Whether you’re on the road, are too busy to get to the gym, or just looking for a good resistance exercise program that won’t break the bank; resistance bands may be the answer.
Although there are a number of variations available for this type of exercising (bands, tubes, loops, straps, etc.), the principals remain the same. Instead of using cumbersome barbells, dumbbells, or kettle bells which rely on gravity to create negative force, this form of exercise utilizes rubber bands or tubes to create the negative resistance or force. These bands are similar to giant rubber bands that create force by stretching the band. The farther the band stretches, the more force is made available. Like rubber bands though, resistance bands have their limits as to how far they can be stretched, and just how much tension can be generated as a result.
Bands and tubes are available in varying colors, which generally translate into the identification of the bands strength, thicknesses, widths and lengths. Generally, the thicker / wider the band or tube, the more force they create and the harder they are to stretch. Optional handles are also available that will allow multiple bands or tubes to be used simultaneously, reducing the number of various band or tube thicknesses you have to purchase.
For isolation exercises, you would typically choose a band that is thinner than the ones you would use for training muscle groups. For instance, you would select a fairly heavy (thick) band for working the chest area (like a chest press movement), and a thinner band for working the biceps alone (for example when performing a one-arm biceps curl).
As for the pros and cons of resistance bands, there are both. I believe the pros outweigh the cons on this one though. Although they can occasionally get away from you and slap you alongside the head, they are fairly inexpensive, extremely portable and work the muscles in a smooth, full range of motion that can’t be matched by some of the other alternatives out there. The bands have their limitations as far as which exercises you can perform with them, but not in the number of muscles that can be worked, or the intensity at which you can work them.
The following is a simple routine that will work the majority of your muscles as groups, along with some isolation exercises that will work specific muscles. Warm up and stretch thoroughly and give it a try:
For the upper body, start by warming up the shoulders with four (4) sets of Overhead Presses, at about 10 repetitions per set. With this movement, form is king. Body stays erect, abdominal muscles tight, and press through smoothly with both arms simultaneously or one arm at a time.
Overhead Press – Step onto the middle of a tube or band. Bring the handles up to the shoulders with palms facing forward and elbows pointed down toward the floor. From this starting position, with spine erect (never leaned forward) and stomach muscles tight, press the handles or band loops straight overhead. Try to keep your hands, elbows and arms perpendicular to your shoulders. After you’ve performed the recommended 10-12 repetitions, rest for 20-30 seconds and then repeat for a total of four stets. For more resistance, widen your foot spacing or use a thicker band/tube.
Then progress to alternating sets of Chest Presses and Low-Rows. Do four (4) sets of each with enough tension that you can only do about 6-8 repetitions. Do 6-8 reps of Chest Press, rest for as long as it takes to get comfortably into position for the Low Rows, and begin your Low Rows. These combined push/pull combinations are known as “super-sets”. After you have performed one set of both exercises, rest for a moment and repeat. Just don’t rest too long in between sets. You want to keep your muscles warm once you get them rolling.
Chest Press – Drape the loop of your band or tube over the shoulders and lower it to about the center of the shoulder blade area. With elbows in against the sides of your body, push outwards with palms down and forward. The hands should remain at the same level (parallel to the floor) as you push through to full extension. After you’ve performed the recommended 6-8 repetitions, move directly into position to do your set of Low Rows. Repeat for a total of four stets. For more resistance, wrap the band/tube around the torso or use a thicker band/tube.
Low Row – While seated on the floor, legs straight out in front of you, loop the middle portion of your band or tube over your feet, allowing it to settle into the indentation of your arch. With your upper body erect, shoulders slightly pushed back (like sticking out your chest) pull back on the handles as far as you can while keeping your arms close to your sides, elbows in. Your grip should be such that your palms are facing each other. After you’ve performed the recommended 6-8 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds and then get into position to do your next set of Chest Presses. Repeat for a total of four stets. For more resistance, widen your leg separation, or wrap the band/tube around your feet, or use a thicker band/tube.
From there, perform some alternating sets of Triceps Extensions and Biceps Curls. Here again, get in four (4) good sets of 6-8 repetitions each.
