Benefits of Using Resistance Bands

Alex and I (Ryan) started a new workout program recently. I was hesitant to begin because we don’t have access to free weights. Fortunately, the program includes a “bandifier.” This means there’s a person on the screen demonstrating how to do each move with resistance bands (or body weight). I have always questioned whether resistance band workouts are effective. And I thought there was no chance that bands could be as good as weights. Probably because they are light, flimsy, and way less intimidating than a rack of cast iron dumbbells. Holy smokes…. was I wrong. If you have made these assumptions about resistance bands, here’s why you need to start pumping elastic. Here are the BENEFITS OF USING RESISTANCE BANDS.

resistance band benefits

There are numerous advantages for using elastic bands to strength train (mainly cost and portability). In the past, these advantages fell on deaf ears because I assumed free weights were more effective than resistance bands. After my first week of workouts with bands, muscle fatigue and soreness made it clear that this was a false assumption.

In all areas of life, I  practice minimalism and advocate for workouts that can be done anywhere. Given my lifestyle, not being tied to a gym, or heavy equipment is the only reason I can be consistent. Bands fit in a carry-on and are my new favorite way to strength train, sometimes even when I have access to free weights. I dismissed resistance bands for many years, bringing 15 lb dumbbells in my trunk and spending significant time hunting down hotels with free weights. Now, this opens up a world of opportunity, especially while we travel.

Read more: Health Tips For Business Travel>>

What is resistance training?

Before we jump into the benefits of resistance bands, let’s talk about the different resistance training, or strength training, methods. Because using some form of resistance – machines, free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, body weight – to strength train is a critical part of any fitness plan, even running.

Machines at the gym. We don’t use or recommend the weight machines at the gym. When you use the machines, you’re limiting your range of motion and strengthening fewer muscles.

Free weights. These are weights that aren’t attached to a machine, which means you have a free range of motion. Therefore, dumbbells, kettlebells, and weighted medicine balls are all free weights. This is best because you engage stabilizing muscle groups to keep the free weights or bands in alignment through the range of motion.

Resistance bands. These are the same as free weights in the sense that they aren’t attached to a machine.  Elastic bands aren’t necessarily better or worse than free weights. Studies show that the number of muscle fibers activated and the force provided by the muscles are similar to an elastic resistance band and free weight dumbbell resistance.

Do resistance bands actually work?

I was skeptical at first. The answer is yes, but you take these points into consideration.

1. You need to have the right bands. At least 2 bands but Ideally 3 bands of light, medium, and heavy resistance.

2. Once you have your bands (see equipment recommendations at the end of the post), use a sharpie to mark the center of the band. That will allow you to have equal resistance on both sides consistently. 

3. Patience is key. It takes some time to learn proper form and figure out which band is best for each muscle group. If you are starting a resistance band workout routine, give yourself a month at the very least to learn proper form.

4. Safety. Make sure you check your bands regularly for damage or voids. 

Are resistance bands as good as weights?

Why would you use resistance bands if lifting free weights is more effective? It’s a great question. I am all about working smarter and not harder. After strength training with resistance bands for 5 months at the time of writing this post, I can confidently answer yes. They are just as efficient and even better when it comes to safety.  

Although I believe a mix of both resistance band and free weight strength training is ideal, they are just as good as weights. And they are perfect if you fit the below description (like me). If you don’t, stick with what is working well for you.

Bands are ideal for the individual who travels significantly and prioritizes strength training, is more focused on functional strength training for athleticism and mobility rather than bodybuilding, and would like to reduce injury while freeing themselves from the gym or equipment.

For more evidence to back up my conclusions about the efficiency of using resistance bands, here are 4 resistance band benefits. 

what are the benefits of using resistance bands?

1. Don’t Limit Yourself to Gravity

When you’re lifting weights, your muscles are fighting the force of gravity. Gravity is only a vertical force, and therefore only provides resistance in a vertical plane. Pumping elastic requires fighting tension. Tension forces provide resistance in all directions. This multi-directional resistance allows for more muscle and joint engagement, especially helpful to build strength and prevent injury during functional or sport/hobby specific movements.

A significant benefit of using resistance bands is that they can help you train for movements that take place outside of the vertical plane. For example, lifting a heavy backpack while twisting to position it on your back or swinging a softball bat. Training your body to safely execute these everyday movements, what many refer to as “functional fitness,” is most worthwhile because it applies to our lives, allowing us to enjoy the results of hard work.

2. Recruit MORE Muscle

I was shocked by the challenge the resistance bands delivered. The soreness was considerable, possibly more so than from lifting free weights. Since I am an engineer, I had to dig in and compare the dynamic forces between lifting free weights and using elastic bands. 

