The secret to elastic resistance exercise is simple. As you stretch the elastic band, the resistance increases. This resistance provides a progressive stimulus to the muscle to build strength and help increase muscle mass. Elastic resistance training (ERT) allows us to exercise single or multiple joints at one time, making exercises more functional and efficient. Regular exercise machines and dumbbells use gravity against the weights (isotonic resistance) and often limit you to one particular exercise per machine. Elastic resistance, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on gravity; rather, its resistance depends on how much the band or tubing is stretched. Many exercises can be performed with a single band or tube, and the resistance can easily be increased by moving to the next higher color of band or tube. The different colors of bands represent increasing thicknesses of the band, which ultimately increase the force. Figure 1.1 shows that moving from one color band to the next increases resistance by 20 to 30 percent when the bands are stretched to twice their resting length. Figure 1 .1 Force of Thera-Band elastic bands at 100 percent elongation. Force Production The force produced by an elastic band or tube is determined by this formula: force = cross section area x percent elongation. The cross section area is essentially the total amount of elastic material (width x height), while the percent elongation is the percentage of change in length from the resting (no tension) length. For example, a 3-foot length of band with no tension stretched to a final length of 6 feet has elongated 100 percent. Table 1.1 illustrates the force produced at various percentages of elongation.
One exercise band can be used to strengthen all the major muscle groups with exercises, such as a bench press, seated row, upright row, lat pull-down, leg press, knee extension, or hamstring curl. Elastic bands may also be used to strengthen specific muscles that can’t be activated with selectorized (muscle-specific) machines, such as the rotator cuff and peroneus longus (a muscle important to foot pronation). In addition, bands can be used to perform flexibility or balance exercises. Table 1.2 compares elastic and isotonic resistance.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), strength training is an important part of any well-rounded exercise program for all adults, including older adults. In 2008, the United States Department of Health and Human Services included strength training in national physical activity guidelines, recommending that two or more days a week, adults perform moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activities of all the major muscle groups. Research demonstrates that ERT provides as much benefit in strength gains as the use of more expensive and bulky weight-training equipment. A 2008 study by Colado & Triplett compared 10 weeks of elastic- and machine-based exercise at the same intensities (Effects of a short-term resistance program using elastic bands versus weight machines for sedentary middle-aged women. J Strength Cond Res. 22(5):1441-1448). The researchers found no significant difference between the groups: both the elastic- and machine-based groups significantly increased their strength and muscle mass. Furthermore, the researchers pointed out that the elastic resistance exercisers benefited from lower cost and less space for training compared to the machine-based exercisers. Simply performing an exercise program for as little as 6 weeks with elastic resistance can increase strength 10 to 30 percent in both younger and older
adults. The added benefits of ERT include increasing muscle mass, lowering body fat, and increasing power and endurance. In fact, strength training of the legs with elastic resistance can even help improve your balance, gait, and mobility. Elastic resistance training provides a variety of training methods. In addition to strength training, elastic resistance is used for retraining movement patterns by creating a vector of resistance during sport-specific activities such as a golf swing or baseball pitch. Elastic resistance can also be used for stabilization training by targeting the core muscles through whole-body exercises. Elastic bands have also been combined with isotonic resistance for high-performance training, particularly when paired with a bench press or squat movement. Theoretically, combining elastic and isotonic resistances complements both concentric and eccentric movement phases to provide greater acceleration in the initial movement, possibly enhancing power. However, the literature is somewhat conflicting; some studies report improvements in strength and power with combined elastic and isotonic resistance, while others do not. More research is needed to confirm the theory.
As with any mode of strength training, elastic resistance has several advantages and disadvantages. Athletes considering the incorporation of ERT into their training regiment should carefully weigh these issues.
