Resistance bands have always been part of physiotherapy and recovery. One of the reasons for resistance bands’ popularity is their ability to isolate muscles and provide resistance through the whole arc of the movement, rather than relying on gravity. Although resistance bands are most well-known for rehabilitation, they are also useful to progressively load, stress and strain a specific group of muscles during exercise. These elastic bands provide a low-impact workout that can be adapted to target specific muscle groups. Using the right movement principles, and with some expert guidance, resistance bands can even mimic weightlifting exercises.
Resistance bands are stretchable bands made of elastic material in a rainbow of colors. They are used for exercises where you need to control the level of resistance and load. Have you ever wondered why they come in different colors? The resistance bands used by health professionals are standardized, so each color has a specific weight to tension ratio. This allows us to control the effort and load during each phase of rehabilitation. It also means that a red resistance band has exactly the same resistance as another red band from the same system. Resistance ranges from very light to heavy, making the bands extremely useful for exercise progression.
As experts in pain control and rehabilitation, physiotherapists have various tools to tailor exercises to your current abilities and phase of healing. While elastic resistance can’t, and shouldn’t, replace weight training, there are benefits that you won’t get from other forms of resistance. Let’s use a seated biceps curl to illustrate the difference between weights and resistance bands.
An unweighted biceps curl is simply moving your arm from a straight to a bent position. If you add a dumbbell, the bending becomes more effort due to the added weight. This effort stays more or less the same throughout the movement. Your Biceps is fighting gravity to overcome the force and bend your elbow. Straightening your elbow is easier though because gravity helps to lower the weight. In other words, resistance from weights depends on levers and gravity.
When you do a biceps curl with elastic resistance, the movement creates tension in the band. The tension, not gravity, is what provides resistance. This tension increases exponentially as you keep on pulling the band, so the exercise actually becomes more difficult throughout the movement. As soon as you start lowering your arm, this same tension becomes recoil, pulling you down. Now, instead of gravity making the movement easier, you have to use your biceps to control the sudden recoil. The elastic properties of the band allow for continuous load and a much smoother force transition.
Isometric contraction is when a muscle contracts but no movement takes place. After knee surgery you’d be very cautious when moving your thigh and knee, so we use resistance bands over your ankle to allow you to tighten the muscles, without moving the injured site. This allows us to keep the muscles strong and prevent joint stiffness.