Triceps Extension – Step onto the middle of a tube or band. Bring the handles up to the shoulders with palms facing behind you and elbows pointed up toward the ceiling. From this starting position, with spine erect (never leaned forward or backward) and stomach muscles tight, press the handles or band loops straight overhead while keeping the elbows stationary. The upper arm does not move during this exercise, only the forearm portion, pivoting at the elbow. Make sure you keep your elbows in near your head, not allowed to point out to the sides. After you’ve performed the recommended 6-8 repetitions, move directly into the starting position for Biceps Curls. For more resistance, widen your foot spacing or use a thicker band/tube.
Biceps Curl – Step onto the middle of a tube or band. With feet shoulder width apart, palms facing forward and elbows in tight to the sides of your body, curl the handles up to within a few of inches of your shoulders. In this exercise the upper arms again remain stationary, so you are only allowing the forearms to curl up by pivoting at the elbow. After you’ve performed the recommended 6-8 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds before getting back into position for your next set of Triceps Extensions. For more resistance, widen your foot spacing or use a thicker band/tube.
Next, do some Band Squats. Stick to the usual four (4) sets of 6-8 repetitions. Focus on form and control here. The upper torso needs to stay erect throughout the entire movement. Squat down until your thighs parallel to the floor. If you are physically able to do so, just squat down as far as you comfortably can. Also, if the bands are too cumbersome, set them aside and perform a standard Body-weight Squat instead.
Band Squats – Step onto the middle of a tube or band. With feet shoulder width apart, bring your handles up to shoulder level, elbows bent and pointed down. Keeping the upper torso erect and abdominals tight, sit straight down as if to sit on a chair, and stop when the upper legs (thighs) are about parallel to the floor, and then stand back up. After you’ve performed the recommended 6-8 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds and then repeat for a total of four sets. For more resistance use a thicker band/tube.
Finally, finish up your work-out with some Bent-Leg Sit-ups and Alternating Side Planks to strengthen the core. These are free-hand exercises and require no bands or equipment. Do one or two sets of as many repetitions of the sit-ups as you can. Perform the side plank (with perfect form) and hold for 30 to 90 seconds on each side.
Bent-Leg Sit-Ups – Lie back on the floor and bring your knees back toward you. With your fingers extended, bring your feet back until they touch the tips of your fingers. With your fingers laced behind the head, lift the upper body up toward your knees. Focus on using only your abdominal muscles to “curl” your body up and forward (never pull the body up by pulling on your head with your clasped hands). If this is too much resistance for you, cross your arms in front of your chest and try again. If it is still too difficult, extend your arms straight out in front of you and try again. Perform as many repetitions as you feel comfortable doing. If you ever experience pain in the lower back while performing this exercise, stop immediately and focus your efforts on the next core exercise (Planks). Repeat for a total of 2 sets.
Alternating Side Plank – While sitting on the floor, lean to one side until your upper body rests on your elbow. Now raise your butt and straighten your body until your feet, butt, shoulders and head are all in alignment; straight as a “plank”. Once you are in position, point your arm straight up toward the ceiling and hold your position for a count of 30 to 90 seconds. While remaining in this position, roll forward until you are resting on the other elbow and repeat for the 30-90 second interval. This is one set. Rest for a minute and repeat for a total of 2 sets. Remember, your head, spine, butt and heels should all be in a straight line during the “hold” portion of the Plank movement. No cheating! If you are unable to hold the plank for at least 30 seconds, drop down to your knees and pull the feet slightly back toward your butt. This should relieve a considerable amount of pressure and allow you to hold for the 30 seconds recommended.
There. You should have gotten a pretty good work-out, and it didn’t cost a lot of money. I recently bought a pair of handles and two tubular bands (a heavy duty one and a light one) all for under $30. I can now use this equipment over and over again at no added cost. As you gain strength you can add bands/tubes as needed
I can tuck this gear into my suitcase pocket when traveling; put it in my bottom drawer at the office; or stuff it under my couch at home. It is amazing how good of a workout you can get while watching TV at night!
Give it a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.