The greatest advantages of elastic resistance are its portability, low cost, and versatility. Unlike isotonic resistance (free weights, machines, and pulleys), elastic resistance relies on the tension within the band rather than the pull of gravity. While isotonic resistance exercises are limited to directions of movement in which gravity provides resistance (such as upward movements against gravity), elastic resistance offers many more movements and directions of motion for exercises (such as side-to-side movements). This imparts a higher level of neuromuscular control compared to selectorized machines. Elastic resistance allows us to exercise multiple joints and planes in a standing position (rather than seated on machines), thus bringing more core muscle activation into the same machine-based exercise. In addition, it’s much harder to cheat with an elastic resistance exercise because you can’t use momentum to jerk the weight into position. In contrast to pulley- and machine-based resistance, elastic resistance offers inherent and smoother eccentric resistance during the return phase of the movement, thus stimulating the anti-gravity function of muscles. Finally, elastic bands also allow for higher-speed movements and plyometric exercises, whereas isotonic resistance and machines do not. Disadvantages
While elastic resistance training has several advantages, it does have some disadvantages. Unfortunately, elastic bands and tubing do occasionally break. While they are more subject to wear and tear than isotonic weights, advances in the manufacturing of elastic resistance products has lengthened their useful life. Care must be taken when using bands to inspect them and avoid sharp objects. Be sure the bands are securely attached so they don’t snap and injure you. It is also difficult to quantify the specific amount of resistance of an elastic band compared to an isotonic weight. For example, we can’t say that a particular band is equal to a specific amount of resistance as you can with a dumbbell; the force produced by each band depends on how much it is
Most elastic bands and tubing contain natural latex rubber to which some people have an allergy, marked by redness, swelling, and welts where the skin contacts the band or tubing. Those persons sensitive to latex should use latex-free bands and tubing to avoid allergic reactions. It’s reasonable to say, however, that the advantages of elastic resistance outweigh the disadvantages. Is ERT Functional Training?
Some have said that training with bands is not functional, arguing that the increasing force of the bands is counter to the increasing-decreasing bell-shaped muscular strength curve. Their argument is that the band is at its highest force when the muscle is least able to produce force at the end range. However, research has shown that the strength curve produced by elastic resistance is, in fact, similar to strength curves of isotonic resistance: both produce a bell-shaped curve (figure 1.2). In addition, elastic resistance exercises are not restricted by a single plane of motion as typical isotonic resistances provide. Elastic resistance offers multiple planes of resistance, providing resistance in the frontal, sagittal, or transverse planes (front and back, left and right, and, at the midsection, top and bottom), offering resistance to both isolated and integrated movements. Elastic resistance is uniquely suited for replicating whole-body, multiple-joint movements of functional activities such as simulated throwing, lifting, or running. Based on the biomechanical and clinical evidence, elastic resistance is definitely ideal for functional training.
Elastic resistance is available in a variety of devices. Elastic bands are the most popular type, often provided on rolls in widths of three to six inches. Elastic band loops (figure 1.3) are also available; these provide convenient exercise without needing to tie the bands together. These loops come in a variety of thicknesses and lengths and are used for rehabilitation and fitness. Exercise tubing is also available, either with or without attached handles. Tubing with handles is popular in group fitness training. Figure 1.3 Thera-Band elastic loops. There is little difference between bands and tubing. In general, the same color bands and tubing from the same manufacturer tend to have the same resistance levels at any given percent of elongation. This is because manufacturers generally match the specific amount of elastic product (cross section area) between similarly colored bands and tubing. Be aware, however, that resistance levels do vary among manufacturers. Physiologically and biomechanically, there are no differences between bands and tubing in terms of resistance-training stimulus. The choice between bands and tubing is a matter of personal preference: tubing tends to be preferred for upper extremity exercises, and bands tend to be preferred for lower body exercises. A benefit of exercising with bands is that you can simply wrap the bands around your hands or stabilize the band with your body rather than attaching it to something (see figure 1.4). Some users prefer to attach handles to the band, however. When wrapped around the hand, tubing has a tendency to dig into the skin and roll over bony areas during movement. Exercise tubing with attached handles helps reduce this problem (figure 1.5). Although not essential, accessories and attachments for the bands and tubing (see figure 1.6 on page 10) can increase the number of exercises you perform. Regardless of the method used to create an attachment point for the elastic, it is vital that you insure the solidity of that connection to prevent injury. In general, however, accessories, such as handles, carabiners, door anchors, and extremity straps are recommended for tubing exercises to avoid hand discomfort. Using door anchors allows exercisers at home to vary the position of the band origin at different locations depending on the exercise.
