How much do you know about elastic resistance bands and the benefits of working out with them? Most people might think, “how beneficial could it be to workout with resistance bands?” and, “there’s no way that I would see the same results from using an elastic resistance band as I would with free weights and machines.” What if I told you that you could see the same results and even more with an elastic resistance band as you would with machines and free weights? Would you want to learn more about ERT (Elastic Resistance Training) and all the benefits that come along with it? Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of working out with resistance bands, how to use them, and some exercises you can do with the elastic resistance bands.
Elastic Resistance Bands Explained
Elastic resistance bands have been used for over 100 years in fitness programs and, more recently, in rehabilitation. The reason elastic resistance bands are a cornerstone of many rehabilitation programs is their versatility (1). Many exercises can be performed with a single band or tube and the resistance can easily be increased or decreased by switching to a different colored tube or band. Typically, bands and cords come in a variety of colors, such as yellow, green, red, and blue, and flat sheets (resistance bands) that are approximately 4 inches wide by 6 feet long (10 cm x 2 meters) or longer cables (resistance cords) (2). Each color corresponds to a particular degree of tension (extra thin- yellow/ heavy- green/ super heavy- red/ maximum resistance- blue).
How Do Resistance Bands Compare to Traditional Weights & Machines?
Most people believe that training with an elastic resistance band does not have conventional gains in muscle strength or “hypertrophy.” However, when Aboodarda & colleagues (2011) compared psychological responses to ERT and weight machines, they found that elastic resistance is an adequate training stimulus for muscular hypertrophy (1). A study by Colado and Triplett (2008) simultaneously compared ten weeks of elastic and machine-based exercises. Researchers found no significant difference between the groups: both elastic and machine-based groups significantly increased their strength and muscle mass (1).
Sundstrup & collaborators (2012) also found that ERT (elastic resistance training) provides better muscle activation patterns than machines. For example, performing an abdominal curl-up with elastic tubing reduces activation of the hip flexors by 58% when compared to an abdominal machine and provides 24% more abdominal muscle activation (1). Furthermore, performing a lunge with an elastic band significantly increases activation of the posterior chain muscles compared to a lunge with dumbbells (Jakobsen et al. 2013) (1). The research demonstrates that ERT provides as much benefit in strength gains, if not more, as the use of the more expensive and bulky weight-training equipment.
Resistance Band Exercises
In this next section, I will introduce 3 of my favorite resistance band exercises for each part of your body (upper, lower, & core), along with three stretches you can utilize with a resistance band to help you with your flexibility. Depending on where you’re at on your fitness journey, you can go 3x rounds or 4x while doing 8-12 reps for each exercise. To get the most out of each activity while using a resistance band, ensure each repetition is done at a slow & controlled pace.
Upper Body Banded Strength Exercises
Elastic resistance can easily replicate the joint exercises performed with traditional strengthening equipment and machines. Performing these exercises while standing will make your workouts even more challenging. Strengthening your upper body will help you with everyday functional implications for carrying objects and for pushing & pulling movements. It’s essential to support opposing muscle groups for muscle balance; for example, balance chest exercises with upper back exercises.
1. Banded Push-Up
- Loop the band around your hands, with each end of the resistance band placed between your thumbs and index finger.
- Get in a high plank position with hands placed underneath your shoulders, hips flat, on the balls of your feet.
- Have a slight micro-bend to elbows (DO NOT lock elbows out).
- Lower your chest toward the ground while ensuring that your elbows are pointing behind you, NOT outwards.
- Press & drive yourself up through your palms.
- Perform exercise on knees
- Avoid Arching back; keep straight. Avoid letting your hips sag. DO NOT lock out elbows.
2. Banded Seated Row
- Secure the middle of your exercise band to a stationary object at ankle height. (You can also use the soles of your feet).
