Building muscle everywhere and without constraint: that's the promise of the SmartWorkout resistance bands set.
However, many fitness enthusiasts question the effectiveness of resistance bands, believing that it is impossible to build real muscle with this type of equipment.
In this article, we will first answer two important questions: is it possible to build muscle with latex elastic bands and what are the advantages of resistance bands compared to free weights.
Then, we'll look at the best resistance band exercises and why SmartWorkout is the perfect equipment for your home workouts.
Building muscle with resistance bands
The basics of bodybuilding
Before we talk about the effectiveness of elastic bands, let's review the basics of gaining muscle. In order to induce hypertrophy (or increase in muscle size), it is necessary to follow a training program that combines mechanical tension and metabolic stress.
Mechanical tension is what your muscle fibers receive when they lift a weight - the heavier it is, the more mechanical tension there is.
For example, if your maximum load on an exercise like the bench press is 100 KG for one repetition and you perform a set of 5 repetitions at 80 KG - the muscle will be subjected to strong resistance and will be forced to adapt, so we talk about mechanical tension.
Metabolic stress, on the other hand, is more likely to be caused by longer sets, with a minimum amount of time under tension and therefore additional repetitions. It's that burning sensation at the end of a set with a lot of reps.
To continue with the example of the bench press with a maximum load of 100 KG, you should rather do a set of 15 reps at 50-60 KG in order to optimize the metabolic stress on this exercise. To induce hypertrophy, there must be enough time under mechanical tension per muscle fiber, which is only possible with at least some metabolic stress.
Therefore, in order to increase muscle size, you need to train with resistance - sometimes very strong to promote mechanical tension with short sets - sometimes a little lighter for metabolic stress with long sets.
Thanks to their property, resistance bands can also apply a real load on the muscle and thus cause hypertrophy. This is what we will see in the next paragraph.
Is it possible to gain muscle with resistance bands according to the science?
YES, it is possible to gain muscle with resistance bands! That's according to a 2019 meta-analysis of 8 different studies. The results of the studies show that training with elastic bands promotes similar strength gains than training with free weights. It has been tested with different population profiles and using various protocols.
Source : Meta-analysis on muscle gains with resistance bands « Elastic resistance training is able to promote similar strength gains to conventional resistance training, in different population profiles and using diverse protocols.”
More specifically, studies seem to show that at equal tension - the muscle hardly makes a difference between free weight resistance and elastic resistance. This is precisely what one of the studies included in the meta-analysis show.
Scientists measured muscle activation by electromyography (EMG) of different exercises such as squat, deadlift, rowing and lateral pulldown with resistance bands and with free weight. It turns out that the muscle activation was almost identical on each of the exercises and on each of the muscle groups!
Example here with the activation of a lateral pulldown:
Muscle activation (EMG) on lateral pulldown with free weights (CRE) and elastic resistance (ERB)
However, when we read the study in detail, we notice that the muscle activation was similar except at the beginning of the movement when the elastic bands were not tense.
To optimize muscle gain, it is preferable that the muscle is under tension throughout the movement during the exercise : this increases the time under tension, an essential variable for muscle gain. So let's see how to really optimize your muscle gain with resistance bands.
Increasing muscle gain with resistance bands
To optimize muscle gain with resistance bands, make sure you feel the resistance throughout the movement during your exercises so that the muscle remains under tension.
As demonstrated in the previous paragraph, whether you are pushing 100kg with elastic resistance or with free weights, the muscle activation is similar. The real difference between free weights and elastic bands is the resistance: constant for free weights, progressive for elastics.
The advantage of progressive resistance is that it adapts perfectly to the strength curve of the movement. Example with Biceps Curl, you will feel less resistance at the beginning of the movement - where you have the least strength, and you will feel the most resistance at the end of the movement - where you have the most strength. This allows you to use a high resistance while preserving your joints.
The disadvantage of progressive resistance is, if the resistance is too low or the placement wrong, the muscle may not be under tension during the entire movement, unlike with free weights. If you only feel the resistance at the end of the movement, then your muscle will only be stimulated on that part and it will not be effective for muscle growth.
To solve this problem, you need to stretch the elastic tubes so that they are in tension from the beginning of the movement. For example, for the Biceps Curl, make sure you feel the resistance from the beginning: it is better to have a resistance of 40 kg at the beginning of the movement and reach 60 kg at the end of the movement, than to start from 0 kg and reach 60 KG at the end of the movement.
