I'm With the Band: Mastering Resistance Band Workouts

If you go to the gym frequently or have visited a physical therapist, chances are you've seen resistance bands. Band work allows you to get a full body workout without using weights or resistance machines. They are especially useful if you are recovering from an injury. However, benefits go well beyond rehabilitation. With resistance bands you can achieve almost any type of strength training exercise — chest press, rowing, shoulder press, triceps extension and squats — are possible using a simple elastic band.

Resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to store and a perfect way to get a workout while traveling. Made of strong, thin rubber, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and different resistance strengths so you can increase difficulty as your strength improves. The bands are not new in the fitness and sports performance Industry, but to achieve the benefits the tool is capable of you must start with a plan. According to John Rusin,1 who has developed training protocols to maximize performance and injury prevention:2

“When strategically sprinkled into programming, bands provide an exponential upside to build muscle, get strong and explosive and stay healthy. But if you don’t have a plan and purpose for your band based training, this tool can be brutally tough on your joints and tendons and may even lead to injuries.”

Bands Comprehensively Address Performance and Strength Training

Strength training is an important component to your overall fitness and health, as it improves your muscle and bone strength, which can help prevent falls and fractures. It also improves production of growth factors responsible for cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation.3 Some of these factors promote the survival of neurons, helping to explain why working your muscles also benefits your brain.4

Strength training promotes fat loss, improves insulin sensitivity, lowers your risk of metabolic syndrome and improves your cardiovascular fitness.5 These elements enhance quality of life and improve your ability to perform activities you do each day. This helps to maintain your Independence as you age and may reduce symptoms of chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis and depression.

These simple bands can comprehensively help you improve your performance, strength and fitness by addressing a broad range of motion and muscles, enabling you to improve your range of capabilities. Bands are useful to help you increase your flexibility, develop power and strength and isolate core muscles.6 Each of these factors help to improve your mobility, balance, agility and coordination.

Although simple and convenient, resistance bands offer your muscles a training stimulus different from fixed weights.7 They are effective since they increase resistance as the band stretches. This means you work against more resistance at the end of your range of motion where you're likely to have increasing strength, targeting your muscles differently and helping to build functional muscle movements.

When used correctly, resistance bands also help decelerate your movement at the end of your range of motion, which may help protect your joints from injury.8 This is vastly different from working with traditional dumbbells or barbells, which provide constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion. Using resistance bands encourages the velocity of movement to change, thus developing greater adaptation in your muscles.

Bands Engage More Than Muscle

Bands help improve functional strength without the potential for injury you may experience with free weights dependent on gravity.9 Resistance bands allow movement through four planes, increasing the number of muscles and neurons activated.

Since the vectors used during resistance band workouts are different, it helps prevent repetitive stress in the same path or pattern of movement in your joints and muscles. While this is important when you exercise frequently, it is critical for those with pre-existing joints problems, such as arthritis.

Resistance bands also allow you to be more creative with your fitness routine as they can accommodate both your schedule and your location. Even if you only have an extra 10 minutes during lunch, you can pull out your resistance bands for a quick upper or lower body workout. An almost endless selection of options can be tailored to meet your needs as almost every movement can be replicated with a band to increase tension on the muscle, improving strength and mobility.10

Resistance bands are often used by occupational therapist working with children who have sensory integration and motor planning difficulties.11 Children who have learning disorders, attention and behavioral issues or experience emotional and sensory overload often crave muscle work. Resistance bands are mobile and give the children a way to build neural connections, core-strengthening, sensory integration and motor planning. These tools have become a staple in occupational therapy programs for children with such needs.12

Bands Enhance Your Workout From Start to Finish

Regardless of what exercise you’re about to start, resistance bands are an excellent means of warming up your muscles. Using bands in a dynamic warmup on your large ball and socket joints — hips and shoulders — may do dual duty of warming up the muscles while making them work against light resistance.13

To warm up your hips, Rusin suggests doing side steps with a resistance band just above your knees or near your ankles. The bands should provide some resistance as you step from side to side with your hips slightly bent back and your knees slightly forward.

To warm up your shoulders,14 Rusin suggests using three motions for 8 to 12 repetitions per movement. In the first, hold the bands in each hand in front of your body, slightly more than shoulder width apart, with the band stretched across the front of your legs. Lifting your hands up above your head and back behind you, reverse direction and bring your arms up and around in front again.

In the second, the band is anchored on a stable object approximately shoulder height. Standing back far enough for the band to stretch, pull it toward you with both hands at shoulder height and then release slowly with your arms going straightforward. In the final shoulder warm up, hold a band with both hands slightly greater than shoulder-width apart and your arms directly in front of you. Stretch both arms out to either side and slightly behind you, moving against the resistance of the band.

While these are warmup exercises for your hips and shoulders, they can also be done while taking a 5 to 10 minute break at work to increase circulation and movement during the day. Another popular way of using resistance bands is to build strength and power. The further the band is stretched, the greater the resistance generated against your muscles. For a demonstration, see the video below.

However, resistance bands also allow you to accelerate the return, or eccentric phase, while your body is returning to its original position. This can potentially increase stress on your joints and care should be taken to reduce your risk of injury. Rusin recommends rotating two to three weeks of banded lifts with two to three weeks off to maximize benefits and minimize risk.

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