Elastic resistance exercises are no stranger to anyone in the fitness industry or even to those who exercise. The exercises are done by elastic resistance bands or resistance tubing equipment. As a matter of fact, such equipment and bands have been used for almost a century. It was originally used as a fitness coaching method but now it is commonly used for rehabilitation purpose.
Both elastic resistance bands and free-weight resistance such as dumb bells and barbells have many similarities as well as differences. And, each serves its own benefits. I shall illustrate them in a table below for clarity.
Let’s dive in further on issue at hand.
Despite the similarities between elastic resistance and free-weight resistance, people would assume, due to the lightweight and “flimsy appearance of elastic resistance equipment such as elastic tubing, that free weights are clearly the better resistance equipment. However, studies have shown that muscle activity and peak load during elastic-resistance exercise is similar to free-weight resistance exercise. This means that when comparing the same exercise performed with an elastic resistance device or with free weights, the amount of muscle fibers activated is similar and the amount of force provided by the muscle fibers is similar.
Studies on elastic resistance training have also shown that programs using elastic tubing, elastic bands and similar devices increase muscle strength and muscle size and decrease body fat in a similar manner to free-weight training programs.
However, one of the most essential benefits is that resistance bands does not rely on gravity to provide resistance hence this increases its potential for use in more functional movement patterns that mimic daily activities and sports-specific activities. Performing exercises with resistance in a horizontal plane better prepares the individual for performing daily tasks—such as turning one’s body while carrying a heavy box—much easier and with less risk for injury. It also better prepares athletes for competitive movements that take place in a horizontal plane, such as swinging a baseball bat, and helps to prevent sports injuries.
Free weights does rely on gravity to provide movement; they can only provide resistance in a vertical plane – the direction of gravity. For instance, when you are using dumb bells in a horizontal plane that is moving with a dumb bell from left side of your body to the right side, there is no resistance to that movement.
Many individuals using elastic resistance report that they can feel a difference, such as a stronger burn in the muscles and greater muscle fatigue, as compared to when they use free weights. This is due to the linear variable resistance that the elastic resistance equipment offers. This allows a greater number of muscle fibers to be used and taxed throughout the range of motion. Anecdotal evidence aside, research studies also confirm this difference. One study performed at Truman State University (Kirksville, MO) found that athletes who included elastic resistance bench press training in their regimens had a significantly greater increase in bench press strength and power as compared to those who only utilized free-weight resistance training. Another study, performed at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, reported in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, that when athletes used elastic band training in addition to free-weight training they had significantly more leg power than when they only utilized free-weight training (1).
On a final note, whether you are a fitness professional or an athlete or even one who is in a fitness journey, be sure to incorporate your current training regime or client’s training program with resistance band exercises. Both free weights and resistance band exercises can provide similar benefits such as increase muscle strength, muscle tone and size and decreased body fat. Additionally, a program that incorporates resistance bands or resistance tubing equipment provides benefits that free weights are not able to such as more functional strength, injury prevention, greater ability to change muscle emphasis during exercises and greater muscle power development. Lastly, resistance bands and tubing equipment is easier to store and inexpensive compared to free weights that are big and costly.
References 1. Wallace, B. J., et al. Effects of elastic bands on force and power characteristics during the back squat exercise. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 20 (2): 268–272, 2006.