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The Science of Strength Bands

May 25, 2020 8 min read

The Science of Strength Bands

When we look at any small or “delicate” object, we assume that it is useless and not of much importance. However, appearances are deceptive. This holds true in case of training with elastic bands, since look wise they are not at all impressive as the barbells or heavy dumbbells.

These elastic training bands seem suitable for rehab workout after injury or low-intensity workouts for seniors, but good enough for serious, hardcore size and strength builder? No way, that seems highly impossible. Nonetheless, it is this notion that is absolutely wrong, as you will learn after detailed study of science behind these resistance bands.

For almost a century, elastic tubing equipments have been in use for elastic resistance exercises. It was initially introduced as a distinctive exercise tool and later gained popularity as a therapy device.

Currently, resistance bands are looked at much more than basic training substitute for heavy, traditional free-weights. They are preferred around the globe by athletes in almost all sports, like bodybuilders, football players, power-lifters and others to establish speed, stamina, muscle power/size and strength.

There are many similarities between free-weight (dumbbells and barbells) and elastic resistance.

  • Both offer freedom of activity
  • They both provide some type of resistance
  • Both permit progressive resistance by constant
  • Both types have changeable speed of movement.

All four above mentioned properties are crucial to ascertain the success of the resistance-training program.

In spite of realizing the similarities between the two types, people would still feel that the lightweight, delicate looking elastic bands would be no match for free-weights resistance-training equipment. Nonetheless, studies reveal that peak load and muscle activity in both – free –weight training as well as elastic-resistance program is identical.

Investigation has also confirmed that training programs using elastic bands, elastic- tubing and similar products decrease the body fat and increase muscle size and strength in the same manner as free-weight training.

To sum up, your body and muscle fibers cannot distinguish between elastic bands and dumbbells in the given parameters of motion, so long as it experiences a similar amount of resistance.

DIFFERENTIATIONS BETWEEN FREE-WEIGHTS AND ELASTIC BANDS

We have seen some similarities between free-weight training and elastic-resistance. However, there are many important performance-boosting features that are available with elastic resistance but not with free-weight training.

WIDER ZONE OF MOVEMENT

Whereas free-weights are dependent, elastic-band training does not depend on gravity to offer resistance. Thus, this type has more potential of versatility of movement in everyday as well as sport-related activities.

Since free-weights depend on gravity, it offers resistance in unilateral direction- that is vertical, in the direction of gravity. This implies that with a dumbbell in your hand if you move the hand in horizontal plane from right side of body to left side or reverse, there is absolutely no horizontal resistance felt to that action.

Nevertheless, this is not the case with elastic-bands / tubing. Movement is horizontal plane are totally acceptable. With elastic bands there is freedom to perform exercises like punches and sidekicks, side-to-side twisting of body, actions similar to a basketball pass or a baseball swing, with extra resistance. This elastic-band resistance is very beneficial for athletes who wish to improve their performance without risking injury.

A 1998 copy of the American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study reporting that collegiate tennis players benefitted by elastic bands training, as it considerably enhanced their shoulder strength as well as tennis serve. The same could not be said of players not using bands.

Another study in New Orleans, from Louisiana State University claimed that elastic band training was instrumental in strengthening the rotator cuff muscles of collegiate baseball pitchers, than the ones that used dumbbells.

Horizontal-plane movements are applicable while performing regular routine tasks like turning / twisting your body when carrying a heavy object. Everyday movements are always taken for granted by many, without giving a thought to possible injury, especially in old age, if there is no adequate strength in the horizontal plane.

Since elastic-band resistance is independent of gravity, it is convenient to transmit the emphasis laid on working muscles during the training by altering the line of pull on bands mid-set or tubing.

A study carried out at Birmingham Young University put forth a particular example of this saying that stress or importance placed on hamstrings and quadriceps during elastic-band stepping and squatting exercises varied when the performer revised the direction of pull.

Such capability to change stress is vital for those aiming to mark particular muscles either for sport-related requirements or aesthetic reasons. This is also crucial for those with injuries, since changing the force more towards particular muscles can help guard certain joints.

For example, as demonstrated in the above mentioned BYU study, bigger emphasis on hamstring whilst stepping or squatting exercises help in protecting area around the knee.

This cannot be easily achieved with free-weights, because as mentioned earlier they require vertical direction of force, in tune with gravity. That is because free-weight training depends on gravity for resistance.

UNIFORM TENSION

One more advantage of elastic-resistance is that there is distribution of uniform pressure to the muscles being trained. While lifting a free weight in a direction other than up or down, the stress on the muscle can be eliminated at certain points in the scope of movement.

Once more, it zeroes down to the difference between the requirement and non-requirement of gravity for resistance.

As an example, while performing biceps curl with a dumbbell, as you wind the weight up, at the peak of the movement, the dumbbell is almost falling in the direction of the shoulder. This implies that the stress on the biceps has been detached since the dumbbell is no more lifted up by the biceps against the force of gravity.

On the other hand, while performing biceps curl with elastic resistance, the stress is prevalent through the total range of motion as the elastic band material puts forth its own resistance by the virtue of its properties.

An additional benefit of elastic resistance equipment is that it is lightweight, easily portable, convenient to store and inexpensive. However, it has perfect ability to offer tough and heavy-duty resistance. In contrast, free weight turns out to be bulky and heavy to provide the necessary load.

