In almost all of my classes, personal training sessions, and for my own personal workout, I use some sort of elastic resistance tubing or bands. Why? Elastic resistance, as the name states, offers resistance, allows free range of motion, allows variable movement speeds, and allows progressive resistance. These are the same properties you see with free weights (barbells or dumbbells). These are the properties needed for an effective strength-training program.
Studies show that when comparing the same exercise performed using elastic resistance to free weights, the number of muscle fibers activated is similar as is the amount of force provided by the muscle fibers. Also, elastic tubing or bands increase muscle strength and size while decreasing body fat in a similar way to free weights.
One of the most important benefits (and the main reason I use elastic tubing over free weights for some exercises) is that they not rely on gravity. Because free weights rely on gravity to provide resistance, you always have to work in the direction of gravity. Therefore, to work certain muscles using free weights, you may have to be lying in different positions, kneeling, or placed in various positions that may not be comfortable or easy to maintain.
With elastic tubing, you are not limited to working only in the vertical plane. This means you can perform exercises such as twisting side-to-side and horizontal moves. Also, you can do movements that mimic movements used in sports. For example, a study published in the 1998 issue of American Journal of Sports Medicine reports that college tennis players who trained using elastic resistance increased their shoulder strength and the speed of their serve. For the non-athletes, by performing resistance exercises in different directions you can better prepare yourself for the activities of daily living.
Another benefit of elastic resistance not relying on gravity is that it provides continuous tension to the muscle being trained. When lifting a free weight in any direction other than straight up and down, the tension on the muscle can actually be removed at certain points in the range of motion. For example, during a bicep curl with a dumbbell at the very top of the movement the dumbbell is literally falling towards the shoulder. This means that the tension on the bicep has been removed because the dumbbell is no longer being lifted up against gravity by the bicep. When doing a bicep curl with elastic tubing, the tension is present throughout the entire range of motion.
Other benefits of elastic tubing or bands include being lightweight, storable, relatively inexpensive, and easily transported, especially when teaching a group fitness class. Free weights are heavy, difficult to store, and are expensive for heavier weights because they are usually priced by the pound.
Another unique quality of elastic resistance is that as the range of motion of the exercise increases, the resistance provided by the elastic tubing increases. For example, when doing a bicep curl, as you curl your hand up toward your shoulder, the resistance of the elastic tubing increases. As the range of motion increases and the resistance increases, the number of muscle fibers that are being used in the muscle increases as well.
As an instructor, another benefit that I see is that it prevents you from using momentum. This often takes place when using free weights. Once the weight has built up momentum, the muscle fibers do not need to be maximally activated to continue moving the weight throughout the rest of the range of motion of the exercise. The physical properties of elastic resistance do not allow the user to cheat by using momentum. The only way to continue a movement while performing an exercise with elastic resistance is to utilize more muscle fibers in the exercising muscle to continue stretching the elastic material.
As a fitness instructor and personal trainer, I like to use both free weights and elastic resistance when available. Depending on the group or the individual, body weight exercises or weight machines are also good options.
For more information about strength training using elastic tubing or elastic bands, give Janet Hunt a call or visit her on Facebook.
Janet Hunt is a Certified Personal Trainer and can be reached at 256-614-3530 to schedule an appointment.
By: Janet Hunt