Think resistance bands are just about saving space? Or that they’re “too easy” to score you the results you want? Think again.
Whether you’re looking to add resistance training to your regimen, or want to build on the strength gains you’ve already made, exercise bands can be a valuable tool in your muscle-building repertoire.
Resistance Bands vs. Weights
Resistance bands work the body differently than free-weights do, explains Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content. Unlike dumbbells and barbells, exercise bands create constant tension throughout a movement. “In so doing, they increase the time that the working muscles are under tension,” Thieme says, adding that “time under tension” is a powerful growth stimulus. “They also alter an exercise’s resistance curve.”
The point in each rep when the exercise feels hardest is the curve’s peak. In the biceps curl, that’s typically the mid-point of the movement (when the elbow is bent 90 degrees), for example. As you bring the weights closer to your shoulders, the exercise becomes easier. “But performing the exercise with a band changes that,” says Thieme. “Not only does the band keep your muscles under constant throughout each rep, but it also maximizes the resistance at the point in each rep when it’s typically the lowest — at the top,” says Thieme.
Another key difference between free weights and resistance bands is the direction of the resistance. With barbells or dumbbells, you’re essentially limited to fighting the downward pull of gravity. But with resistance bands, that resistance can come from almost any angle. As a result, bands can challenge your muscles in unaccustomed ways, hitting the refresh button on adaptation and growth.
How to Choose Exercise Bands
If you currently belong to a gym, it’s worth checking to see if it has any resistance bands that you can try out. Or, if you’re ready to take the plunge and create your home gym, you’ll be glad to know that resistance bands are some of the most cost-effective pieces of fitness equipment that you can buy.
Flat vs. tubed exercise bands
First, consider whether you want to use flat resistance bands, tubed ones, or some combination of the two types. Flat exercise bands are simple, two-dimensional ribbons of latex, and are incredibly light, making them great space savers and travel companions. Thanks to a more equable distribution of pressure, they’re also less likely to leave red marks compared to tubes, making them ideal for any exercise in which the band will wrap around or press against a body part.
Some flat resistance bands come in loop form, allowing you to you wrap them around your knees when performing the clamshell, or your ankles when doing the lunge, for example. Others come in individual strips, and are ideal for exercises such as push-ups (although these too can be turned into a hoop with a simple knot).
Because wrapping tubed bands, which are made of dense rubber compounds, around your hands would be uncomfortable, tubed bands have handles or other attachments at each end. When performing exercises in which hand position is important (do you want an overhand, underhand, or neutral grip?), the handles are very helpful in maintaining the correct orientation. Try them for rows, biceps curls, and chest presses.
Level of resistance
When shopping for exercise bands, you’ll also want to weigh (see what we did there?) what levels of resistance you want — 5 to 15 pounds, 15 to 30 pounds, the options are almost endless. (Remember, you can always make small adjustments to a band’s resistance level by positioning yourself closer to or farther from the anchor point.)
You’ll also want to think about what you’re going to use as an anchor point for your resistance band when performing moves such as rows, presses, or chops. Do you have a pole or post around which you can loop the band? Or do you need an attachment kit to secure the band to a door?