Back in December 2014, I made a great purchase: I bought a set of Bodylastics Resistance Bands. These were the best heavy duty resistance bands with handles.
I’d done my research and concluded that these were the best resistance workout bands available at that time. Unfortunately they are no longer available to buy, although there are some excellent alternatives.
So if you’ve been asking “where can I buy exercise bands?” or have been researching which resistance bands to buy, then keep reading as this article will not only answer those questions, but also reassure you why fitness bands should be an essential component in your fitness equipment inventory.
What to Look For In Resistance Bands
We’ve all heard the idiom “buy cheap, buy twice” and nowhere does it apply more than in the domain of fitness equipment.
If you are anything like me, you will have experienced the fleeting joy of taking delivery of your new piece of fitness equipment – convinced that you had chanced upon the bargain of the century – only to find that your joy was dashed by the reality of using it for the first time… and then it breaking within a month!
Yes, I’ve been there, got the T-shirt.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my best fitness equipment purchases have been those that have also been the most expensive: whether it be adjustable dumbbells, power rack or quality resistance bands.
So what are the absolute must-have features when you’re considering which resistance bands to buy?
Resistance Bands With Anchors
Anchors are essential as they allow you to safely and securely anchor the resistance band to a door: either at the top, bottom or above the handle. The foam stopper prevents damage to the door you’re anchoring too, whilst also making it impossible for the band to come loose, meaning you can use some seriously strong resistance bands for a huge pump – without the fear that you’re going to wreck your house, or lose an eye by the anchor failing!
If the choice is between a cheap set of bands that don’t come with anchors or a more expensive set of resistance bands with anchors, then there really is no choice at all – even if the set with anchors is considerably more expensive. You will appreciate the added versatility and safety that come with the anchors.
Just to clarify: resistance bands with anchors may also be advertised as resistance bands with a door attachment. Just make sure that the door attachment in any set of bands that you are considering looks like the attachment in the image above.
This is important because this kind of door attachment is not limited to just being used to fix the bands to a door. The door attachment can also be used to fix the resistance bands to a table leg, for instance (providing of course that the table is sufficiently heavy to ensure it will not move as you pull against it).
The benefit of using the door attachment in this way as opposed to just looping the band around the table leg, is that it will preserve the band as it sits in the padded loop of the anchor as opposed to rubbing against the sharp corner of a table leg, for example, causing undue wear to the band.
Resistance Bands With Handles
Handles are an absolute must when considering which resistance bands to buy. A decent set of comfortable, grippy handles will make all the difference to the comfort of your workout.
They will also enable you to work across different angles, using different heights of anchor point, without getting into a tangle or twisting the straps that connect from the handle to the bands.
The design of the handle should be a hollow cylindrical handle with a strap that passes through it. This will allow the strap to remain untwisted as your work across the full range of movement in any given exercise.
Resistance Bands With Ankle Straps
Whilst I personally don’t use them all that often, I would still recommend choosing a set of resistance bands that contain ankle straps as they provide further versatility that you’ll other wise miss out on.
Ankle straps enable you to perform resisted leg raises, hamstring curls and all manner of other lower body and abdominal exercises that you may find awkward without them.
Advantages of Resistance Bands With Handles
Let’s look at the advantages of incorporating resistance bands into your fitness regime:
- Portable. Going away for work, or perhaps a holiday? No problem. Pack your resistance bands and take your gym with you! I have used my resistance bands on every holiday I’ve been on since owning them and they have been crucial to my ability to have a quality workout, no matter where in the world I am!
- Instant Resistance. Unlike traditional free weights which require plates to be loaded on to a bar, you can instantly connect additional resistance bands to the handles to quickly reach the desired resistance. If you’re following a workout consisting of pyramid sets (where you start light and get progressively heavy), the process of adding / removing weights can inadvertently add a significant amount of ‘dead’ time to the workout – something which is eradicated with resistance bands.
- Versatile. Resistance bands can be used to train any body part and even for full body compound moves like a squat-to-press. They can be particularly useful for training when recovering from injury too, as you can carefully tailor movements around areas of vulnerability or soreness, while still encouraging blood flow to the injured area.
- New Angles. Whereas with free weights you’re working against gravity, with resistance bands you pull or push against wherever the bands are anchored too. This can make it possible to work at unusual angles of tension and can stress muscles in unique ways. A good example would be arm curls where the anchor point is fixed under a door and you are lay or sat on the floor. Face pulls with resistance bands are another excellent example of a valuable exercise that would be impossible to do with free weights.
- Isolation. You can isolate individual muscles very effectively with resistance bands. Whether it be triceps, biceps or shoulders, be prepared for some serious pumps!
