You’ve likely crossed paths with a resistance band or two along your fitness journey. While they look like simple gym equipment, they come jam-packed with a full range of benefits. So, we turned to two Aaptiv trainers to tell us more about resistance bands and how to use them in our training.
How do resistance bands work?
Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham says, “Resistance bands work by adding an external resistance force that can be applied without having to hold extra weight per se.” They are flat, sometimes looped bands that range from thin sizes to thick.
Aaptiv trainer and owner of Trainers in Transit, Jennifer Giamo, further explains, “They provide resistance at varying degrees of difficulty (light, medium, heavy, extra heavy) when providing the opposing force with your own body weight. When they are anchored in place, you can push, pull, curl, etc. against the rubber resistance.”
What are some benefits of resistance bands?
There are multiple benefits to using resistance bands, which makes them so popular amongst gym goers and trainers alike. “They are portable [and] inexpensive,” Giamo says. Resistance bands can be used anywhere—the gym, at the park, in your home. They’re compact and light so they don’t take up much space or add weight. Basically, they’re perfect for fitting in workouts on-the-go. Just pop one of these bands in your luggage, and you can set up your own home gym in the middle of your hotel room.
You may have noticed that resistance bands come in various colors and thickness. Each size and color typically correlates with a certain resistance level. So, you can choose which band to use based on your ability and the exercise you’re doing. It makes this multi-level fitness tool great for all levels, says Giamo.
“They’re great for activating muscle groups prior to heavy lifting or cardio exercise to ensure proper muscle groups are working and doing their jobs,” Cunningham adds. “They’re also great for toning smaller muscle areas.”
But you don’t need to learn new exercises or movements to use the bands. Take exercises you’re already familiar with, and make them more challenging by adding extra resistance. Alternatively, you can actually make some moves easier by using the bands as leverage and offsetting some of your bodyweight.
“They provide variety to a routine workout and also allow for muscles to work concentrically and eccentrically—providing resistance during the ‘work phase’ and the ‘rest phase,’” says Giamo. “[Resistance bands] are also quite simple to use when working out on your own. They’re safe and effective.”
What exercises can I do with resistance bands?
You can use resistance bands as part of a variety of fitness routines and workouts. But they’re particularly useful when it comes to strength and toning workouts. “The benefits of using resistance bands for strength training are endless,” Giamo says. “You can perform exercises for every major muscle group, challenge your existing routine ([for example], add them to push-ups for increased difficulty). You can also increase your range of motion, flexibility and muscular endurance.”
There is a range of exercises you can use them with such as assisted pull-ups, chest press, bicep curls, and tricep extensions. “Some [other] great exercises are scapular retraction pulls and pull ups for upper body, for lower body glute bridges, lateral kicks or walks, and clams,” says Cunningham.
Are resistance bands better than free weights and gym machines?
While resistance bands are great, it doesn’t mean that you need to shun the free weights and gym machines completely. “I think they are a good complement to weights and machines,” Giamo explains. “They help add a different element to strength training and are especially great when weights and machines are not available. You can mimic almost all exercises and work the same muscle groups using resistance bands.”
In fact, studies show the effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. A combination of the bands and free weights, for example, shows significantly greater results compared to just using free weights alone. Ultimately, to improve your overall body composition, don’t just rely on one or the other. Use a mixture of resistance bands, free weights, and machines to give yourself a great workout.