In the past year, home gym equipment and workout space have become a premium for athletes and gym-goers. As strength and conditioning coaches, it is important that we can help our athletes train and adapt to any situation. The same way we assist and help athletes when they travel, we have to be able to help them train at home.
There is now a variety of gym equipment available for anyone to purchase, all coming in different shapes and sizes – dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, suspension trainers, and resistance bands. All which can be brought from not only specialized manufactures but high street shops too.
Not all athletes have money and space which can be converted into a home gym; money to buy the top-of-the-range equipment or space to have barbells and dumbbells at home. One area we can help as strength and conditioning coaches is to look at ways in which we can help and to recommend resistance bands is one of them. These are now becoming a popular way of training as they are low cost, easily accessible, come in a variety of strengths, and can be used in two ways -to add resistance or assist an exercise. They can be a valuable tool in helping our athletes training and stay in shape whilst access to equipment is limited.
Further research to support the use of resistance bands as useful training equipment for athletes and those training at home is the research by Schoenfeld et al. (2021) who have looked at the re-examination of the repetition continuum. ‘The repetition continuum proposes that the number of repetitions performed at a given magnitude of the load will result in specific adaptations’ (p.32).
Strength – 1-5RM, 80-100% 1RM
Hypertrophy – 8-12 RM, 60-80% 1RM
Muscle Endurance – 15+ <60% 1RM
The benefit of resistance bands is that training to failure using a given load will elicit benefits. Schoenfeld et al. (2021) research show emerging evidence for which they propose a new paradigm, where wider loading zones are used which show muscular adaptations. Their research also mentions the time being a factor, as more repetitions are needed to elicit the same response, which increases the time spent training. Which if you have no other means to train, resistance bands are still advantageous for home workouts.
Before we look at how resistance bands are beneficial to athletes, let’s take a step back and discuss what strength training actually is.
Strength training is defined as the practice of systematic repetitions capable of altering the shape and function of tissues. This uses progressive resistance exercises incorporating a repetition maximum, which leads to muscle hypertrophy, increased muscle capillarisation, toughening connective tissue, joints and bones and a reduction in body weight. (Michael, 2005).
Resistance Bands v Machines/Free Weights
Studies have shown resistance bands deliver similar strength gains to training with conventional resistance (free weights and resistance machines). This is if you follow the overload principle i.e. by increasing the number of repetitions or resistance of the band when training becomes too easy.
Lopes et al. (2019) carried out a systematic review looking at training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength. Conventional methods used in the study where resistance machines and one study they looked at used free weights. Whilst the resistance bands and elastic tube studies were looked at; studies ranged in length from 4-12 weeks. The ‘outcome’ of the systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated that training with an elastic resistance provided strength gains similar to training with a conventional resistance.
The fact that gains using resistance bands are similar to conventional resistance training methods can be shown by Inversen et al. 2017 who researched the EMG activity of muscles used during four multi-joint exercises – squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, lateral pulldown, and unilateral rows. Their research supports the notion that the muscle is not activated during the portion of the lift when the band is slack. They also note that the difference in EMG data is ‘largely eliminated when the bands become elongated at the end range of the movement’
Iversen et al (2017) research show resistance band exercises using the upper body have an overall smaller magnitude of difference for activation of the prime movers in the lateral pulldown (11-15%) and unilateral row (11-13%). This can be due to the nature of the exercise where more slack can be taken from the band before the exercise is performed. As there is limited opportunity for manipulating the stretch in exercises where an individual’s height is a limiting factor.
Iversen et al. (2017) put the difference down to free weights and cable machines providing a consistent external force through the range of motion. As mentioned earlier, it is more difficult to manipulate the stretch in a band for lower body exercises as a person’s height is a variable. However, they did show only an 11% difference in erector spinae activation in EMG data when comparing the two methods on the stiffed-legged deadlift.
This difference in EMG data can allow us to speculate why there is less muscle damage when training with resistance bands compared to more traditional methods.
The benefit to athletes training with resistance bands is they do not create as much muscle damage compared to training with free weights and resistance machines. This is because of the tension of the band, which is less at the start of a movement. as the muscle contracts, the band becomes tighter, providing more resistance. This is supported by the research from Iversen et al. (2017) who showed the EMG data at the end range of repetition is largely eliminated.
