How do the Results of Elastic Resistance Bands Compare to Traditional Weights?
Anyone who has practiced strength training or rehabilitation has probably used an elastic resistance band or seen someone using one as part of their exercise routine. It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of results elastic resistance bands are providing. Can equipment that weighs almost nothing really strengthen muscles and if so, when should we use these bands or instead use conventional dumbbells, barbells, and machines.
How did elastic resistance bands come about?
In the mid-1970s two therapists decided to use bulk dental dam for therapy, quickly developed a brand, and soon began distributing a product. Within only a few years they created an array of bands each a different color to signify the level of resistance they provided. Since then, elastic resistance bands (ERB) have been woven into all sorts of chords, lengths and resistance amounts.
There are a number of factors that make resistance bands an attractive complement to anyone’s workout routine. These bands are extremely light, easy to transport, relatively cheap, and their low impact nature makes it easier on the joints. Bands can also provide resistance in any motion and resist from directions other than just the direction of gravity. Resistance bands truly are alluring in that they create exercises that can’t be achieved in other ways. Take for example sidestepping. While there seem to be many benefits to using elastic resistance bands, the reality is that often what is quick, cheap and easy doesn’t always produce satisfying results. Thus despite the resistance bands enticing nature, we must dig deeper to find out if it can deliver results.
Do elastic resistance bands work?
To begin this investigation we dive into the results of a 2016 research study(1) that examines the resistance bands’ ability to provide muscle overload due to the increase in resistance as the band is stretched. The authors of this study were aware that some people had questioned the effectiveness of elastic resistance bands. They looked at the matchup of man (and his stretchy band) versus machines (and free weights). The studies that were analyzed compared similar elastic resistance and other resistance activities at a similar resistance level. Multiple of the studies had participants performing various exercises while looking at several different muscles used in that motion. Researchers observed muscles into four different groups; Prime Movers: muscles primarily responsible for the given movement; Assistant Movers: the muscles that contract if more force is required to assist the prime movers; Antagonists: muscles working in opposition or providing the opposite joint movement as prime movers; Stabilizers: muscles that act in one segment to allow certain joint movements to occur. They used electromyography (EMG), a process where electrodes are attached to the body to measure the electrical activity in those muscles, to obtain their data.
The results from this meta-analysis put cynic’s claims to rest. Sort of. When comparing the data from the various studies, conclusions showed that elastic resistance band activities and other resistance activities provide similar muscle activation in prime mover, assistant, antagonist, and stabilizer muscles. The findings indicated that despite a changing level of resistance when an elastic resistance band is being stretched, the band exercise still has the capacity to generate an appropriate level of resistance to activate the muscles.
Something to keep in mind when considering this is that when contracting a muscle, for example doing a bicep curl, the torque or effort required when the curl is just beginning is less than it is midway through a contraction. In addition, this study claims that traditional resistance exercises also have varying levels of resistance due to the momentum induced from moving a weight.
Are we ready to go do those band exercises?
When we look further into the details of each study, there were differences present in specific muscles during a given exercise that are worth knowing; however, the gap of resistance offered doesn’t provide enough evidence to disprove their effectiveness. In fact this seems to be the trend amongst studies where there results are not different enough to be significant.
A few differences may be found here or there for certain muscles, but overall whether elastic resistance or isoinertial resistance, bands or dumbbells, either will work well to provide resistance. When it comes to selecting whether to use an elastic band or conventional weights, consider which is more functional or practical for that exercise and the person performing the exercise. Some people will respond better to one method over the other. Depending on the exercise one may be more advantageous than the other, but both bands and conventional weights should still be able to provide similar muscle activation.
If you need help on which exercises to do and what would be the most effective for you, schedule an appointment at ReQuest Physical Therapy in Gainesville or Newberry (Tioga), FL.
Author: Nate Greaves- Intern
Edited by ReQuest Physical Therapy
2.Andersen, L.L., Andersen, C.H., Mortensen, O.S., Poulsen, O.M., Bjørnlund, I.B.T., Zebis, M.K., 2010. Muscle activation and perceived loading during rehabilitation exercises: comparison of dumbbells and elastic resistance. Phys. Ther. 90, 538–549
3.Brandt, M., Jakobsen, M.D., Thorborg, K., Sundstrup, E., Jay, K., Andersen, L.L., 2013. Perceived loading and muscle activity during hip strengthening exercises: comparison of elastic resistance and machine exercises. Int. J. Sports Phys. Ther. 8 (6), 811–819.
4.Sundstrup, E., Jakobsen, M.D., Andersen, C.H., Bandholm, T., Thorborg, K., Zebis, M.K., Andersen, L.L., 2014. Evaluation of elastic bands for lower extremity resistance training in adults with and without musculo-skeletal pain. Scand. J. Med. Sci. Sports 24 (5), e353–e359.