Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Stretch the Truth: Resistance Bands vs. Free Weights

by Katie Hopkins, PT
Whether you’ve used them or not, resistance bands are a common sight in any fitness area: the array of rainbow-colored tubes is easy to spot. First appearing in a patent for “a gymnastic apparatus” by a Swiss inventor in the late 1800s, resistance bands were once primarily used for rehabilitation and fitness, gaining popularity among therapists during the 1960s. As the modern fitness revolution took hold, the bands became attractive to the general public for their effectiveness, variety, convenience, ease of storage, affordability, and travel capabilities.

There’s more to their popularity than just hype, too: studies have shown that resistance bands can increase muscle strength, muscle size and decrease body fat at a similar rate as weight training.  The muscle activity and muscle peak load are similar during training for resistance bands and free weights, and they both provide exercise with free range of motion, variable speed of movement and progressive resistance.

Where resistance bands differ is in their functionality. Bands do not rely on gravity to provide resistance and give a continuous tension throughout the range of motion.  The resistance of the band increases as the range of motion increases, allowing the muscle to work all the way through the range. Resistance bands also translate better into functional movement patterns for daily tasks and sports related training: exercises can be done in multiple directions and planes relating more to natural body movements, such as twisting one’s trunk, reaching, kicking a soccer ball or swinging a tennis racquet. Resistance bands can decrease the ability to “cheat” while performing an exercise, as momentum does not provide a big advantage.

Katie can be reached at

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