Fitness enthusiasts know that there are two kinds of workouts, cardio or aerobic exercises, and strength training. The former focuses on getting your heart rate up, and keeping your heart, lungs and circulatory system in peak shape. Much like when you win big at an online casino, cardio is designed to get that pulse racing.
The latter, as the name implies, is designed to build stronger muscles. That’s why it usually involves weight. It could be your own bodyweight, as in squats or lunges, or it could involve dumbbells and weight machines in the gym. The aim is to increase your anaerobic endurance – the ability to sustain greater effort over short bursts – creating bigger, stronger muscles.
Apart from weights, there is an additional option in strength training; resistance bands. Used on their own or in combination with weights and bodyweight exercises, resistance bands can be a powerful addition to strength workouts. You can use them in a gym or when keeping fit at home.
What Is Resistance Training?
Think of the rubber bands in a stationery drawer. Now magnify them a few hundred times and add stretchy modern materials with hi-tech strength…
That’s the essence of resistance training, using large stretchable bands to increase resistance during exercise, making your strength workout more effective. To distinguish them from office supplies, they’re called “resistance bands”.
Resistance bands come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, but they can be grouped in two varieties: single strips, or looped bands. The single strips must be held firmly in the hands during exercises; in fact, you should wrap a turn or two around each hand, rather than just grasping the ends. That makes the band less likely to slip out of your hands and potentially cause injury.
Looped bands make a firm grasp easier, although the potential for injury remains if the loop were to snap. That’s why it’s important to use high-quality, trusted brands in resistance training, and to use them correctly.
How Resistance Training Helps
Most people associate resistance bands with rehabilitation from physical injury, or muscle-stretching exercises. They do perform admirably in both those spheres but are in no way confined to them. Resistance bands are a diverse, multifunctional workout tool that can make strength training much more effective, because you are no longer working against gravity alone.
Take, for example, a bicep curl. With a barbell in your fist, you raise your hand towards your shoulder, then lower and repeat. But most of the muscular effort happens in the first part of the curl, with the workload easing off as the bicep nears the shoulder. At that point, the weight is moving “across”, rather than “up”, relative to the pull of gravity, which requires much less muscular effort.
By adding a resistance band, the bicep is working against an opposing force the whole way through the curl: during both the raising and the lowering of the barbell. At the top of the curl, the muscle is still working against the force of the resistance band. Then, by controlling the down movement against the pull of the band, you continue the anaerobic workout of the muscle throughout the exercise.
Using a resistance band also compels your body to employ more stabiliser muscles – the peripheral muscles that support the central muscle you’re exercising. In a bicep curl using a resistance band, for instance, you’re not only working out the bicep, but also the stabiliser muscles in the shoulder and elbow that allow the bicep to function correctly.
Used properly, resistance training yields muscles that are both longer and stronger than weight training alone can.
Bands For Many Different Uses
Resistance bands come in different shapes, sizes and strengths, so whether you’re a beginner or a bodybuilder, you can tailor resistance training to your needs. The thicker the band, the greater the resistance it provides.
If you’re just starting to build strength training into your fitness regime, you’d want to start with the thinnest bands for each exercise, then increase the thickness when you find that your current bands no longer challenge you.
Whatever your strength level when you start resistance training, you need bands of the right thickness. Choosing the perfect fit can be tricky for the less experienced, and you also want to stick to the best brands on the market, for safety reasons.
Since resistance bands can retail at varying price points, you need to be sure you’re choosing the product that properly complements your personal workout. It’s wise to consult a personal trainer, or a member of your gym’s fitness staff, for advice on the resistance bands that best meet your requirements.