Resistance Bands and Tubes: The Pros and Cons

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Strength Training Equipment: Resistance Bands and Tubing

An alternative to machine and free-weight equipment is the use of resistance bands that are made of rubber tubing or elastic cable to create resistance as they are stretched. Exercising with resistance bands is a convenient and practical choice if you cannot afford a fitness club membership or other strength training equipment, have limited space at home, or travel a lot.

What is resistance band?

Resistance bands come in various lengths, types of handles, and colors. The color usually indicates the relative degree of elasticity, or resistance. They are typically made of latex and come in several shapes and intensities. Many manufacturers of resistance bands use the same colors to indicate the amount of thickness (and thus the resistance to stretching) of their bands. They often start with yellow as the thinnest and easiest to stretch and progressing in thickness to red, green, blue, black, silver, and gold.

Types of resistance bands

There are basically two forms of resistance bands: flat and tubular.

  • Flat resistance bands. These are the most common type of exercise band. They’re inexpensive and available latex-free for those with a latex allergy. Sometimes we can find them in rolls so you can easily cut them for specific purposes. You can also buy them pre-cut. Most exercises you will be able to complete with a 3- to 6- foot piece of band. You can “choke up” on the band to make it fit your needs. You may also purchase handles specially made for them. However, we’ve found that just wrapping flat band around a small piece of PVC pipe provides a wonderful handle. Even better, you can purchase PVC pipe in a variety of diameters to fit arthritic hands.

Flat resistance bands

  • Tubular resistance bands. These are more durable than the flat kind and come with padded handles. You may even find tubing with adjustable handles in order to adapt the length of the tubing to the individual. However, most are available only in a pre-cut length. Nowadays exercise tubing comes in an array of options. Some resistance training bands are loops that can be wrapped around your limbs. You may also come across a figure eight-shaped band and a braided exercise tube.

Tubular resistance bands

Using resistance bands safely

Resistance band training is quite safe. However, there are some things you should keep in mind for best results.

  • Be aware of old, worn, or cracked bands that may break at the worst moment during a repetition.
  • Check that handles are securely attached to the rest of the band before performing an exercise.
  • When using a doorknob or piece of furniture to anchor one end of the band, be sure that no one will open the door. Furthermore, be sure that the band is firmly affixed to the furniture and that the furniture will not move.

For the most part, tubing with handles at each end works best. You may also consider tubing with no handles (you can remove one or both), which may make it easier to tie one end off but more difficult to hold.

What can you do with bands and tubes?

Some are sold with instructional guides or DVDs, and classes may be offered at fitness centers.

Many free weight exercises can be adapted for resistance bands. For example, you can do biceps curls by standing on the center of the band and holding one end of the band in each hand; the band provides resistance when you stretch it to perform the curl.

With a little creative thinking, you can hook tubing around a post or combine it with a broomstick to simulate almost every free weight exercise found in your gym. Additionally, since tubing comes in a variety of sizes and resistance, this equipment can be modified for just about any movement and to fit any person. It is superior for standing movements, core rotational exercises, and explosive movements and can be found in just about every gym or strength room across the country. The only drawbacks of this method
are that it is difficult to track strength gains and heavy lifters may find that there is not enough resistance.

Giant elastic bands have also found a place in training programs both as a stand-alone training tool and as additive resistance to normal barbell routines to increase resistance as well as deliver resistance in a different plane. But if you use them as a stand-alone training tool you have to be prepared never to see any serious muscle gains. These larger bands create considerably more resistance and may be more appropriate for stronger people or those looking for a greater challenge. However, this is also away from resistance needed to stimulate any serious process of muscle hypertrophy.

Benefits of training with resistance bands

  • Exercise bands are marvelous corrective-exercise tools which to rehab a condition.
  • Most resistance bands are relatively inexpensive.
  • The light resistance they provide makes them perfect for beginning exercises as well as people who have limited muscle strength.
  • Ideal for people who are recovering from an injury.
  • They are very light, versatile, and great for traveling (very portable).
  • Easy on joints.
  • They are easy to adjust and to add resistance in multiple directions.
  • You are less likely to re-injure yourself with a resistance band.

Drawbacks of training with resistance bands

  • Insufficient resistance. They are not challenging enough to cause serius muscle hypertrophy.
  • It can be difficult to find them in some public gyms.
  • Because the resistance gets greater the farther you stretch them, you get only minimal resistance at the beginning of the movement.
  • Difficult to quantify and measure gains. It’s problem to determine exact poundage of resistance which for those that need numbers can be frustrating.
  • Band resistance is not the best resistance to offset the effects of gravity. Band resistance can influence gravity but free weight resistance is definitely a more effective developer of gravity based vertical plane strength and since gravity is not going away, staying strong against gravity is key to maintain good life long function.

Closing Thoughts

Resistance tubing is inexpensive and can be used anywhere, which makes it a clear choice for home-based training and fieldwork. Bands are also ideal exercise equipment when you are recovering from an injury, away from home or unable to get to the gym. However, they are not even close as challenging as when you’re carrying out exercises using dumbbells, barbells, own bodyweight, and resistance machines. Therefore you should never use resistance bands as your sole means of gaining strength and power. Rather, they should be used to supplement your existing training with free weights, machines, and bodyweight.

On the images below you can see an excellent example of how you can combine free weights and resistance bands. As you can see, resistance bands are popular among advanced lifters for targeting the lock-out of lifts such as the squat or bench press. Attaching resistance bands to the ends of the bar and anchoring them to the floor or the bottom of the rack adds resistance at the top of the lift. This allows the lifter to have overload on certain lifts and have a strong lock-out.

Free weights + resistance bands combinations

Barbell squat with resistance band

Barbell squat with resistance band – targeting the lock-out of lifts

Barbell bench press with resistance tubes - targeting the lock-out of lifts

Barbell bench press with resistance tubes – targeting the lock-out of lifts

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