Adding resistance bands to your workout routine is a non-threatening strategy to begin experimenting with muscle-building exercises before attempting dumbbells or the barbell for progress.
However, if there’s anything that can be learned from the advantages of resistance bands, it’s that the uncomplicated equipment shouldn’t only be reserved for novice exercisers. In reality, they deserve a place in even the most experienced athlete’s collection of equipment. Here’s what trainers want you to know about this potentially underestimated exercise tool.
7 Advantages of Resistance Bands
From convenience to functionality, there are numerous reasons to incorporate resistance bands into your workout routine.
1. They’re extremely budget-friendly and easy to transport.
If you’re stocking up your home gym and can’t decide whether to buy a rack of dumbbells or a set of resistance bands, do yourself, your storage space, and your wallet a favor by skipping the free weights – at least for now. On average, dumbbells cost around $1.50 to $2.00 per pound of weight, and a top-selling 50 lb. set will cost you $109 on Amazon (Buy It, $109, amazon.com). In comparison, a five-piece set of resistance bands that can be stacked to create a total resistance of 150 lbs will only set you back $30 (Buy It, $30, amazon.com).
Another significant advantage of resistance bands? Because of their compact size, you can bring them on an international flight without worrying about expensive baggage fees caused by a hidden dumbbell set. Your bank account appreciates it. (P.S. We can’t get enough of these resistance bands either.)
2. They aid in stretching and warming up your muscles before a challenging workout.
If you have the flexibility of a stiff board, resistance bands will be your best friend for stretching.
Looping a band around your foot, rather than attempting and failing to seize your heel with your hand, can assist you in more effectively elongating your hamstring if you’re exceptionally tight, states Hayden Steele, NSCA-C.P.T., C.S.C.S., and the originator of the Shock Training app. And if you are unable to easily seize your foot behind you for a quad stretch, encircle the band around the top of your foot and pull it upward toward your glutes to accomplish the task, elucidates Dannah Bollig, a certified personal trainer and the founder of The DE Method.
Plus, bands can be utilized in warm-ups to activate the muscles that will need to be recruited in the upcoming workout, including weight lifting, running, and other strenuous exercises, states Bollig. To activate your rotator cuff muscles before an upper-body or chest workout, use a band to perform internal and external shoulder rotation exercises, which will help enhance shoulder stability, says Steele. To prepare the glutes and legs for the approaching sweat session, Bollig suggests performing a round of lateral monster walks with a resistance band around your feet. “I’ve done this a lot with my athlete clients as an incredible warm-up to get their leg muscles activated,” she says. “This would be fantastic to do prior to a run or intense activity.”
3. They evaluate your muscles throughout a complete exercise.
Just because resistance bands are less expensive than free weights doesn’t mean they’ll provide you with a workout so effortless you barely perspire. In fact, one of the key resistance band advantages is their capability to fortify your muscles by increasing the duration they spend under tension.
For example, when you’re executing a bodyweight squat, your quadricep muscles primarily get challenged when you push your rear end out of the squat and return to standing (the concentric portion of the movement when the muscles shorten or contract). However, when you loop a large resistance band under your feet and over your shoulders, your muscles will need to work even harder to push through the added resistance to stand up, and they’ll have to combat the pull of the resistance band while you’re descending into the squat (the eccentric portion of the movement when the quadricep muscles elongate), explains Bollig. Translation: Your body has to exert additional effort throughout the tension of the entire movement. (Convinced you need to incorporate resistance band squats into your routine? Try these variations.)
The same principle of physics applies when you’re performing upper body exercises, such as biceps curls. Here, your muscles are activated and really energized when you’re raising the dumbbell from hip height up to your shoulder, the concentric portion of the movement. However, if you substitute that free weight for a resistance band, your biceps will also have to regulate the resistance while you’re lowering the weight down to hip level, the eccentric portion of the movement, says Bollig. Since your muscles are operating under tension throughout the entire movement, there will be more muscle breakdown, and, with proper recovery, they can regenerate and become stronger, Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2XL, previously told Shape. Not to mention, eccentric movements impair your muscle [in a beneficial way, don’t worry!] — and fortify them — more than concentric movements, meaning resistance bands provide you with a 2-in-1, advanced workout.
While stepping into a piece of plastic might not provide the same satisfaction as lifting a massive weight plate, the overall muscle-enhancing advantages of resistance bands are equivalent to pumping iron. “Studies indicate that there are no changes in benefits between machines, free weights, and resistance bands,” explains Steele. “Ideally, they should all be utilized together [in a training regimen], but in terms of strength benefits, you can’t claim that dumbbells are more effective than resistance bands. They simply offer the same advantages for a lower cost.”
4. They’re excellent for functional fitness training.
Contrary to gym machines, which restrict your body’s movement to a specific plane, another notable advantage of resistance bands is that they can be pulled and pushed in virtually any direction you desire. Steele states that as you use them, you’ll develop motor control and coordination.
