Before getting into exercise band program design… In the previous article and video on resistance tubing/band/cable exercises I discussed some of the benefits of cable training and showed a number of different exercises that can be done with various cables. However, I did not address one of their greatest aspects, which is that elastic tubing exercises can be used for many different training purposes, depending on how they are performed and organized within the workout.
Also see accompanying video on Advanced exercise band, cable and resistance tubing exercises.
Three types of workouts are a very natural fit for cables: circuit training, power training, and recovery workouts. Each of these workouts has a different purpose and depending on your goals you probably want to use at least one and possibly all three in your overall exercise band program design. Cables can also be used with other equipment (exercise ball, bosu, etc.) for even more exercise diversity and workout options.
Of these different workouts, the one that can benefit practically everyone is cable recovery workouts. As the name implies, recovery workouts help your body recover from previous challenging training sessions. Difficult workouts are effective, but too many in a short amount of time will wear down your body and eventually lead to overtraining. This means that workouts are no longer productive and actually cause your body to regress.
In addition, many people experience high levels of stiffness or soreness during periods of intense training, which can lead to short and long-term problems. In order to prevent these negative consequences of training, you can include occasional workouts that are significantly easier than your regular workouts and cables are ideal for this type of workout.
A good recovery workout should include exercises for each major muscle group and have sets with a higher number of reps (15 or more). The movements themselves should be done at a slow speed, with a focus on moving your muscles through their full range of motion. This helps loosen stiff muscles and increases blood flow, which helps speed up recovery without adding significant stress (as with challenging workouts) that can delay the healing process.
Since exercise bands, cables or resistance tubing are naturally easy on your joints and allow a full range of motion, these workouts create beneficial movement with virtually no additional stress to your body. This makes them a great fit for recovery workouts. Interestingly, just making a couple small changes to this workout will turn a recovery workout into an effective circuit training workout.
Circuit training is essentially a combination of traditional cardio (jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.) and resistance training (lifting weights, etc.), at least in terms of their benefits. This type of workout provides benefits in cardiovascular function, strength, and endurance, but the benefits are smaller than when a single attribute is the focus of the workout or training program.
For instance, circuit training does not increase cardiovascular function as much as an endurance running program or strength as much as a high weight and low repetition resistance training program. However, it does combine multiple benefits into a single program, so it is an effective and efficient workout for people looking to improve their general health and fitness.
The circuit training program should still include exercises for every major muscle group and the most effective workouts involve switching between upper and lower body exercises. For example, a sample exercise order could be standing press, squat, standing row, leg curl, pulldown, calf raise, etc.
By alternating muscle groups it allows one muscle group to recover while you work a different one. This is a great way to minimize your rest between sets, which is an important part of circuit training, because less rest means more cardiovascular challenge. The traditional approach of performing one set of an exercise, resting, and then performing another set of the same exercise does not work with circuit training.
Resistance bands are great for this type of training, because many of the exercises are the right intensity (moderate, not maximal) and you can quickly and easily move from one exercise to another. Resistance tubing also allows exercises to be performed at faster speeds, which can make circuit training workouts even more effective, because faster speed creates an increased cardiovascular demand.
When people try to perform exercises with similar resistance and speed using weights or machines, it puts unwanted stress on the joints, which is almost completely avoided when using cable resistance. However, if an exercise is done with poor technique, using faster speeds does put additional unwanted stress on the body (compared to slower speeds), so it is important to develop good form before performing exercises at high speeds.
The ability to perform cable exercises at fast speeds is also one of the reasons they are a natural fit for power training. Power is the combination of strength and speed and power production has a significant impact on athletic performance. That said, power training is not just for athletes and it is actually beneficial to everyone, because power is a key factor for maintaining functional ability throughout your lifetime.
Many power exercises use light to moderate resistance to allow the weight (resistance) to be moved quickly. The faster a weight is moved, the more power is generated. Cables allow resistance to move quickly without creating a lot of unwanted stress on the body. This is why traditional weights (barbells, dumbbells, most machines) are not good for power training.
For example, when doing a bench press, the weight is pushed straight up from your chest until your arms are almost straight. If this movement is done quickly with a bar, the momentum and speed of the motion is forced to slow down quickly after the exercise begins or stop abruptly at the end of the motion, which puts a lot of stress on your joints. The only way to prevent this is to let go of the weight at the top of the press, which is naturally very dangerous.
This is why traditional weights are rarely used with power exercises and equipment such as medicine balls (which are made to be thrown) and cables are used instead. Since the tension on cables increase as they are lengthened, the resistance is highest at the point where you generate the most speed and momentum. This means the cable almost works as a natural brake to slow down the resistance at the end of the motion.
Since this happens without a jarring stop or change of direction, there is only a small fraction of the joint stress that occurs with traditional weights. Another benefit is that you don’t have to let go of the resistance at the end of the motion, so you can complete multiple reps quickly to further enhance power development.
When it comes to the actual power training workout, there are some important rules to follow. Most importantly, proper form is essential, because the fast speeds magnify any issues associated with poor form. Also, one of the main aspects of power training is developing efficient and repeatable movements, particularly if you are training for a sport, so it is best to end each set before there is a significant decrease in form or performance.
Even though the resistance may not be that high, the speed and focus required to perform each exercise correctly makes these exercises challenging. As a result, it is important to rest enough between sets so your form on the following set is just as good as it was on the previous one. Finally, this type of training should only be done after you develop correct technique and are very comfortable performing the exercises at slower speeds.
Resistance tubing/cables/bands have many other uses beyond what is covered in this article, but these are the ones that are most popular. Many people use exercise bands, cables, resistance tubing simply to add more variety to their general and exercise band program design. It is really up to you to figure out how they will be most useful to you, depending on your specific goals.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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