Elastic resistance exercise allows you to do the same types of exercises performed on expensive gym equipment, and it allows those exercises to be performed at home or while traveling. As stated previously, research has shown that elastic resistance exercises provide the same physiological benefits and outcomes as exercising with machines. In addition, using ERT frees you from the limitations of gravity, allowing you to isolate muscles and perform the same movements in a totally different way, perhaps becoming more functionally specific as well. By simply varying the level of resistance, the number of repetitions, and the speed of the exercise, you can individually tailor a strengthening program to meet your needs of weight loss, body toning, general strength and conditioning, or to improve speed, power, and agility for sports. For example, using higher resistance with fewer repetitions will increase muscle size and power, whereas using a lower resistance with more repetitions may help keep you trim. Choose your volume (sets and repetitions) and your intensity (resistance level or color of band) by your goals. The following “dosing chart” (table 1.3) may be helpful in determining your exercise level. For each goal listed, the second column shows the recommended intensity based on a one repetition maximum effort, and the third column shows the number of repetitions that should be performed using a multiple RM intensity. The multiple RM intensity is the amount of resistance that allows for a specific number of repetitions. You should use a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale to monitor your intensity when exercising with elastic bands or tubing. The Borg scale and OMNI scale (figure 1.7) are two commonly used RPE scales. Use these or other RPE scales to maintain a moderate intensity (12 to 14 on the Borg scale, and 5 to 7 on the OMNI scale). In the 2008 study cited previously, Colado and Triplett showed that the OMNI Scale can be used with ERT to produce strength gains similar to isotonic weights. Start your program with lighter resistances to emphasize proper form and movements. Perform movements slowly and with control and emphasize the negative (eccentric, or returning) part of the movement. Don’t let the band snap quickly back to the resting position. Improper movements often lead to joint injury and pain. Don’t forget to balance your exercises by performing exercises for muscles on the front of the body as well as the rear. For example, if you do a bench press, you should also do a seated row to balance the shoulder muscles. It’s also essential to breathe properly during resistance exercises; never hold your breath while doing resistance exercises. As with any exercise program, a proper warm-up and cool-down is recommended. Finally, proper posture is very important when performing these exercises.
Progression is the key to strength training programs. Elastic bands and tubing come in a variety of strengths and can be easily changed as your strength progresses. For example, Thera-Band exercise bands and tubing are color coded to help you progressively increase the resistance (see figure 1.8). As you gain strength and control, gradually increase the number of exercises you do and the resistance level you use by progressing to the next color band or tubing. You can also progress from isolated movements (see chapter 3), such as a shoulder side raise, to more integrated movements, such as diagonal and rotational throwing motions (see chapter 10), replicating more functional movements.
Your exercise programs should also be advanced as you improve your strength, stabilization, and coordination. Begin your program by concentrating on isolated movements for single-joint muscle groups such as biceps curls and leg extensions (chapter 3) to build a base of muscular stability and strength. You may then progress to compound movements that involve multiple joints, such as a bench press or leg press (chapters 4 through 6). Next, incorporate functional movements such as a throwing motion or side jump (chapters 7 through 8). Finally, integrate sport-specific exercises to enhance your performance (chapters 10 through 12). This progression is depicted in the ERT Pyramid in figure 1.9. Figure 1.9 Elastic resistance training pyramid. It’s important to maintain good overall body posture before, during, and after each movement, emphasizing proper spinal posture. Even when
performing shoulder exercises only, you must have good alignment of the lower back and hips to maintain a stable base for the shoulder muscles to work from. Most of the exercises in this book are performed while standing to help increase activation of the core stabilizers and to improve balance, but different postures can be used within the same movement for a different effect. For example, you will have a lower core activation performing a bench press while lying on a bench than if you do the same exercise while standing or sitting on an exercise ball. We prefer to use a well-balanced standing posture with the exercises in this book (see figure 1.10). In general, you should maintain a neutral lumbar and cervical spine; keep the shoulders back and down; slightly contract the abdominals, pulling the navel inwards; keep knees soft, not locked; and keep wrists in a neutral position. A balanced training posture promotes overall body stability and thus improves activation of the core.
Because these exercises increase the demand on the whole body as well as the joint they isolate, the body may be more prone to fatigue and compensatory movement patterns elsewhere in the body. With that in mind, we advocate exercises performed for quality rather than quantity. Remember that strength training is based not just on building muscle, but also on building the motor memory (nervous system messages) for correct movement patterns; therefore, proper posture and movement is much more important than overall volume of training. While overall posture is key, it’s important to remember that the position of the band in relation to the person exercising will have a significant effect on the exercise itself. In particular, the stationary position of the band’s attachment point and the subsequent line of pull or the angle of resistance will affect the overall strength curve of the exercise, as well as the stabilization requirements of the exercise. In general, the resistance band should be within the plane of movement and parallel to the muscle fibers performing the movement. During a biceps curl, for example, the exercise band should be within the sagittal plane, parallel to the fibers of the biceps (see figure 1.11). For a more detailed explanation of the biomechanics and positioning with elastic resistance training, see Page and Ellenbecker’s The Scientific and Clinical Application of Elastic Resistance (Human Kinetics, 2003).
Elastic bands can be used as part of a well-rounded physical activity program for all ages. Children and older adults can benefit from strength, balance or flexibility activities using bands.