In order to feel the elastic resistance from the beginning of the exercise (and not only at the end), we have produced our resistance band so that they can give you ~70% of their resistance from the beginning of the movement. In addition, an explanation on how to perform each exercise is available on our YouTube channel to see how to place the band and feel the tension from the beginning of the movement.
Example in picture:
Beginning of the movement: The elastics are already stretched at the beginning of the movement. At this point, the resistance is 40 KG which allows the muscle to be already under tension.
End of the movement: The elastics are even stretcher than at the beginning, so the resistance has increased and is about 60 KG. Despite the fact that the resistance is variable, the muscle has been under tension throughout the movement in order to increase the time under tension and therefore the muscle growth.
In conclusion for this first part: Yes, it is possible to gain muscle with resistance bands as several studies have demonstrated on this topic. However, in order to optimize muscle gain and have a muscle activation similar to the one with free weights, it is important to feel the elastic resistance throughout the exercise and not only at the end, which requires good execution and good equipment.
7 advantages of resistance bands over free weights
Now that we've demonstrated that it's possible to build muscle with resistance bands, let's look at the different advantages of training with elastics over free weights.
1) Strengthening of the joints
Several studies demonstrate that working out with resistance bands improves mobility and strengthens the joints, thus reducing the risk of injuries by athletes.
This is the case of a study on university basketball players who trained for 5 weeks with elastic bands: at the end of the timeframe, all the players had strengthened their joints as well as their mobility, but they had also gained in speed of movement as well as in sprinting. Another study showed similar effects on rugby players, with also a better stability of the kneecap for the knees.
The benefits of resistance bands are primarily due to the progressive resistance, since it is less strong at the beginning of the movement, where your levers are generally not favorable.
On a bench press for example, it is at the beginning of the movement that your shoulders and pectorals are most at risk due to your levers, whereas you have much more strength at the end of the movement.
This strength curve adapts perfectly to the progressive resistance offered by the elastic tubes, thus strengthening your joints. In addition, the exercises with resistance bands are not guided, which works in depth the stabilizing muscles and brings you a better stability, thus strengthening the joints.
If you're under 30, this is probably not something you care about... And yet! Not putting regular, heavy stress on those joints is key to preserving them over the long term.
This doesn't mean you should only train with resistance bands, but including at least one workout with elastics per week can provide many benefits.
2) Workout anywhere
No need to go to the gym or having to miss your workouts when you're on vacation: the real advantage of resistance bands is that you can workout anywhere, at home or away.
The complete SmartWorkout kit weighs 3 KG and fits in a bag - and the bag only weighs 1.5 KG without the bar! With summer just around the corner, it's the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.
Smartworkout : A portable gym that fits in your bag !
3) Saving time ...
This goes hand in hand with the previous benefit - training anywhere, and therefore at home - will save you a lot of time.
For many of us, going to the gym also means getting ready, taking the car, waiting at the gym machines... which can sometimes take even longer than the workout itself.
By working out at home with your kit already set up, you eliminate all of these interferences and just focus on your workout. Your workout then only takes 45 - 60 minutes all in instead of 2 hours - making it a much easier habit to follow!
4) ... and also saving money
Less than 100€ for a portable gym that allows you to reproduce all the bodybuilding exercises, all guaranteed for 5 years - that's pretty competitive - and that's what we offer with our SmartWorkout Elite pack.
Maybe you're thinking of doing your own gym from home, but to get the same versatility as with our set, you'll need a bench, a pulley, dumbbells and a barbell... which will cost you at least 1000€ (low range!)
Resistance bands allow you to perform any exercise and target your muscles from any angle because they are not subject to gravity, unlike free weights.
The first example is the bench press: with free weights, you have to be lying down with the bar above you to perform this push-up movement. With resistance bands, you can perform bench press reps standing or lying down, since you don't need gravity.
Better yet, with the elastic bands and a door anchor, you can replicate a real pulley from home. For any exercise where the tension is from top to bottom, such as the triceps extension or face pull, you can attach the latex elastic tube to the top of your door or other high anchor points.
You don't need a bench or pulley to target the muscles at the angles, just your resistance bands set.
6) Better execution
The execution is almost perfect with fitness elastics - it's almost impossible to cheat on the execution of your exercises! For example, you can't take a swing before a repetition with resistance bands, this simply doesn't apply to them.
Furthermore, exercises are never guided with elastics - you must constantly be sheathed and keep your back in good posture, and therefore perform a good movement.
