I am often asked if resistance band training is as effective as weight training. The simple answer is YES…and NO! Whether you are doing resistance band or free weight/machine workouts the importance is how they are being performed, the training methods used and the amount of focus put into them to determined their effectiveness.
All too often people with MS or for that matter anyone, do not follow a proper training program with the right intensity to reach the goals they set. This leads to some major disappointments in a person’s fitness journey and typically also leads to quitting altogether.
In my 40 plus years as a trainer, educator, gym owner, author and 14 years with MS, I have found that resistance band training can be extremely effective for those of us with MS and the general fitness population for many reasons. I’ve listed some of these reasons why, if followed correctly, a resistance band training program can be the answer to your progress and results in fitness.
1. VARIATIONS OF EXERCISES
With free weights, your body positions are limited and in a vertical plane of motion to use the force of gravity to complete the movement. When using resistance bands, you can perform exercises in both the vertical and horizontal positions. As an example, you can do a chest flye or back row in a standing position rather than having to use a bench.
You can also perform sideways movements to strengthen body parts which are great to help with a tennis swing but more importantly for MS it helps strengthen muscles for daily tasks like opening a car door or grabbing a can off a shelf.
2. CHANCE OF INJURY IS DRASTICALLY REDUCED
Resistance band training provides similar and sometimes even greater muscle activity as weight training. A tremendous benefit is that is involves a lower amount of stress on the joints and areas of pain in our bodies, which means that more muscle stimulation can be provided with less chance of injury. MS is notorious for causing all sorts of pains that we sometimes don’t even understand. Resistance bands can help avoid added discomfort and may allow you to continue working out and performing exercises that you can’t with dumbbells or barbells.
3. MORE MUSCLE STIMULATION
One major difference between free weights and resistance bands is the variable resistance applied through the full range of motion of an exercise. With free weights, there are actually parts of the movement when the muscles aren’t performing much work due to lack of gravity, such as at the top of a bench press. When using resistance bands there is greater resistance at its contraction in the range of motion and therefore the muscle being worked is receiving more adequate resistance to better stimulate strength and muscle activity.
4. GREAT FOR REHABILITATION
Resistance bands can provide many levels of resistance from very light to heavy which can be used in targeted ways for specific muscles experiencing MS symptoms or limitations that also protects joints. Resistance bands have been successful in improving strength, size, and function of muscles in MSers, elderly, and those undergoing rehabilitation.
5. CORE ENGAGEMENT
Resistance bands must be used in a controlled manner throughout every exercise to prevent them from snapping back. The constant tension from bands adds an element of required stabilization from your body, activating your core, to maintain form during many exercises. This helps with coordination, balance and abdominal strength through the muscle’s full range of motion. It is very difficult to swing or cheat with a resistance band and using momentum is almost impossible. This strict form of exercise causes core engagement with almost all movements.
6. STRETCHING & MOBILITY
You can use resistance bands to assist with stretching to extend your reach and provide pressure, such as with lying hamstring stretches. They are also excellent for mobility work such as improving drop foot for walking and hip mobility for getting in and out of a chair.
7. USED ANYWHERE
We all experienced the limits of being locked down and unable to go to a gym during the Covid 19 pandemic. Resistance bands allow you to get a workout anywhere, anytime and without having to use multiple pieces of equipment. It can also be hard to fit in workouts or even find a gym when you travel. Resistance bands are easily fit in your luggage and can be taken anywhere you go to allow you to work out whether in a hotel room or outdoors without needing heavy equipment.
RESISTANCE BANDS CAN BE USED BY ANYONE
After reading the benefits of resistance bands, it’s obvious that anyone can use them to reach their fitness goals. But for people with MS, they are tremendously beneficial for strength, muscle gains, mobility, balance, stretching and rehabilitation. So whether your fitness journey is about overcoming MS limitations or if you’re looking to gain muscle size and strength, you can use resistance bands in place of dumbbells, barbells and machines to provide a new and challenging stimulus to your muscles. Resistance bands can increase intensity and neuromuscular performance for those who want a great workout without going to a gym.
For MSers standard weights at the gym can be challenging and harsh on your body. Resistance bands help to maintain strength and muscle mass without overdoing it. Training programs using resistance bands are a practical, effective means of increasing strength in the MS population and are one of the safest methods to possibly increase bone strength and help prevent osteoporosis. According to Strength and Power Training by Harvard Medical School, numerous studies have shown that resistance training, as done with bands, can play a role in slowing bone loss, and several show it can even build bone. This is tremendously useful to help offset age-related declines in bone mass. Another positive for all of us older MSers!