Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands?

“Pumping Iron” came out mid-70 and burned the concept of bodybuilding into the minds of the general public like no other movie or event before it.  Over 30 years have passed by, and yet the myths and misconceptions that still exist in the minds of the public are amazing.

Back then it was, “don’t lift or you’ll become muscle-bound,” and today, it is “I don’t want to get bulky.”  It used to be, “just showy muscles, nothing to them,” and now, it’s “I just want to tone a little.”

One misconception that I want to deal with is the notion that you cannot build muscles with resistance bands.  That somehow the only true means of building muscle is with weights.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s be clear first, muscle does not know what the source of any resistance is.  It knows resistances and it knows that it is lifting against something.  Whether that something is a bag of rocks, chains, dead weights, or resistance bands is not relevant, per se.

A muscle straining against elastic tubing or “rubber bands” strains the same as it does with an Olympic bar with plates on it.  The issue is not the source of the resistance but whether you are straining to maximum effort.

The challenge, or the misconception, comes from that fact that most people are only familiar with the light, medium, and heavy bands that sell at places like Kmart or Wal-Mart.  A person buys one, takes it home, and does 50 reps with it.  There’s no tension to start and it feels springy.  Hate it.  Throw it away.  I’ve done that too.  No muscle building here.

But there are systems, like the Bodylastics (you can learn more about them here) that I use, which have bands with labeled tensile strengths.  You can use these graduate bands to increase resistance from light to impossible.  I’m not kidding about how hard it is pull some of these bands.

What’s important in muscle building is to force your body to work harder than it has before, say the previous workout.  Let’s say the last workout you used bands equal to 50lbs for 11 reps, then your objective for today is to do 56lbs for 8 to 10 reps. 

That’s because your muscles grow not from the exercise but from the recovery after the exercise.  Whether you train to failure on with an Olympic barbell or with resistance bands is really not relevant.  It’s what happens after the workout.

As your body repairs the tiny tears and depleted energy cells, it makes it a little stronger and little more efficient in anticipation that you may do that crazy lifting thing again.  If on the next workout, you do not challenge your muscles; your body kicks back and relaxes.  But if your push yourself a little more; your body says, “wow, need to take some of that nutrient and build a little more.”

I am no guru and I understand that I am simplifying this.  Nevertheless, the key point is that you build your muscles after the workout. 

If you diet is terrible and you are burning the candle at both ends, then it really does not matter whether you pumping iron or rubber bands.  The equation for building muscle is: training to failure plus clean balanced diet plus lots of rest equal great body.

So, this is a very long answer to the question of whether you can build muscle with resistance bands.  The answer is, “yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  Oh sorry, wrong story – the answer is yes.

Oh by the way, the follow-on question should be, “but, can resistance bands build muscle as well as weights?”  That would be no, but let’s hit that another day.

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