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Tone Every Inch: Resistance Band Workouts

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The following is an excerpt from the exercise plan featured in the book Tone Every Inch: The Fastest Way to Sculpt Your Belly, Butt and Thighs.

By Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

 

Bands are a home exerciser's best friend. They're small and inexpensive, and they allow you to do everything you could do with a big weight machine at the gym for a fraction of the price (or shelling out for monthly gym fees) and without dedicating a room in your house to working out. And above all, they work — arguably more so than those pricey space hogs because bands offer more "functional" training that mimics real-life movements. Here's your chance to get the hang of working out with bands as you start to tone and tighten those metabolism-maximizing muscles.

 

Welcome to Band Camp

When Prevention magazine compared the effects of a resistance band workout similar to this one with workouts based on other equipment like stability balls and weights, the bands blew away the competition, helping testers to lose as many as 14 pounds (18 percent more than the runner-up routine) and trimming up to 9 inches from their waistlines (a boost of nearly one-third compared to other workouts) in 12 weeks. Not bad for something you can stick in your purse!

While I'd love to believe that there’s some magic ingredient in resistance bands that makes them so superior, it may be as simple as the fact that they're easier to have on hand so there are no excuses, just results. They're as simple to use in your living room, bedroom or even hotel room as they are at the gym, translating to fewer skipped workouts. And fewer missed sessions mean more pounds and inches — poof! — gone.

But don't get me wrong — bands do have a few standout features that help them to do their sculpting job so effectively. They offer a smoother and more consistent challenge for your muscles than dumbbells do, because when you lift something weighted like a dumbbell, it feels heaviest only during a small part of the exercise, explains Gary Sforzo, PhD, exercise physiologist and Ithaca College professor of exercise science. And you can make subtle adjustments even as you do the exercise to make it more or less challenging, for example, by choking up on the band to shorten the length that you're stretching, or by releasing some of the band to lessen the resistance. And because bands aren't gravity dependent like dumbbells, they open up all new movement options — whereas dumbbells only provide resistance up and down, bands allow you to work muscles in all different directions.

 

Setting the Stage

Whether you're doing the workout at a gym or in your living room, there are just three things you need to do to get it started. Here's a quick-start guide:

  • Choose your band. The one piece of equipment you will need for this workout is a 5- to 6-foot resistance band, depending on your height. I'm 5-foot-8, and I prefer a 6-foot band, especially for the moves that involve stretching the band all the way overhead. If you're shorter, a 5 foot band might be more comfortable and leave you with less excess to work with.
  • Find a space. You'll need enough room to spread your arms or legs wide in any direction without bumping into something. For the floor moves, you'll want to roll out an exercise mat (unless you have a carpeted floor you don’t mind lying on for a couple of the moves).
  • Select your anchor. For some moves, you'll need to tie or loop the band around a sturdy object that won’t move or slide when you pull the band.

 

Helpful Hints: Resistance Bands 101

Bands are easy to use once you get into the swing of things, but a few helpful hints can make the difference between results that are ho-hum or huzzah!

  • Go slow. Although the band’s stretchiness may tempt you to fly through the reps, you'll only be shortchanging your results. That's because when you speed, momentum takes over and your muscles don't do as much work. Breathe deeply, pairing a slow inhale or an exhale with each movement.
  • Resist the pull. Of course you have to resist the band when you're lengthening it, but the real key to band workouts is resisting on the way down too, rather than letting the band yank you back to the start.
  • Keep 'em clean. I prefer flat bands to resistance tubing (the ones with handles) because they're easier to use at different lengths for different exercises. But unfortunately, flat bands, while less expensive than the tube variety, are more prone to breakage. To lengthen the life of your bands, shake them off after each workout to prevent ground-in dirt from wearing out the rubber.

 

Helpful Hints: The Incredible Adaptable Band

One of my favorite features of bands is their ability to meet you where you are strength-wise. Unlike dumbbells, which jump in standard increments that can sometimes leave you between two weights, bands can truly be adjusted almost infinitely. Here's how:

  • Choke up/down. The most basic of adjustments, this can be done on the fly even mid-exercise. The closer you hold the band to its anchor, the harder you'll have to pull to stretch it through the motion of the exercise. Your can wrap it around your hand if you like, or just slide your grip up and down the band.
  • Use a lighter/heavier band. If you find the band is cutting into your hands, you're likely pulling too hard on a too-lax band. Bump up to the next resistance level. If you find you can't complete the full range of motion (for example, you can only get your forearm up to 90 degrees in a dumbbell curl rather than bringing the band all the way up to your shoulder), try a lighter band.
  • Widen/narrow your stance. If you're standing on the band with both feet, increasing or decreasing the length of the band that's between your feet affects the length of working band that you have left to pull on. The shorter the length of band you're stretching in the exercise, the harder it will be.
  • Double it up. If you need a heavier resistance than the bands you currently have, stack them, using both at once for a single move.

 

Band Exercises

Start warming up with about 5 minutes of easy cardio such as walking or marching in place. Add some forward and backward arm circles, and rotate your torso to the right and left as you walk to get your upper body loosened up as well. Then start the first move. Do each exercise 8 to 12 times, or 8 to 12 times per side where relevant. This will be one set. Without stopping for longer than it takes to transition (unless you need to), go on to the next exercise, or repeat the exercise on the opposite side if needed.

If you find that a move is too challenging at first, try the "Make It Easier" variation. Many of these options simplify the exercise by separating a combined movement (which is more efficient once you get the hang of it) into two separate exercises (which can be easier to figure out when you're starting out). A major component of strength training is strengthening the neuromuscular system, or the connections between the brain and the muscles necessary to coordinate a movement — and to push or pull against a resistance you're not used to. Don't worry; these nervous system adaptations happen quickly — even faster than you'll gain any actual muscle strength — so you'll be up to speed in no time. Here are three moves to get you started!

 

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