They’re cute, colorful, and convenient, but could elastic resistance bands really stand in for heavy-duty gym equipment? Turns out, this flexible workout tool just might have what you need to take your workout up a notch. Here’s everything it has to offer.
11 benefits of resistance bands
Maybe you can’t make it to the gym, or you want to add some variety to your resistance training. Here are some of the ways resistance bands can work for you.
- improves flexibility
- strengthens muscles
- keeps you balanced
- helps you save money
- makes it easy to travel
- boosts brain function
- lets you avoid heavy weights
- varies the intensity of your workout
- plays nice with pain and injury
- ups your game
- puts the “fun” in function
If you’re picturing a rubber band you’d use in the office, start by thinking bigger. (But not too big!) Resistance bands can come with a few different features, but they’re basically a strip of stretchy material (like latex or rubber) that you can use to add resistance to just about any exercise.
The bands might come in a set to offer different levels of difficulty. They’re usually color coded so you can pick the best level for you. They may come as a big loop (strips you can grip or tie to equipment) or as tubes with handles. Resistance bands also come in kits that allow you to combine handles, bars, and bands to get the most personalized workout.
Now for the good stuff: Why add these elastic bands to your routine? Let’s see what the science says about how effective they really are.
1. Improves flexibility
Have you ever spent the night on a sofa and woken up feeling as stiff as the Tin Man? If so, you can appreciate that flexibility is an important factor in how well your body functions and feels.
Resistance bands may be able to help. A 2019 study of 23 rugby players found that using elastic bands in a 5-week training program improved their flexibility and range of motion. Researchers think that the tension of the bands creates space within joints while you stretch.
In a meta-analysis of 19 studies with a total of 649 participants, researchers found that using resistance bands improved flexibility and balance in elderly folks. That’s especially important for older peeps because accidents (like falling) can lead to major health decline.
2. Builds strength
Lifting heavy stuff builds muscle strength by providing resistance for your muscles to work against. And resistance bands can provide that benefit without the need for heavy, expensive equipment.
In a 2020 study of 17 male soccer players, researchers compared conventional resistance training with resistance band training over 6 weeks. They found that power band training and free weight training both improve strength and power.
3. Keeps you balanced
Balance is important for helping older people avoid injury, but it can have benefits for all ages. Some researchers connect physical function with mental health and quality of life.
In one small study, older people did a 40-minute resistance band exercise program 5 times a week for 4 weeks. (The program focused on scapular strength as a way to improve posture and balance.) Not only did their balance improve, but they also had improved scores on a survey measuring mental health and physical function.
4. Helps you stay on a budget
Don’t underestimate the value of fitness gains even if you got them without super expensive equipment! Elastic bands typically cost under $10 each or you can usually get a whole set for less than $20. Even the most hardcore bands don’t cost much more than $20 each.
You can compare that cost to the hundreds of dollars you’d likely shell out for a full set of free weights or dumbbells. Monthly gym memberships can also get super spendy.
5. Provides a convenient workout tool
There’s a downside to training with traditional weights: Many people give up weight training because they can be pretty inconvenient. You can’t always go to the gym or you may not have space to store a large set of dumbbells. But resistance bands are basically a pocket gym.
You don’t have to compromise on your fitness level, either. One report analyzed the results of 8 studies with a total of 224 participants. Researchers found that band resistance training produced similar results in strength gains to conventional strength training done with weight machines and dumbbells.
6. Supports your physical fitness as you age
Many studies of resistance bands focus on the physical function of aging populations. This type of workout seems to have several beneficial effects on older people.
- In a study of 18 participants, researchers assessed microvascular function, heart/lung fitness, strength, flexibility, and quality of life. After an 8-week home exercise program participants improved their blood vessels dilation, leg strength and flexibility, general health, pain, and fatigue.
- Another study of 54 participants used a resistance band program based on functional movement. The resistance band group had a bigger improvement in grip strength, arm strength, and gross motor abilities than the recreational exercise group. They also had improved reaction times. Researchers think that better physical condition is connected to better cognitive function.
- In a study of postmenopausal women doing resistance band training 3 times a week, the women had improvements in insulin, glucose, and blood lipid profiles. These are all markers of metabolic syndrome that could progress to cardiovascular disease.
7. Keeps safety first
One reason resistance bands are a good option for older adults and injured folks is they tend to be a safer alternative than traditional weights. (But keep in mind that there’s a chance latex bands could cause an allergic reaction in some people. Also, be careful not to snap yourself with a stretched band.)
With proper form, you control the difficulty and resistance of the elastic band you’re using. For example, unlike traditional weights, you can’t pick up a resistance band that’s too heavy and risk injury from it landing on top of you.
8. Varies the intensity of your routine
A good set of bands can take you from beginner to buff. Modify how you use the bands to do light range of motion stretches or intense muscle-building repetitions. Their versatility also means you can share bands even if you have different fitness levels than other folks.
9. Helps you bounce back from pain and injury
Resistance band exercises can be a good part of your injury recovery program or physical therapy. One study showed that people who did resistance band exercises along with a steroid shot for shoulder pain and stiffness had better outcomes than people who took the shot alone. How? Strengthening your shoulders while the pain is eased by the injection could help you have better function and less pain over the long term.
In another study of people with degenerative knee arthritis, participants did an elastic band workout 3 times a week for 4 weeks. It was an effective intervention for pain and function, comparable to a group who had traditional physical therapy.
10. Improves your performance
So, resistance band training has helped rugby players and soccer players. But there’s even more examples of the benefits of resistance band training for athletes.
In a 2018 study of 12 young female handball players, the athletes added elastic band training to their regular training for 9 weeks. This improved their explosive leg performance. How can that help? Explosiveness is important in a sport like handball which includes long periods of low intensity activity and brief periods of acceleration, sprinting, jumping, and throwing.
11. Builds functional fitness
Functional fitness means your body has the strength, flexibility, and coordination to perform your daily activities (think: outside the gym). There’s evidence that resistance band training helps you build this functional fitness.
A 12-week study of 168 women assessed their functional fitness and other factors. The women had improved glucose and cholesterol, along with an increase in cardiorespiratory fitness, handgrip strength, overall strength, flexibility, and agility.
In another study, participants did a 12-week program of moderate intensity band training for 60 minutes, 3 times a week. After the program, they had improvements in grip strength, sit and reach flexibility, one-legged stance, and blood pressure.
Now you’re convinced that resistance bands are a good tool for your fitness routine, but how do you use them? We’ve got you covered there, too. Check out these workouts to get started.
Resistance bands are a low cost, convenient way to work out. They can improve flexibility, strength, and balance whether you’re looking for an edge in your sport or starting from scratch. For a very small investment, you have a safe workout tool that will fit your lifestyle regardless of age or ability.