From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
Dick Winett Finds Resistance Bands Useful
I’ve never put much stock in resistance bands. But when our friend Dr. Richard Winett wrote about them favorably in his evidence-based MASTER TRAINER newsletter, I took notice. An acclaimed health behavior psychologist at Virginia Tech with a research focus on resistance training and interval training—with a lifetime of hard-core weight training under his belt—Winett knows his stuff. When he talks, people listen.
The following article is taken from the October, 2016, MASTER TRAINER. We believe you’ll find it interesting and instructive as we did. I’ll have more to say following Dick’s report on his experience with resistance bands.
Dr. Richard Winett
On most of our extended trips, I have put 5 Thera-Bands of varying resistance in one of my bags. I figured that if the gyms or health clubs I looked up before we left were not very good, I could use the bands to supplement whatever equipment they had. On a trip to Sicily in 2013 I brought my bands and had the intention of using them for a whole body workout, but the gyms I had checked out were quite good and close to the places we stayed. So, I never used the bands.
Our recent long trip to Scandinavia was different in that we were doing more traveling from place to place and had a schedule to follow. We stayed in some very good hotels, two with very good gyms, but not much elsewhere with convenient hours. I did though have my bands.
Here is what I did generally within hotel stairwells and once in an 18th century library attached to the hotel we were staying at in Flam, Norway. I used the bands to perform a version of all the exercises I perform in my lower-body, upper-body regular resistance training routine within one whole body session. My only other ‘equipment’ besides the bands were a chair and either a doorway or coat rack. With a few quick adjustments, I came up with good positions to perform each exercise and with enough resistance, most often with multiple bands. I performed 10-20 repetitions on each exercise and going to the point where I could not perform another repetition in good form using a 3 seconds concentric, 3 seconds eccentric format for each repetition. With no equipment to adjust, I took only about a 30 seconds break between sets and performed 30 sets in about 50 minutes in each of four bands-only workouts.
Of course, until recently, I would have considered training with bands at best minimally providing a stimulus and not very effective. But, having become far less focused on how much resistance I am using in every exercise, and using much more of an effort-based approach that follows recent evidence (see prior issue), my mindset is it is effort that counts and not the specific equipment. For example, do our biceps ‘know’ we are using a $5,000 curling machine or a $5 band? Would your biceps know it is a $5 band that is resulting in all this effort but because the exercise vehicle is so inexpensive, not respond to it? Likely not so.
When we returned from our trip, I did a search for research studies and books about resistance training with bands. To my surprise, while the evidence base is a fraction of the evidence base for free weights and machines, evidence does exist for the efficacy of bands for increasing strength and muscle mass, improving some functional abilities, and improving indicators of cardiometabolic health.
Besides the minimal cost and portability, the bands themselves have specific qualities that can enhance training. The resistance is variable because as you stretch the band in any exercise, the resistance increases. You can adjust the range of motion and your position to completely fit you plus unlike free weights, you can perform movements where there is resistance in a horizontal plane. And, even if you are training in an effort-based approach, if you still like numbers and progressions, the color coded bands have been tested for resistance so you can systematically progress and track your progress.
But, what is very interesting, even with the ability to record resistance, if I was still in the weightlifting mindset, resistance bands would have little appeal. I would think that they couldn’t be effective and, of course, were not at all ‘hard-core’. It also is interesting that I have hardly, if ever, seen bands mentioned within the context of high intensity training. Such training either revolves around specific, expensive machines with debates about which are the best ones, or such training must follow the basic free weight movements. But, isn’t such training about delivering a high intensity stimulus and not a particular modality?
What is fascinating about this point is that a recent study I found that performing muscle contractions with no load, but also reaching a high level of effort and fatigue, resulted in muscle hypertrophy similar to a usual load of 70% of 1 RM. There is neuromuscular specificity of training so that if your goal is to lift heavy weights or objects, some of your training needs to include heavy lifting, the same as, or similar to, the heavy movement. But, few of us have that goal. Instead, we want to maintain a reasonable and functional degree of strength and decent body composition. Hence, for these goals, bands can be effective.
It also is interesting that simply performing no load hard contractions has some positive effects. This takes me back to my earliest gym days as a teenager. Some of the top bodybuilders did a lot of posing during or after their training. They swore posing had muscle enhancing effects and the recent research suggests they were correct (1).
Note 1: I simply used bands in my workouts. I had no handles or other attachments that also are low-cost and portable. I just gripped the bands and so that also provided some good work for my hands and forearms. Brief higher intensity interval training or sprint interval training also can be quite portable even if we are not runners. I used stair climbing in hotels either for a moderately hard 4 to 5 minute work segment or for 20-30 second harder repeats. A recent study found that rapid stair climbing within the 20 second, three repeats Sprint Interval protocol provides can increase heart rate comparable to using a stationary bike for the same protocol (2).
I am now contemplating how to fit bands into my training such as performing one whole body band workout once per week.
Note 2: The use of bands has become of more interest to me than a recent goal. That goal was to perform without any grips, 10 repetitions in the stiff leg deadlift, using a repetition duration of 3 seconds positive and 3 seconds negative, with half the weight I was using about 8 years ago – but then with grips and a much shorter repetition duration. Any kind of deadlifting was stopped 8 years ago because I developed soreness in my shoulders and great deal of soreness in my elbows from deadlifting.
