Resistance bands give you a low impact solution to strength training, and in many instances they are equally as effective as traditional weight-lifting methods. The bands have seen a popularity boom that extends well beyond use in physical therapy offices.
Getting Started With Resistance Bands
The beauty of resistance band training is the simplicity in the equipment. The exercises still require excellent form to make the bands effective, but the bands themselves are portable, lightweight and provide a low impact means of strength training. Getting started is easy; the bands are widely available and easy to purchase at a much lower price point than bulky weight training equipment.
Traditionally, resistance bands were used in conjunction with physical therapy regimens to build strength and aid in rehabilitation after injuries. The low impact methodology is useful for recovery from an injury, but it also works well in your everyday training.
Many of the exercises used are equally effective with bands as they are with weights. Squat-based exercises are the exception to this rule, and weights remain more effective for high intensity lifts, according to a study published in the September 2017 issue of the European Journal of Sport Science.
Getting started with the bands requires a basic assessment of your current condition and training goals. This makes the band selection process easier, because they come in a variety of styles with varying degrees of resistance. Low intensity training for maintenance, for example, uses a lower resistance set of bands than a high intensity strength-building regimen.
Which Type to Choose
The actual design of the bands varies, with some functioning as great general purpose tools and others being more specific. If you want the best glute bands, for example, a fit loop or ring model is best for focusing on your lower body and gluteal region.
The classic therapy style bands do not have handles, and they are ideal for low impact, light training routines. The no-handle design does offer flexibility in the ways you can use the bands, but these models are most common for rehab exercises.
Fit loop models are like one big rubber band, and they integrate well with lower body exercises, according to the Mayo Clinic Health System. Ring resistance models are also great for the lower body, and they are designed with a chain of rings to make adjustments and spacing simple for the user.
Upper and full body workouts most often use the figure-8, clip tube and fit tube models. The figure-8 has a handle on each end to grip for various exercises, and the band itself is relatively short. The clip tube is a flexible system with handles that have a ring attached. The bands clip to the ring, making it easy to change resistance and sizing. The fit tube models are similar, but the handle is permanently attached.
The clip tube models provide the most flexibility for full body workouts, notes ACE Fitness. The interchangeable design makes them highly desirable, and many are sold as a package with training resources attached.
After determining the best style of bands for your workouts, the resistance levels are the next layer of consideration. The clip tube models are nice because you have the ability to purchase a set with varying levels of resistance. Fit tube and fit loop bands often come in color-coded sets as well.
The color coding shows the resistance level according to degree of difficulty. Every brand has its own distinction, but most are separated into the categories of low, medium and high resistance. The high resistance is much tighter and it requires more energy to stretch the band. The low and medium levels are ideal for mild exercises and higher rep counts, while the high resistance is used to push harder while building muscle mass.
Unlike when you use weights, the ability to measure exact resistance is not possible and each degree of difficulty is relative to the user and the range of motion. The best method to determine which resistance level is really trial and error. Start with the light resistance and gradually work up to the medium and high levels as your strength improves.
Structuring Your Workouts
The number of exercises for resistance bands is seemingly endless. Structuring workouts is often done by focusing on specific muscle groups or through a full body approach. Working the arms and upper body specifically, for example, is done with common exercises like biceps curls, bench press and triceps extensions.
Resistance band exercises for legs and glutes include exercises like lunges, squats and calf raises from the standing position. Various leg raises from seated and lying positions are also common for lower body training with resistance bands.
Following an existing band training system is a great approach as you maintain a schedule with specific workouts and reps. As with most training programs, variety is the key for full body fitness. Cycle through different regimens and change up the routine frequently to train your entire body. Alternate between high reps and low resistance for tone and low reps with high resistance for mass.
Make Your Bands Last
The last consideration for any resistance band training program is equipment maintenance. The system requires much less effort than weights and machines with moving parts, but a few basic steps will make your bands last for a very long time.
Keep the material away from chemicals. This includes cleaning with bleach, which breaks down the plastic elements and can turn your bands brittle. Avoid chlorinated pools as well. Simply wipe them down with a dry or wet towel to clean them, and hang them out to dry after sweaty workouts. The maintenance is very simple.
Sunlight is also a killer element for resistance bands. Do your workouts inside or under a shaded cover when possible and store the bands indoors and out of direct sunlight. Like chemical exposure, sun can quickly turn bands brittle and they will lose their resistance quality.
Either hang them in a cool, dry space or pack them in your gym bag when not in use. They do travel well and are great for workouts on the road. Just keep them stashed away — don't leave them in a place like the dashboard of your vehicle, which will expose them sunlight and extreme heat that may damage the material. Under the seat or in a hotel room is a better bet for protecting the material.
- UC Davis: Student Health and Counseling Services: "How to Get Started - Resistance Bands"
- Joslin Diabetes Center: "Resistance Band Training for Arms"
- PubMed: European Journal of Sport Science: "Multiple-Joint Exercises Using Elastic Resistance Bands vs Conventional Resistance-Training Equipment - A Crossover Study"
- Mayo Clinic Health System: "15-Minute Workout: Resistance Bands"
- Ace Fitness: "Whole-Body Exercise Band Workout"