Using Resistance Bands for Strength Training: 5 Reasons Why
Would you believe me if I told you that using resistance bands for strength training beats using any other kind of workout equipment? Maybe not.
Choosing the best strength training equipment depends on your goal, right?
If you want to be built like a tank and have the strength of ten anacondas then nothing beats a barbell and set of heavy plates.
But let’s say we have to choose just one kind of home strength training equipment and score it on its ability to build strength, fitness, endurance, speed and flexibility. And throw in some other factors like value for money, versatility and portability.
Well then, forget everything else, the honour belongs to the humble yet mighty gym elastic band.
Training with elastic gym bands lets you take advantage of the unique properties of elastic material, scientifically proven as a superbly effective strength training tool.
In this article I want to tell you all about the benefits of using resistance bands to build strength and improve athletic performance.
5 Reasons Gym Elastic Bands Rule
1. Elastic bands make the best functional training equipment.
Free weights are great and should be at the centre of most strength training programs. But they have one major limitation – they rely 100% on the effect of gravity for their function.
If I lift a dumbbell, the resistance encountered by my muscles is only in a vertical direction, from up to down. This is because gravity only goes from up to down. Not side to side, not diagonally.
Resistance bands, on the other hand, can work in a horizontal plane, or any angle you choose.
This lets you add elastic resistance to any kind of movement, like kicks and punches, throws, twists, as well as movements that mimic swinging a bat or throwing a ball.
Resistance bands are perfect for competitive athletes who want to improve their performance in a specific area.
A 1998 scientific study on collegiate tennis players in the US demonstrated that training using elastic bands increased the strength and speed of their serve better than a program that used free weights, while also strengthening their rotator cuff muscles more.
The elite-level tennis players who participated in this study were able to increase their internal and external rotation torque and translate these gains directly into a more powerful serve. They could do this because of the way elastic bands can apply resistance to the movements used in tennis and other sports.
Bands are also used in CrossFit, which emphasises constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. CrossFit resistance bands add that extra level of intensity to movements you often do in daily life, resulting in increased strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance.
2. Build muscle with resistance bands
Bands are great for improving performance in competitive sports. But they’re also super effective if you train purely for strength or for aesthetic reasons.
Anyone who’s been seriously into weightlifting knows about the plateau in strength and muscle growth that comes after doing the same kind of exercises for a while.
Your muscles adapt to movements you do often. Over time this means diminishing returns.
The best way to stimulate new muscle growth and break through the plateau is to change muscular emphasis and bring more variety into your training program. Breaking up your free weights training with some resistance band work is a great way to keep your muscles guessing and avoid stagnation.
Any movement you do with free weights can be replicated with bands, but the effect on your muscles will always be different from free weights. This is because of the variation in the angle of resistance and because of the unique quality of elastic resistance compared to free weight resistance.
You can also train using resistance bands and weights together, like doing deadlifts with a barbell and weights but with extra resistance provided by attaching elastic gym bands to the barbell. This lets you lift heavy so you can build strength and size, but adds a further dimension of variable resistance (more on this later).
Another excellent way to vary your strength training is to throw in plenty of callisthenic (AKA body-weight) exercises to supplement your free weights. Like doing press-ups instead of bench press, pull-ups instead of lat pull-down etc. Callisthenics movements engage your core and recruit more muscles to maintain trunk alignment, so have many benefits over regular weight training.
Calisthenics resistance bands can be used in two ways: either to add extra resistance or to reduce the resistance of an exercise. For example, doing push-ups with a resistance band slung around your back (see photo) increases the difficulty of doing this movement. Using pull-up assist bands, on the other hand, decreases the weight you have to lift, making pull-ups a lot easier.
3. Elastics provide linear variable resistance
Linear variable resistance, or ascending resistance, is a property unique to elastics and simply means that the level of resistance increases as the range of motion increases.
With regular weights, the resistance stays more or less constant throughout the movement, whereas elastic resistance increases as the band is stretched further. This variability results in a greater work output through the full range of motion, as well as a larger number of muscle fibres being fired up. This in turn results in a greater adaptation in muscle strength and size, i.e. more gains.
The beneficial effect of variable resistance on muscle adaptation has been proven in many studies. One 2006 study at the University of Wisconsin measured the effects of training with elastic bands on peak force and power during the squat exercise.
The study suggested that using resistance bands and free weights together has a significant advantage over using free weights alone. The greatest difference was observed at higher loading conditions – at 85% of one-repetition-maximum. The group which used elastic bands and free weights together (with 20% of the resistance being provided by bands) showed an increase in peak force 16% greater than the group that used only free weights.
The benefits of variable resistance training for athletes are obvious – increased strength, more power and greater muscle adaptation.
4. Elastic bands match our muscles’ natural strength curve
Most muscles increase in strength up to a certain point during a movement, after which they become weaker.
When you use free weights you are limited in that you can only use a weight which your muscles are capable of moving in their weakest position, usually at the beginning of the movement. This means that when they are in their strongest position, they are not receiving an adequate level of resistance.
With elastics, the movement is easy at the beginning and progressively becomes more difficult. You get the highest level of resistance exactly where you need it most – the point at which the muscles are in their strongest position.
Either on their own or in conjunction with weights, using resistance bands for strength training can add another dimension to your workout, giving you an extra edge and helping you push through any plateau.
5. Use resistance bands for physiotherapy and injury prevention
Resistance bands are by far the most widely used tool for recovery after injury or surgery. Being able to isolate certain muscle groups and apply resistance from any angle makes them the ideal physiotherapy tool.
If you injure your rotator cuff, for example, a common therapeutic exercise is to apply gentle resistance to the rotation of the shoulder socket using a physio band, with the elbow either tucked into your side or held at shoulder level.
This exercise cannot be done effectively with free weights because of the way they rely on gravity for their effect. Resistance bands, on the other hand, can provide resistance on any plane. And because of their variable linear resistance, they’re able to deliver it in the most effective way for treating the injured muscle.
Using exercise bands is also one of the safest forms of strength training, with far less chance of injury compared to free weights. They are the ideal tool for the weak or elderly to safely increase muscle mass and improve bone density.
Where to buy resistance bands?
It’s easy to buy cheap resistance bands online, but with so many products on the market, it’s difficult to recognise top quality bands.
Here are three things to look out for:
- The best quality resistance bands are manufactured from 100% natural Malaysian latex, which is known to be the best for durability and long-lasting elasticity.
- Look for bands made of layered latex, rather than those moulded in one piece. This layering process ensures their strength and durability.
- Buy from a trusted source. As a specialist supplier, we’re 100% focused on sourcing the best resistance bands. We put all of our products through a thorough testing process to ensure their quality.
Check out 5 of our best resistance bands for strength training, weight loss and physiotherapy:
Useful for physiotherapy, yoga, aerobics and any kind of strength/fitness program where extra resistance can be added to the movements.
Available in four colour-coded resistance levels and includes a free workout guide.
Highly versatile strength training accessory which can be used as an alternative to free weights.
Popular in CrossFit and callisthenics to add resistance to functional movements. Can be used to perform assisted pull-ups and dips.
Can be used to exercise the whole body but especially effective for working the glutes, hips and thighs.
Includes a 50-exercise workout booklet, showing you how to correctly perform clamshells, bridge thrusts, plank kickbacks etc.
Extra width means higher resistance level and less likelihood of rolling up during use.
Suitable for more advanced strength training. The black band is seriously strong, use with caution!
Super high resistance and stiff cotton fabric covering. Definitely not for beginners!
Includes an exercise booklet with all the exercises you need to blast your glutes, hips and thighs.