I conservatively started toward my present goal with very light resistance, well aware of my prior problems from deadlifting, and over the course of a few months, I reached the goal in a number of workouts. Having reached the goal, and again seeing as expected, how well this exercise affects so many muscle groups, I was not sure what the next steps should be. Should I just slowly increase the resistance and stick with the same repetition number or format? Or, should I develop a goal on either end, i.e., 20 repetitions or 5 repetitions? While I was contemplating the next step, something very distressing became noticeable. I began to feel the next day after performing the stiff leg deadlift soreness in my elbows and shoulders despite the relatively modest resistance. I know 8 to 10 years ago I would have continued despite the signs of a developing problem. In fact, as noted, developing a lot of soreness in my elbows and shoulders was the reason I eventually stopped deadlifting 8 years ago. And, at that point 8 years ago, the pain particularly in my elbows, plus obvious inflammation, was developing into a serious problem.
Maybe being older, I am now a bit wiser. I had reached my goal relatively unscathed and I could see that continuing would lead back to the very reasons I stopped deadlifting. Having this new interest in bands – and reaching the deadlift goal – made it easy to simply stop and move on.
Deadlifting and assorted strength goals primarily represent the past. Seeking safe and different ways to apply a high intensity stimulus in the service of seemingly more appropriate goals represent the future.
1. Counts BR, Buckner SL, Dankel SJ, Jessee MB, Mattocks KT, Mouser JG, Laurentino GC, Loenneke JP. The acute and chronic effects of “No Load” resistance training. Physiology and Behavior. 2016; 164: 345-352.
2. Allison MK, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Gurd B, Gibala MJ. Brief, intense intermittent stair climbing is a practical, time-efficient method to improve cardiorespiratory fitness: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2016; 48: (Suppl). 609.
I like the idea of using resistance bands on an extended vacation or business trip. It makes perfect sense when the equipment you are accustomed to is not available for long periods. On short vacations or trips, Carol and I usually walk and climb stairs and don’t worry about missing a few workouts. I often find myself refreshed and stronger after missing a few workouts. It’s a different story, though, when you’re going to be away for longer periods, especially when you are constantly being tempted to overeat. Doing a full body workout with resistance bands would allow you to enjoy your time away without deconditioning. The change would probably enliven your trip and allow you to get back into training without missing a beat.
As Dick observed, the downside is that resistance bands make it harder to compare workouts and measure progress. That’s why isometric contraction never caught on. It’s easy to kid yourself about your level of effort; you can’t tell if you’re getting stronger or weaker. There is little satisfaction in pushing or pull against an immoveable object. Without positive feedback you soon lose interest and stop training or move on to something else.
Dick’s bands are made by Thera-Band; they’re wide and have no handles. A set of all 8 resistance levels costs about $170. After some experimentation, he has been able to duplicate every exercise in his usual workout, with deadlifts, squats, and rows requiring two or three bands. Since the bands have no handles, he holds one end with his hands and stands on the other. He loops the bands under a chair or over a doorway for upper body exercises.
Thera-Band has a free manual showing how to do standard exercises. For more information go to Thera-Band.com
Carol and I have purchased a set of the bands. I’m eager to try them on the hip-belt squat movement, which allows me to squat without compressing my lower spine. I gave up on doing this with a barbell suspended from my hip belt. Too unwieldy, it hurts my knees and breaks the rhythm of the workout.
I’m hoping I can do this movement with the bands under my feet and through the loop on the hip belt. If it works, it will be a boon to my training. I tried it with a band Carol had and it worked fine with the bands around my hips. The problem will be getting a heavier band or bands around my hips. Hopefully, I can reach down and attach the bands to my hip belt. I’ll try it with weaker bands until I figure out what works best.
I’m already using the bands to build strength in the Ski Erg range of motion (where I'm lagging). The bands can be positioned in ways that are difficult or impossible with weights. I've only included the bands in one workout, but had a very positive experience. After a little experimenting, I did 20 controlled reps with the purple "Extra Heavy" bands doubled over and was very pleased with the feel and range of motion. The photo below shows me in the bottom position of the the "Ski Erg pull."
I need all the help I can get on the Ski Erg one minute sprint where I'm almost back to the distance posted before hurting my shoulder. I'm competing against myself in the Concept 2 World Ranking, because I'm the only male posting a one minute distance in the 70 to 79 age category. My closest competitor is a 77-year-old woman from Colorado who has posted times for every distance from 100 meters to 5000 meters. She outweighs me by a considerable amount; I don't know how much because there are no weight categories in Ski Erg competition. I do know that she competes as a heavyweight on the rower, where I'm a little ahead of her at one minute. I'm about 10 meters back on the Ski Erg, which is a lot to make up in one minute.
It's a bit embarrassing to admit that a woman my age is beating me, but I have a history of motivating myself by competing against very fit women. Years ago, I ran my first sub-6 minute mile by competing against a young women in a "Fun Run" group. She didn't know I was competing against her, but it gave me just the push I needed. Those who have read my book Lean For Life will also remember that a young woman rower about my size inspired me to do my lifetime best time for 2500 meters.
I welcome inspiration wherever I can find it--and encourage others to do the same.
In any event, it will be fun experimenting with the bands as Dick has done. Trying something new adds interest to training. Change--and inspiration--are energizing mentally and physically.
Our thanks to Dick Winett for allowing us to share his discovery with our visitors.
November 1, 2016
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