With a free weight, the force is typically in the vertical plane. This is important because most injuries from lifting weights happen when your muscles are trying to support forces outside the vertical plane. Within the vertical plane, the force is constant because gravity is constant.

With elastic, the force is variable, increasing linearly as the band stretches further from its relaxed state. For example, during a bicep curl with free weights, the force decreases during the latter half of the biceps range of motion because the weight falls toward your shoulder and relaxes. With resistance bands, your muscles don’t get that relaxation opportunity. The band keeps tension on the muscle during the biceps entire range of motion. This is one reason why resistance bands recruit more muscle fibers.

The second reason: you can’t cheat. With free weights, there is always the option to use momentum to assist you instead of muscle fibers. If you’re trained to strength train with free weights properly, the use of momentum is minimized. However, when fatigued and knocking out those last few reps, it’s hard to avoid utilizing momentum.

With the bands, using momentum is not possible. One study found that subjects who included elastic resistance bench press training in their strength training plan had a significant improvement in bench press performance compared to subjects who only used free weights.

3. KISS: Keep It Simple Safe

We love simple, that’s why we stick to the structured, highly engineered, at home workouts through Beachbody On Demand. The workout program that inspired the use of bands is called LIIFT4. However, safe always trumps simple because injuries can knock us out of the game, physically and mentally. Resistance bands are safer for several reasons.

1. They put less pressure on our joints

2. Make improper form difficult because momentum is not an option

3. Train our muscles for movements outside the vertical plane

As previously mentioned, most injuries happen in the horizontal plane. The classic example is rotating your back while lifting something heavy. Have you ever been injured, and prescribed resistance band workouts from your physical therapist? There is a reason for that.

Since bands are safe, they are regularly used for rehabilitation and injury prevention. Resistance band training is huge for preventing rotator cuff injuries. One study from Louisiana State University, using collegiate baseball pitchers as subjects, concluded that resistance band training strengthened the rotator cuff muscles better than free-weight dumbbell training. Safety is a significant benefit of resistance bands. 

Read more: How To Start Your Free Beachbody On Demand Trial>>

4. They’re Cheap, Minimalist, and Portable

Weights are expensive, usually $0.50 – $1.00 per pound. If you are working with limited space, the PowerBlock weights (WAY better than the Bowflex weights in my experience) are a good solution. However, much less portable than bands, which you can take them with you everywhere without any hassle.

Read more: How To Build A Home Gym>>

closing thoughts on resistance band benefits

The Pros and Cons

When strength training with resistance bands, you still need a plan. Meaning, a calendar consisting of workouts with variety and instruction on what to do and when. Making up your own workouts is a bad idea since our human nature is trained to keep us from experiencing discomfort. Structure and periodization are what makes or breaks a fitness plan. This is how we optimize how we work out as a couple to maximize results

Currently, bands are providing Alex and me with a significant challenge. Eventually, it might be difficult to meet strength requirements with bands alone. If you’re a beginner or intermediate strength trainer who doesn’t have a bodybuilding competition in sight, bands are perfect. If you are trying to build serious mass, a combination of bands and free weights would be necessary.

The only disadvantage that I see with bands is that they’re less trackable than weights, making it hard to measure progress. Fortunately, adjusting tension is easy, and I haven’t had problems reaching muscle failure during each move. To make bands more trackable, mark the center with a sharpie, and you can record the distance from the center. For example, during squats, my feet are currently placed 10 inches from the center or the heavy resistance band. 

Resistance Band Recommendations

If you don’t already have bands, we have used and approved the below. Remember, it’s recommended to have at least two bands, ideally three, to cover all muscle groups. 

The B-LINES® Resistance Band Kit:

  • Standard Kit – this best-selling set among women contains one 15-lb. pink, one 20-lb. magenta, and one 30-lb. red band.
  • Super Kit – this best-selling set among men contains one 20-lb. magenta, one 30-lb. red, and one 40-lb. green band.
  • Extreme Kit – this extreme set contains one 40-lb. green, one 45-lb. blue, and one 50-lb. black band.

Or the SPRI Resistance Bands

  • Alex mostly uses Light and Medium. For reference, she typically bicep curls, shoulder presses, squats, and bent-over-rows 10 lb, 12 lb, 25 lb, and 20 lb dumbbells.
  • Ryan mostly uses Heavy and Ultra Heavy. For reference, I typically bicep curl, shoulder press, squat, and bent-over-row 20 lb, 25 lb, 50 lb, and 40 lb dumbbells.

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