Everything You Need to Know About Resistance Band Workouts: What Makes Them Effective, How to Get Started, and How to Up the Intensity (Everyday Health)

Posted: Jan 30, 2024 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Everyday Health on January 30, 2024.


Everything You Need to Know About Resistance Band Workouts: What Makes Them Effective, How to Get Started, and How to Up the Intensity

By Jessica Migala

They’re lightweight, easy to store at home or in a travel bag, and provide a killer workout for your muscles.

That’s right, we’re talking about resistance bands.

“Think of resistance bands as big rubber bands that provide differing levels of resistance during strength workouts,” says Damien A. Joyner, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer and the founder of Incremental Fitness in San Diego. Use them correctly and you can hit all the major muscle groups in your body, including your chest, back, shoulders, arms, glutes (buttocks), legs, and core, he says.

Read on to learn what makes resistance bands so effective, how to use them, and more.

What Is a Resistance Band Workout?

A resistance band workout is a form of strength training. The secret to resistance bands, also called elastic or exercise bands, lies in their stretchiness. “As you pull the band to elongate it, the resistance increases,” explains Rebecca Ditwiler, DPT, a physical therapist and an associate professor at the University of South Florida School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences in Tampa.

Whereas dumbbells, kettlebells, and weight plates get bigger and heavier as the weight increases, resistance bands only get thicker — the thicker the band, the more resistance you have to overcome to lengthen it. A thinner band may offer up to 6 pounds (lb) of tension, while a thicker one may provide up to 150 lb.

Resistance bands also come in many shapes and sizes, from short loops to longer loops to elastic tubing with an interchangeable handle on either end, the Cleveland Clinic notes.

As a strength training tool, resistance bands can help you achieve the two weekly full-body strength sessions (minimum) recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for overall health.

Note that you’ll have to use cardio activities like walkingswimmingcycling, and running to meet the weekly 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, per the guidelines.

The Health Benefits of Resistance Band Workouts

Sure, you can lift a resistance band with your finger, but they offer hefty potential health benefits, including:

  • Increased strength Research shows that exercise bands can be just as effective as free weights (like dumbbells and barbells) and weight machines for stimulating strength gains.
  • Maintain muscle mass After age 30, you begin losing 3 to 5 percent of your muscle mass per decade, per Harvard Health Publishing. Strength training — including training with resistance bands — can stall and even reverse this loss. A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in older adults found that those who exercised with resistance bands for 40 to 60 minutes more than three times a week for at least 12 weeks significantly improved their muscle mass.
  • Aid in rehabilitation from injury or surgery Resistance bands are often found in rehabilitation programs to aid in recovery following an injury or surgery. “Resistance bands allow you to perform a low-impact resistance exercise program that’s safe and effective for strengthening,” says Ditwiler. After all, there’s a lower risk of injury if you drop a resistance band on your foot than if you drop a dumbbell. And it’s easier to adjust the resistance when using a band — by changing the length or using a band of a different thickness — than it is to guess which dumbbell to choose, says Steven E. Mayer, MD, a sports medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine in Naperville, Illinois.
  • Improved heart health Muscle-strengthening workouts help improve blood pressure and lower your risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. In fact, research finds that strength training with resistance bands improves measures of heart health, including blood pressure, in the elderly.

Are Resistance Band Workouts Good for Weight Loss?

Resistance band training is a method of strength training, and, therefore, may not burn as many calories per session as cardio, per the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).

But resistance band workouts do promote gains in muscle mass, which can offer fat-loss benefits. “Your metabolism will speed up, since muscle is metabolically more active than fat,” says the ISSA-certified personal trainer Michael Matthews, the author of Muscle for Life: Get Lean, Strong, and Healthy at Any Age!. In one study, 24 weeks of weight training led to a 4 percent increase in calories burned at rest in women and a 9 percent increase in men. That represents 50 extra calories burned per day for women and 140 extra calories for men.

Still, the added calorie burn from resistance band training is pretty modest, and strength training alone probably won’t lead to weight loss. But research suggests that combining strength training with calorie restriction or aerobic exercise can make your weight loss program more effective than calorie restriction or aerobic exercise alone.

Gear: What Equipment You’ll Need for Resistance Band Workouts

Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand for resistance band training.

  • Resistance bands You can purchase resistance bands individually or get them in a set. The advantage of a resistance band set is you’ll get bands in various resistance or tension levels, including light, medium, and heavy (more tension is the equivalent of lifting more weight). You may find that you need a lighter band for upper-body exercises and a heavier one for lower-body exercises, Ditwiler says. Brands typically color-code the tension levels of their resistance bands, but keep in mind that the colors vary from one brand to another, she notes. So, always check the label to ensure you’re getting the right resistance level.
  • Door attachment Certain accessories can make it easier to perform exercises with a resistance band. Many exercises require you to tie one end of a band to an anchor point like a doorknob, beam, or pole. If you don’t have a sturdy anchor point available — a table or chair may not be hearty enough — a door anchor (a heavy-duty strap that attaches to a resistance band and can be shut inside a door to provide a secure base for exercises) can be a great investment.
  • Ankle or wrist cuff Like a door attachment, an ankle or wrist cuff (a padded cuff that wraps around your ankle or wrist and attaches to a resistance band) can provide a secure anchor for targeted resistance band exercises.
  • Exercise mat An exercise or yoga mat offers cushioning and a nonslip surface for your resistance band workout. It can also protect your knees and back during floor exercises and protect your floor from sweat.

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