There are advantages to using resistance bands. For one, they’re lightweight, making them ideal for workouts when you’re on the road and don’t have access to a gym or DVD player to do your regular workout. It’s certainly much more cumbersome to carry dumbbells with you than it is to toss some bands into your suitcase. But resistance bands aren’t just for travel. Many people assume because resistance bands are lightweight that they aren’t as effective. Is there any truth to this?
Resistance Bands versus Dumbbells: Is One Better Than the Other?
Don’t be fooled by the fact that resistance bands are light in weight and easy to carry around. They’ve been used for athletic training and by physical therapists for over a century – but how effective are they? Quite effective according to a recent study carried out by Malaysian and Australian researchers. This study showed resistance bands are as effective as dumbbells when it comes to activating muscle fibers. In fact, muscle activation was greater with resistance bands when performing biceps curls than it was with dumbbells.
Another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research came to a similar conclusion – resistance bands deliver results. Previously sedentary women worked out with either resistance bands or weights using a periodized muscle endurance program for 10 weeks. Both groups experienced similar improvements in muscle endurance and increases in lean body mass. They also benefited from similar decreases in body fat by the end of the 10 week program. Both resistance bands and weights were effective for accomplishing these goals.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
Resistance bands offer unique benefits you don’t get when you use dumbbells exclusively. With dumbbells, you’re dependent upon gravity to create resistance and the motions you do with the weights are in a vertical plane. With resistance bands the tubing provides resistance that’s independent of gravity. This means you can use them to generate tension in various planes to target muscles in different ways. This enhances your functional fitness too since you’re working your body in a variety of planes other than just vertical.
Resistance bands also expose your muscles to constant tension through the full range of the exercise. With dumbbells, gravity reduces some of the workload during the eccentric portion of the move since the downward pull of gravity makes it easier to lower the weight. Resistance bands also make it impossible to use momentum. When using dumbbells, it’s easy to cheat by using momentum to propel the weight up initially, reducing the amount of work your muscles have to do. With elastic bands, you have to stretch the bands for movement to occur. There’s no way to cheat like you can with weights.
Resistance bands are ideal for isolating smaller muscle groups and correcting muscle imbalances. With dumbbells, it’s all too easy to recruit other muscles to help you lift so you don’t isolate the muscle you’re targeting as well. With resistance bands you can more easily target those small muscle groups that may need additional focus.
Use Resistance Bands to Diversify Your Workout
Even if you want to stick with dumbbells for most of your workouts, use resistance bands once a week to work your muscles in different planes. This will improve your functional fitness and help avoid a training plateau. Resistance bands are a versatile piece of equipment that you can use to replicate movements where you would normally use dumbbells or a weight machine – and there’s no heavy equipment required to get the job done. When you need more resistance, you can switch to bands that offer a greater challenge.
The lightest resistance bands have a resistance of around 5 or 6 pounds while the heaviest ones, usually red, black or grey in color, can offer more than 100 pounds of resistance. You can safely use resistance bands to try a higher resistance to challenge yourself without the need for a spotter. Working with resistance bands also reduces your risk of injury in sports since you’re working your body in so many planes, similar to the movements you use when playing a sport. In addition, resistance bands come in handy when you travel – perfect for a hotel room workout.
The Bottom Line?
Resistance bands are for more than just travel. Using them in place of free weights or dumbbells works your muscles in different ways, through a variety of planes, to boost strength and functional fitness. There’s no need to give up weights but there are lots of good reasons to diversify your workouts by using resistance bands. Just starting out? They’re the perfect solution if you don’t want to invest in dumbbells and have to deal with storing them. You CAN get a good workout with resistance bands, so take advantage of what these elastic bands have to offer.
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Int J Sports Med 2010; 31(11): 810-817.
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: September 2008 – Volume 22 – Issue 5 – pp 1441-1448.