All of us can remember playing with rubber bands as a child and getting in trouble for using them as projectiles. Resistance bands are really just giant rubber bands which create resistance for exercising, building strength and functional fitness. They are also fantastic for rehab and are commonly used by physiotherapists.
Resistance bands have been for over a century, and were original fashioned from surgical tubing. They are becoming more and more popular and can be found in almost every sports and physical fitness arena including modern gyms, physiotherapy clinics and everywhere you see professional athletes.
In this head to head battle I am comparing traditional free weights with latex resistance bands which can be purchased individually or as part of an exercise system such as the Wayflex Functional Training System.
Let’s compare the two training genres and get down to the nitty gritty. Free weights are obviously a very effective and proven way to create resistance and build strength and muscle and nobody is going to deny that. But, did you know that the humble resistance rubber band could actually be more effective than free weights?
A study completed at the Truman State University discovered that athletes who enhanced their bench press training with elastic resistance training achieved greater increases in strength than bench press training alone.
And this is not the only study that proves this. A study from University of Wisconsin in the 2006 issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning research found similar results in terms of leg power and strength when performing squats using elastic resistance bands.
Of course free weights like dumb bells and bar bells are great ways to build strength and power. The problem for free weights in this show down however, is that elastic resistance bands are undeniably less expensive, more practical and by their very nature – far more powerful.
Lets just look a the simple practicalities of maintaining a large set of weights. When you engage in any resistance exercise you naturally build strength over time (unless you aren’t doing it right!). This leads to a situation where you require greater and greater resistance to perform the same exercise. As a logical result of this, the long term problem with using fixed free weights for any resistance training is that you constantly need to add or reduce weight depending as you progress.
And of course the amount of weight required to perform an individual exercise on a particular muscle or muscle group will vary considerably. A lateral raise for example, is rarely done with anything more than single digit KG weights. A bench press on the other hand is often performed with weights approaching the users own weight or greater.
So the range of weights required for an effective full body workout is vast! That is of course why your average commercial gym has racks and racks of free weights which normally range from 1KG through to about 55KG’s in increments.
To make matters worse, storing free weights at home is also a problem. Its not good for your back to be lifting them off the floor all the time which is why a weight rack is highly recommended. This just adds to the cost of the weights and the complexity of managing them.
For those living in apartments or units, your neighbours downstairs are going to bored really quick of you dropping the weights on the floor, not to mention the fact the floor itself may not be able to support the weight of a fully loaded weight rack. Nor will the carpet fair very well with that 300kg weight rack impregnating itself into the carpet.
Then there is the problem of actually transporting free weights in the first place. Obviously free weights are heavy – thats sort of goes without saying. Therefore, someone has to physically deliver the weights to your house and with freight often being based on weight – this is another nightmare.
Resistance bands on the other hand weigh almost nothing and when combined with a suspension trainer like Wayflex, they become an incredibly powerful exercise system that genuinely allows full body workouts.
It’s revealing to consider how a resistance band actually works. Everyone is familiar with rubber bands and how they create resistance. But when used in an exercise movement, elastic bands have an innate and unique advantage over free weights.
Let me give you an example. Despite what the experts tell us about the bicep muscle and how ‘unimportant’ it is for functional strength its undeniable that this is one of the most popular muscles that guys like to increase in strength and size. Every seasoned personal trainer will tell you that they allow their clients a few cheeky bicep exercises just to keep them happy! Sorry, but bicep curls are here to stay.
When you stop to think about how a bicep curl is performed using free weight dumb bells at the top of the curve the dumb bell actually hits a point in the arc where it starts falling back towards the user (to his or her chest).
As the dumb bell falls back down to the start point the resistance created by the dumb bell is also significantly less due to gravity. When using resistance bands however, the resistance its actually at its peak at the top of the exercise motion!
Now you can call this phenomenon anything you like (positive/negative resistance for example). Technically though its called linear variable resistance training which basically means that the weight actually increases loads as the weight is lifted. In fact, hardcore bodybuilders and athletes have used a method that utilises LVR training for years by attaching a heavy chain to a bar bell.
This means that during a chest press, the chain is lifted from the floor which makes the chain heavier as the barbell is pushed higher. Sounds like a complicated way to achieve LVR – but it works and was proven to work in a study by the University of Pittsburgh which found ‘training with chains increases overall maximum strength’.
So one of the secrets to the effectiveness of resistance bands is that with every single repetition you are automatically getting the benefits of LVR training without even realising it!