands are not for serious athletes and are only suited to light home workouts
Elite athletes (for example, 95% of all NFL teams) routinely use resistance bands as part of their training and at least 10 universities have Band Training Gyms. In fact, many top athletes use resistance bands in conjunction with free weights to produce a super intense workout. Here’s an example of how they do it.
When working the biceps muscles, the athlete will hold both a barbell and a resistance band, which is also looped over the feet. The barbell will be a little lighter than he would normally use. He then performs between 10 and 12 curls, working against the gravity based resistance of the barbell AND the elastic based resistance of the bands. When he reaches the point of failure, he drops the barbell but carries on with the resistance bands for another 10-12 reps, or until he reaches the point of failure.
8. Resistance band exercises are difficult to learn
Many familiar strength training moves can be performed with resistance bands, such as bicep curls, squats, shoulder presses, chest presses and shoulder extensions.
If you’ve been using free weights and weighted machines at the gym, adapting the exercises you already know to resistance band training is straightforward.
9. Resistance bands stretch out and lose their resistance force
After the first few uses of stretching the band out to about 200%, the resting length will be permanently set. One study found that after this initial pre-stretching there was no significant difference in pull force after over 5000 repetitions.
10. The length of the band determines the force produced
The force is determined by the percentage change from resting length (how far it is stretched) regardless of the initial length of the band. The resistance increases with range of motion, but this does not make it difficult to complete the end of the exercise, because the torque produced at the joint is bell-shaped. This means the muscle receives greatest resistance at its strongest point in the range of motion and therefore is receiving better resistance to stimulate muscle building.
11. Only a small range of exercises can be done with resistance bands
All major muscle groups can be targeted with resistance bands. Unlike free weights which rely on gravity and as a result can only provide resistance on a vertical plane, resistance bands also work on a horizontal plane.
Many everyday and athletic movements, such turning your torso while carrying a heavy object or swinging a bat, take place on a horizontal plane. So resistance band training strengthens real-life muscle movements and can prevent injury. Free weights cannot provide this benefit.
12. You won’t get a strong burn from resistance band training
Many report greater muscle burn and greater muscle fatigue when using resistance bands as opposed to free weights.
On top of the extra horizontal resistance, only resistance bands produce linear variable resistance. Basically this means that during an exercise as the band stretches the resistance increases and with that the number of muscle fibers being worked. It all adds up to a stronger burn when compared to free weights.
Additionally, because they do not rely on gravity, resistance bands do not allow cheating through the use of momentum. The resistance comes from the stretching action of the material, not from mass as in weights. The only way to perform the exercise is by using your muscle fibers – there’s no way around it!
13. Resistance band training is a fad that will soon pass
Elastic resistance has been used for almost a century, because those in the know are aware of how incredibly effective it is. They are used by every calibre of athlete, from rank beginner to seasoned pro. That makes them among the most versatile of all types of fitness equipment. And because they are so low cost and portable, they re accessible to anyone, anywhere. They’ve got so much going for them, that they are bound to be with us for a long time to come!
14. Resistance bands are designed for toning only
Resistance bands are designed to work your muscles hard – to strengthen, not just tone. That’s why they come in several levels of resistance – to push your muscles to their limits.
15. Loop bands should only be placed around the ankles when working out
This is a common mistake that limits effectiveness because it puts the ankles and knees into play, allowing them to compensate. The band should be placed just above your knees, making your movements more functional and active. The more you take the ankles and knees out of play, the more the glutes and key hip muscles are activated, and that means a better quality workout.
16. The band will migrate up and down your leg as you workout
The band will not migrate, as long as you maintain tension on it. By maintaining this tension you are forced to keep your feet in optimal position in regard to your center of gravity. Therefore it is not recommended to use sleeves or hooks to keep it in position. Migration can be eliminated as long as you keep up the tension and this will in turn keep your feet apart in proper athletic position, for optimum results.
17. Resistance band exercises should be done slowly
It’s important to move slowly when you are first learning how to use the band, but ultimately you need to move quickly because you want to activate fast-twitch muscle fibers. This results in a more challenging workout and trains your reactive stabilizers, making them stronger. This in turn protects you when you need to make awkward movements in everyday life.
The Bottom Line
Just because they’re low-cost and portable, doesn’t mean resistance bands are not an excellent fitness tool. Take advantage of their easy portability and get out of the gym – train anywhere, anytime. They’re perfect to stash in your suitcase when travelling with no access to gym equipment, and there won’t be any compromise on your workout.
Don’t be fooled by their simplicity. If you’re serious about high quality, maximum force weight training, resistance bands are for you!
- Aniansson, A. P., et al. Effect of a training programme for pensioners on condition and muscular strength. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 3:229-241, 1984.
- Boyer, B. T. A comparison of the effects of three strength training programs on women. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research 4(3):88-94, 1990.
- Ebben, W. P. and Jensen, R.L. Electromyographic and kinetic analysis of traditional, chain, and elastic band squats. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 16(4):547-550, 2002.
- Fornataro, S, et al. Investigation to determine differences in strength gains using Thera-Band at fast and slow training speeds.