Are Your Resistance Bands Really Getting The Job Done?

Resistance bands are affordable, versatile, and portable, but can they help strengthen and sculpt muscle like weight training does? Here is everything you need to know about resistance bands to determine if you should add them to your fitness wish list.

November 18, 2015
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When I first started working in the gym industry, the only people I saw using resistance bands were women in leotards doing aerobics classes. As I grew in my profession and knowledge, I started to use bands a lot more–both in my own workouts and with clients.

I never used resistance bands when I was younger. The only bands we had at the gym were a very light resistance, so they didn’t seem particularly effective. I also didn’t really know how to use them properly. To be honest, my lack of knowledge and experience is why I never used them. However, after I discovered Bodylastics bands, I learned how valuable bands are.

How Resistance Bands Work

Before I begin, you should know not all resistance bands are created equal. They come in different shapes and sizes as well as different levels of resistance. Resistance can even vary from brand to brand depending on the quality.

The most common bands are tube bands with handles. Another type of band is the TheraBand, which is a flat sheet of latex without handles. Lastly, you have the continuous band loop, like Monster Bands, which looks just like a giant rubber band. Each style has a different purpose and varied resistance, but my favorite bands are Bodylastics tube bands with removable handles and ankle straps.

When tube bands first became popular, there were not a lot of options. I think we only had one or two different choices at my first gym. Over time, band companies started offering more resistance options. Like free weights, the more options you have the more you can do. The same way a gym has everything from 5-pound dumbbells to 100-pound dumbbells, band companies started adding more resistance options too, with bands going up to 30 pounds of resistance.

In addition, many band companies, like Bodylastics, have a clip feature on the ends of each band, allowing you to stack bands for even more resistance options. This clip feature also lets you remove detachable handles in exchange for ankle straps for lower body exercises. Many sets come with a door anchor, which attaches to a door to give you even more exercises to choose from.

The most common question people have is whether resistance bands are as effective as free weights. Research has shown that muscle activity during resistance band training is very similar to weight training. Studies have demonstrated that programs using bands have increased muscle strength, increased muscle size, and decreased body fat, similar to that of a weight-training program.

Pros And Cons

The first pro is the cost. Resistance bands are extremely affordable. Free weights can be very costly. The cost of most free weights averages one dollar per pound, which can add up quickly. However, you can buy a nice starter set of quality bands for under thirty bucks.

The second advantage to owning a set of bands is that they are very convenient. My set of bands has over 260 pounds of total resistance. The whole set can fit in my gym bag, but I could never fit 260 pounds of free weights in my bag, much less carry it all at once. Since bands are so lightweight and don’t take up much space, they are extremely practical and portable.

Finally, bands are super effective. You can work every single body part with bands. It may take some trial and error to figure out which bands are the right resistance for each exercise, but with a little practice you’ll discover the sky’s the limit.

As for pitfalls, the most obvious issue is not knowing how to use them correctly. There are hundreds of exercises you can do with bands, but most people know fewer than 10. The key to success is taking the time to research exercises so you get the most out of your bands.

The only other real limitation is that there are some functional multi-joint exercises you can do with weights that aren’t as effective with bands, like a thruster (a squat and a press) or a snatch. Free weights are more advantageous for powerlifting because there is a need to break inertia and create enough momentum to make the exercise effective.

These same disadvantages could be considered an advantage for those who want to avoid ballistic movements or are using bands for rehabilitation.

While there may be a few limitations to using bands, there are just as many things you can do with bands that you can’t do with free weights. Since bands do not rely on gravity, there are a number of exercises you can do with bands that wouldn’t work the same way with weights.

Lastly, quality matters. If you get the cheapest bands you can find, you will be sorely disappointed. Cheap bands don’t feel anything like quality bands. Higher-quality materials can generate more tension. Some of the higher-end bands even have an anti-snap guard in the middle of the tube to prevent breaking due to overstretching. High-quality rubber tubing will give you more even resistance, and quality components will ensure your bands last even with heavy use.

Fit Or Flop

You probably already know the answer to this one. While I do suggest you use a variety of exercise equipment for optimal results, resistance bands get two thumbs up in my book. I would highly recommend them for everyone, at every age, and at every fitness level. They are probably the single best investment you can make and should be the first thing you buy for your home gym.

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