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Resistance Bands Help Build Muscle and Power While Reducing Risk of Injury

Story at-a-glance -

  • Resistance bands allow you to get a full-body strengthening workout without weights or resistance machines. They’re inexpensive, easy to store and are perfect for getting a good workout in while traveling
  • You can do just about any type of strength training exercise with a resistance band, including chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, tricep extensions, bicep curls and even squats and pushups
  • A simple warm-up routine and exercises to boost power and build muscle using resistance bands are detailed

By Dr. Mercola

Resistance bands allow you to get a full-body strengthening workout without weights or resistance machines.

They're inexpensive, easy to store and are perfect for getting a good workout in while traveling — just toss them into your bag and you have the equivalent of a strength training gym with you. The video above is a simple resistance band demonstration with Mercola fitness trainer, Jill Rodriguez.

Resistance bands are made of strong, thin rubber with handles at the end, and come in a variety of resistances so you can increase the difficulty as your strength improves.  

You can do just about any type of strength training exercise with a resistance band — chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, tricep extensions, bicep curls and even squats and pushups. If you've never tried resistance bands, you may be surprised by the benefits you can get from such a simple tool.

That said, as with all other exercise, form and execution are important to maximize results and avoid injury. As noted by John Rusin,1 who has a doctorate in physical therapy and has developed training protocols to maximize sports performance and injury prevention:2  

"When strategically sprinkled into programming, bands provide an exponential upside to build muscle, get strong and explosive and stay healthy. But if you don't have a plan and purpose for your band based training, this tool can be brutally tough on your joints and tendons and may even lead to injuries."

Using Resistance Bands During Warm-Up

Regardless of what exercise you're about to do, resistance bands can be incorporated into your warm-up routine. Rusin suggests focusing on your hips and shoulders, as resistance bands are excellent for improving stability in mobile ball and socket joints.

To warm up your hips, he suggests incorporating the bands into side steps and monster walks. Sample demonstrations are featured below.

For your shoulders, Rusin uses a sequence consisting of band-over-and-back, banded face pulls and band pull-aparts, using eight to 12 repetitions per movement. Rusin demonstrates his shoulder sequence in the following video. You can also find many other band exercises on YouTube.

Building Explosive Power With Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are quite popular as a strength- and power-building tool, and for good reason. The further you stretch the band, the greater the resistance generated. This progressive resistance is a good thing, as it forces your body to maximize muscle engagement and contraction.

"Well-rounded strength athletes need to have an eclectic approach to programming, and bands are just another way to challenge the system," Rusin says.

"… [B]ands can be added to pretty much every loaded movement … but some exercises are better equipped to handle accommodating resistances than others. By first placing a priority on compound multi-joint movements, you can start seeing the benefits of power and acceleration quickly …"

By automatically decelerating the movement as you near the end (where the band is maximally stretched), the band also helps protect your muscles and joints from injury.

On the other hand, by accelerating the eccentric phase of the lift, i.e., the return or lowering phase of the movement, and the amortization phase (the part of the movement between raising and lowering), you could potentially stress your joints. Hence, due care needs to be taken.

To maximize benefits while minimizing risks, Rusin recommends doing banded big lifts for a maximum of two to three weeks in a row. After that, avoid banded exercises for a few weeks before incorporating them again. As for execution, a key point to remember when you're trying to build power using resistance bands is to make your movement as explosive as possible. Rusin demonstrates this in the following video.

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Resistance Bands Are Great for Building Strength

The explosive band press demonstrated above will naturally improve both power and strength. As mentioned earlier, resistance bands are also easily incorporated into a wide variety of other common strength training exercises, and are great for building strength without having to use weights. Below are examples of several popular resistance band exercises.

Squats: Standing with your feet at shoulder-width distance, stretch the band between your hands at the height of your shoulders. Perform a regular squat while holding your arms steady, outstretched in front of you.

Bent over rows: Place your right foot on the band and your left foot a step behind. Slowly bend forward at a 45-degree angle. Grasping the band with both hands, gradually pull the band up to the level of your waist, keeping your elbows close to your body.

Proceed with the rowing motion while making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return to starting position and repeat with your left foot.

Horizontal chest press: Lie down with the band beneath your upper back. Holding the ends of the band in each hand, slowly raise your right arm toward the ceiling and then slowly bring it back down. Repeat the same motion using your left arm.

Bicep curl: Stand on the band, holding one end of the band in each hand. Perform a slow bicep curl by lifting your hands toward your shoulders. Make sure your elbows are pointing backward and not out to the side. Keep the position for a couple of minutes before returning to starting position. Repeat.

Overhead press: Stand on the band with feet shoulder-width apart. Gripping the handles of the band, position your hands at shoulder level with palms facing each other so your thumbs touch your shoulders. Press straight up, rotating your palms forward as you fully extend your arms. Slowly lower back down into starting position and repeat.

Overhead tricep extension: Sitting on a chair or bench, position the center of the band beneath your glutes. With a handle in each hand, stretch your arms upward, bending your elbows so that your hands are positioned behind your neck. With palms toward the ceiling, press your arms straight up until they fully extend. Lower back down and repeat.

Reverse Banding Exercises

In his article, Rusin also shares a reverse banding method that allows you to bench press heavier loads. The reverse banding involves attaching thick resistance bands to the top of your power rack. You then hang the barbell on the bands before adding weights to the barbell. For safety, make sure you're using extra-thick bands and that they're safely secured to the rack and barbell in such a way that they will not slip off.

"By strapping bands to the top of a power rack and essentially hanging the barbell off the bands before adding plates to the bar, we utilize the accommodating resistance strength curve in a different way. Now, instead of the using a lower standard load for a movement, we are able to use a heavier load as the band helps you more as you reach the bottom of a range of motion," Rusin explains.

"Let's take the bench press for example. Say you could bench 200 pounds for [five] reps. If you add pro-mini resistance bands to each side of the bar in a traditional banded setup, you may have to drop that standard load down to 185 pounds plus the bands to get [five] reps in. But for the reverse band setup, you may be able to use 225 pounds plus reverse bands and get again the same [five] reps. This allows us to go heavy, but protect the weakest link that is usually the bottom of a range of motion."

The Benefits of Resistance Bands Are Many

If you haven't tried resistance bands yet, I urge you to give it a try. They're low-cost, can be used for a wide variety of exercises and are among the most portable exercise equipment you'll ever own. Since they come in a range of resistances, they're suitable for both beginner and advanced athletes. You can further adjust the intensity of your workout by giving the band more or less slack. You can even use multiple bands at once to increase the challenge.

Resistance bands can be used for a comprehensive, full-body workout that challenges virtually every major muscle group in your body. Your muscles quickly adapt to movements you do often, which is why adding variety to your workouts is key for challenging your muscles. Resistance bands can be alternated with free weights and exercise machines for ongoing variety.

Bands are especially beneficial if you cannot workout with a buddy. It's not a good idea to lift heavy weights without a spotter, but resistance bands can be safely used on your own. They're ideal for exercising any time, at home or on the road. Resistance bands are incredibly simple, but they're also extremely effective at working your muscles, boosting stamina, flexibility, power and range of motion.

Please remember that if you are intrigued with the concept of using these relatively inexpensive bands for your workout, that there are literally hours of other band exercises that you can do by merely searching for them on YouTube.