Most of us have entered this new year with a goal to become healthier and well, wiser. After ‘religiously’ following YouTube tutorials and picking little bits of advice from my gym brothers, I decided to deep dive into reading a bit more about the scientific aspect of it. While skimming through the list of unending possibilities of physically achieving the ‘Pink of Health’ title, I came across resistance band exercises. All one needs is a latex resistance band and the will to stretch (and resist!). Even though this unassuming piece of band looks like a rarely-chosen option to build strength and power, it has the ability to do wonders.
Elastic band exercises are varied and are designed to target different muscle groups. The tightness of the elastic band determines the difficulty of that particular exercise. Free weight training modules and resistance band training modules have similar effects when it comes to increasing muscle strength while decreasing body fat. However, after looking at the general preference of equipment, barbells and dumbbells seem like the best way to build muscles. That is not entirely true! Let’s see what sets them apart.
Freedom of movement
Most free weight training modules do not allow individuals to explore different scopes of movement. In case of resistance bands, more planes of movement could be explored since the bands do not really depend on gravity to experience resistance. For free weight training, the plane of movement is categorically in a vertical direction since gravity comes into play. All exercises performed with free weights like barbells and dumbbells involve push or pull type of force deployed to complete the rep. With resistance bands, one is able to explore numerous ways of movement like twisting your body sideways or mimicking the ones that functionally provide more motion. A study published in 2021 from the SAGE Journals reported that throwing velocity of athletes training for sports that involve an overhead throw qualitatively improved when they integrated resistance training in their exercise routine.
One of the striking features of resistance band exercises proves to be its application in enhancing performance in everyday activities. We take daily movements for granted. Be it kneeling down to tie your laces or turning your body to wave goodbye. However trivial it may sound, these movements also provide a risk factor of injury, especially as you get older. Resistance band exercises supplement movement in a horizontal plane as well as a vertical plane. This quality helps us strengthen muscle groups that provide stability, flexibility and posture.
Muscle strengthening and conditioning is incredibly important if one wants to improve their athletic performance. Elastic bands provide linear variable resistance which essentially means that along with range of motion, resistance also increases. Say one is performing T-extensions with the help of resistance bands. As they extend their arms backwards to form a T, the resistance incrementally increases which involves more muscle fibres in the motion at stake. Biologically speaking, when more muscle fibres are involved in exercise movements, muscles strengthen more effectively.
Resistance bands activate the stabilizers, major muscle groups, that stabilize and support the body for efficiently building core strength and stability. One of the most effective ways to work stabilizer muscles is to perform exercises that include slow movements using a ‘progressive load approach’ and more number of reps. Well-maintained stabilizer muscles are indicative of proper posture and alignment. They provide holistic stability to the body and decrease the risk of pain and injury.
Enhanced form and zero free passes to cheat
Quite often, one tends to cheat during free weight exercise sessions, especially if they are beginners. While performing many of these weight-dependent exercises, one may find it very easy to rely on the momentum with which they push or pull the weights. Once they rely on momentum, the muscle groups involved in the exercise do not really reap the benefits of the efforts that have been sown. This also increases the risk of injury like pulling a muscle or twisting a joint. In case of resistance bands, this predicament is completely deleted since the exercises performed work on the principle of linear variable resistance and the performer is in a state of constant tension provided by the elastic bands.
So, what is better? Free weight training or resistance band training?
A fitting answer would be – One should try to incorporate both free weight training AND resistance band training in their training routine. Resistance band exercises are not commonly seen to be the first choice of many. Nonetheless, they are equally effective (sometimes, more even!)
Musculoskeletal adaptations need mechanical stimuli to show effective alterations in the way your body feels, copes and conditions. These mechanical stimuli could be provided by running, cycling, swimming, yoga, powerlifting, or even walking a few kilometers everyday. One of the safest ways to run on a track towards fitness is to try a bit of everything and check what aligns with your health goals. Once one figures out what rings their bell, they can explore its nuances and try to make it as adaptable as possible. At the end of the day, one should enjoy what they do, and achieving the ‘Pink of Health’ title should feel rewarding!
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