Resistance bands and stretch cords are both elastic exercise devices designed for resistance training. While they may sound similar -- some trainers even refer to stretch cords as "resistance bands" -- there are big differences between the two. Deciding to use stretch cords or resistance bands will mostly depend on your level of training and the exercises you're comfortable performing.
Stretch cords, which are sometimes called resistance bands, cables, exercise tubes and other similar names, are cords made of elastic rubber tubing with handles at each end. They come in a variety of resistance levels, generally ranging from five to 50 pounds per tube. Some handles can accommodate multiple tubes, increasing both the potential variety and overall level of resistance.
Resistance bands, sometimes known as latex stretch bands or exercise bands, are flat, rectangular strips of latex approximately six inches wide. They usually come in rolls that you can cut to your desired length and are color-coded by resistance level. While there are some variations, the lighter colors like yellow and pink represent lighter resistance levels, while the darker colors like blue and black offer higher resistance.
Both cords and bands have the same major advantage over traditional free weights: The elasticity of these devices means their resistance is maintained through the entire range of motion of the exercise. This contrasts with dumbbells and barbells, which have "dead zones" at the top and bottom of the lift when there is no resistance. Additionally, both offer a large degree of flexibility, as they can work muscles from angles that traditional weights cannot. This is especially true of small, complex muscle groups such as the rotator cuff, which respond better to elastic tubes than to heavy weights. Finally, both cords and bands are relatively inexpensive, lightweight and portable, as anyone who's tried to take a full barbell set through an airport can attest.
The primary difference between the two is handles: stretch cords have them, while resistance bands do not. Handles make gripping the ends significantly easier, with less possibility of slippage. However, if you are aiming to improve your grip and forearm strength, a lack of handles can be beneficial. Also, because cords are molded plastic tubing, they have a firm stopping point beyond which they will not stretch. If you are in the middle of an intense workout and accidentally reach this point, the stoppage can be jarring and potentially cause a pull or tear. Finally, since stretch cords are rounded, they do not adhere to the contours of your body as well as a flat expanse of latex will. Depending on the exercise, this can be a drawback, as a wider band can work a larger area of muscle.
Both bands and cords are very durable, but repeated use can wear them out. Check them regularly for worn spots, tears or holes: You don't want to be near it when it snaps, especially if you've got one end tied to a door frame halfway across the room.
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