The basic formula for building muscle mass is to stress the muscles by lifting weights, causing micro-tears to the muscle fibre that bulks out the area as it heals. For this reason, strength training is usually associated with equipment like free weights and heavy-duty weight stacking machines.
However, not all strength training requires metal, you can get an effective workout from rubber too. In this post, we are going to discuss the benefits of training with resistance bands and how they can support your fitness goals.
Using resistance bands to get stronger
Resistance bands are made from elastic material and can be used to perform or intensify exercises. They are available in different shapes, sizes and thicknesses, all of which change the resistance level of the band.
Resistance bands are used in strength training to promote muscle growth and to work on finer skills like balance and posture. If you have never used a resistance band before, you might look at one and wonder whether a giant rubber band can really help with strength training! The truth is that, not only are they very effective, but they can be more effective and safer than using free weights.
Resistance bands continuously engage the muscles throughout each rep (whereas weights have uneven intensity spikes) so the entire muscle gets a thorough workout. They also have a shorter range of motion, especially when using a heavier band, so the joint is protected against overextension.
Resistance bands might be as good as weights!
According to a recent study, it was found that everyday resistance bands had the same effect on muscles as using weights and were as effective at building muscle:
Evidence from this study suggests that resistance training with elastic devices provides similar strength gains when compared to resistance training performed from conventional devices.
Advantages to resistance bands over free weights and machines
Not only are resistance bands able to compete shoulder to shoulder with the more traditional free weights, but there are several distinct advantages to using them over free weights. Whereas you’re somewhat limited in the planes of movement you can undertake with a dumbbell, this is not the case with rubber resistance bands, where you can opt for many movements such as kicks, punches and twists.
According to Jim Stoppani‘s excellent guide, “Thanks to elastic bands, you can perform exercises such as twisting your body from side to side, sidekicks and punches, as well as movements that mimic a baseball swing or basketball pass…”
Are resistance bands good for losing weight
Resistance bands provide an effective strength workout that can help you reach your aesthetic goals. When people say they want to lose weight, what they usually mean is that they want to reduce their body fat and tone up. Strength training addresses both of these because muscle mass requires more energy to build and preserve than the equivalent weight in fat. This is why people with higher muscle mass burn more calories when at rest.
Resistance bands are also great for training the core muscles and tightening the appearance of the abdominal region. This is a real ‘problem zone’ for people, especially women because of the natural tendency of their bodies to have a higher body fat percentage. While we cannot target fat loss, toning the underlying muscle will help to improve the shape of tums and love handles.
Getting a full-body workout with resistance bands
Resistance bands can be used to create a standalone workout, to increase the difficulty of bodyweight exercises, and can be combined with free weights to promote good form and to create a ‘heavier’ weight. To get started with a standalone workout, we recommend going onto YouTube and typing in ’30-minute full-body resistance workout’.
Targeting specific muscle groups
There are literally thousands of free guided workouts available. You can also find shorter or longer videos and search for targeted regions such as upper body or lower body.
If you already have a workout routine that consists of bodyweight exercises and/or free weights then you can use resistance bands to intensity your training, leading to greater muscle growth.
Use a shorter band around the thighs or calves or a longer band by standing on it when performing different moves, for example: hamstring walkouts, glute bridges, bicycle crunches, lateral stand out squats, lateral walk, abduction, banded front squats, banded single leg lifts, lateral cross-body squats, and lateral arm raise.
Combining resistance bands with free weights
To combine resistance bands and free weights, hook a longer band around each weight and stand on the middle of the band to create an anchor. From here you can perform your usual exercises.
The addition of the band will increase the tension on the muscle, creating a ‘heavier’ weight and it will also keep that tension throughout the entirety of the move – an effect that cannot be created with free weights alone.
Resistance bands can also correct form and improve the flow of moves because of this constant engagement. Every exercise involves a primary muscle group to facilitate movement one way and a secondary muscle group that works against the primary muscles to create stability.
Using bands to get the perfect squat
For instance, when performing a squat you drive power down through your glutes but you do not fall over because your hip flexor muscles work in the opposite direction to retain balance.
It can be a struggle to make progress on individual moves because they do not workout the muscles evenly. In the squat example, because power is concentrated in the glutes, that muscle group gets the majority of the benefit of the training.
We can increase the intensity of the squat by holding onto weights, thereby intensifying the stress on the primary muscles, but this is not as effective for secondary muscles. Resistance bands help you to train more evenly.
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Are resistance bands safe and can the band snap?
You should never judge a book by its cover and resistance bands prove that you should never judge fitness equipment by its bulkiness. If you are now convinced about the effectiveness of resistance bands, you might worry whether they will be able to withstand such heavy-duty training.
Rest assured, good quality resistance bands are made with this in mind. There is a responsibility on you as the user, however, to make sure that you are not using an inappropriately light band and to regularly check your bands for any sign of damage. Snapping mid-use should not happen if you do this.
References & Further Reading
- Youtube – Resistance band video workouts
- NCBI – Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance
- Jim Stoppani – The Science of Strength Bands
- NCBI – Electromyographic and kinetic analysis of traditional, chain, and elastic band squats
- There’s a fantastic resistance band guide and workout routine on Reddit that’s well worth checking out.