Not so long ago, I impulsively bought a set of mini exercise bands – thick rubber loops designed to engage your muscles as you stretch them. I’ve been seduced by ads promising to improve my posture, which is lousy after years of slouching in front of a computer. They claimed that a handful of quick exercises would dislocate my shoulders while I “tone my muscles” and “sculpt my physique.”
Getting a full body workout with a $20 set of resistance bands was appealing because I didn’t have the budget or space for fancy fitness equipment.
The benefits of resistance training – workouts that build strength and muscle – are well known. This reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease. With more muscle, you burn more calories and are less prone to injury. It has 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 valid alternative to a gym membership?
The bands build strength and endurance.
The idea of stretchy workout bands is over 100 years. 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 pressure on the muscle, which over time allows the muscle to adapt and strengthen. The more you stretch the band, the greater the resistance.
There are, however, some key differences. Bands don’t rely on gravity, so people can’t use momentum to get the weight into position, which can overload joints and ultimately cause muscles to work less, said David Behm, professor and scientist exercise at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s School of Human Kinetics. and Leisure. Bands also allow movement in a number of different planes and axes, he said, while free weights mostly limit you to up and down movements.
The bands can engage major body muscles as well as weights, providing a strength and endurance workout for the whole body, said Todd Ellenbecker, physical therapist at Rehab Plus Sports Therapy in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of the book ” Strength Band Training.”
Research supports this. A study middle-aged women compared 10 weeks of twice-weekly workouts using resistance bands with a similar program using 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 over 18 studies also found no significant difference in levels of muscle activation between those using resistance bands and those using free weights.
Dr. Ellenbecker said he’s worked with athletes of all levels who exclusively use bands for resistance training, “and they’re successful and injury-free.” But, like any exercise, you need to be consistent with the exercise, he added. the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines call for strength training at least twice a week, with several exercises and several repetitions.
And don’t overdo it, he says. “People tend to gravitate toward groups that are way too strong or stretch them too far. It never hurts to start light and build.
A well-placed band can improve your form.
Gerard Burley, founder and owner of a Washington DC gym called Sweat DC, says exercise bands may be the best option for people new to strength training and can help you master good technique. For example, a common problem during a squat is that the knees bend.
“The body is lazy and likes to take the easy route,” said Burley, who goes by Coach G. A mini band around your legs just above the knees helps prevent this. While squatting, focus on pressing your knees outward to keep the band from slipping, while keeping your head and chest up.
Advanced athletes use them too. For example, tennis players often anchor a band to a wall or pole and loop the other side around the throat of their racquet to add resistance and improve the power of their forehand, backhand or backhand shot. their service, Dr. Behm said.
Let them help you do a pull-up.
Exercise bands also provide assistance for difficult-to-master exercises like pull-ups, said Vanessa Liu, an online fitness trainer and nutritionist who uses them regularly with clients. In fact, some bands are designed to wrap around a pull-up bar for extra support.
But don’t be too dependent on them. “Eventually, you’ll want to take the band off and do it yourself,” Ms. Liu said.
Also use them to deepen stretches. To stretch the hamstrings, for example, lie on your back with the band looped around one foot and gently pull that leg toward you, keeping it as straight as possible.
Target back muscles for posture.
Mobility in the body is what allows you to bend and pick up a box or sit and stand easily. As we age, the connective tissues in our joints change, making us stiffer and less flexible.
“People are doing mobility exercises with bands to improve posture, reduce stiffness and move more freely and fully,” Ms Liu said. She often works with clients who have developed shoulder and neck stiffness after sitting at a computer.
For posture, Dr. Ellenbecker recommends an exercise he calls an “external rotation with retraction,” which works the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder and the rhomboids in the upper back. Grab the band in front of you with both hands and your palms up. Slowly move your forearms horizontally outward as if under a desk, while lifting your chest and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Return to starting position and repeat.
Look at your eyes.
A word of warning: the bands can close over your face. Eye injuries happened This way.
To avoid this, make sure the band is securely attached to an anchor if the exercise requires it, avoid pulling it directly at the face or head, and inspect it for nicks and tears before use. (You can purchase anchor devices designed for use with bands. Securing a band by tying it around a stable object like a tree, table leg, or pole can also work well.)
But in most cases, a band that snaps presents little risk of injury. In fact, if someone breaks a band in Mr. Burley’s classes, everyone cheers.
“It usually doesn’t hurt, so we’re going to say, ‘Ooh, you blew it, you’re so strong! “”, Did he declare.
As for me, I’ve been doing daily strength training with my mini bands for a few weeks now, and while it’s hard to tell if my posture is improving, I feel stronger and really enjoy my workouts. coaching.
Some exercises to start…
Here are five other exercises that could replace traditional weightlifting exercises. With all of these workouts, aim for two to three sets, with eight to 12 reps (with good form) for each exercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. guidelines. If you have any pain or past injuries, talk to your doctor before doing any new exercises.
Mini band buckle just above the knees. Lie on your back with your feet flat, your knees bent and shoulder-width apart. Raise your hips while pushing your knees outward until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat. Works the glutes and hamstrings.
Sit down on the floor with legs extended, back straight. Wrap the resistance band around the soles of your feet. Grasp the band with your right hand and pull it towards your right hip, while squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your back straight. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Works the upper back, mid back and biceps.
Place the mini band around your thighs, above the knees. Slightly bend at the hips and knees. Keeping your head and chest up, step to the side while keeping your other leg pressed against the band. Keep moving sideways in one direction in a shuffling motion. Repeat the other direction. Maintain the posture as you walk and keep your knees apart. Works the glutes and quadriceps.
It works better with a long curly band. Stand in the middle of the band with your feet hip-width apart. One loop of the tape should stick out under the sides of each foot. Squat down and grab each loop. Start the movement by bending over at the hips with your back flat and your shoulders over your toes. Keeping your back flat, straighten up. When standing, the resistance should increase. Return to the starting point by flexing at the hips. Works the legs, glutes and core.
Lying chest press
Lie on your back with a long strip under the shoulder blades. Grab the end of the bands and, with elbows bent and fists toward the ceiling, fully extend your arms, pushing upwards as you stretch the band. The movement is similar to a chest press with dumbbells or a barbell. Works biceps, triceps and chest.
Jenny Marder is a senior science writer for NASA and a freelance journalist. She was previously digital editor for PBS NewsHour.