If you are tired of completing the same workouts day in and day out, you may want to consider adding elastic band work into your training plan.
Lately, the use of elastic bands in training has become quite popular in rehab, gym and sport performance settings. Research has been able to show that increases in strength, size and performance can be confirmed through the use of elastic bands in the resistance training context but why is this the case?
Are bands now better than free weights? Machines? Cables?
How Does Elastic Band Training Work?
To start, you need to understand that the extent at which an elastic band can exert force is directly proportional to the mechanical stretch placed on the band!
This means that the greater the stretch placed on the band, the more force it is capable of exerting. If we apply this to an exercise, it indicates that as the muscle shortens (contracts), the band begins to stretch and the tension on that muscle(s) increases.
Due to the ability to place a muscle under more tension as the band stretches, there may be some regional hypertrophy changes in the muscle where there seems to be more growth at a particular range of motion. This seems to be a benefit elastic band training has over constant load training performed with dumbbells or barbells.
However, it is important to note that the loading of the band is dependent on the stretch of the band at various points throughout an exercise.
For example, a band that is considered more stiff will provide a much greater amount of loading on the soft tissue than a band that is more slack.
How Can Elastic Band Training Help You?
Strength and Size:
A variety of studies (Kraemer et al. 2001, Hostler et al. 2001, Thiebaud et al. 2013) have demonstrated strength and hypertrophy increases through the use of elastic band training, however, in conjunction with the elastic band training, constant load training with dumbbells and barbells was also used.
For this reason it is hard to attribute the strength and size increases solely to the elastic bands but is definitely a warrant for further research! Regardless, the combination of constant load and elastic band training had beneficial effects on muscle performance over time and should be considered.
Lower Risk Of Injury:
One of the more prominent benefits of elastic band training seems to be the ability to elicit equal and sometimes greater muscle activation while providing lower joint forces during a variety of exercises.
Aboodarda et al. (2011a), (2011b) and Aboodarda et al. (2012) as mentioned in an excellent review by Chris Beardsley on the use of elastic resistance training demonstrated much lower external joint forces during knee extension exercises with the use of elastic bands.
This has potentially beneficial implications for individuals who have experienced prior joint injuries or even those who want to minimize risk of injuring a joint. Remember this does not mean the loading exerted by conventional resistance training exercise is dangerous, it just seems to exert more joint force compared to elastic bands training.
The use of elastic band training has clearly grown in its popularity. While much of the research has not isolated a program for elastic band training specifically, in combination with conventional weight training programs it seems to add benefits to range of motion specific strength and size increases while reducing risk of injury.
The size and stretch on the elastic band is also important to be aware of as not all bands are created equally. Some provide massive amounts of tension at a shorter stretch, while others are extremely slack. So, before making a purchase, do some research to conclude what the specs are on the band.
Further, due to the anatomical differences between individuals such as limb length, band selection is key! This is why there might be a benefit to having multiple bands to choose from as some may be better suited for specific exercises.
To finish, consider using bands as a resource that you have to change the resistance profile of an exercise. Advocating only the use of elastic bands for training would be sub-optimal and it appears that it can be best utilized within a normal weight training program.
Take Home Points:
- Elastic Band Training could increase (regional) range of motion specific strength and size gains.
- Elastic Band Training seems to reduce external joint forces which could be useful in populations who have suffered joint injury.
- Band selection is important as individual differences in band tension can vary.
- Having a wide selection of bands to choose from might be wise as different bands could suit specific exercises better than others.
- Use band training in conjunction with conventional weight training strategies for best results.
** Try adding bands to exercises where you are using free weights, machines or barbells.
Aboodarda, S. J., George, J., Mokhtar, A. H., & Thompson, M. (2011a). Muscle strength and damage following two modes of variable resistance training. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 10, 635-642.
Aboodarda, S. J., Shariff, M. A., Muhamed, A. M., Ibrahim, F., & Yusof, A. (2011b). Electromyographic activity and applied load during high intensity elastic resistance and nautilus machine exercises. Journal of Human Kinetics, 30, 5.
Aboodarda, S. J., Ibrahim, F., Mokhtar, A. H., Thompson, M. W., & Behm, D. G. (2012). Acute Neuromuscular and Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise Using Variable External Resistance Loading. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 15(6):1-12.
Kraemer, W. J., Keuning, M., Ratamess, N. A., Volek, J. S., McCormick, M., Bush, J. A., Nindl, B. C., Gordon, S. E., Mazetti, S. A., Newton, R. U., Gomez, A. L., Wickham, R. B., Rubin, M. R., & Häkkinen, K. (2001). Resistance training combined with bench-step aerobics enhances women’s health profile. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2, 33.
Hostler, D. C., Schwirian. I., Campos. G., Toma, K., Crill, M. T., Hagerman, G. R., & Staron, R. S. (2001). Skeletal muscle adaptations in elastic bands resistance- trained young men and women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 86:112–118.
Thiebaud, R. S., Loenneke, J. P., Fahs, C. A., Rossow, L. M., Kim, D., Abe, T., Anderson, M. A., Young, K. C., Bemben, D. A., & Bemben, M. G. (2013). The effects of elastic band resistance training combined with blood flow restriction on strength, total bone‐free lean body mass and muscle thickness in postmenopausal women. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 33, pp344–352.