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Resistance bands are essentially giant elastic bands that people use as a form of resistance. They are used in strength training, sometimes as a warm up and sometimes as an exercise on their own.
Resistance bands were first used for rehabilitation and are still popular with physiotherapists.
You can buy resistance bands through most supplement websites these days, or you have Amazon, or eBay.
Resistance bands are usually colour-coded so that you can tell what level of resistance they are (green meaning light resistance, red meaning heavy for example).
Resistance bands are used in many situations, but are particularly popular with bodybuilders who are about to get on stage. This is because they don't take up much space, which is an issue when you are backstage at a competition.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
There are a whole host of benefits to using resistance bands, they are cheap (compared to a full set of dumbbells) and can be found for less than the cost of a meal.
They also can be used in small spaces, and unlike most home-based equipment they take up almost no space at all.
You can take them with you when you're going to the gym, or if you are travelling, and unlike a suspension trainer they don't need to be hung up. You can perform hundreds of exercises with them, and change the angle of each exercise with ease.
They are also great if your gym is packed and you can't get to any equipment.
Resistance bands have been shown to be very effective in injury prevention, this is because resistance bands are great at strengthening muscles such as the posterior rotator cuff.
Anyone who has suffered from a rotator cuff injury will be aware how important they are for many movements.
A study by Page et al (1993) on college Baseball pitchers found that the use of resistance bands was effective at strengthening the posterior rotator cuff . This was believed to be due to the fact that you can use a resistance band to recreate the pitching motion, which is something you would struggle to do with traditional resistance training.
A similar study by Treiber et al (1998) looked at the effectiveness of resistance bands (combined with light dumbbell training) on tennis performance . Particularly on serve performance.
It was a 4 week study using 22 male and female varsity tennis players.
The study found that the resistance bands not only improved performance. but they also improved strength.
Stevenson et al (2010) looked into the effectiveness of supplementing squat training with resistance bands .
Twenty male volunteers performed 3 sets of 3 reps of barbell back squat, one day with bands added and one day without. The bands increased the rate of force development.
This study showed the effectiveness of adding resistance bands to weighted exercises. For example with barbell squats, you would place a resistance band on either end of the barbell, so that it is equally difficult to squat down and squat up. You can do the same with bench presses and shoulder press (and a whole range of other exercises).
Another study in 2006 by Wallace, Winchester, & McGuigan also looked at the effect of elastic bands on force and power during the barbell back squat .
They found that using elastic bands with resistance weights can significantly increase peak force and peak power compared to performing the exercise without bands. It was particularly noticeable during the heavier weights.
A study looking at the effect of resistance bands on the bench press performance also found that resistance bands and free weights combined produced more power than free weights alone .
So as you can see, there are many benefits to using resistance bands to your program. They clearly have an impact on sporting performance and on injury reduction.
They also can be used to improve strength and power in many free weight exercises such as bench press and barbell back squat.
One thing that should be mentioned however is the over-reliance on resistance bands that has started to occur as the hype increases.
These days you can find people who are using resistance bands and foam rollers for 20-30 minutes prior to working out. In the belief that this will improve their performance.
It might (though the foam rollers are definitely overrated) but if you are spending 60 minutes in a gym and have a 20 minute warm up you are now forced to rush the actual session itself. Your rest times will have to be shorter, and you might have to cut back on volume, as a result you won't get as good a workout as before.
In a gym it is a good idea to use the resistance bands sparingly, take advantage when you can but don't rely on them too much.
A heavy deadlift will still beat a resistance band-assisted press up when it comes to strength and fat-loss.
 Page, P., Lamberth, J., Abadie, B., Boling, R., Collins, R., Linton, R. 1993. Posterior Rotator Cuff Strengthening Using Theraband® in a Functional Diagonal Pattern in Collegiate Baseball Pitchers. Journal of Athletic Training 28(4);
 Treiber, F., Lott, J., Duncan, J., Davis, H. 1998. Effects of Theraband and Lightweight Dumbbell Training on Shoulder Rotation Torque and Serve Performance in College Tennis Players. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 26(4): 510-5
 Stevenson, M., Warpeha, J., Dietz, C., Giveans, R., Erdman, A. 2010. Acute effects of elastic bands during the free-weight barbell back squat exercise on velocity, power, and force production. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24(11): 2944-54
 Wallace, B., Winchester, J., McGuigan, M. 2006. Effects of elastic bands on force and power characteristics during the back squat exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 20(2):
 Prejean, S., Judge, L., Patrick, T., Bellar, D. 2012. Acute Effects of Combined Elastic and Free-weight Tension on Power in the Bench Press Lift. The Sport Journal 1: 1-1