When you start using heavy loads, you will be increasingly tempted to cheat to keep progressing, which will then be limited by the use of the resistance bands, and therefore more conducive to muscle growth of the muscle you are trying to target in the exercise.
7) Strengthen your core
As seen in the previous benefit, exercises with elastic bands are not guided like they might be with machines - nor can you take advantage of gravity with elastic resistance.
The movements are therefore much more unstable and require deep muscle recruitment, working more of the joint stabilizing muscles as well as the deep core muscles.
The elastics therefore offer a much more functional workout that allows you to ;
- Strengthen your core and your abdominal muscles
- Have a better stability
- Greatly improve your posture
- Adapt a large movement
The best exercises with resistance bands by muscle group
We've seen together how to build muscle with resistance bands and what the advantages are over free weights.
Now let's take a look at the exercises by muscle group that are best suited to elastic bands and that will allow you to follow complete strength training sessions.
Deadlift with resistance bands
The deadlift is the king of exercises for the entire posterior chain: it targets the back (lumbar spine and lumbar spine), but also the ischios and glutes. Whether you want to gain strength or build muscle, this exercise is very effective.
In addition, it is perfectly adapted to the elastic bands because it limits the injuries which are unfortunately frequent on this exercise. Indeed, the deadlift is an exercise where you can load very heavy and where the knees are subjected to enormous stress at the beginning of the movement - but with the variable resistance of the rubber bands, the tension of your resistance band will be less strong at the beginning of the movement (less chance of being injured) whereas the resistance will be maximum at the end of the movement, when you will be upright and your levers will be optimal to force well.
Last point: take adequate rest time at the end of each set for this exercise, as it requires a lot of energy!
Set up: Double the elastic band by wrapping it around the resistance bar to make a loop. Then, put a foot in each loop. This will shorten the band and increase the resistance from the beginning of the movement.
Good starting position: With your torso bent and your back straight, bend your knees and reach for the bar in a pronated grip. The bar is close to the shins and the shoulders are just above the bar.
Movement: Simultaneously bend your hips and knees as you stand up. The bar stays close to the body on the way up. Make sure you have good movement and keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
The SmartWorkout advantage: Our bar for resistance bands supports up to 200 KG, which allows you to use a heavy load on this exercise. Moreover, our elastic bands have the perfect length to form two loops, so shorten them to feel the resistance right from the start of the exercise.
High Pulley Crunch with Elastic Bands
Most exercises for abs can be reproduced with resistance bands, such as the bicycle or the mountain climber.
However, the high pulley crunch is one of the only exercises where you can really load a high resistance in order to bring muscle volume to your abdominal muscles and make them stand out. This exercise primarily muscles the rectus abdominis.
Set up: Hang the door anchor on the top of your door and slide the bands attached to the handles over it. Then kneel with your back to the door.
Starting position: Kneel with your back to the door, holding the handles behind your head.
Movement: Lean your torso forward while contracting your abdominal muscles.
Chest press with resistance bands
The chest press (or bench press) is the ultimate strength exercise for developing your pecs, triceps and shoulders. Like many exercises, your joint levers are more favorable at the end of the movement, which makes resistance bands perfectly suited to the strength curve of this exercise.
Set up: Place the resistance bands behind your back. Then, wrap the resistance bands around the bar and reach under the wrapped bands with your left hand and then your right hand. This will allow you to feel the resistance as you begin the workout.
Starting position: The resistance bar is held at your pecs and your palms are facing the floor. The distance between your hands is slightly wider than your shoulder width.
Movement: Push in front of you to perform a bench press movement.
Overhead Press with resistance bands
The overhead press is a poly-articular exercise that muscles the entire shoulder girdle, with priority given to the front of the shoulder. It also targets the arms and more particularly the triceps in a second stage.
Set up: Lock the elastic bands with one foot in front and the other behind. Then, make a lunge to take the bar and bring it up to the level of the chest.
Starting position: The bar is at the level of your collarbones and your hands are just wider than shoulder width apart. Place your elbows just below the bar and keep your wrists in line with your forearms..
Movement: Raise the bar as vertically as possible, as if it were to follow a straight line. Keep your back straight and tense during the exercise by contracting your abdominal muscles.
The hip thrust is the best for butt! It is the only isolation exercise where you use a heavy load and target the glutes. It is an exercise with a strong contraction tension (it is very strong at the end of the movement) which complements perfectly the squat (next exercise) which is an exercise with a strong stretching tension.
Setting up : You need a support (bench, sofa). Stand with your back to your support, which is ideally at shoulder blade level. The bar is in front of you.
Starting position: Block the bands with your feet well apart in order to shorten the elastics. Bring the bar back to your hips.
Movement: Contract your abdominal muscles and push hard on your heels to raise your pelvis. In the upper position, the body is straight and forms a plank. The shins form a right angle with the thighs. Contract the glutes at the top and then lower the hips in a controlled manner.
The squat is one of the great strength exercises along with the bench press and deadlift. It is the best exercise for developing the entire lower body: primarily the glutes and quadriceps, but also the ischios, calves and also the lumbar region in a second phase.
If you had to keep only one exercise to work the leg muscles, it would be the squat!
Be careful though, this exercise requires a lot of energy and a longer rest period than the other exercises.
Set up: Start the exercise with your feet together on the bands, and squat down to put the bar over your shoulders. Then stand up and spread your feet.
Starting position: Stand with your right leg and left leg almost straight, looking straight ahead with your back straight. The bar is placed on the back of your shoulders (or in front for the front squat) and is held with your arms.
Movement: Perform simultaneous bending movements with your right and left leg, as if you were to sit down. The back is straight, the shoulders are pulled back and the knees are stable.
Look straight ahead, inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up, contracting the glutes. Descend as low as your mobility allows (ideally at least until you are at right angles to the ground)
This is a simple exercise to perform with resistance bands. It allows you to target all of the triceps fascicles (external, internal and long portion) depending on the grip you adopt (neutral, pronation or supination).
Set up: Put the anchor at the top of your door to replicate a pulley, then pass the rubber bands through the loop. Ideally, the level of the anchor should be at least above your head.
Starting position: Stand in front of the elastic bands and grasp them in a neutral grip. You can also attach your barbell to it to adopt a pronated or supinated grip to further target the long portion of the triceps. Stand with your chest slightly bent. The elbows are immobile and stuck to the chest.
Movement: Extend your forearms while keeping your elbows close to your chest. At the end of the movement, the rubber bands must be at 45° compared to the ground: you must bring the rubber bands towards the back and not towards the ground.
On average, you should be 1 meter away from the pulley. The back remains straight and the shoulders pulled back during the exercise. The muscle contraction phase is at its maximum at the end of the movement.
This is a very complete exercise for the biceps that targets the long and the short portion (biceps brachii) and also allows to use a relatively heavy load, making it the king exercise to take a maximum of muscular volume to the biceps. You can combine it with hammer curls to also target the radial brachii (forearm muscle).
Set up: Grab your resistance bar and let the resistance bands hang in a semicircle on the floor. Then, lock the elastics with your feet.
Starting position: Adopt a supine grip with your shoulders apart. Your back is straight and your elbows are close to your chest.
Movement: Bend your forearms toward your shoulder, keeping your elbows level with your chest. Contract your abdominal strap to be stable and do not swing the body. Keep your back straight. To work the entire biceps, the hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
Full Body Workout with Resistance Bands
Now that we know the main exercises to perform with the resistance bands in each muscle group, let's see a full-body workout (targets all muscle groups) with the elastic bands.
Front Squat with resistance bands
Number of sets : 5
Number of repetitions : 15,12,10,10,8
Rest time : 120 seconds
Chest Press with resistance bands
Number of sets : 4
Number of repetitions : 12,12,10,8
Rest time : 90 seconds
Rowing with resistance bands
Number of sets : 4
Number of repetitions : 10,10,8,6
Rest time : 90 seconds
Overhead Press with resistance bands
Number of sets : 3
Number of repetitions : 10,8,6
Rest time : 75 seconds
Biceps Curl with resistance bands
Number of sets : 3
Number of repetitions : 12,10,8
Rest time : 60 seconds
Triceps Kickback with resistance bands
Number of sets : 3
Number of repetitions : 12,10,8
Rest time : 60 seconds
You can do this workout 2-3 times a week, making sure to have at least one day of rest between each session. This format is particularly suitable for beginners as it gives an accelerated learning of the right exercises with resistance bands. In addition, the practice of polyarticular exercises (present in large numbers in a full-body workout) increases your level of anabolic hormones (hormones that promote the growth of muscle volume).
