Band Exercise, A Great Supplement

Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D.

Free weights, cables, and machines form the bulk of many serious strength programs, but the real secret may be in the add-on tools professional strength coaches use. And, these tools can be used in conjunction with your home gym to increase your results.

Rubber tubing, or resistance bands, have come a long way in the last 10 years. They are now multi-layered, which provides a smoother resistance ramp or transition, and adds significantly to the durability. Another innovation is the development of the “Quick Switch Handle,” which allows you to place the handle on different bands with a flick of a security bar. That lets you have various bands, but one set of handles, easier on the wallet and if a band breaks at some point, you are not replacing the entire band/handle.

Like anything in fitness, one tool can’t do it all. Bands don’t take the place of regular resistance training with a weight stack, cable or free weights. However, they can provide low-cost options to mimic cable exercises and creative movements, so you expand your training tool box. 

Are you not sure about resistance training? Start with 4-5 bands and handles and work on basic exercises like chest press, row, and squats. All proven results-based exercises.

Need to workout on a trip, but no gym? A couple of sets of bands and handles and your hotel room becomes the 15-minute workout garage. Both are great reasons to try bands, and the cost is minimal.

I have found the best way to use bands for augmenting a resistance program is to alternate them into workouts here or there where you might want to change an angle of an exercise not available on your home weight machine or change speed on an exercise. For example, your cable may be chest high, great for straight ahead chest press motions, but not for a decline or incline press. Move the band 4” above the shoulder, press down at an angle, instant decline press. Move the band 4” below the shoulder, now it’s an incline press. A small angle change can provide additional joint stabilization and different stress on a muscle group. 

Additionally, the resistance profile or force is very different from a cable, so the muscle just might pay a little more attention. You will have to stabilize your body differently, especially if you change exercise speed, likely adding to core benefit. For example, performing a standing row, gradually add speed over 6 repetitions, then decrease speed over the next 6 repetitions. And, as we have to move at different speeds in life and sports, having that ability to move against a resistance where speed interferes very little with the resistance is an advantage. 

Another area where bands really shine is creative core exercises at different angles. Attach the band to a stable surface, head height. Put the handle over one shoulder and crunch down and diagonally, and you have the power crunch. You can change band angle, resistance, and speed to put some zip into your core routine.

Bands do require some consideration to safety. Always inspect your bands for signs of wear or tear, and replace when these become visible. Make sure the band is securely attached to the handles before performing any exercise. The band needs to be securely attached to a post or weight machine in a fashion where it won’t slip or come off the support. And, the most important thing is start light. Yes, you can normally do dumbbell presses with 30 pounds, so that little orange band that says 40 is going to be easy. Yes and no, it’s the rebound from the extremely stretched position that takes people by surprise. So, always start light to make sure there are no movement surprises.

Finally, buy bands from a fitness dealer, not an outlet store. The numerous reasons include a better quality of the band and a sales person who can recommend the best band range for your needs. The other thing you will get from that sales person is whether or not bands are right for you, and what you can reasonably expect from this type of workout. And, fitness stores stand behind their products, so if one breaks during a warranty period, you get a replacement.