Resistance bands, whether they are flat thin lengths of stretchable rubber or thicker lengths of rubber tubing with handles, are an effective alternative to weights for strength training. Used by everyone from advanced body builders to beginner exercisers and older adults, the also offer a number of other benefits but they have some drawbacks as well.
How Bands Work
Bands offer various levels of resistance depending on how thick they are and how much they are stretched. You can buy “light,” “medium” or “heavy” bands. Lighter or thinner bands offer less resistance while heavy or thicker bands are harder to stretch and thus offer more resistance. You also get more resistance from a band the more you stretch it. If you are looking for less resistance, keep the band fairly lax, and if you are looking for more of a challenge, keep the band stretched, even in your starting position.
Effects on Strength
While bands may not look as impressive as dumbbells or barbells, you can use resistance bands in place of free weights or resistance machines to strengthen your muscles and get similar results. According to a study published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the results of working out with bands are similar to those you would get from training with weight machines when you work at the same amount of perceived exertion.
Bands offer a number of advantages over other weights. They are much lighter and portable than free weights so you can take them wherever you go and continue your exercise regimen no matter where you are. Even better, bands cost a fraction of what weights cost. You can get a full workout with only a couple of bands and accessories, while you would need several dumbbells or barbells to achieve a similar workout. Another advantage, especially for beginners, is that bands have a much more reduced risk of injury than weights. They are lightweight so the risk of injury associated with heavy weights is eliminated.
The American College of Sports Medicine notes that exercising with resistance bands may feel unnatural if you are used to lifting free weights or exercising with machines since resistance changes throughout the exercise. Because the resistance increases as the band stretches, the exercise can become extremely difficult at the end of the movement. The band can also become difficult to control when it is fully stretched.
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using Home Weight Machines
- Fitday.com: 3 Types of Resistance Bands for Your Fitness Goals
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Effects of a Short-Term Resistance Program Using Elastic Bands Versus Weight Machines …; J.C. Colado et al.
- American College of Sports Medicine: Selecting and Effectively Using Rubber Band Resistance Exercise
Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.