Many exercisers have already discovered the magic of resistance bands. Not only are they more portable — and affordable — than a set of dumbbells, they're also a highly effective workout tool that can target every major muscle group.
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"One of the unique advantages of resistance bands is that the resistance increases as the band stretches, making for a challenging workout through the entire range of motion of an exercise," April Whitney, NASM-certified personal trainer and creator of Petite PWR tells LIVESTRONG.com. This helps you recruit more muscle, including smaller stabilizer muscles and your core, she says.
There's just one catch: You have to use resistance bands the right way. Many exercisers miss the mark, making their strength sessions less effective or, even worse, an injury waiting to happen. To get the most out of your resistance bands — and avoid potential disaster — watch out for these common mistakes.
1. Using a Band That’s Too Heavy
Just like trying to curl, press or squat with a dumbbell that's too heavy, using a band with too much resistance makes it impossible to do an exercise with good form.
"Your body will overcompensate by using other muscle groups that aren't meant to be used for the exercise," Whitney says. Not only does this defeat the purpose of doing the exercise in the first place, it also increases your chances of injury.
"You will likely also not be able to complete the full range of motion for the given exercise, making your workout less effective," Whitney says.
If you can’t move the band through the full range of motion for a given exercise or if you have to strain or change your form to finish a rep, your band is too heavy, Whitney says. Swap out your band with a thinner one.
2. Using a Band That’s Too Light
On the other end of the spectrum, doing an exercise with a resistance band that's too light for you isn't exactly dangerous, but it is kind of unnecessary, Morit Summers, CPT, founder of Form Fitness in Brooklyn, New York, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"The biggest downside is that you aren't actually adding any resistance to your workout," she says.
If you’re not feeling the burn during your set, your band might be too light. You may need to adjust your hand or foot positioning (gripping or stepping higher on the band will add tension) or use a thicker band.
“The last two repetitions of all your sets should be challenging,” Holly Perkins, CSCS, author of Lift to Get Lean and creator of The GLUTES Project, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
3. Looping the Band Around Sharp Objects
While convenient, looping a band around a pole or piece of heavy furniture creates more friction, causing the latex to wear away over time, Whitney says. And looping the band around an object with sharp or rough edges — the most dangerous thing you can do with a resistance band, Summers says — will only speed up the wear and tear, leading the band to snap apart when you least expect it.
Invest in resistance band attachments for at-home and gym use. There are anchors you can attach to a wall, shut in a sturdy door or loop around an object.
Simply secure the band to your anchor or loop attachment (like this one) of your choice to protect it from wear and tear before starting your workout. When used properly, attachments can help extend your band’s lifespan, Whitney says.
4. Not Fully Securing the Band
One of the most common resistance band mistakes is also one of the most dangerous: Not securing the band or attachment to a strong, sturdy object.
"The problem with this is that there's a greater likelihood that it's going to come loose and smack you in the face, and that doesn't feel good," Perkins says.
Take a minute to ensure your band is anchored securely before starting your set (using an attachment mentioned above). Attach it to structurally sound objects that can handle heavy weight, such as heavy doors or permanently mounted fixtures, Whitney says.
Some objects, like door knobs, may seem stable, “but door knobs aren’t meant to bear weight,” she adds. Make sure the object is immovable, and that your band or anchor attachment can’t slip off. This includes exercises that involve standing on the band.
“If you’re standing on your band, make sure you’re placing the band completely under the arch of your shoe,” Perkins says. Then, as you move through the exercise, Perkins recommends keeping the band secure by pushing into the floor with your heels and toes.
5. Improper Band Placement
Weight machines take the guesswork out of proper exercise form, as they have you moving the weight through a predetermined path of motion. With resistance bands, though, you're in control of that path, which can easily get thrown off course if you place the band in the wrong spot.
In some cases, this mistake only makes the exercise less effective — like trying to work your biceps with the band anchored in front of you, as opposed to below you. Other times, having the band in the wrong spot can make the exercise uncomfortable, as when the band creeps up to your neck during chest flyes.
One of the great things about resistance bands is that they’re easy to move. So if you find that the band is rubbing against your neck during a chest fly, it only takes a second or two to move the band to your back.
“Or if you’re doing monster walks and you don’t feel anything, try moving the band closer to your knees and push out on the band,” Summers says.
Experiment with the placement of the band during different exercises (including ones where the band is anchored to an object) if it’s uncomfortable or you’re not feeling it in the right muscles.
6. Never Replacing Your Bands
Sure, resistance bands can last a long time when you take good care of them, but they do eventually wear out. When this happens, the bands can become overstretched, frayed or even torn, which increases the chances they'll snap on you mid-rep.
“It’s really important that you’re replacing your bands every couple of years, regardless of how frequently you use them,” Perkins says. And if your bands are currently frayed or torn, retire them and get a fresh pack ASAP.