Resistance bands are just as the name suggests--the bands create resistance, causing your muscles to work harder as the bands are stretched. Resistance increases with the band’s thickness.
There are plenty of reasons why you’d want to consider using resistance bands as a supplement or companion to using free weights or other types of strength training.
For one thing, resistance bands are portable and take up very little space and weight. You can take them with you when traveling, use them in your office, at the gym, or at home. They also come in a variety of resistance levels, so you can increase or decrease difficulty. Resistance bands typically are in tube form with handles, but also come in therapy band types that you can cut to the appropriate length.
Not only are resistance bands convenient to use, they’re also much more affordable than free weights or gym machines. But you may be wondering: Do they do the same job as heavier equipment? Will you get the same results?
A study by Norwegian scientists sought to examine the muscle activation of two particular movements: flies and reverse flies. Would the resistance bands create the same kind of muscle activations as dumbbells?
The researchers found that for some muscles, the resistance bands showed somewhat lower muscle activation. But for other muscles, the resistance bands showed significant muscle activation, which may be due to the unstable nature of resistance bands. The researchers concluded that resistance bands could be a viable alternative to using free weights for these kind of chest and shoulder enhancing exercises.
Another study looked at the use of resistance bands while doing four different exercises: “squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, unilateral rows, and lateral pulldowns.” Participants in the study also used conventional resistance equipment such as free weights and pulley machines.
Researchers found that when participants stretched the resistance bands, their muscular activation was similar to using weights and machines, but lower when the bands had slack. Specifically, for lateral pull-downs and unilateral rows, resistance bands are a useful alternative. But they are not as effective as free weights for squats and stiff-legged deadlifts. But, in any event, muscle activation during the stiff-legged deadlifts showed promise for helping those with lower back pain.
This study from Loyola Marymount University compared the use of resistance bands to free weights over 24 weeks with participants who were novice lifters. They found that there was no significant difference between the resistance band users and those who used free weights alone. In addition, combining resistance bands with free weights for a strengthening routine was similar to using free weights alone.
How to Start Using Resistance Bands
Using resistance bands can be much less cumbersome than using weights or machines, but where do you start? You’ll want to consult with your doctor and a fitness professional if you haven’t been exercising for a while. Greatist gives 33 exercises to start, for both the upper and lower body.
Not only can you use resistance bands for a strengthening routine, you can even combine resistance bands with a cardio workout. Shape Magazine offers a comprehensive cardio workout routine that you can do at the gym or at home.
If you simply look at these seemingly simple pieces of elastic, you may not think that the resistance bands can offer you a similar workou that you’d get from weights. But you’ll not only get similar results for many exercises, but because of the bands' versatility, you’ll be able to approach your muscles from different positions. Resistance bands also increase overall muscle coordination because the resistance causes your body to have to stabilize and balance itself.
Whether you’re an experienced athlete, in recovery from an injury, or are curious about different ways to keep in shape, resistance bands can be an accessible and adaptable option for enhancing your fitness regimen.