You can’t deny the lightweight portability of resistance bands for helping you do some kind of workout routine while traveling. Another benefit is they are pretty cheap, even for a whole set of varying resistances, compared to any machines or freeweights, and they’re popular as a kind of home gym that you can stuff away in the closet when you’re done.
Resistance bands are ideal for working your stabilizer muscles, which are various smaller muscles in your body that are not the primary executors of the movement but are working to keep your body and limbs stabilized during the exercise. Getting a good workout for your stabilizer muscles helps prevent injury and develops smoother, more athletic movement.
As far as targeting the primary muscles of a resistance band exercise, resistance bands do work somewhat. For example, you can target your deltoids (shoulder muscles) and triceps with overhead presses, as well as the stabilizer muscles around them.
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In a sense your body doesn’t care what is creating the resistance, as long as the resistance is there, and it will therefore get stronger and build muscle as you do resistance band workouts.
There is a certain limitation to resistance bands. They create what we call accommodating resistance, which if you plot it on a graph shows the resistance increase the farther you stretch the band. This of course is because it’s harder to stretch it more the further it stretches. Accommodating resistance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, advanced powerlifters sometimes utilize bands with their barbell movements to introduce a resistance curve. Experts may also use lifting chains, which look way cooler, and they have a resistance curve much the same as bands because of the way more weight is added as the user lifts the barbell higher to lift each chain link off the floor.
But what affect does this have on a beginner? It’s a bit of a problem if you rely exclusively on them, because you will limit the amount of resistance you can handle for your full range of motion. Your muscles get stronger most easily by having even resistance throughout the range of motion. With bands it may feel extremely hard at the high end of the rep but too easy at the bottom, and in that sense you’re cheating yourself.
One Disadvantage: Heavy Movements
The best way to build muscle is with heavy (or whatever is heavy for you) compound exercises, which means an exercise that utilizes many muscles of your body at once. Your body is smart and won’t want to develop itself disproportionately, or create a muscular imbalance, so you have to stimulate your whole body with good coordination and heavy resistance. That way it will know that it’s okay and fully advantageous to get stronger.
With that in mind, experienced lifters know that some of the best exercises for overall strength and muscle are compound exercises that you can go really heavy on, such as deadlifts and squats, and not so much exercises where you’re at a mechanical disadvantage and have to use lighter resistance such as curls.
The problem is, resistance bands by themselves don’t provide enough resistance for squats, unless your legs are very weak. At any rate, if you train regularly you will outgrow the resistance bands for squatting. You will also find that despite being able to move up to a heavier band you will have trouble doing so because the jump in resistance can be too much. With weight plates you can go up in 2.5lb increments, or even less with fractional plates. Not the case with bands, where the increase may be 20 lbs or more.
It’s hard to keep a training log with your resistance bands, especially if you have to switch brands or use the bands at a gym. How heavy are they? Who knows! They aren’t standardized by color or anything. With freeweights you know how much weight you’re lifting. 50 lb dumbbells at one gym is the same weight as 50 lb dumbbells at the next one, and your training log will be accurate, enabling you to keep pushing yourself to make progress. With bands you can still get a workout, but noticing improvements in your strength gets a lot trickier, and at some point you need the encouragement of logged progress to keep your motivation high.
Types of Bands
The tube with handles version is most convenient for gripping and doing pretty much all exercises with.
The flat band loops are usually used for stretching or to attach to a barbell as shown further above for deadlifts.