Resistance bands have been around for a considerable amount of time and were primarily used for the rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. At the beginning of the 21st century, the bands became extremely popular in the fitness world and many different types are now available to exercise at home or at the gym. They are widely used to add resistance to upper-body exercises such as biceps curls, chest presses, and triceps extensions; as well as lower-body exercises such as squats, hamstring curls, and leg adduction exercises.
The popularity of resistance bands mainly resides in the belief that they are great tools to help gain muscle and strength. But are they really worth all the hype?
What are the benefits?
Resistance bands certainly have a host of benefits – they are cheap, portable and perfect for beginners to intermediate lifters. You can perform hundreds of different workouts with them and can change the angle of each exercise with ease.
They are great for injury prevention as they enable us to reach muscles that would otherwise be difficult to train. For instance, the posterior rotator cuff is an important muscle that supports shoulder movements and joint stability. However it is very difficult to train rotator cuffs with traditional resistance training, whereas resistance bands can recreate the pitching motion to train this muscle and therefore strengthen a potential weak point in the body. This is particularly helpful if you play sports such as tennis or basketball.
Muscle growth can be achieved by overloading the muscles to create small tears where new tissue can grow. Any resistance exercise can be used to create overload provided the volume and difficulty are enough to cause metabolic stress. Therefore you can absolutely use resistance bands to build muscle, but this is particularly true at the beginning since you may outgrow the bands and need more resistance as you progress.
How about limitations?
Resistance bands will most likely provide enough tension to help you build muscle if you are a beginner or average exerciser. However, the advanced bands still only provide around 100 pounds of resistance, so the more advanced exerciser is undoubtedly going to reach a point when the bands are too easy and heavier weights become the only option to keep growing muscle. This is because you need to constantly challenge yourself to keep causing metabolic stress and muscle damage as you become stronger.
If you are convinced resistance bands are for you, keep increasing the resistance and number of repetitions as your body adapts and becomes stronger. However it is worth keeping in mind that resistance bands alone will not lead to significant muscle growth in the long term.
Picking the right band for you
Resistance bands are made from elastics and rubber; and come in several sizes, widths, lengths, and resistance levels to adapt to different types of exercises and fitness levels.
The bands generally come in different colours, which represent the level of difficulty from easiest to heaviest resistance (in ascending order: yellow, red, green, blue, black). Try doing a set of exercises with one of the easier bands and see how your muscles react. If they are not fatigued by the end of one set, you probably need to move up to a band with more tension and carry on increasing the intensity.
As well as picking the right resistance level, you need to choose the correct band for the type of exercise you intend on doing. Thin flat bands are very versatile and perfect for back and chest stretches. Thick flat bands are more durable and ideal for more advanced exercises such as pull-ups and dips. Handle tube bands are excellent for pulling exercises and to train rotating muscles. And finally, figure 8 resistance bands are great to use like a chest expander device or to place under your feet for squat resistance.