How Effective Are Resistance Band Workouts?

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April 26, 2022

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Once upon a time, resistance bands were a tool used for physiotherapy and injury rehab. How times have changed! Now they are commonly used in strength training workouts, are readily available in gyms, and are a popular addition for any home gym set-up. 

A resistance band can either be flat in shape (like fettuccine pasta) or small round tubes (like spaghetti). With more people than ever before choosing to exercise at home, what’s the verdict on resistance bands? And are they worth adding to your at-home workout kit?

How do resistance bands work?

To build strength and muscle, you need to apply resistance to your muscles. You can do this either with bodyweight exercises such as squats and push-ups, by using a band, or by adding additional weights like kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls or a barbell.

With a resistance band, the tension of the band when you stretch it is what challenges your muscles. The thicker the band or the more you stretch it, the more tension and force required from your muscles to lengthen the band. 

To keep your muscles challenged during each set, make sure you don’t let the band go completely slack. Keeping some tension in it the whole time will make each exercise and your whole workout more effective. 

You can use bands wrapped just above your knees for banded exercises like crab walks, glute kickbacks or glute bridges, or for upper body moves like seated rows and lateral plank walks. Bands can even be added to barbell exercises to make them even more difficult, such as deadlifts, bench press and squats. Depending on what exercise you do, you may need a different sized band. 

Keen to try some banded exercises? Kelsey Wells’ PWR at Home program in the Sweat app is a good place to start! Using a band you can add variable resistance to exercises like chest press, tricep extension, standing bicep curls or single leg press.

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Are resistance bands effective for building strength and muscle?

While it depends on your fitness level and goals, resistance bands can be a great way to assist with building strength and muscle. 

Resistance and tension on your muscles is a key part, and working out with a band can tick that box. 

A 2019 systematic review looked at the effects of training with elastic resistance compared to conventional weight resistance such as machines and dumbbells, and the results suggest that yes, bands can provide similar strength gains.

Research from 2017 published in The European Journal of Physiotherapy also explored the effectiveness of elastic resistance bands to conventional resistance training equipment. They concluded that bands can be an effective training tool for many exercises such as rows, lat pulldowns and deadlifts, but not always for a squat, where they observed less muscle activation. 

To make improvements in your strength and muscle mass, the key ingredients are tension, consistency and progressive overload (meaning to increase the volume, intensity, frequency or density), so it’s important to stick to it and keep challenging yourself. This could mean using a thicker band to add more tension, or to do a higher number of reps or sets to fatigue your muscles more. 

By the end of each set, your muscles should definitely be feeling tired, so if you’re finding an exercise too easy with a band, try using a thicker band if you want to see strength improvements, or consider using traditional weights instead to turn up the difficulty! Your muscles might also feel a bit shaky after using a band, as they recruit those smaller stabiliser muscles around your large muscles. Enjoy that burn!

If you’re looking for a way to track your improvements in strength, conventional weight training may be a better option, as you can easily measure the weight of your lifts and see progress. 

On the flip side, bands can be a great way to help you master an unassisted pull-up, by REDUCING the amount of strength needed to pull your body up. As you build strength over time, you’ll need less assistance and can switch to a thinner band, until eventually, you don’t need a band at all!

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Tips for using resistance bands

  • When you start, make sure the band has no cracks or tears. You don’t want it snapping mid-workout!

  • When performing any exercise with a band, it’s all about controlled movement and making sure the band has tension in it at all times, rather than letting it go slack in between each rep or using momentum. This will keep your muscles under tension and work to build your strength much faster. 

  • The last few reps should feel difficult, so choose a band that will be challenging, but make sure you can still complete the exercises with good form.

  • Planning on doing several different exercises with a band? It can be good to have a few different bands varying in width and length.

  • If you’re doing an exercise with your band looped around a bar or other object, make sure it’s stable and strong. 

  • Try not to use momentum or big swinging motions.

Work out anywhere, anytime with Sweat

Ready for your first workout?

Whether a resistance band is your only piece of equipment, or it’s something you use to keep your routine interesting, it’s a great tool to have in your kit.

Perfect for any fitness level, portable and low-cost (and low injury risk too), resistance bands are great for a challenging strength workout wherever you are.

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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