- Sit on the floor and grasp the handles, palms facing each other, and knees slightly bent. Keeping your posture erect and your lower back slightly arched, slowly pull the handles to your lower abdomen, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
- As the handles touch your body, squeeze your shoulder blades together and reverse direction, slowly returning to the start position
- Place the band around one foot instead of both feet.
- Slow, controlled reps.
- Elbows in near side ribcage.
- Pinch shoulder blades when elbows are behind the body.
3. Banded Overhead Trip Extension
- Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other and place the center of the band under the back foot.
- Bring handles together straight up above the top of your head.
- Slowly lower handles behind the back of your head until elbows are bent 90 degrees, keeping elbows close to the side of your head.
- Press hands back up overhead slowly.
- Do not let your elbows point out; point & keep them inwards.
Workout Series for Upper Body Resistance Band Training
We’ve created 5 full classes of upper body resistance band training series. The first 4 classes break everything down, with 15-minute workouts dedicated to: Bi’s & Tri’s, Chest, Back, and Shoulders. Wrap up the series with a full 20-minute Upper Body workout.
Lower Body Banded Strength Exercises
As the main link between the lower extremities and the trunk, the hips serve as a stable base for the core (the abdominals and low back region). The hips and waist are linked in a kinetic chain to help transmit and produce force throughout the body. The lower body often goes untrained, leading to repetitive hip flexor, groin, and hamstring strains. It also holds the most significant muscle in the body (the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius).
1. Banded Hip Lifts
- Sit on an exercise stabilizing ball or a chair/bench and loop one end of the band around the mid-thigh.
- Place the other end of the band on the floor, underneath the other foot.
- Lift the upper leg by flexing your hip.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Secure one end of the resistance band to a stationary object near the floor, ensuring it is weighted down.
- Place the other end of the resistance band around your ankle.
- Face away from the attachment point and lift your foot & knee upward while keeping the knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Avoid arching your back; keep it straight.
- Keep the abdominals engaged.
2. Banded Front Squat
- Open up the resistance band and step on one side with both feet.
- Grab the other end of the band and place it between your index finger and thumb. Make sure that your palms are facing up towards the ceiling.
- Bend your knees and lower down into a squat.
- Push your heels into the ground and slowly return to a standing position.
- Place the end of the resistance band around your neck.
- Avoid arching or rounding back.
- Make sure knees stay behind toes.
- Chest is up, and back stays flat.
- Keep your weight in your heels, NOT the ball of your feet or toes.
3. Banded Romanian Dead Lift
- Step on the entire band so that two loops are created, which can be used as handles
- Begin with your feet in a neutral stance. Hip-width distance apart.
- Grab the band and stand up. This is the starting position!
- Start by pushing your butt back and hinging at your hips as you slowly drop your torso.
- Begin to allow your torso to drop by hinging at the hip
- Only allow minimal bend in your knees to allow your hands to drop
- Go down until your hands pass your knees and your torso is at a 45-degree angle.
- Come back up by concentrating on flexing your glutes and driving your hips forwards
- If it’s too heavy, you can stand on one side of the band and hold on to it with your hand.
- You can also do Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts. Keep one foot on the band. As you hinge at the hips, kick back your leg and raise your heel towards the ceiling.
- DO NOT bend the knees, hinge from hips
- Keep your head neutral (in line with your spine)
- Make sure your shoulder blades back and back is flat.
- Slow & controlled.
Bodyweight resistance is the most common mode of strengthening the abdominals and low back, also called the core. Adding external resistance such as an elastic band may help increase the training stimulus to these areas. Flexible resistance training can also help improve the muscle activation ratio of exercises that may be limited by gravity resistance. The abdominal and low back regions are critical areas for whole-body stabilization because of their ability to generate or transmit forces between the lower and upper extremities.
1. Seated Banded Trunk Rotation
- Sit with your legs extended out in front of you, at least shoulder width apart.
- Securely wrap the middle of the band around both feet.
- Extend arms forward and grab both ends of the band to use as handles.
- Slowly and with control, rotate your trunk (torso).
