Not long ago, I impulsively bought a set of mini exercise bands — thick rubber loops designed to engage your muscles as you stretch them. I was seduced by ads promising they could improve my posture, which is lousy after years of slumping over a computer. They claimed a handful of quick exercises would unhunch my shoulders while I “tone my muscles” and “sculpt my physique.”
Getting a full-body workout with a set of $20 elastic bands was enticing, since I lack the budget or space for fancy fitness equipment.
The benefits of resistance training — workouts that build strength and muscle — are well known. It reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease. With more muscle, you burn more calories and are less prone to injury. It’s also been shown to strengthen bones and reduce age-related decline in muscle mass.
Could resistance bands, which are relatively cheap, portable and easy to use, be a worthwhile alternative to a gym membership?
Bands build strength and endurance.
The idea of stretchy workout bands is over 100 years old. Some are long, thin tubes; some, like mine, are thick, flat loops with colors designating resistance levels. And they’ve seen a recent resurgence during the pandemic home fitness boom.
Like weights, exercise bands put stress on the muscle, which over time makes the muscle adapt and get stronger. The farther you stretch the band, the greater the resistance.
There are some key differences though. Bands do not rely on gravity, so people cannot use momentum to jerk the weight into position, which can overload the joints and ultimately works less of the muscle, said David Behm, a professor and exercise scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation. Bands also allow for movement on a number of different planes and axes, he said, whereas free weights limit you to mostly up-and-down movement.
Bands can engage the body’s major muscles just as well as weights, providing a full-body strength and endurance workout, said Todd Ellenbecker, a physical therapist at Rehab Plus Sports Therapy in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an author of the book “Strength Band Training.”
Research supports this. One study of middle-aged women compared 10 weeks of twice-weekly training sessions using elastic bands with a similar program that used weight machines. The women were tested for upper and lower body strength before and after the program, and results showed that muscle mass, strength and endurance improved at a similar rate in both groups. A systematic review of 18 studies also found no significant difference in muscle activation levels between those using elastic bands and those using free weights.
Dr. Ellenbecker said he works with athletes at all levels who exclusively use bands for resistance training, “and they are successful and injury-free.” But, as with any exercise, you need to be consistent with the exercise, he added. The American College of Sports Medicine …….