Leveraged Correctly, Bands Are More Than Just A Tool For Rehabilitation
Every construction project requires tools and every tool is intended for a specific purpose. Yes, the head of an adjustable wrench could be used as a hammer, but it would be much more effective when used to tighten bolts. Even when wielding the correct tool, there is a very specific technique to maximize its utility. Any competent craftsman will tell you that when starting a nail, you want to grab the handle of the hammer closer to the head for more control, and when driving a nail, you want to grip the handle of the hammer closer to the end for more leverage and power. This is before we even begin talking about the different types of hammers!
The construction of your body is subject to the same theory. Your resistance toolbox consists primarily of free weights – dumbbells, barbells, etc. – and resistance bands (“bands”). The question of which is more effective is commonly asked, but this is a loaded question that cannot responsibly be answered without more context: more effective at what? Is a hammer or a wrench more effective? It depends on the application – are you driving a nail or tightening a bolt?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at bands and how they compare against free weights – a side-by-side comparison of the two. The advantage of bands is often relegated to a few obvious points:
- are cheaper than free weights
- consume less space than free weights
- are more portable than free weights
All true, but the advantages extend beyond that. Leveraged correctly, bands are more than just a tool for rehabilitation – the area in which they are more frequently used. By leveraging and utilizing them properly, you will unleash their awesome potential and position yourself to achieve their functional goals.
What is this awesome potential? Let’s start with the unique properties of bands that make them different from their free weight counterparts.
- are not gravity dependent
- are elastic in nature
Bands are not gravity-dependent which means they offer resistance in all planes of motion – vector resistance. This fact alone separates them from free weights, which only offer resistance in the vertical plane. Why is this relevant? This is relevant because our lives demand that we move through all planes of motion. Therefore, functional training, the training of everyday movements, should incorporate resistance outside of the vertical plane. Bands offer the proper feedback required to resist and simulate the side-to-side, forward and backward, rotational, and multi-directional movements of life. This property of bands is overwhelmingly undervalued.
Yes, bands are important in the world of physical therapy. The vector resistance and the elasticity make bands a safe, low-impact tool for strengthening joints and the stabilizing muscles around them.
The elasticity – continuously variable resistance – offers maximum control and encourages movement through greater ranges of motion. As a result, more muscle fibers are engaged, including the joint stabilizing muscles, which are often forgotten or overlooked.
For these reasons, bands are coveted in physical therapy, which simply is the restoration of functional movement patterns. But, there’s more to bands. Their potential extends beyond restoration and rehabilitation.
Let’s Dig Deeper – Why We Train
The exact reasons that make bands great for physical therapy also make them great for overall development. Outside of therapy, those who use bands typically do so as a warm-up or as a convenient alternative to free weights. Leveraged correctly, bands are not only a great compliment to free weights but, for many, the more practical alternative.
Those who pursue health and fitness to achieve an exaggerated level of physique represent a small population. Many pursue health and fitness with the aspiration of making their everyday lives easier; functioning better, moving better, performing better, and with less risk of injury. Of course, self-image is still exist at large, but it is defined more so by functionality than by aesthetic.
So, you should use a workout routine that not only develop strength but also develop intrinsic qualities such as stability, mobility, agility, and proprioception. This should include training that is beyond moving resistance in a uniplanar motion. As humans, we certainly don’t operate in uniplanar motion, so why train this way when training for better daily function?
You can’t get better at striking nails with a hammer if your program involves tightening bolts with a wrench; different tool, different application.
Train for Life
Training for function is less about the training of specific muscles and more about the training of specific movements. To truly train a specific movement, we must replicate said movement while challenging and progressing through the movement under a controlled stimulus. This requires resistance in the same plane of motion as the movement in question; horizontal resistance for forward-backward and side-to-side movements, vertical resistance for up-and-down movements, rotational resistance for rotational movements, and vector resistance for multiplanar movements. This applies whether you are training to enhance daily activities such as lifting or getting up off the ground, or to enhance sports specific activities such as swinging a bat or throwing a ball.
As previously mentioned, the elastic property makes the resistance offered by bands continuously variable in nature – increases as the band is stretched and vice versa – and thus engages and stimulates more muscle fibers as a greater range of motion is achieved. This unique property also prevents you from using momentum, i.e. cheating, to move the weight. When momentum is used, muscles are not doing the work. With bands, there is no physical weight to be moved – the resistance is only activated by “stretching” the band.
Bands not only allow you to replicate everyday movements but also everyday scenarios. For example, if you are a parent, you are likely to find yourself carrying your child in one arm while reaching over head to grab an item off the top shelf at the grocery store. This may seem overly complex, but the reality is that we are always being pushed and pulled in different directions and by unequal loads, and unless adequately prepared and conditioned, we leave ourselves extremely vulnerable to injury.
The use of one or several bands can provide the directional and situational resistance(s) necessary to simulate such scenarios and to condition the muscles and joints to be prepared should such scenarios arise – and they certainly will.
For many, physical demands are beyond the duties of the household and the grocery store. Athletes take to the playing field on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Whether competitive or non-competitive, their functional requirements are amplified when playing sports. Functional movement training with bands will not only help to limit their risk of injury but also to elevate their performance.
All in the Application
So, free weights or resistance bands, which are more effective? The intention was not to sway you in one direction or another. The intention was to articulate that, you have options in your toolbox. It is a reminder that resistance bands are not just tools for rehabilitation and restoration and that, when leveraged correctly, resistance bands are extremely practical for functional movement development. But, as it pertains to the question of which tool is more effective, the real question should be: “more effective at what?”
YWCA Fitness on 25th is a coed facility providing a range of fitness experiences in a welcoming environment to achieve your individual health and fitness goals. Watch for the next YWCA wellness article on our website blog and social media channels.
by Nima Nazemi
Source: Vu Nguyen, 2018, canfitpro Magazine (March/April 2018), pg. 22–25.