Disadvantages of Workout Bands With Handles
- Variable Tension. Whereas as with most free weight exercises the resistance is constant through the range of motion, this isn’t the case with resistance bands due to elasticity. To illustrate what I mean, think of a bicep curl: with free weights where a bar is loaded with say, 20kg, whether the bar is at the bottom of the movement or the top of the movement, the bar is still loaded with 20kg. With resistance bands, there is very little tension or resistance at the bottom of the movement, but the resistance increases as the hands are raised and the tension in the band increases.
- Unclear Progression. One of the greatest rewards of sticking with a workout plan and arguably the most crucial factor in motivation is witnessing the amount of weight lifted increase over time. But with resistance bands, there’s no easy way of closely measuring progression – you can keep track of which coloured bands you’re using on any given exercise, but with other variables, such as distance from anchor point when performing the exercise, there’s no precise way of tracking progress in the way that there is with weights.
- Not Comparable to Lifting Weights. Whether it’s your 5km time or the amount you can squat, humans are naturally competitive and like to compare themselves with others – especially in the realm of fitness. With fitness bands, it’s simply impossible to meaningfully benchmark or discuss your workouts with other band users in the way you can with free weights.
What Does the Science Say About Resistance Bands?
Despite my own very positive experience of training with resistance bands, I was expecting to find that the science would show that they are at best useful in a physical therapy resistance band exercise regime and at worst, of no use whatsoever.
I find it interesting that despite my own lived experience of using resistance bands to good effect, I still harbor prejudice against them – perhaps as a result of my subconscious mental conditioning through the gym-rat era of 1990s.
- This study concluded that “Body-weight and elastic bands based resistance exercise prompted, in healthy older people, improvements in body composition and muscle function.”
- This study comparing traditional forms of resistance based exercise to resistance bands found that: “Elastic resistance provides similar prime mover, antagonist, assistant movers and stabilizer muscle activation as isoinertial resistance; contradicting the traditional criticism that the elastic band would not elicit comparable levels of muscle activation as isoinertial resistance exercise.”
- This study found that strength training “…using elastic bands performed for 6 wk was effective to improve muscle power and ball speed for young female handball players.”
- Finally, a systematic review and meta-analysis carried out in 2017 looking at the effects on muscle strength and functional performance of elastic resistance exercise concluded: “Elastic resistance exercises are effective to improve functional performance and muscle strength when compared with no intervention, in healthy adults.”
The science is clear: resistance bands work.
They may not be a replacement for more traditional forms of resistance equipment, but they are certainly a valuable addition.
What Are The Best Resistance Bands With Handles to Buy?
There’s no doubt in my mind that these are the bands I would choose if I needed to replace my resistance bands today:
I thought that the resistance bands I bought back in 2014 were the best heavy-duty resistance bands money could buy. However, I was surprised to see that the strongest band in this set is 50lbs as opposed to 30lbs in my set – yet the cost of the set is substantially less than the set I bought in 2014.
The bands are stackable too, meaning that you can clip in two or more bands on to a handle so that you can really ramp up the level of resistance, or quickly un-clip a band to perform a drop set in order to take a muscle to the point of failure.
UPDATE: I’ve also found this set of bands which are very similar to the above, but feature 11 pieces instead of 13, but are cheaper as at the time of writing:
How to Workout With Resistance Bands
There’s many ways in which to incorporate resistance band training into your fitness regime. Here are some ways you may want to consider:
- Use resistance bands as main resistance element of your fitness regime.
- Use resistance bands to provide finisher/failure sets in a traditional strength training / bodybuilding program.
- Create a cardio routine based on resistance band moves such as door-anchored boxing.
- Use resistance bands to provide assistance on pullups.
- Create a resistance band abs workout to add novel angles of attack to your abdominal crunches and resistance to leg raises
- Incorporate resistance bands to your parallette workouts to add assistance / resistance to dips.
It’s Time to Stretch Yourself!
I hope you’ve found this article useful and that it has inspired you to take a fresh look at resistance bands and how you might use them in your own training regime.
In terms of value, there are few peices of fitness equipment that offer so much utility for so little upfront cost. I intend to share more articles about specific resistance band workout ideas in the future, so do check back.
As I already mentioned, I bought my resistance bands in 2014 and they still work perfectly well today with no loss of elasticity – and they still accompany me on just about every trip away. As you can see, resistance bands are excellent value for money considering how much use you will get out of them over the coming years.
If you’re thinking about buying a set, I would only encourage you to go for it. They are perfect to use where space is tight and most definitely have a place in every home gym.
Just make sure you buy resistance bands with handles, door anchor and ankle strap for maximum versatility.
To your fitness!