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Band Aid: Banded Benefits

Band Aid: Banded Benefits
Part 1 of a four-part series on getting bigger, stronger and leaner via elastic band training.

Looks can be deceiving, particularly when it comes to training with elastic bands. This unassuming piece of equipment doesn’t look nearly as “hardcore” as a loaded barbell or heavy pair of dumbbells. It stands to reason then, that bands are probably great for rehabbing an injury and low-impact workouts for the elderly, but lousy at helping the serious gym rat build significant size and strength, right? Wrong, so very wrong. 

And if you think I'm just now touting the benefits of training with bands upon the release of my brand new JYM Strength Bands, wrong again! I've been a huge fan of bands for many years, which is why I developed the JYM Strength Bands in the first place.

Elastic resistance exercise, such as the use of elastic tubing equipment, has been around for almost a century. It was originally introduced as a unique exercise tool and eventually became popular as a rehabilitation device. Today, bands are more than just an entry-level alternative to heavy free weights. They’re now used around the world by elite athletes in all sports – football players, UFC fighters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, you name it – to develop strength, power, speed and even muscle size.

Elastic and free-weight resistance (i.e., barbells and dumbbells) have several things in common: (1) both provide some form of resistance, (2) both allow a free range of motion, (3) both allow variable speed of movement, and (4) both allow progressive resistance. All four of these properties are critical to ensuring an effective resistance-training routine.

Despite these similarities, people would assume, due to the lightweight and “flimsy” appearance of elastic tubing, that free weights are clearly the superior resistance-training equipment. However, studies have shown that muscle activity and peak load during elastic-resistance exercise is similar to that of free-weight training. Research has also found that programs utilizing elastic tubing, elastic bands and similar devices increase muscle strength and size and decrease body fat in a similar manner to free-weight training programs.

In other words, your muscle fibers don’t know the difference between dumbbells and elastic bands in a given range of motion, provided the amount of resistance is more or less the same.

BAND OF BENEFITS

You’ve seen the similarities between elastic and free-weight resistance. But there are several key performance-enhancing features that elastic resistance offers that free weights don’t. 

1) More Planes of Movement

Unlike free weights, elastic-band training doesn’t rely on gravity to provide resistance. This increases its potential for use in more functional movement patterns that mimic both everyday and sport-specific activities. Because free weights rely on gravity, they can only provide resistance in a vertical plane – the direction of gravity. This means that if you do an exercise with a free weight in the horizontal plane – such as moving your hand (while holding a dumbbell) from the left side of your body to the right side – there’s no resistance to that movement.

This isn’t the case with elastic tubing. Horizontal plane movements are fair game. Thanks to elastic bands, you can perform exercises such as twisting your body from side to side, sidekicks and punches, as well as movements that mimic a baseball swing or basketball pass, with added resistance. This is especially useful for athletes looking to enhance performance and reduce injury risk. One study published in a 1998 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported that collegiate tennis players who trained using elastic bands significantly increased their shoulder strength as well as the speed of their tennis serve compared to those not using bands.

Another study, this one from Louisiana State University (New Orleans), discovered that an elastic-band...

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