A study by Andersen et al. (2018) looked at including a 20–30-minute elastic band session into 16-year-old handball players training session, then looking at how this impacted maximal power output in the squat, bench press, counter movement jumps with and without arms, an agility run and throwing velocity. They used 6 exercises that focused on the total body. These were Bulgarian squats, unilateral handball throw, flies, a row with elbows high, tricep extension, and trunk rotation. Participants were instructed to perform the concentric part of the lift as explosively as possible and the eccentric in a controlled tempo. The 9-week study looked like this: 3 weeks at 3 sets of 10 reps at 5-6 RPE; 3 weeks with 3 sets of 8 reps at 6-8 RPE; 3 weeks with 3 sets of 6 reps 7-8 RPE. Adaptations to the resistance were carried out by switching bands to a harder resistance or standing further away from the wall. Andersen et al. (2018) found their programme significantly increased their players jump height and power output in squats and bench press. No significant improved was seen in throwing velocity or the agility run.
Consideration has to be given to the fact that the players were 16, maturation could have been a reason for these improvements as the study was 20 weeks in duration. Assessments were carried out at the start, 10 weeks of their usual training routine another assessment and then a further 10 weeks with resistance band training included and a further assessment. Andersen et al. (2018) acknowledge this and note that to be considered a real change, the improvements in the intervention had to be greater than the improvements in the improvements in the control period.
Quality of Life
Resistance bands are a good training tool for all age groups due to the nature they can be used and manipulated. Pourtaghi et al. (2017) researched resistance bands and quality of life among the elderly. Following a structured program of two 30-minute sessions a week, participants improved their quality-of-life score, which consisted of answering questions on physical and mental health, social relations, and environmental health. Physical health improvements were reported for participants who suffered from COPD and osteoarthritis, who improved their strength, balance, and exercise capacity.
Colado and Triplett (2008) carried out a study looking at the effects of resistance bands on sedentary middle-aged women. Colado and Triplett (2008) found resistance bands can provide enough of a stimulus for those who were previously sedentary to increase their fat-free mass. These results were seen by training twice a week, with an all-over total body workout for 10 weeks using a 2 concentric action followed by 4 seconds eccentric. . Prior to the study start, they worked and marked the progression points on the band. This followed the overload principle.
This is further supported by Flandez et al. (2020) research found training with resistance bands over 20 weeks, improved body composing, muscular strength, and physical function in older women. Their study looked at power-strength resistance training. Over 40 weeks they carried out 38 sessions, each session approximately 80 minutes in duration. Each session consisted of 6 exercises.
With access to gym equipment being scarce this past year, it has been important to keep athletes and the general public fit and healthy. Not everyone feels confident using free weights, has space to, or can afford them. The research on resistance bands shows very promising results in regards to what can be achieved if you train with them. The important thing to remember is to train to a level that pushes the individual. Resistance bands also allow an individual to quickly change the intensity of an exercise by changing their grip position or stiffness of the band. The research has also been carried out across different age groups, showing resistance bands can a useful tool in our training box no matter how old our clientele and their goal.
As with all studies it is important to remember to look at the results compared to the control group. If they both improve, is it necessary to train using resistance band? Similar to when drugs are compared to placebos. All these studies show positive results when compared to a control group, who are not training. The results of the studies using resistance bands shows they are useful for all age groups not matter the training goal.
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Andersen, V., Fimland, S. M., Cumming, T. K., Vraalsen, O. and Saeterbakken, A. H. (2018). Explosive resistance training using elastic bands in young female team handball players. Sports Medicine Internatinal Open. 2 : E171-E178.
Colado, J. and Triplett, N. T. (2008). Effects of short-term resistance program using elastic bands versus weight machines for sedentary middle-aged women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22 (5) : 1441-1448.
Flandez, J., Gene-Morales, J., Modena, N., Martin, F., Colado, J. C. and Gargallo, P., (2020). Effects of power resistance training program with elastic bands on body composition, muscel strength and physical function in older women. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise. 15 (4 proc) : S1322-1337.
Iversen, V. M., Mork, J, P., Vasseljen, O., Bergquist, R., and Fimland, S. (2017). Multiple-joint exercises using elastic resistance bands vs. conventional resistance-training equipment. A cross-over study. European Journal of Sport Science. 17:8 (pp973-982).
Kent, M. (2005). Oxford dictionary of sports science and medicine. Third edition. Oxford University press.
Lopes J. S. S., Machado, A, F., Micheletti, J. K., de Aleida, A. C., Cavina, A. P., and Pastre, M. C. (2018). Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength. A systematic review and metanalysis. SAGE Open Medicine. 7 : pp1-7
Pourtaghi, F., Amami, Moghadam, Z. M., Ramazani, M., Vashani, H B., and Mohajer, S. (2017). Effect of resistance training using theraband on muscular strength and quality of life among the elderly. Evidence-Based Care Journal. 7 (3) : pp7-16.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W. and Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading recommendations for muscle strength, hypertrophy, and local endurance. A re-examination for the repetition continuum. Sports. 9 : 32