The resistance band is one of the most popular and popular pieces of fitness equipment in recent years. Available in a variety of materials and sizes, these elastic loops can be used for total body conditioning and are just as effective for beginners as they are for Olympic level athletes and help improve strength, power and endurance. The key to getting the most out of your resistance band is application: using the right band at the right time in the right position.
Types of resistance bands
The resistance bands found in most gyms come in several sizes, with the most popular ones ranging from the large 36- to 42-inch rings all the way up to the small 12-inch band (more commonly known as a “booty”). Super loops are similar to resistance bands but have handles and offer a slight advantage in some cases by providing the ability to add resistance in multiple planes of motion at once. Resistance bands with handles are commonly found in group fitness and personal training spaces, and like other bands, they can be found in a myriad of thicknesses and lengths. In physical rehabilitation settings, Thera-bands are used more often simply because they come in large rolls and can be cut to meet patients’ needs.
Benefits of elastic resistance
No matter what size or shape of band you choose to purchase, they all use the same concept of elastic resistance. Elastic resistance (sometimes known as adaptive resistance) is a method of loading movements with increasingly challenging resistance as the band increases in stretch. For example, a single arm row using a bar with a handle will have less tension on the muscles when the arm is straight and the bar handle is closer to its attachment point on the rack. This is also the weakest point of the exercise, so reducing stress here is a good thing. As the arm and handle move away from the rack into the row position, the bar is tensioned, increasing the tension in the system. The flexor muscle is a strong muscle, so challenging the tension of the band relative to the strength of the position is key to gaining strength through the full range of motion, not just when there is enough resistance to challenge the weaker positions of the exerciser.
For starters, bands tend to be less intimidating than many machines or free weights and create similar training responses. The stretch of the bar corresponds to the sequence of muscle contraction and allows for more tension when the beginner is ready. For more advanced exercisers, adding a pair of straps to compound movements can help you break through plateaus. When the bands are added to compound movements, the concept of “excess rapid deflections” comes into play, where the band pulls the lifter into the lower position of the exercise faster than it normally would on its own. This increased speed forces a greater muscle contraction when it’s time to return to the peak of the exercise.
Another benefit of using resistance bands is that they trick the central nervous system into working more efficiently. We’ve all seen gym members walking sideways with bands around their feet or lower legs or squats with bands around their knees. They use a concept called reactive neuromuscular facilitation, or RNT for short. The basis of the concept is forcing a body part into a bad position, which causes the central nervous system to signal the supporting muscles to fire harder to get you out of the position. For example, in a squat, if the knees collapsed, placing a band around the knees would pull them into that collapsed position, but the signal sent from the central nervous system would force the gluteus maximus to fire forcefully to push the knees out and back in line with the toes. Reactive neuromuscular facilitation can be used in all major movement patterns (squatting, hinge, lunge, pushing, pulling) to correct poor form that may lead to injury.
Add complexity to the basic movements
The bands can also be applied to compound movements to add a layer of complexity to the primary variation of the exercise and challenge the secondary level of movement. The three planes of motion are sagittal (front to back), frontal (side to side), and transverse (rotational). The bands can also add contrast to your “pull lines,” or how gravity affects the exercise and the muscles used. Most exercises or machines usually challenge one level of motion or a pull-up line. For example, traditional squats, hinges, and lunges typically occur in the sagittal plane. Adding bands to these movements may increase the challenge of the exercise and allow for greater strength adaptations. The dumbbell bench row is a great back exercise. However, this variation only benefits from the vertical weight of the dumbbells. If a bar is attached to a rack and wrapped around the wrist in a horizontal pull-up line, the lifter now benefits from both the vertical pull and the horizontal pull of the strap.
Cheap and easy to travel with
Last but not least, resistance bands are easy to travel with. Small and compact, the bands can easily be tossed into a gym bag or travel bag and taken on the road, so you won’t have to wait on crowded machines or miss workouts while traveling. Portability and cost-effectiveness are two big draws to incorporating resistance bands into your workout routine.
Differences are here to stay! Whether you’re an experienced lifter or just starting out, grabbing a set of resistance bands can help you continue to make progress in the gym. They are easy to use and can be found in a variety of tensions. If you’d like to learn more about incorporating resistance bands into your workouts or what type of band you need to get started, talk with a VASA-certified personal trainer in your area. They can help determine your starting point and create a customized plan so you can progress in the gym and reach your fitness goals.
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