- Rotate slowly and with control back to the starting point.
- Perform the exercise while standing in an athletic stance (slightly bent/micro-bend)
- Securely attach one end of the resistance band to a sturdy object.
- With control, slowly rotate your trunk over your hips to one side and repeat on the other.
- Keep your neck and shoulders aligned.
- Keep your back straight and avoid leaning to one side.
- Also, avoid using just your arms. Twist with trunk (torso)
- Slow & controlled movements.
2. Banded Side Bend
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight.
- Secure one end of the band under one foot and grasp the other end of the band.
- You can start with your elbow bent, in-line with your shoulder (90-degree angle), or you’re your elbow straight and overhead.
- Lean your trunk away from the band, stretching the band.
- Slowly return to starting position.
- Begin the exercise with your elbow at your side rather than overhead.
- Lift the band overhead first, then lean your trunk away.
- Perform this exercise standing on only one leg
- Keep your trunk aligned.
- Don’t rotate the trunk
- Avoid shifting your hips
3. Banded Bird Dog
- Begin with your knees & hands on the floor.
- Wrap one end of the resistance band around the bottom of one foot, with the other end on the opposite arm in-between your thumb and index finger.
- Keeping your back and neck straight, extend your leg backward against the band, straightening your hip and knee until they are parallel with the floor.
- Simultaneously extend your opposite arm in front of you and hold
- Perform a leg extension only, keeping your hands on the floor
- You can hold the Bird Dog position, or you can do it in repetition by slowly returning to the starting position and then again extending your leg and arm (if possible).
- Keep your back and neck straight and in a neutral position.
- DO NOT arch your back or overextend your hips.
- Don’t extend your neck or rotate your back.
Elastic resistance can be used to help assist with many types of stretching programs. Exercises that involve pre-stretch contraction stretching can be especially beneficial. Contract the muscle against the resistance of the band and follow it with a slow stretch to help increase the muscle’s length and range of motion. Remember to breathe normally while stretching; DO NOT hold your breath.
1. Upper Trapezius Stretch
- Begin with one end of the band under your feet and the other with the hand on the side that is being stretched.
- With your other hand, grasp the side of your head and bend your neck away from the side to be stretched.
- Keep your elbow straight and shrug your shoulder upwards.
- Pull the band toward the ceiling and hold for 2 to 6 seconds.
- Slowly allow the band to return the shoulder to the starting position.
- Hold the stretch on the band for 10 to 30 seconds.
2. Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back and open up the band.
- Loop one end of the band around the foot or ankle on the side to be stretched.
- Opposite knee and be bent or straightened on the ground.
- Extend the stretched leg upward and grasp the end of the band, pulling the leg toward your head.
- Gently push your extended leg downward against the band.
- Hold for 2 to 6 seconds.
- Slowly return the band to the starting position and stretch the hamstring muscles as you exhale.
- Hold the stretch on the band for 10 to 30 seconds.
3. Shoulder Internal Rotation/Triceps
- While standing, grasp one end of the band overhead with the arm to be stretched, and get the other end of the band behind your back.
- While maintaining the position of the arm behind your back, pull the band overhead with your top arm to extend your arm behind your back.
- Allow the elbow of your top arm to bend.
- Hold stretch for an additional 10 to 30 seconds.
Is Resistance Band Training For You?
Resistance bands can easily be integrated into a fitness routine/program. Whether you prefer free weights or machines, resistance band training allows you to do the same exercises that can be performed on expensive gym equipment. It also allows those exercises to be performed at home or while traveling. Since there is a wide range of resistances, resistance bands offer a full spectrum of training intensities for everyone’s specific goals.
1.) Effects of Variable Resistance Training on Maximal Strength A Meta-Analysis, Journal, Monday May, 2022
2.) Strength Band Training; The Best Exercises and Programs for Sport, Rehabilitation, and Fitness, Book. 2020. Accessed 13 July, 2022