Once upon a time, the popularity of elastic-band training suffered mightily as a result of the “guilt by association” theory. Rubber tubing tended to be relegated to the same dark corner of the gym as the 5- and 10-pound dumbbells, yoga mats and Bosu balls: equipment favored by those who couldn’t possibly care less about packing on muscle and getting strong as an ox. What the naysayers failed to realize is that elastic bands’ fastest-growing target market are athletes and fitness diehards looking to greatly enhance their strength, power and hypertrophy.
Remember this term: linear variable resistance, or LVR. That’s what elastic bands offer that barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells don’t. LVR is different from traditional resistance in that as a given exercise’s range of motion increases, so does the resistance applied on the muscle via the basic elastic properties of rubber bands.
The advantage here is undeniable. Greater resistance throughout the range of motion means more muscle fibers are recruited, which translates directly to both strength and size gains. But why not just go heavier with free weights to achieve greater resistance? Because of a biomechanical concept known as the strength curve of the muscle, which refers to the way a muscle’s strength changes over a range of motion, says renowned fitness expert Jim Stoppani, PhD, a huge proponent of elastic-band training. “Take a biceps curl, for example,” he says. “The biceps are weakest at the start of the exercise and strongest somewhere around the midpoint of the range of motion. When doing curls with a free weight, you’re limited to how much weight your biceps can handle at the beginning of the curl. As a result, your biceps aren’t receiving adequate resistance at their strongest point.”
A Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.) study found a significant increase in bench-press strength and power in individuals who combined free weights and bands com-pared to those using only free weights. And a study from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found similar results with respect to lower-body training.
“Anecdotal and scientific lab reports show that bands produce gains in power, strength and size,” says Stoppani. “You could train with bands only and see great results or combine them with free-weight training, which I prefer. Either way, the benefits of bands are indisputable.”
Band Of Benefits
Linear variable resistance isn’t the only advantage of training with elastic bands. Here are a few others:
Constant Tension: Similar to cables, bands don’t allow the muscles to take a break in “dead” points along the range of motion as with some free-weight exercises (picture the top of a dumbbell flye). Tension stays on the muscles throughout the entire rep.
Maximum Planes of Movement: With free weights you’re forced to move the weight against the pull of gravity, and with machines the path of motion is fixed. Neither of these limitations exist with bands. As long as you move the ends of the band away from its anchor point, you can change the direction of pull any time you see fit.
Highly Portable: At home, a set of bands can be kept in a closet or under the bed. When traveling, a few bands will fit easily into your luggage.
Inexpensive: A complete set of elastic bands offering hundreds of pounds should run you no more than about $200. Try Harbinger’s HumanX PowerAmp xXx bands (vitaminshoppe.com).
Bands In Action
Elastic bands can fit seamlessly into virtually any existing lifting program. You can either attach bands to the ends of the barbell for bench presses, squats or deadlifts (or any number of other barbell moves) or use them as the sole source of resistance for just about any exercise you currently do with free weights. Here’s a sample elastic-centric workout to illustrate the versatility of bands.