Next to heavy weights and high-tech cardio machines, resistance bands — those colorful lengths of rubber tubing with a handle on either end — may not look like much.
But don’t be fooled: Resistance bands may be the most challenging and effective (not to mention convenient) piece of exercise equipment many of us have overlooked.
“I always use resistance bands in my workouts, whether I’m training myself or my clients,” says Los Angeles–based trainer Valerie Waters.
What makes bands so great? Versatility, portability, convenience, and ease of use.
They provide an intense workout for people at any fitness level: novices, those recovering from injury, and seasoned athletes. Their low cost and small footprint make them especially useful for at-home workouts, and they’re easy to transport if you want to take your training outdoors or on the road.
By securing the center of the band to a stable object — think of a banister, doorknob, or even your own feet — and pulling or pushing the handles, you can perform an almost endless variety of strength-training moves in a limited space, with little transition time between movements.
And because the level of resistance changes depending on the thickness of the band and how far you stretch it, all you have to do is take a step toward or away from the anchor point to change the “weight” you’re lifting.
Many of your muscles get stronger as they approach their fully contracted state: You’re more powerful in the top half of a squat than the bottom half, for example, when the glutes, quads, and hamstrings — the prime movers in this exercise — contract.
A free weight, like a barbell or dumbbell, provides constant resistance and is limited by what you can lift in the toughest part of the move. Consider the squat again: You’ll work your hardest at the bottom of the lift.
With a resistance band, your muscles get more of a challenge when they need it (as they contract) and a bit of a break when they don’t (as they stretch). At the end-range of each exercise, you may well be “lifting” more than you normally would using a barbell or dumbbell. That can translate into more strength throughout a muscle’s entire range of motion.
For a sampling of just how challenging band training can be, give the following full-body workout a try — at home, at your health club or gym, or in a hotel room. All the equipment you need fits easily into your favorite carry-all bag.