We understand why you might be sceptical of the benefits or use of resistance bands – I mean let’s be honest – the fitness industry is largely built on scams. However, resistance bands have several benefits and do have their place in any training programme or exercise routine, both in the gym as well as at home
Let’s start with the basic pros (and cons) and then we can get into what science tells us when it comes to adding resistance bands to exercise movements.
Resistance bands are cheap – and in B_ND’s case incredible quality – that small investment buys you the ability to do a whole host and range of exercises outside of the gym as well as adding a new element to your training inside the gym. They’re also lightweight and easy to transport making them ideal to travel with.
Another benefit is they can change the resistance curve of some exercises. Weights weigh the same no matter how high you lift them but in different movements certain points will be easier or harder due to what’s called the strength curve; there are three types of strength curve – ascending, descending and bell-shaped. An ascending strength curve is where a movement gets easier towards the end of the range of motion. Examples of this would be pressing movements (such as a shoulder press or bench press) or squatting movements. A descending strength curve is when an exercise feels heavier towards the end of the movement. Examples of this would be pulling movements such as a bent over row or a pull up. Bell-shaped strength curves are when the movement is hardest in the middle of the range of motion but easier at both the beginning and end. An example of this would be a bicep curl.
However resistance bands exert more resistance the further you stretch them, in a way the “weight” increases as the movement progresses, otherwise known as an ascending resistance curve. This can be applied to benefit your training in two ways – for exercises where you want to increase the difficulty, i.e. movements like a squat or bench press, bands can be a fantastic addition as they allow you to maintain the tension of the movement throughout the range of motion. This is what’s called accommodating resistance training, which is a fantastic tool for improving strength, power and helping you to overcome sticking points or plateau’s in certain lifts. This was proven by Shoepe et al (2011) and Cronin et al. (2003).
Alternatively, in exercises where you want to reduce the difficulty, i.e. challenging movements like pull ups or dips, bands allow you to perform these movements properly through a full range of motion until your strength progresses to a point to be able to do them with your total bodyweight.
Of course resistance bands have their limitations – not every exercise will be feasible and the total “load” offered by a resistance band cannot match that of certain weights – but there are a variety of studies showing the muscle fibre recruitment when using bands versus machines is often of similar levels. When comparing bands and machines during hip strengthening exercises like hip abductor, Brandt et al (2013) found that “elastic resistance and exercise machine seem equally effective for recruiting muscle activity of the hip adductors” as well as “the elastic resistance condition was able to demonstrate greater muscle recruitment than the exercise machine during hip abduction”. When comparing the effects of a short-term resistance programme on strength using weight machines/free weights versus elastic tubing, Colado et al (2010) also concluded “these results indicate that resistance training using elastic tubing or weight machines/free weights have equivalent improvements in isometric force in short-term programs applied in fit young women”. Anderson et al (2010) also compared the effects of dumbbells versus elastic resistance on muscle activation and found that “comparably high levels of muscle activation were obtained during resistance exercises with dumbbells and elastic tubing”. Iversen et al (2017) also conducted a crossover study which compared resistance bands versus conventional resistance training equipment for multiple joint exercises. They concluded that for three out of the four movements they studied: “ERB [elastic resistance bands] can be a feasible training modality”.
With this is mind, regardless of whether you’re in the gym or at home, resistance bands can only add benefit to your training; whether helping you increase your deadlift 1RM or simply adding more intensity to your home workouts that wasn't there before.