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Mastering Elastic Resistance


Elastic resistance is an approach that has been evolving for over 100 years. The 1st U.S. patent for an elastic resistance anchor point training system was granted in 1897 (Figure 1).

 Figure 1

In the 20th century, the convenience and cost of basic resistance bands made them very popular with home programs. During this time, physiotherapists and body builders the drove development of training ideas with elastic resistance.

In the 21st century, sports performance and HIIT trainers have taken training with elastic resistance to another level. This evolution has been accompanied by the development of new elastic resistance tools, longer heavier and safer bands and evolving approaches to anchoring and connecting with resistance.

There are so many useful ways to harness the unique energy of elastic resistance bands, from rehabilitation to performance. Understanding the unique natures of elastic resistance is a first step to getting the most out of them.

The Properties of Elastic Resistance

Elastic resistance has several unique and useful properties. One of these is elastic resistance increases as the band is stretched (Figure 2).

Figure 2 

The rate of change in resistance is determined by the length of the band. The longer the band the more gradual the change in resistance will be. This has implications for tool selection/ design.

For one, a longer band offers the ability to work with more appropriate resistance that can better match the gradual increase in strength we have through most ranges of motion. Shorter bands are useful in unique ways as well. Lengths of soft, thin elastic bands are widely used for many goals and needs.

This increasing resistance with stretch/distance (“distance is resistance”) also means when working with elastic resistance, the amount of resistance can be controlled by simply changing the amount of stretch being used.

With anchored bands, the resistance is determined by the distance from the anchor point. Any range of motion can be trained with appropriate amounts of force simply by changing the distance between the connection and the anchor point.

Any resistance band can offer a variety of resistances. A longer band not only offers a more gradual change in resistance, it also has more resistances to offer.

An eight-foot-long resistance band has approximately 2 times more gradual change in resistance than a five-foot band. This means working with longer band will offer a more gradual change in resistance, more useful resistances to work and a longer range of motion.

This continual increase in resistance means that movements away from the anchor don’t carry momentum. This means fast, explosive moves, can be trained with resistance without carrying any momentum, which is a safer way to train power in many dimensions.

 Figure 3

While there is useful work to be done with overspeed, it is always important to be mindful of the strength of the stretched band and ensure movements are controlled through all phases.

This property of gradually increasing resistance also means additional load can be created to train with higher resistance for the eccentric phase. At end range, concentric strength is at its maximum; however, additional load can be created by using body weight to lean/step/lunge away from the anchor point to create additional resistance for the eccentric phase of the movement (Figure 3). This can be an effective way to add load for the eccentric part of the movement, which is a more convenient way to train “negatives” than using gravity.

 Figure 4

For example, consider a standing biceps curl with an anchored band (Figure 4). Establish the distance for a maximum effort concentric contraction, the curl, and then, with the curl locked in at the strongest part of the ROM, lunge away from the anchor creating additional resistance.

The idea of this technique is to simply move the connection point further away from the anchor point to create more eccentric resistance. This will create resistance beyond the capability of the concentric contraction, allowing you to work the eccentric with more resistance than you used concentrically.

The consistent increase/decrease in resistance also means precise amounts of isometric force can be created that efficiently provide precise, consistent or variable resistance from a variety of angles.

 Figure 5

Isometric work is useful for power, endurance, joint stability, mobilization and rehabilitation. Isometric exercises can be developed that effectively provide precise resistance and angle changes by simply changing the distance and orientation to the anchor point(s) (Figure 5).

As mentioned earlier, the unique property of increasing resistance means longer bands have a more gradual increase in the resistance as the band stretches. This is one of the reasons longer bands have become more popular.

Another unique aspect of a longer resistance band is the ability to oscillate the band in different directions, somewhat similar to a battle rope. Using oscillation with a long band allows the resistance to create a very demanding variable of resistance in many useful dimensions.

The unique properties of elastic resistance offer tremendous variety, allowing trainers to maximize variety and intensity.

Anchored elastic resistance can be used with a variety of connection devices besides handles. Tools such as pulling belts, harnesses, straps, and bars can be incorporated to create the specific resistance and connection for variety, progression and specific needs (Figure 6).

 Figure 6

Summary

Using a variety of angles with various resistances and a variety of connection tools offers training of both movement and stability. Training virtually every movement with useful resistance means exercises can be efficiently progressed through different ranges of motion.

This means ANY combination of sport specific or functional movement patterns can be resisted including training movements that require forces to be moved or resisted in more than one dimension.

Massive versatility, that’s been the appeal of elastic resistance for over 100 years.

References

Page, P., & Ellenbecker, T.S. (2003). The scientific and clinical application of elastic resistance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.