However, that’s not the lone functional-training benefit of resistance bands: bands provide resistance in more planes compared to dumbbells, allowing you to perform a wider range of exercises. “Since free weights rely on gravity, they can only provide resistance in a vertical plane – the direction of gravity,” he explains. “Unlike free weights, bands don’t rely on gravity for resistance. This expands their potential for use in functional movement patterns that imitate everyday life, as well as sport-specific activities.”
Consider a standing chest press, where you push two dumbbells in front of you while standing. Despite moving your arms in a way that is intended to work your chest, gravity actually pushes the dumbbells downwards, instead of pressing them against you. Consequently, you end up working your deltoid muscles in the shoulder, says Steele. “On the flip side, the bands directly resist the plane of motion, so they genuinely provide chest resistance during that movement,” he explains. While using bands, you’ll still engage your deltoids and get some triceps training, but the majority of the effort will be exerted by your pectoral muscles. By substituting dumbbells with resistance bands during horizontal-plane exercises like standing chest presses or punches, you’ll engage and strengthen the targeted muscles more effectively.
Moreover, if you participate in recreational sports, the additional planes of movement offered by resistance bands allow you to practice common sports-specific movement patterns, such as baseball swings or basketball passes, with added resistance. Steele suggests that this can aid athletes in enhancing their performance and reducing the risk of injury.
5. They ensure proper form.
As you progress through your workout and start feeling the temptation to slack off or neglect your form, having resistance bands as your accountability partner eliminates that possibility.
Bands naturally prevent you from deceiving on the workout, which is common when using free weights, especially among novices,” clarifies Steele. “Deceiving involves the use of momentum to get the weight moving. Once that momentum has been generated, the muscle fibers no longer need to be maximally activated to continue moving the weight throughout the rest of the motion range. In other words, momentum is doing most of the work, not the muscles.”
But when you’re utilizing a band to make #gains, you’ll have to persistently work against resistance when momentum would typically take over and complete the movement for you. “The only way to continue a movement while performing an exercise with elastic resistance is to summon more muscle fibers to continue stretching the band,” adds Steele.
On the same token, another benefit of resistance bands is how they assist in establishing a “muscle-mind connection” that helps ensure your form remains accurate throughout the entire exercise, says Bollig. For example, consider a squat with a resistance band wrapped around your thighs. To activate your glutes and maximize muscle engagement, it’s crucial to maintain proper form throughout the movement, including keeping your knees positioned over your toes as you lower into the squat. However, if your knees start to collapse inward, you’ll feel the resistance band becoming less taut, which serves as a reminder to push your knees back out and engage your glutes and hip abductors. The outcome: A more efficient and safer workout, she explains.
6. They are extremely safe to use.
Certainly, you won’t have to worry about accidentally dropping a heavy weight on your foot, but that’s not the sole safety advantage of resistance bands. “Weight training can be quite strenuous on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and sometimes you may not have complete control,” states Bollig. “With resistance band training, you maintain control throughout the entire session. You don’t need to fret about jerking heavy weights, and you’ll protect your ligaments and tendons by actively controlling your muscles throughout the entire motion.” For instance, when you’re unable to perform another squat while using a heavy barbell, your muscles might reach their limit before you’ve safely unloaded the weight. This could result in painful injuries. However, if your body can’t handle another resistance band squat, you can simply release the band and move on without any concerns.
Moreover, resistance bands create a matching resistance profile, indicating that when your muscles are at their weakest point within the range (like the bottom of a chest press), there’s more elasticity in the band and less resistance, making the band also weaker at that point. Conversely, when you’re at your strongest (for example, when your arms are fully extended in the press), the band is also at its strongest, explains Steele. If you were to perform the same movement with a dumbbell, the weight would be greatest at the bottom of the press, where your muscles are at their weakest and most vulnerable to injury, he clarifies.
7. They can help modify or progress an exercise.
Frantically struggling to pull yourself up to the top of a pull-up bar isn’t advantageous for building muscle in your upper body. So, if you’re unable to gradually lift your body up in a controlled manner, you can secure a long loop resistance band to the bar and step into it.
If you are unable to perform a complete pull-up, the band will assist you in the range of motion when you are at your weakest point, and then aid you in reaching the stage where you can perform a single repetition on your own, allowing you to progress further,” states Steele. When you descend towards the ground, the band will extend, and as you pull yourself up, the band will retract, providing assistance in propelling you towards the top of the bar, he clarifies.
Alternatively, if you have limited weights available, you can incorporate a resistance band into a set of 10-pound dumbbells to increase the intensity when you require a slightly heavier workload. Simply step on a long loop resistance band, place the loose ends over two dumbbells, and push yourself through a demanding session of deadlifts, chest flies, or bent-over rows. Now, conquer a pull-up that would make your high school physical education teacher proud.