Updated: Nov 10
A review of the physical benefits of resistance band training, how to use them in your exercise sessions and a selection best bands to buy
Resistance bands are excellent pieces of exercise equipment. They’re highly functional, space sensitive, extremely versatile, durable, inexpensive, portable and compact.
Yet what’s surprising, with all these positives up for grabs (and I’ve probably missed a couple out), is why so few people have adopted resistance bands into their repertoire of exercises.
In all my years of training I have known only one person who used resistance bands religiously; but then he was one of the most knowledgeable exercise enthusiasts I’ve ever met. He always had his nose in a sports science journal and he obsessively kept up-to-date with contemporary training practices. In fact it is to this gentleman that I owe a debt of gratitude. For without his tutelage and recommendations I too probably would have missed out on using resistance bands. And I’d have been physically poorer for it.
What is a resistance band?
Quite simply it is a 2 metre long loop of elasticised material – usually silicone. The resistance load of bands range from as little as 5kg to 50kg. This load can also be increased by double folding the band or simultaneously using multiple bands. That’s all there is to say on them.
Pray tell, why are they so good?
Well, beyond the positives aired above, resistance bands obey your natural biomechanics. By this I mean, if you were to hop on a piece of gym machinery, such as the seated leg press or chest press, the range of movement available would either be fixed or extremely limited.
The problem with this is if your body does not naturally follow this predetermined range performing the movement could, over time or with excessive loads, result in injury. What I’m trying to say here is we all move differently and exercise machines do not accommodate our biomechanical idiosyncrasies. Because of their flexible properties resistance bands do not force you into a fixed range of movement but instead faithfully observe the natural contours through which you move.
When you select a weight and perform a lift that weight remains the same through every phase of the movement; it neither increases nor decreases. This is ok but it is far from dynamic. Resistance bands work differently. As you perform the movement the tensile strength increases reaching maximal load capacity at peak contraction – where it is most beneficial.
Furthermore, unlike conventional forms of resistance training – such as free weights, cables and machines – resistance bands are more suited (not to mention much safer) for performing explosive movements. Research has shown that varying the velocity of muscle contractions is an effective method of promoting ‘maximum voluntary torque’ – aka strength.
Truly, it’s amazing the physical benefits that can be derived from a two metre long loop of elastic.
Now that we’ve covered the why of resistance bands we shall turn our attention to the how. Before we delve into the products I have outlined three exercises that you can practice when you get your own resistance band. Following the the exercise explanations you will find a video tutorial.
1: Bent-over row (BOR)
The bent-over row is a classic compound strength movement (a compound movement is one that activates multiple muscle groups across two or more joints; think squats, bench-presses, lunges, etc.). Regularly performing this exercise will develop the muscles of the back and arms whilst improving your proficiency at what has to be one of the best functional movements available.
Technique Teaching Points
Stand on the band with a double fold ensuring that your feet are shoulder-width apart
The feet should be equally spaced across the band; if the band is shorter on one side the resistance will be greater
Keeping the knees slightly bent grasp the makeshift handles and adopt the initiation position of the movement: hands level with the knees, back straight, head up, eyes forward
To perform the movement contract through the lattissimus dorsi (back muscles colloquially called the wings) and pull the band up level with the lower part of the pectoralis major (lower chest – just under the nips)
Hold the contraction for a count of two seconds
Release under control
Another classic movement the squat, because it involves and recruits so many neighbouring muscles, is believed to promote whole-body growth. I’ve even heard it said that regular squatting can even beef-up your biceps. I’m still not convinced on that one though. However, there’s no denying it, this is a tremendous exercise and no regime is complete without it.
Technique teaching Points
Stand on the band ensuring that it runs underneath your instep – what you certainly do not want to happen is the band slipping from under your feet; the potential epidemiological fallout of such an eventuality is significantly worse for males: think eunuch
Now, for this next position you’re going to have to perform a bit of origami. Pull the band up and slip your arms through it ensuring that the band runs across the anterior deltoids
Stand up and manoeuvre yourself into the initiation position
Under control perform a squat ensuring to observe correct lifting principals: back straight, firing through the quadriceps, pushing the hips forward, no locking out at the knee
I love performing press-ups with a resistance band. A set of 10 feels like a hundred and at peak contraction a momentary laps of concentration could result in a high-impact face-plant with the floor (hence the reason I advise performing this exercise over a Yoga mat). But don’t let that put you off. The possibility of winding up with a pancake face is well worth the physical payoff. Honest.
Technique Teaching Points
Firstly roll out a Yoga mat – preferably a thick one
Kneel on the mat and, before placing your hands down, secure the band around your back
Manoeuvre your hands into position – a little over shoulder-width apart and in line with your shoulders
Raise the knees so that you are adopting the press-up initiation position
Under control perform a press-up: lower to 90° at the elbow joint; keep eyes fixed on a point about two feet from the fingertips; breathe naturally
To recover from the position place the knees down and ensure that you are supported before removing your hands from the floor – else it’s going to be Shrove Tuesday all over again
1: BESTOPE Resistance Band (£12.99)
High quality durable material that will maintain their elasticity even through stretched repeatedly over years.
Perfect for all types of resistance training. Also suitable for Yoga, Pilates, powerlifting, and CrossFit
(Click image for availability)
2: TOMSHOO 5 Packs (£46.99 – for a pack of five and other bits and bobs)
5 bands each is clearly marked with weight indication for different tension range: Yellow 5-15LB, Red 15-35LB, Black 30-60LB, Purple 40-80LB, Green 50-125LB. Use single band or combine more bands to perform challenging motion strength.
Made for natural latex the flat loop bands are environmentally friendly and fit comfortably around your body. The heavy-duty material is tear-resistant and built to last long despite of repeated stretch.
Comes fully equipped with a door anchor and 2 handles to expand the varieties of your exercise with the resistance bands. The nylon straps are knitted tight to avoid easy breakage and tearing.
(Click image for availability)
3: POWER GUIDANCE Resistance Bands (£17.95)
Premium quality - power guidance resistance bands are durable and long-lasting. They can be stretched several times each year and are made of natural latex material.
Fits fitness level - each exercise band provides a different level of resistance, both in pull-up training and adding resistance to bench press, squats and Olympic lifts.
Advanced strength and improved mobility - with resistance training, every part of the exercise has resistance, resulting in better range of movement strength and complete stimulation, thus promoting muscle growth.
(Click image for availability)
Resistance bands are an underrated and underused fitness aid. In addition to the plethora of benefits that can be derived from using them as part of your exercise regime - such as improved strength, power and muscular endurance - they afford a functional and novel alternative to conventional weights.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast