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Resistance bands may not look like much. In fact, they’re little more than giant elastic bands. Despite their meager appearance though, resistance bands make great holiday workout equipment and have an important place in your regular sessions.

For most people, machines, barbells and dumbbells make up the majority of their training program. You might get the odd, slightly more hardcore person who plays around with a weighted vest, perhaps throws a couple of chains on the bar when bench pressing, or uses tools like medicine balls and weight sleds, but on the whole, machines, free-weights and body-weight make up the majority of the average Joe or Jane’s workout routine.

So why then, would anyone need to worry about giant elastic bands?

On the face of it, that’s all resistance bands are, but there’s a little more to them than that.

You generally get two types of band – ones with a handle at either end, and looped bands.

Usually, the bands with handles are more geared toward the general fitness enthusiast or beginner trainee, while the looped bands are thicker, and designed for more advanced athletes and powerlifters.

Whatever your level, I would strongly recommend the looped bands. For one, they’re actually lighter and more portable due to not having handles, and secondly, you can get them in a variety of tensions, from a #1 which only provides a few pounds of tension, up to  #5 (or #6 in some brands) which provide over 100 pounds of tension.

In the gym, bands serve three purposes –

1. As a standalone exercise tool.

They can be used for exercises such as curls, pull-aparts, front and lateral raises, pushdowns, pulldowns and the like, without the need for any other equipment.

2. As a way to assist you on certain exercises.

Body-weight moves such as chin-ups, dips and pushups can be extremely tough, but bands can help. By looping a band over the bar in chin-ups and dips, or over the top of a power rack above you on pushups, you can use the band for assistance so that in effect, you’re only lifting a percentage of your body-weight.

Powerlifters often perform band-assisted bench presses, squats and deadlifts too.

These deload the movements in the bottom position (generally the “sticking point” for most lifters, which allows them to use heavier weights and increase overload in the top portion of the movement.)

In both these scenarios, the thicker or heavier the band you use, the easier the exercise will be, as it’s giving you more of a boost.

3. To Make Exercises Harder

Just as you can use bands to decrease difficulty, they can also increase difficulty too.

Instead of looping the bar under your feet/knees in pull-ups and dips, you’d secure it to the floor, loop it around your shoulders, giving you a resistance to pull against. This works the same way for pushups (with the band secured under your hands) too.

Similarly, bands are used even more frequently to resist, rather than assist exercises in powerlifting.

For squats you’d loop a band over either end of the bar, then loop the loose ends under a power rack, and do the same for deadlifts. (You can also stand on the bands when deadlifting if you don’t have a rack.) Bench presses require you to loop a band over either end of the bar, then use a dumbbell to hold them in place, but the principle’s the same.

By now you can see how bands have their place in any routine. Where they come into their own, however, is when equipment is sparse, and you need to think on your feet, like when you’re on holiday, for example.

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