Resistance bands – you might think they look pretty flimsy next to a pair of dumbbells or a barbell made of steel – but don’t underestimate the impact they can have on your body composition. You can get a serious workout using only resistance bands. If you’re worried about reaching a plateau with your dumbbell training, resistance bands are a way to mix things up and train your muscles in a different way. We know we sometimes need to “shock” our muscles with something new. In fact, resistance bands have some benefits that weights do not. Let’s look at some of the reasons you’ll want to include resistance bands in your fitness routine.
They Offer Variable Resistance
When you use dumbbells, the weight you lift is constant. Fifteen pounds is fifteen pounds and the weight you work with is static throughout the movement. Not so with resistance bands. Instead, resistance bands offer variable resistance. For example, when you do a set of biceps curls using resistance bands, the move feels easy when you first start the exercise, but as you contract your biceps more using the bands, the elastic in the band develops more tension. In turn, your muscles have to activate more fast-twitch muscle fibers to complete the rep as the band becomes harder to pull. We know that maximally activating fast-twitch muscle fibers is the key to developing strength and power. Resistance bands can help you get stronger just like dumbbells and barbells.
You Can Train in Different Planes of Motion
With resistance bands, you’re not completely dependent on gravity to create resistance as you are with weights. Using bands, you can work horizontally and rotationally, not just vertically, and get a good workout. Plus, training vertically using weights increases joint compression more than training horizontally. You’d like to limit joint compression whenever possible. With resistance bands, you can give your joints a break and train non-vertically. The ability to train in different planes also works your muscles in different ways to help prevent plateaus. One thing we want to avoid is a training plateau. By varying the equipment you use and the planes of motion you work in, you can do that.
Less Use of Momentum
It’s easy to cheat when you’re training with dumbbells. When you reach a sticking point, you simply swing the weight a little or contort your body a bit to push through the sticking point. You might feel a sense of victory when you do this but you’re also reducing the benefits of the exercise. You can’t do this with resistance bands. In fact, resistance bands are cheat proof because their tension comes from elastic rather than gravity. Try to cheat with resistance bands and see what happens! It’s not so easy.
Lower Risk of Injury
If you’re using a heavy dumbbell or barbell and suddenly find that you can’t control it, the weight can come back down due to gravity and potentially injure you. Not so with resistance bands. You can let up on the resistance band at any point during the movement without injuring yourself. So, there’s less risk of injuring yourself. When you work with weights, you also risk dropping a weight on your foot. Ouch! If you drop a resistance band, you’ll feel almost nothing. Of course, it is possible for a resistance band to snap and cause an injury but it’s not that common. Those little bands are deceptively tough!
Helps with Functional Training
Because you can train in vertically, horizontally, or rotationally with resistance bands, they’re ideal for building functional strength and for sports specific training. You can do exercises with resistance bands that accomplish a particular objective, like improving your tennis swing. It’s not very practical to swing dumbbells around in a horizontal plane. Resistance bands give you more options.
Portability is the reason some people buy them. When you’re going on vacation and staying in a cabin with no access to a gym, resistance bands are the ideal way to get a strength workout. Just toss the bands in your suitcase and you have a portable gym and one that’s easy to carry around. All you need is a small space and some bands to get an effective workout. You have to love the fact that resistance bands weigh so little, yet provide enough resistance to sculpt your muscles and boost their strength! Who wants to lug around sets of dumbbells? Heck, you can even work with resistance bands at the office!
Getting the Most Out of Resistance Bands
Now that you know why resistance bands should be part of your training, what should you know about buying and using them? Resistance bands come in colors ranging from yellow, corresponds to the lightest resistance, all the way up to black, the most resistance. It’s best to start with the lightest resistance and work your way up to higher tension. In fact, you might want to have a variety of resistance bands with varying degrees of tension. There may be some exercises where you can handle more or less resistance, so think about buying several bands. You might find you enjoy the way resistance bands feel when you work with them.
The Bottom Line
You can rest assured that you’re getting an effective workout with resistance bands. Studies show that training with elastic bands leads to similar or, in some cases, greater muscle activation than using a similar resistance with weights. Plus, you can’t use momentum to take some of the stimulus off the muscles you’re working. Don’t give up the dumbbells and barbells, but add some resistance bands to the mix for a more diverse workout. You might discover you enjoy the variable resistance that these bands offer and the way they’re easy to carry with you wherever you go.
Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 May; 9(3): 410–414.
Strength and Conditioning Research.com. “Elastic resistance training”
The FASEB Journal vol. 28 no. 1 Supplement 370.2. April 2014.