The Match up: 
Resistance Bands
Vs
Freeweights

What Exactly are Resistance Bands?

Resistance Bands are made of long tubes of durable rubber, often with handles attached on both ends. These unassuming pieces of fitness equipment are actually fantastic tools which allows users to carry out just about any sort of strength training as one would with free weights. What’s more, as the level of resistances can be easily varied with the switch to lighter or stronger bands, workouts that originate from such equipment can be scaled to individuals with any sort of fitness levels. Resistance bands truly accentuate the saying "The best things come in  small packages".


Resistance Bands - The Gym Killer

  • Resistance Bands = Free Weights ? Why not?

Do  not judge a book by its cover, especially when carrying out a side by side comparison between free weights (Dumb bells, Bar bells etc) and resistance bands. This is because, these flimsy looking pieces of rubber tubings can really pack a punch. Both forms of equipment do no restrict the movement of users, thereby allowing a free range of motion. Speed and pace of movements can also be varied, and the ability for users to interchange resistances allows progressive training to be carried out (1). 

Additionally, research has shown that muscle activity, meaning the number and pattern of muscle fiber activation, when engaging in resistance band based exercises are similar to that of free weights training (4,7). This basically goes to say that regimes which are based on resistance band training can have similar effects of increased muscle mass, strength, and fat burn as brought about by free weights training (2,3,5,7,8).   

  • In Fact, Resistance Bands ARE Better than Free weights  

Free weights rely on gravitational pull to provide resistance during training. However, rather than just weights “lifting”, resistance bands offer an additional spectrum. Elastic resistances are able to, not only offer resistances along the frontal, sagittal planes (vertical movement), it also enables horizontal resistances along the transverse plane. This multi-directional resistance loading enhances the potential to facilitate functional movements, strengthening the muscles to cope with daily or sport-specific activities (1). To further illustrate this concept, picture throwing resistance band loaded punches, arm swings or body twists, this increases the activation of a wide range of muscle groups in order to counteract the multi-directional and more evenly distributed band forces. As a result, these circumduction and rotation based movements are able to create an environment for well-rounded muscle development .

Elastic resistances are able to, not only offer resistances along the frontal, sagittal planes (vertical movement), it also enables horizontal resistances along the transverse plane.

Coach Alvin

  To further accentuate this theory, a study published in a 1998 issue of the American Journal of Sports Science stated that college tennis players who underwent elastic band based training saw increased shoulder strength and serving speeds (10). Another study from the Louisiana State University found that resistance band based training was able to better strengthen the rotator cuff muscles of college baseball pitchers when stacked against a similar free weights training regime (8).  

Another point worth noting is that resistance bands are able to offer the advantage of linear variable resistances. This basically means that, the amount of resistance incurred is directly proportional to the increase in the range of motion (ROM) of that particular workout.  Due to the unique characteristics of resistance bands, as the tubing stretches, the more resistance it exerts on the motion (9). With this being the case, the increasing resistance prompts more muscle fibers to be activated through the course of the motion. This is something that is not observed when working with uniform free weights. Another advantage of the linear variable resistance is how it matches nicely with the strength curve of muscles when executing certain workouts. The strength curve traces out the changes in muscle strength when executing the motion of any workout. It can be seen that for certain exercises such the bicep curl, the bell-shaped strength curve theory is being observed. This means that the muscle strength is at its weakest at the start and end of the motion but will be at its strongest midway through  the workout. By adhering to this pattern, when training with free weights such as dumb bells, the amount of weights used is being limited by how much the bicep muscles will be able to tackle at its weakest state (starting position). As such, the resistance provided by such weights might, in turn, be inadequate to properly work the muscles at its strongest point (Midway). When using resistance bands to execute the same workout, due to it's linear variable resistance, the extended length of the band as the handles are curled upwards constitutes to an increased resistance for better stimulation of the bicep muscles at its strongest point (1). 

Many have reported feeling the added muscle burn and fatigue when using resistance band as compared to free weights. A study from the Truman State University stated that athletes who consistently incorporated resistance band training in their bench press routines where able to increase their bench press strength and power more efficiently than those who relied only on free weights (6).  

  • Heavy Weights in Light (and small) Packages  

Resistance bands can conjure resistances that can reach 200 pounds or more, but yet the equipment itself only weighs in at a few mere pounds and are incredibly easy to pack and store. These attributes makes it not only a super portable equipment that can be used even from the comfort of the house, but also a great travel companion that can provide a kick-ass work out, even in the smallest hotel rooms. No wonder some people coin these bands with the term "Wonder Woman's Lasso", truly makes many wonder why they did not consider resistance bands workouts in the first place.  

  • The Multi-functional Swiss Knife

Resistance bands are designed for individuals with varying fitness levels due to the availability of a large array of resistances. Tubings can be manufactured to provide 3 to 5 lbs of resistances all the way till 200 lbs and upwards. Furthermore, a huge variety of workouts can be executed using these equipment - not only does it facilitate movements that mimic most (or all) dumb bells and bar bells workouts, anchoring these bands on a sturdy support enables cable or machine related exercises to be carried out as well. Comparing these incredibly low cost and easy-to-use equipment akin to swiss knives is an understatement, as these bands have the ability to bring the term "versatility" and "utility" to a whole new level.   



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References :

1. Jim, S. (n.d.). Bands vs Free Weights. Retrieved from https://bodylastics.com/elastic-resistance-vs-free-weights-by-jim-stoppani-phd/

2. Aniansson, A. P., et al. Effect of a training programme for pensioners on condition and muscular strength. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 3:229-241, 1984.

3. Boyer, B. T. A comparison of the effects of three strength training programs on women. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research 4(3):88-94, 1990.

4. Ebben, W. P. and Jensen, R.L. Electromyographic and kinetic analysis of traditional, chain, and elastic band squats. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 16(4):547-550, 2002.

5. Fornataro, S, et al. Investigation to determine differences in strength gains using Thera-Band at fast and slow training speeds. Physical Therapy 74(5):S53, 1994..

6. Heinecke, M., et al. Comparison of Strength Gains in Variable Resistance Bench Press and Isotonic Bench Press. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: 18(4): e361, 2004.

7. Matheson, J. W., et al. Electromyographic activity and applied load during seated quadriceps exercises. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 33(10):1713-1725, 2001.

8. Page, P. A. Posterior Rotator Cuff Strengthening Using Theraband(R) in a Functional Diagonal Pattern in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers. Journal of Athletic Training 28(4):346-354, 1993.

9. Stoppani, J. Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2005.

10. Treiber, F. A., et al. Effects of Theraband and lightweight dumbbell training on shoulder rotation torque and serve performance in college tennis players. American Journal of Sports Medicine 26(4):510-515, 1998.

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