Resistance bands are often underrated in the fitness world. Exercising with the bands can help you build muscle, improve flexibility and add a little extra to your training routine. So why do so many people shun them?
The is a misconception that you have to use traditional weights to build muscle and/or strength. This isn’t true, as long as you add a load and increase the load (or resistance) then you will achieve the same results. It’s just easier to use traditional weights because it is easier to monitor.
Resistance bands fall into this category and regardless of the desired outcome, you can achieve a surprising amount with resistance bands which many people don’t quite realise.
How Can You Use Resistance Bands in Your Workout?
Resistance bands are quite versatile and can be used for…
- Stretching and mobility
- Warm-ups and muscle activation
- Resistance training and “getting a pump”
- Developing the “mind-muscle” connection (learning to better “feel” your muscles working)
Each of these goals requires you to use the bands slightly differently, but with each example, you can accomplish quite a bit with just a few bands.
Resistance Band Stretches and Mobility Work
One of the hardest things to overcome with stretching is the limitation on the range of movement from your muscles. That point where you are ‘feeling tight’ and as funny as this may sound, that limitation is actually from your head or another part of your body.
Take a simple hamstring stretch, where you lie on your back with one leg on the floor and raise the other leg to the sky. Most of the time you use your hands to provide resistance. Simply looping a resistance band around your ankle can create a different movement pattern, which might allow you to generate more range of motion and as a result, a better stretch.
It’s a simple but effective way to add a little extra to your mobility work.
Resistance Band Exercises for Muscle Activation
While traditional strength training is great, in some cases it might not completely target every muscle and the smaller, harder-to-reach muscles might be neglected. In addition to this, there are some body parts people feel harder to train, the shoulders, for example.
The continuous tension from resistance bands offers a deeper workout that can have a positive impact on strengthening the hard-to-hit/reach muscle groups. Not only this, because of the tension, you recruit the stabilising muscles more affectively which gives fuller development to a body part.
Resistance Band Exercises for Building Muscle
Despite the misconceptions, weights (in the traditional sense) are not the only way to build muscle. Weights are very effective because they add resistance but resistance bands also provide resistance meaning they also help you build muscle.
In particular, bands might be most effective when doing higher rep training, such as performing 20 to 30 reps (or more) per set (this is known as “metabolite training”).
Research has repeatedly shown that building muscle is somewhat dependent on volume — or the number of reps x sets x weight. Because you have 3 variables you can manipulate, bands provide a way to increase volume (through more reps) without needing more weight.
Resistance Band Exercises and the Mind-Muscle Connection
The mind-muscle connection is something that not everyone is familiar with but it can make a huge difference in your training. Basically, it’s about using your brain to drive more effort from your muscles. If that sounds a little crazy, rest assured it’s a real thing. (Here’s proof.) And with the help of resistance bands, you can develop it.
Resistance bands are a useful way to build that connection because the farther you pull the band and the more it lengthens, the harder your muscles have to work.
The increased tension provides a strong peak contraction at the top of every rep. You’ll really feel those muscles working. Want to take it up another notch? Add in a pause at the top. (Ooh, it burns!)
What are the Limits of Resistance Bands?
Like anything, there are always some limitations. For instance, resistance bands don’t necessarily challenge your muscles through a full range of motion.
Lifting weights consist of a raising portion (the concentric) and a lowering portion (the eccentric). The eccentric phase of a lift is the part where you are lowering the weight back down, and it’s beneficial for both muscle growth and improving muscle control.
They feel lighter on your muscles as the bands themselves get shorter. As we discussed above, that may be great from an injury prevention standpoint. But since eccentric muscle actions are where we elicit the most muscle damage in training, using bands alone might limit the amount of muscle you can build.
Bands can also make measuring your resistance a little tricky. Part of adding muscle is creating a challenge for your muscles. That’s why bands work — they add resistance. At some point, however, your body will adapt to resistance. This is why you might stop seeing results. Your body adapts, and you need to keep creating a new challenge in order to fight off the plateau.
There are many ways to do steer clear of plateaus, however. You can make an exercise more challenging (if you are doing band rows with both arms, you can switch to a 1-arm version with the same band, which will make it more difficult), or you can add weight. This is where dumbbells and barbells have an obvious advantage, as you can just use bigger weights.
But don’t stress too much. Your hand placement, the distance between you and where the band is anchored, and how far the band is stretched can all be used to increase or decrease the resistance. You can also use thicker bands (which have more resistance) or even add multiple bands.
At some point — yes — you might need to add more weight to create a bigger challenge. But as long as you continue to find ways to challenge your muscles (which can also occur by doing more reps and/or sets of an exercise), your resistance band workout will keep delivering results.