Now that you know how to optimize muscle gain with resistance bands, the benefits of elastics and the best exercises for each muscle group, let's take a look at how we designed our pack to (really) build muscle with resistance bands.
SmartWorkout: The best resistance bands set to build muscle
Up to 160 KG of resistance
As we saw in Part 1, building muscle requires a high level of tension on the muscle (mechanical tension) and for that you need equipment that allows you to work with high resistance.
Our basic set contains 120 KG of resistance - and we offer two extensions to increase the resistance all the way up to 160 KG. 160 KG of resistance is more than enough for all beginners and intermediate exercisers who want to achieve a muscular and athletic physique.
It's easy to offer 160 KG of resistance in one set, but the equipment must not break during your exercises. That's our promise at SmartWorkout: offering intense and safe workouts. To do this, we have developed 3 innovative processes:
1) Steel and screw-in carabiners
Unlike traditional resistance bands set that have a small carabiner at the end of each band, each SmartWorkout elastic band has a D-ring, which is connected to a large steel carabiner (like you would find in rock climbing) with a screw lock, so that it does not open during your workout.
2) A resistance bar that can support up to 200 KG
The bar is part of SmartWorkout's DNA: we were the first to launch a bar for resistance bands in Europe. Since then, it has been found in many competitors' products. But don't get us wrong: most of the resistance bars you find in the market are fragile and will break as soon as a high resistance is applied to them.
Our bar is made of steel with a reinforced screwing system to reinforce up to 200 KG of resistance. We recommend loading the bar up to 160 KG in order to keep a safety margin.
3) Elastic bands (really) made of natural latex that can stretch up to 7 times their size
Our elastic bands are made of 100% natural latex: this means that they are made of latex only and have not been mixed with any other material like plastic.
They are much thicker and more elastic than traditional tubing: they can stretch up to 7 times their size during your workout, which leaves a huge margin before they can be cut. That's why we recommend stretching them to only 4 times their original size.
4) Reinforced accessories
Handles, ankle straps and door anchor: we used the best materials for these accessories that will allow you to perform a multitude of exercises in complete safety. All guaranteed for 5 years.
Tension from the beginning of the movement to optimize muscle gain
We wanted to create latex bands that would (almost) give you the feeling of working out with free weights. As previously mentioned, if you want to optimize muscle gain with resistance bands, you need to feel the resistance from the beginning of the movement and not just towards the end.
That's why our elastics offer a large portion of their resistance at the beginning of their stretch - about 60% when stretched 2 times their size and 80% when stretched 3 times their size.
For the biceps curl exercise with 3 black bands, you will start your repetition with a resistance of around 30-40 KG and finish with a resistance of 50-60 KG - instead of going from 0 to 60 KG. This process will help you optimize muscle growth since the muscle is under tension (albeit variable) throughout the movement.
SmartWorkout elastics offer a large portion of their resistance at the beginning of their stretch, optimizing muscle activation throughout the entire exercise.
Complete Resistance Bands Workout Plans
Even with the best equipment, you'll have trouble building muscle without a complete workout program.
That's why we have 3 programs available, each with a different purpose:
- SmartGains : Designed specifically to build muscle
- Strong & Beautiful : Program to lose weight and tone yourself
- SmartExpress : Express workout in 20 minutes/day
Each resistance bands program has been :
- Designed specifically for the SmartWorkout equipment
- Tested and monitored by our team members
- Adapted to resistance bands by selecting only the most effective exercises.
Each weight training session is well detailed with the number of sets, reps, recovery time and rest days.
All the exercises in the program are of course available on video on our YouTube channel. This will allow you to do the exercise well and with a good execution and to progress faster.
Finally, the real advantage is that this content is frequently updated for our members: at the beginning, there was only one program and 10 exercise videos... Today, we have 3 programs and more than 35 exercise videos, and it is far from over!
Bonus: Access to a real community
Working out alone at home is certainly very efficient, especially in terms of saving time, but it can be depressing, as human beings are social animals who need to share!
SmartWorkout has created a Facebook community (with more than 3000 members today) where everyone can introduce themselves, share their exercises, give their goals, ask questions... Some have even met in real life to train together!
While we can't replace the friendliness of some gyms, you'll never really be alone during your workouts!
Resistance Bands Workout : Conclusion
The article is coming to an end and we have seen together how to optimize muscle gain with resistance bands, what are the benefits and the best exercises with elastics, and why SmartWorkout has created the ideal kit to (really) build muscle with resistance bands.
If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org