In the summertime, we are all apt to fall off of our workout routines a little bit. We want to spend time outside rather than in a musty gym. It is easy to get cardio training outside of the gym, whether we are on vacation or just don’t want to be indoors (just go for a jog or a bike ride), but it is more difficult to keep up resistance or weight training. While many hotels now have “gyms” with basic machines an alternative to easy backyard or travel resistance training is working with lightweight and versatile resistance bands.
Resistance bands are used in many fitness routines to intensify muscle training. They can be handy extras, but they can also be used to maintain muscle training if you are away from your usual gym. Muscle mass that it takes weeks of training to build can start to break down after only one week if conditioning is not maintained. If you are on a three-week holiday, unfortunately, packing your barbells just isn’t an option. Resistance bands are a great alternative.
For your upper body workout, I would recommend two types of resistance bands. One is a dynaband, and is simply a long, flat elastic band that is about 4 inches wide. You can get them at fitness supply stores in varying thicknesses (depending on how much resistance you need). They are very cheap and often, the store will have a roll and will simply cut off the length you require. Unstretched, the band should be about as long as your arm span. The second type of resistance band is a tube with handles at each end. Again, this comes in varying thicknesses depending on the challenge you seek.
When you are using the resistance bands, follow the same posture basics as you would using regular weights. Do not lock your knees, suck in your abs, keep your shoulders dropped and your shoulder blades pulled together (to the extent possible in the exercise). Exhale when engaging the muscle you most wish to work.
Using the dynaband, you can give your upper body a complete conditioning. This piece of equipment is especially good for the shoulders, chest, back and triceps.
In this first exercise, you will engage your traps, delts and lats. Hold the dynaband in both hands above your head with your hands approximately shoulder width apart. If you look up, without raising your head, you should be able to see your hands. The band should always be taut, never unstretched. Slowly pull each hand away from the other and down until your elbow forms a 90 degree angle. Slowly raise your hands to their original position, without fully releasing the tension in the band. Do 3 sets of 20. (For all sets, listen to your body. Work the muscle groups to fatigue, increasing or reducing the sets as per your body’s abilities.)
The next exercise will engage your pecs and your delts. Wrap the band behind your back, threading it under your armpits, holding an end in each hand. You can bunch the dangling ends in your hand for better grip. Starting with your elbows at shoulder height and your shoulder blades pulled together, push your fists forward until they almost touch (knuckles should be facing up). Do not break your wrist tension. Slowly draw your arms back so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders. After two sets of 20, break. (If you like, do a set of something else to give your chest and shoulder a break before doing the second part.) For an added challenge, from the starting position, straighten your arms to the sides and arc your arms forward to engage more of your triceps. Do 2 sets of 20 reps. Remember to keep your abs engaged throughout to challenge your core stabilizers.
There are several ways to isolate your triceps with the dynaband, and here are two efficient examples. In the first, you will hold one end of the band in your left hand, pressed against the front of your right shoulder. Grab the dangling end of the band in your right fist at your rib cage. Extend your right hand until your arm is straight, holding the band securely in place at your shoulder with your left hand. Do 2 sets of 20. Change arms, so that your right hand is holding the band at your left shoulder and your left hand grabs the dangling band at your rib cage. Repeat reps.
For a more intense workout that will engage the triceps of both arms, hold the band in your right hand behind your head so that your thumb is facing down and the band is dangling behind your back. Reach behind your back with your left hand (knuckles facing your back, thumb pointing up) and grab the band. Extend your right hand up while pulling your left hand down. Do 1 set of 20 and then switch hand positions and repeat.
Tubing is great for isolating your abs and your biceps. To do a standard bicep curl, grab both handles, and step on the length of tubing lying on the floor to create the amount of resistance you seek. It might help if you make a loop in the band and step on it to shorten the tube. You can do 2 sets of 20 standard bicep curls, 2 sets of 20 with a hammer grip, and 2 sets of 20 half curls. The handles and resistance make the tubing handle like a basic barbell, only the resistance is created by the tube tension rather than weight.
The tubing is also great for ab work, especially obliques. Hold the handle of the tubing in your right hand. Bending at the waist, with your shoulders and hips facing squarely forward, step on the tubing so that your hand is sitting about a foot below where it would normally sit on the side of your leg. Using your left oblique abdominal muscles, pull yourself to an upright position. Be careful that you are not engaging your shoulders to pull yourself upright. Concentrate on using your left obliques. Do 2 sets of 20 reps and switch sides to repeat.
Another excellent oblique workout can be done if you have a partner with tubing, or if you can find a pole or tree to loop your tubing around. If you have a partner, loop your tubing through theirs and stand side-by-side, far enough apart that the tubing is taut but not pulling. Both of you, hold the handles of the tubing straight out in front of you. Simultaneously, twist away from each other at the waist, keeping your hip bones facing forward. Slowly twist back. Do 2 sets of 15.
Finally, for your rectus abdominus, sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. Loop the tubing around your feet (twice if you want more resistance). Slowly lower your trunk backward until it is at a challenging angle that engages your abs. For added intensity, add a rowing motion, pulling the handles up toward your shoulders. This will engage your abs, and will also work your pecs and delts.
