Bombproof your body this spring.
Repeat this with us: Strength training does not always mean weight training. Resistance bands, those stretchy multi-colored tubes, can activate more muscle fibers to better condition the body than dumbbells and barbells alone. What’s more, they’re portable and affordable, and if you’re a diehard gym rat, the variety may put a little spice back in your routine.
“Though it’s difficult to load the body heavy enough (with resistance bands) to make true strength changes, they give you the ability to consistently work on conditioning and technique, key cornerstones on which to build strength later,” says Ian Pyper, head of physical preparation for British Triathlon.
Often, resistance band training can be added as a twist to an already useful exercise—like planks or squats—forcing additional muscles to work in a stabilizing manner. Because bands don’t rely on gravity like weights, they provide a constant resistance, forcing muscles to work differently. In fact, one study in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology found the added challenge can result in an increase in “muscle conditioning,” a response which activated more of the working muscle by using a greater number of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Try these four band exercises from Ian Pyper and Jay Dicharry, a biomechanics expert and director of the REP Lab in Bend, Oregon:
Both exercises target scapular (shoulder blade) stability, a key issue for postural control when swimming, while the first also encourages torso rotation.
1. Thread The Needle Plank: Attach a stretch band (see sidebar) a few inches off the floor. Drop down into a plank position with the feet spread wide. Use your right arm to support your upper body, and reach your left hand underneath your body to grab the band from the right. Now ‘un-twist’ your spine, suck the shoulder blade back along your ribs, roll your left side upward, and extend the left shoulder out until straight above you; re-coil back towards the band. Perform 20 reps, and then switch sides. 2-3 sets.
2. Face Pulls: Attach a two-handled stretch band to a stable object at about chest level. Come down into an almost squat position. With a rowing motion, pull the handles back to your face always keeping elbows above your wrists—and pinch your shoulder blades. Perform 15-20 reps, 2-3 sets.
The majority of cyclists need glute strength training, specifically the external (think knee out) rotation function of the glute addressed by this exercise.
Banded Hip Twist: Anchor a stretch band in front of you at waist height. Hold the band in your left hand, and wrap it behind your back so it exits the front of your right waist. Stand on one leg, and rotate in the direction of the band—while your planted foot remains stationary—creating slack, then rotate back, tightening it. Do 45 reps each side. Repeat.
Dynamic foot control in most runners is lacking, so this exercise literally forces the big toe to stabilize and support the arch.
Single-Leg Band Rotations: Stand on one foot, stretch band at chest height. Rotate your trunk—arms straight out in front—from the centerline in the direction of your planted foot for about 20 degrees, then back. Do 40 reps on each foot. Repeat.
Best Band Buys
TheraBand: Used by most physical therapists and available in seven color-coded resistance levels; $16-$25, Theraband.com
Bodylastics: Known for their patented anti-snap design, available in seven resistance levels; $13-$20, Bodylastics.com
Black Mountain Products: Featuring a lifetime warranty, available in eight resistance levels; $16-30, Blackmountainproducts.com