When it comes to versatility in training with minimal equipment, nothing can quite keep up with the resistance band. It's compact and straightforward to use, and there's no end to what you can do with it. However, not everyone's convinced that resistance bands can really keep you fit. After all, it's just a rubber band.
Can they keep up with things like dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells? Can you get and stay lean and strong using resistance bands?
What Makes Resistance Bands Unique?
In a sense, resistance bands are an alternative to equipment like dumbbells and kettlebells. They (surprise surprise!) provide resistance when you're performing any number of movements, like squats and good mornings.
However, there's one huge difference.
Whereas dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells rely on gravity to offer resistance, bands do not. The band itself provides the resistance — and that's where the magic lies.
Bands Act as a Different Stimulus
When you do banded exercises, there's never any slack in the band. From the beginning to the end of a movement, it's always under tension (or it should be, anyway). This means that you're ultimately spending more time under tension in total.
Here's an example to highlight the difference.
If you're doing a traditional back squat with a barbell on your back, you're resisting the weight of the bar as you make your slow and controlled descent. Then, on the way up, you're pushing up against the weight.
Let's compare this to a banded squat.
If you put a mini resistance band around your knees or quads, you are fighting resistance the entire time — when you're just standing there, as you squat, and as you stand. You're fighting against that tension for the duration of the movement.
This doesn't mean that working with a band is better than working with a barbell. And of course, with the barbell, you typically have the option to load significantly more weight than a band could mimic (although we'll get to this more in a minute).
However, it simply points to the fact that bands can offer increased time under tension, which brings us to our next point.
Time Under Tension is Key for Getting Fit
There's an important point we need to highlight here. The reason any sort of resistance training will help keep you lean and strong is that compared to cardio, it forces you to spend time under tension.
Barbells. Kettlebells. Dumbbells. Resistance bands. Weighted balls. Atlas stones. You name it. The reason why working with any sort of object that actively fights you is so good for you is because it means you're spending time resisting something that's pushing against you.
Sure enough, research suggests that increased time under tension can lead to significantly greater gains. For instance, in one study, needle biopsies of muscle tissue in participants found that those who spent increased time under tension experienced increased muscle protein synthesis. This synthesis also happened more quickly.
Similarly, this is why slowing down a movement can offer more benefits in terms of muscle hypertrophy. A squat at regular speed doesn't pack the same punch as a squat where the down-phase takes five seconds, you pause for two seconds at the bottom, and then stand up.
All of this brings us back to our original point. It's the reason why resistance bands are so powerful: To use them, your muscles must be constantly activated, which means more time under tension.
So, to answer the question that this blog asks, yes, resistance bands can really get you fit.
How to Make Resistance Bands Work for You
Now, to be clear, if you're a 200-pound man and you do a bicep curl, spending five seconds on the down-phase — and you use a five-pound dumbbell — you're not getting any work done.
Time under tension matters, yes, but you still need to be using a weight or resistance that's challenging. Otherwise, you won't be stressing or taxing the muscle tissue aggressively enough to create the micro-tears that you need to ultimately see growth.
Resistance bands are no different.
With both full-size bands and mini bands, they create varying difficultly based on their thickness. The thicker the band, the greater the resistance. This is similar to the difference between working with a five-pound dumbbell and a 20-pound dumbbell.
You should also consider products like X3, which does an excellent job of offering relevant loading for strength training. It takes the traditional resistance band — and even standard weight training — one step further, leading to substantially bigger jumps in both strength and power.
It also allows you to perform an exercise with over 500 pounds of force — an environment you simply can't create with standard resistance bands alone. So, there's actually a band these days that can keep up with the weight that you would otherwise load on a barbell.
The Many Uses of Resistance Bands
Resistance bands make excellent companions for your warm-up (especially for your hips and glutes), workout, and cool-down. They're particularly good at targeting, strengthening, and mobilizing those smaller, harder-to-reach muscles that still have a big job to do.
You can even use them for more explosive exercises. For instance, you can loop a band through a kettlebell to do banded swings. Or, you can secure it to a rig, step into it so it's around your waist, and do banded sprints.
Additionally, they offer the added bonus of safety and being low-impact. It's pretty hard to injury or strain yourself doing banded exercises, making them a reasonable option for just about anyone looking to get fit.
Add bands into your regular training and see how they'll benefit you.