Resistance training is important to maintain both muscle and bone mass as we age. You work so hard to build those muscles, a simple resistance band regimen can help you maintain your mass while you are away from your beloved weights.<!––nextpage––>
Lower Body Strengths
Resistance bands are some of the most inexpensive, versatile, and transportable pieces of equipment that you can have in your home gym. Not only are they effective for toning and strengthening the most sculpted muscles, they are invaluable tools to help an injured guy bring his body safely back into shape. This includes the entire spectrum of rehabilitation, from bouncing back form major injuries, to strengthening the bones and muscles of senior citizens, to getting someone who is very overweight or out of shape to slowly start working low-impact strength training into their lifestyle.
Resistance bands not only improve your flexibility and the strength in the targeted muscles, they also work your core stabilizing muscles (largely, your abs and back) with every stretch of the band. They are used in everything from pilates and yoga to serious strength training, to a light-weight solution to preserving your hard-earned muscle mass while away on vacation. Not only are they affordable, they are light and easy to pack in your bag.
In Part One, we explored how the resistance band can supplement or replace weights in your upper body workout. Here, we take a look at a routine that will give you full-lower body workout using only resistance bands.
For your lower body, you need resistance tubing with handles and a small band that looks like a flat elastic band, about 12 inches long and 1 inch wide. You will have to try out some bands to figure out what thickness suits your current strength level. A dynaband (which looks like a long strip of elastic usually about 6 inches wide and at least the length of your arm span) can be substituted in these exercises if you only want to deal with one piece. For those exercises using the tubing with handles, simply bunch the ends of the dynaband up in your fist at the resistance you wish. To replace the small resistance band, just tie the dynaband off at the place that gives you the proper resistance (creating about a 12-inch loop is about average).
When doing squats, make sure that you stick your butt out as if you are lowering yourself to sit on a chair. If you have a chair handy, place it behind you, squatting until your butt just touches the seat of the chair, and then rise. Do not rest your weight on the chair.
If you wish to isolate your quads, use the resistance tubing with handles. Holding the handles with your palms up, lay the middle part of the tubing on the floor. Place your on the feet shoulder width apart (or closer together for a more challenging workout) on the tubing. The tubing should be slack when you are at the bottom of your squat, with your arms at a 90 degree angle. The tubing will create resistance as you raise yourself up from the squat. Do three sets of 15.
If you wish to incorporate your abductor muscles (this is the muscle group used to pull your leg away from the inner axis of the body, and include muscles on your outer thigh, hip, and glutes), take the smaller resistance band and wrap it around your legs, just above the ankle. Standing with your legs a little less than shoulder width apart, do 10 side squats, moving your right foot to the right against the resistance of the band, and dropping into a squat as you shift your weight onto both feet. Coming up out of the squat, lift your right foot and return it to the original position. Do 4 sets of 10 reps on each side.
Lunges work your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. Starting in a standing position with the small band around your lower leg, step forward with your right foot into a lunge. After 15 lunges, switch legs, stepping forward with your left foot. Do three sets of 15 on each leg.
To isolate your calves, grab the tubing with handles. Holding the handles, step on the tubing with your toes so that you feel light resistance on the tubing with your hands at your sides. With a straight back, rise up on your toes ten times. Once you have finished 3 sets of ten, rise up on your toes and hold for a count of 10, and then lower your heels. Rise up on your toes, hold for a count of 9, and then lower. Repeat this rhythm, counting down to a hold of 1 second. As you are doing these reps, make sure your core is strong, sucking your belly button in toward your spine. Keep your shoulders back and dropped so that you are not hunching over. This ruins your posture and your core workout.
Multiple Muscle Sets
Many of these exercises work large groups of muscles, incorporating your legs and abductor muscles. The following is a very inclusive workout for almost every group of muscles in your lower body. While you are concentrating on working your abductors and glutes on the side you are lifting, you will also be working all of the muscles in your balancing leg, as well as your core, to stay upright. As you balance, do not let the hip of your balancing leg get lazy and sag. Hold yourself upright, as if you have a string tied to the top of your head and someone is pulling it straight up, like a marionette.
For your abductor muscles, wrap the small band around your legs, just above the ankle. You will be doing a variety of leg lifts that will not only isolate lower body muscles, they will also work your core, flexibility, and balance.
Plant your feet on the ground, with your legs slightly less than shoulder-width apart. Shift your weight first to your left leg, lifting your right foot to your right hand side. Do 10 leg lifts to the side, then shift your leg to the back. Do 10 leg lefts, keeping the knee straight and bending slightly forward at the hips for balance. Do three sets each on the side and the back, then drop your foot, and shift your weight to your right foot. Raise the left foot and do three sets of 10 leg lifts to the side and back, as above.
When you first start working out with the bands, you will have to make adjustments to the number of reps and sets, according to your current level of strength. If you are just looking to maintain your muscle mass (while on vacation, for instance), you can probably do this lower body workout in about 20 minutes, including a good stretching session at the end. As always, your muscles work best when warm, so do 4 or 5 minutes of light cardio (a light jog, brisk walk or easy bike ride will do) to get limber. If you find your workout with free weights is feeling a little dull, incorporate resistance bands to give your muscles a new challenge. It will keep both your mind—and your muscles—engaged in a whole new way.