Resistance bands have been a popular training tool for many years. In addition to providing a stimulus for strength and growth unlike any other, they are very convenient to use when you don’t have much space for equipment. I always recommend them to my personal training clients when they are on the road or vacation so that they can easily get workouts in when they are away from our studio.
They can even be taken to work and used for exercises that can be done at your desk, as I outlined recently in an article for Reebok on countering the negative impacts of sitting. They really exploded in popularity during COVID shutdowns when people did not have the option to go to gyms. However, I noticed a lot times they did not get used to the full extent of their capabilities, or even in a downright incorrect fashion.
In this article I’ll outline some important qualities of resistance bands so that when you choose to work out with them you get the best workout possible.
How Do Bands Work?
First let's think about how bands work. As the band stretches, more tension is created. This means that the further or deeper into an exercise you go, the harder it will become. This is very important to be aware of because it completely changes where and how much you feel the resistance in a given exercise.
Our bodies already have a mechanical advantage during certain segments of an exercise. This just means that our body is stronger in certain parts of a movement than others. For instance, a row starts easy in the initial portion of the motion, and gets harder the further you pull. This phenomena is prevalent on many other exercises too, like squats, rear del flys, and curls. Depending on how you use the band, you can either lessen this effect or increase it.
For instance, going back to rows as an example, you will increase this effect because as you pull on the band the tension increases, making the exercise harder. At the same time your mechanical advantage decreases as you move further into the hardest part of the motion. This creates the effect of almost little or no resistance in the initial stages of the movement, but a large amount in the later stages of it.
This effect, where bands or other modalities are used to make the exercise harder during the parts of the motion that are already naturally more difficult, is referred to as unaccommodating resistance.
With this type of set up, the initial part of the range of motion can miss out on proper stimulus, and could leaves gaps in your strength if you don’t recognize and account for it.
The confusing part is that using bands on other exercises has the exact opposite effect. For instance, using bands on squats, deadlifts, lunges, pushups, and other exercises where the end range of motion is easier actually evens out the resistance throughout the range of motion. This is because with these exercises the bands are reducing tension during the portions that are naturally more difficult and increasing during the portions that are naturally harder. Squats for example, are typically hardest at the lowest part of the motion, but when using a band for resistance, the band adds more tension the further up you go. This can even out the resistance through the motion or even make the top portion of the motion the more difficult part. This effect is known as accommodating resistance.
While accommodating resistance will help reduce strength gaps, unaccommodating resistance may exacerbate or cause them. Fortunately, due to the flexible nature of the way bands can be used there is an easy solution.
Break the motion down into two parts and do extra partial reps with more tension for the parts of the exercise that are easier. For instance, when doing rows complete a set of 10 full range of motion reps, and then immediately follow it with 5 partial reps where you only complete the first half of the range of motion. You can even grip the band closer together to create more tension during these partial reps.
Here is a video showing the same thing, but on the rear delt fly exercise. As you can see, I start with full range of motion with the purple band, and then immediately switch to a shorter range of motion with the black band to ensure my muscles get fatigued through the full range of motion.
One final thing I’ll add is that unaccommodating resistance is not necessarily bad. It can actually be used to target muscles responsible for certain portions of the range of motion even more, and cause more activation and growth there. For instance, using bands on glute bridges or bicep curls can do this. Just make sure you are not completely neglecting other important parts of the motion.
Another important thing to be aware of when using bands is that heavier bands have less even resistance than lighter bands. This means the resistance increases even more the further you stretch them than with lighter bands. To illustrate, a very heavy band might go from 50 lbs to 100 lbs of resistance when fully stretched, whereas a lighter band might only go from 10 to 15 lbs fully stretched – a 50% increase with the heavier band, while only a 33% increase with the lighter one. This means that if you want even resistance you should use multiple lighter bands before jumping up to the next resistance band level.
Final Important Things About Using Bands
Finally, be cautious when using bands. If you are securing them to a door frame or similar, test them to make sure they will not slip out and snap when you pull on them. Also, NEVER pull towards your face or eyes. Bands are powerful enough to cause serious eye damage if they snap back and hit you. There have been numerous cases of blindness caused by bands, and it is one of the top reasons for gym related visits to the emergency room.
Now that you know these important facets of resistance band training, you'll be able to get great training from them. If you have any questions feel free to send us a message. If you would like help learning how to use a variety of resistance modalities from a professional personal trainer, right here in Austin, then give us a call or book a free Transformation session. At that session you will do a detailed consultation with a professional trainer, a short workout, and then your trainer will put together a plan for you to achieve your goals. Click here to book that session and get started!