Weight plates, dumbbells and barbells are pricey since they are priced by the pound (weight). Thus, heavier equipment automatically costs more.

 

LINEAR CHANGEABLE RESISTANCE

The most distinctive characteristic of elastic-band training is linear changeable resistance. This implies that as you increase the range of motion of exercise, the resistance provided by the band too increases proportionately.

For consideration, suppose you are doing bicep curl with elastic tubing, then as you curl up your hand towards the shoulder, the resistance increases gradually. This is because of the elastic property of the material. The physical property of elastic states that the more you stretch it, higher the resistance offered.

An advantage of this elasticity is that the increase in range of motion and subsequently the resistance is directly proportional to the increase in number of fibers in the target muscle. The more the quantity of muscle fiber is used, the better muscular strength can be achieved. Free-weights cannot offer this benefit.

Additional important side-effect of this linear variable resistance is like in most cases, it better imitates the “strength curve of the muscle” than free weights. The term “strength curve” refers to the manner in which a muscle or muscle group’s power alters over a range of motion. Up to a certain point, most muscles enhance in strength over a range of motion.

Once more, referring to the dumbbell biceps curl example, your biceps muscle gets stronger almost half-way mark of the range of motion, when you try to bring your hand close to the shoulder.  Therefore, at the start of the exercise, the biceps muscle is weakest.

However, at mid-point mark it gets strongest. While performing curls with free weights, you have limitations on the usage of resistance depending on the strength of the biceps muscle at its weakest point – at the start of the exercise. This indicates that the muscle is not receiving proper resistance at the strongest point in the range of action.

However, when you perform a curl with the elastic tubing, the resistance amplifies with the range of movement. Thus, the muscle receives more resistance at its strongest point to better motivate strength adjustments.

In contrast to the ones using free weight, many using elastic resistance claim that they experience the difference like greater muscle exhaustion and stronger burn in the muscle. This is all thanks to the linear variable resistance offered by elastic-tubing exercising.

A study conducted at Truman State University (Kirksville, Missouri) claimed that athletes that opted to include elastic-resistance bench-press training in their daily exercising routine had on an average substantially better bench-press power and strength as compared to only free-weight trainers.

One more research at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse stated in their issue of 2006 of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that the athletes gained more leg power when they trained in both –free-weights and elastic-resistance.  Nonetheless, only free-weight training did not give the same results.

ONLY EXERCISE, NO CHEATING

Elastic-resistance training prohibits the person from cheating on the exercise undertaken for performance.

This is more prevalent in free weight exercising, as the person just concentrates on gaining momentum to set the pace of the exercises. Here the muscle power is actually not in use.

The user cannot cheat by using momentum for the sheer reason that the physical properties of the elastic band refrains the person from doing so. Stretching of the elastic material is responsible for offering resistance from the band.

This has nothing to do with any mass of the equipment like barbell, dumbbell, and others. The only means of continuing the training with elastic resistance is to continue using your muscle power to keep on stretching the band.

ELASTIC BANDS VS FREE WEIGHTS

This table shows the specific benefits of elastic and free-weight resistance. They share much in common, but bands deliver numerous additional features.

Benefit

Elastic Resistance

Free-Weight Resistance

Provides progressive resistance

Allows variable speed of movement

Increases muscle strength

Increases muscle size

Decreases body fat

Provides resistance in multiple directions

 

Provides variable resistance

 

Provides constant tension

 

Prevents cheating

 

Inexpensive

 

Easy to store

 

Easy to transport

 

FREE WEIGHTS AND ELASTIC BANDS COMBO

 From a study at University of Louisiana at Lafayette one can understand that combining elastic bands to free weights is more advantageous than utilizing free weights by themselves.

The researchers had some untrained people to accustom themselves to bench-press training with the aid of free weights alone, for a period of three weeks. At the end of three weeks they tested the people for one-rep maximum on bench-press. Later, they divided the lot in two groups.

One group was asked to use only free weight on the bench press. The other group had access to 85% free weight resistance and 15% elastic-band resistance.

Both groups had to train for three weeks with a total weight on bench press equivalent to 85% of their one-rep max, or a weight that contained them at 6 reps per set. At the end of three weeks, both the groups were retested for one-rep max and again switched over for another three weeks.

In the 2011 issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the researchers noted their observation that usage of bands plus free weights enhanced the subject’s bench press strength by 22 pounds on an average.

Nevertheless, when they used only free weights without bands, the increase in bench press strength was just 17 pounds on an average.

The study indicated that adding bands to the bench press increased the subject’s strength by 5 pounds than when they used only free weights. This implies that the efficiency is 30% more than free weights alone.

Even though the subjects were all beginner lifters, this 30% difference was impressive to assert that bands in combination with free-weights help gain more strength than using free-weights by themselves.

Whether it is untrained, beginner lifters or trained ones, the fact remains that adding elastic bands to free weights considerably develop muscle strength.

CONCLUSION

Elastic band resistance extends several benefits that literally outdo the free weights benefits. Besides its convenience of use by virtue of its easy to store and transport quality, it is lightweight and inexpensive too. This makes it an ideal exercising and training material both – at home and while travelling.

It prevents injury  as it is small and light as compared to heavy weights, yet gives all the muscle strength that is desired or obtained by free weights.

Remember, appearances are deceptive, so don’t undermine the ability of an elastic band.

Blenda Lekaj
Blenda Lekaj


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