When you think of strength training, working out with something akin to a large rubber band probably never enters your mind.
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But, exercise resistance bands are now a workout mainstay, whether you’re a “gym rat” or a strength-training neophyte.
“For being able to work out wherever you are and being able to do a variety of exercises without needing a lot of equipment and being able to use them no matter what your fitness level, resistance bands are a great piece of equipment to use,” says exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS.
Just as you do with any strength-training equipment, you need to know how to use resistance bands safely and effectively in order to gain their muscle-building benefits.
The benefits of using resistance bands
Resistance bands originally were used to improve conditioning in nursing home residents. Today, many more exercisers are discovering the advantages of these bands. For one, they’re relatively inexpensive — a decent set costs about $25.
They’re easily adaptable so you can vary your workout on the fly by changing your movements to challenge your muscles in different ways, Travers says. And, the exercise bands allow you to increase or decrease the resistance simply by shortening or lengthening the band.
One of the greatest advantages the bands offer over other strength-training equipment is that they fit easily into a suitcase, allowing you to continue your workout regimen on the road when you can’t get to a gym.
“Some guys who weightlift will say they can’t get anything out of the bands,” Travers says. “I tell them that at least it’s a way not to go more than four to seven days between your workouts, which is when you start to regress a little. It’s a great way to keep you within your routine.”
How to get started using resistance bands
Resistance bands range from simple, flat therapy bands to flat loop bands and elastic tubing with interchangeable handles that make them more user friendly.
Choose a set of bands with varying resistances (tension levels). Usually, the bands are color coded so that the tension increases as the band colors get darker. The greater the strength that’s required for an exercise, the higher the resistance you’ll need from the band. For instance, you’ll need more tension for a chest press than a bicep curl, but don’t add too much resistance or you won’t have a smooth range of motion, Travers notes.
Also, consider the types of accessories that come with the bands, such as door attachments or ankle cuffs, and match them with the types of exercise you plan to do.
Wear shoes whenever you use resistance bands. When you connect a band to a door, give it a good tug before you exercise to make sure it’s secure. Importantly, check the bands for signs of wear and tear before each time you use them. “If they’ve been exposed to a lot of sun or cold, they will crack a lot more,” Travers advises. “Try not to overstretch them to get more resistance because that’s what causes the band to snap and can lead to injuries.”
Finally, practice good technique when you work out with resistance bands, and as you progress, continue to challenge yourself by increasing the resistance, Travers emphasizes.
“With any type of exercise, you have to maintain proper form and posture, just like you would if you were using an exercise machine,” he adds. “And, the reps and resistance may change based on the individual, but to get the most out of a resistance training session, you need to take your muscles to fatigue.”
4 simple resistance band exercises
Traverse recommends performing two sets of 15 repetitions of each of these exercises once a day on at least two days of the week:
- Chest press. Wrap the resistance band behind your back, holding both ends with your hands. Starting with your arms at your side and elbows bent, push the band out in front of you as you straighten your elbows, and hold for one second.
- Stand on the resistance band and grab both ends with your hands. While standing in a squatted position and holding the band, extend your knees up to a standing position. Lower back down and repeat.
- While standing, step on the resistance band. With your arms at your side holding the band, draw up your hand by bending at the elbow and hold for one second. Keep your palms facing upward the entire time.
- Elastic band rows. Attach the resistance band securely to a door. Holding the band with both hands, draw back the band as you bend your elbows. Keep your elbows near the side of your body.
This article was adapted from Cleveland Clinic Men’s Health Advisor.