Resistance … isn’t a bad idea

I wrote the following story originally for the Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer in Raleigh. It runs here with links.

They don't require a monthly payment plan and their own room in your house. In fact, you can get ‘em for about $20, and when you're not using them, they tuck away in a drawer or under your bed.

Resistance bands — elastic tubes with a plastic handle on each end — are the plain Jane secret of a billion-dollar fitness industry that thrives on pricey equipment to quick-fix your physical shortcomings.

And while these specialized exercise machines often target specific muscle groups — witness the plethora of ab machines on the market - resistance bands offer a full-body attack.

"You can target all the major muscle groups with them," says Lisa Phipps, who oversees group exercise programs at Charlotte's Dowd YMCA. "You can also work on the smaller stabilizer groups" that help with maintaining balance. That makes the bands particularly popular with older exercisers.

"It amazes me how quickly these people can improve their balance," says Lauren Llewellyn, who incorporates bands into a Seniorcise class she teaches at Raleigh's Lake Lynn and Greystone Community Centers. "Within two weeks, they can tell a difference."

Resistance bands are relatively new in fitness circles. Their popularity has been boosted by increasing evidence that strength training, according to the Mayo Clinic, can play a key role in strengthening bones, controlling weight, managing chronic conditions, boosting stamina and reducing risk of injury.

That may explain why resistance bands have played a role even longer in physical therapy, earning the endorsement of the American Physical Therapy Association in 1995.

Resistance bands have become popular for strength and conditioning for a variety of reasons:

  • They're inexpensive. You can buy them at Target or Wal-Mart for less than $20, close to half that online.
  • They're versatile. They target all major muscle groups.
  • They're mobile. They take up little space so you can take them on the road, and all but the smallest hotel rooms will accommodate a resistance-band workout.
  • They work for any ability level. The bands come color-coded, reflecting their thickness. Start with a thinner, more elastic, easier-to-pull band and advance through thicker levels.

Phipps says resistance bands have become incorporated into a number of the YMCA's strength and conditioning courses. "We use them in athletic conditioning classes, circuit training ..."

Which isn't to say you can't get a full strength workout out of resistance bands alone.

"You could take them through a full 30-minute workout," Phipps says.

Many bands come with CDs demonstrating proper use and various exercises. Phipps, however, recommends taking a class to learn proper technique— not only to get an optimal workout but also to avoid unintentional backlash.

"Kids in particular sometimes have a problem with letting go of one end and getting snapped in the face."

* * *

Resistance bands made of tubing with a handle on each end tend to be the most popular form of resistance device.

"The (flat) latex bands tend to wear out more quickly," says the YMCA's Lisa Phipps.

While tubes tend to hold up better, she says a more recent innovation - braided cords - are proving even more durable.

* * *

Here are five examples of popular exercises for which resistance bands can replace traditional  exercise equipment. Click on exercise name for a how-to video.

Seated rowing
Device replaced: rowing machine
Primary muscles worked: lats, biceps, lower back, quads, calves.
Sit on floor with legs extended, band over feet, holding handles with arms extended. Keeping back straight, pull arms in, keeping elbows close to rib cage. Repeat as you would on a rowing machine.

Bicep curl
Device replaced: dumbbells
Primary muscles worked: biceps
Stand with middle of band under feet, feet placed hip-width apart, holding handles at your sides. Bend elbows and pull handles toward chest. Repeat.

Chest press
Device replaced: bench press
Primary muscles worked: pectorals, deltoids, triceps
Stand with feet hip-width apart, band wrapped around back, holding handles at your chest. Extend arms, return to starting position, repeat.

Lat pulldown
Device replaced: exercise machine
Primary muscles worked: lats, pectorals
Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold band above head with hands shoulder-width apart. Spread arms to full extension while pulling band down to chest level. Repeat.

Squat press
Device replaced: barbell or exercise machine
Primary muscles worked: thighs, hips and buttocks, hamstrings.
With feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and standing on middle of resistance band, stand straight while holding handles close to your shoulders. Bend knees to squatting position, keeping chest up and with weight on back heels, then return to standing position. Repeat.

For more exercises visit the ACE fitness Web site.

Source: Power Systems Inc., American Council on Exercise

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