Regardless of your current fitness level, any gym goer can vastly benefit from the use of a mini-band. For today’s purpose, I’m going to focus solely on the benefit of bands in the context of Muscle Activation. Used for both the upper and lower extremities, bands’ benefits are numerous and a staple in CTS programs with clients of all ages and goals. Consistent use of them will lead to the activation of muscles that would normally be missed by “traditional training.” Thanks to our sedentary lifestyle along with the limitations of traditional Dumbbell and Barbell strengthening work, very important stabilizing muscles get bypassed. The awakening of these under-active muscles will promote joint health for your knees and shoulders, and can also improve lower back pain as well.
The Secret Behind the Mini-Band…
Society as a whole is extremely “quad dominant” in every day life and is further exacerbated by the exercises individuals chose in the gym (leg day usually consisting of some sort of squat, leg press, leg extension etc. which are all quad dominant). This phenomenon has lead to the glutes in most people being a prime example of an under-active muscle. Often overlooked, the strength and flexibility of your glutes can directly impact how your knees and your lower back feel. If your glutes are tight and weak, exercise induced stress or even every day life (prolonged periods of sitting or standing) will resonate negatively in your lower back and knees. The muscle that is most notably targeted via the mini-band is the Gluteus Medius. One of the three Glute muscles, the Glute Med is located on the outside of the hip and is responsible for the abduction (moving away/opening) of the hip and the stabilization of the pelvis. In relation to the knee, when moving laterally, it is the Gluteus Medius that assists in stabilizing the knee and allows an individual to plant off their foot and change direction. If you’re not doing any mini-band work and you’re also not doing a ton of frontal plane movements (side to side) in your lower body programming, your Gluteus Medius is more than likely very weak. A weak and untrained Glute Medius is a recipe for future knee pain and potential serious injury (depending on your activity level). Conversely, a strong glute med will assist in keeping your knee tracking in the proper position (in line with your toes) both in the gym and every day life as well.
The benefits of a mini-band can be seen in the upper body as well through the activation of the four muscles of the rotator cuff (Infraspinatus, Supraspinatus, Teres Minor and Subscapularis) as well as the three heads of the deltoid (the Anterior, Medial and Rear Delts). Often times, failure to warm these muscles up, let alone strengthen them, will lead to serious shoulder issues when pressing any weight (especially overhead). Similarly to our glutes, most of us have tight and weak muscles supporting our shoulders- which is particularly dangerous because the shoulder is the most vulnerable joint based on its range of motion capabilities. When implemented properly, band work will protect your shoulders by not only strengthening the afore mentioned muscles but also by improving your posture through an increase in mobility. Due to a dual rise in technology and inactivity, our society tends to be in a position of extreme thoracic flexion (aka hunched forward shoulders from being on a phone or computer). Band exercises (such as the three upper body moves I mention below) will actually pull you into the proper postural alignment and begin to strengthen muscles that have become weakened from being hunched forward- thus over time, leading to overall better postural alignment.
Why I LOVE Band Work
All of my clients-past, present and future- will attest to the fact that band work occurs during almost every session (Sorry guys 🙂 ). I am a HUGE believer in consistency creating positive change, and in my experience, consistent band work has truly changed people’s lives by improving joint pain, preventing future injury and rehabilitating previous injuries. At the end of the day, I’m all about exercises that optimize joint health with minimal risk– and almost regardless of your training level, bands do just that. In addition to the incredible health benefits from band work, they also are extremely practical to have in your gym bag at all times. By spending less than $30, you can have yourself a great band collection and the ability to get a great workout in almost anywhere– this is especially great for business trips or vacation, where you may have a tight space to workout and potentially a limited amount of time…The following list is just the tip of the iceberg for my “Band Library” and I can almost guarantee there will be many more posts about more specific exercises and combinations, but this is a great place to start for everybody….
My Top 6 “Basic” Band Exercises
- Mini-Band Foot Fire
- Mini-Band Lateral Walks
- Mini-Band Monster Walks
- Band In Fronts & Behinds
- Band Pull Aparts
- Mini-Band Touchdowns
Master The Basics!
Before you start to move on to more tension, or look for “harder” mini-band exercises, make sure you’ve completely mastered each of the above six moves. I would consider these six to be the most fundamental activation exercises. There are many more that we will dive into down the road; for now, be sure that you’ve completely integrated these moves with perfect execution for several weeks before you consider learning new exercises.
3 Different Options for Integrating Band Work :
“The Workout” Method …ideal for vacation/at home workouts & “Beginner Gym Goers” (0-3 months consistent workouts)
This is a fantastic option if you’re either a beginner or you find yourself on the road a lot for work. I’d recommend performing each of the above 6 exercises in a circuit fashion for time- start with 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest (Work up to sets of 30 s. ON/15 s. OFF). Alternate between a lower body move and an upper body move and repeat for 3-5 sets.
3-5 Rounds – 20 s. ON/10 s. OFF (Rest 60-90 s. between Rounds)
- Foot Fire Left/Right (10 s. each foot)
- Band In Fronts & Behinds
- Lateral Walks
- Band Pull Aparts
- Monster Walks
**TIP: Download the free “Tabata” app to make doing a timed workout that much easier
The Warm Up Method…Ideal for clients/athletes recovering from injury & “Intermediate Gym Goers” (3-6 months consistent workouts)
If you’re looking to implement mini-bands as a warm up, generally I’d lean towards performing reps of each exercise, coinciding with what the rest of the workout entailed. For example: if it was a lower body day, I’d do 2 or 3 lower body mini-band moves for between 10-15 reps each side for 2-3 sets. (Again, this would be performed after the dynamic warm-up)
Lower Body Day
- Full Dynamic Warm Up- 10-15 minutes
- Mini-Band Foot Fire- 3 x 10 s. each Foot
- REST about 10 seconds (if needed)
- Mini-Band Lateral Walks- 3 x 10 steps e. way
- REST about 10 seconds (if needed)
- Mini-Band Monster Walks- 3 x 10 steps up & back
The Activation Method…Ideal for athletes and “Advanced Gym Goers” (6 + months consecutive consistent workouts)
If you’re looking to really feel the muscles you’re working, perform a set of band work before your compound move. For example, do 10-15 lateral walks each way with diligent, perfect form. Then move right into your set of Squats. I guarantee you’ll feel your glutes like never before by super-setting those 2 moves.
1.Mini-band Lateral Walks- 3 x 10 steps e. way
1a. BB Squats- 3 x 6 reps
2.Band In Fronts & Behinds- 3 x 10 e. way
2a. Incline DB Bench Press- 3 x 12, 10, 8
DISCLAIMER! More IS NOT Always Better
One of the most head scratching things I’ll see with mini-band use is the notion of multiple bands- I’ve seen individuals with bands around their ankles, below their knees and above their knees simultaneously. If you need this many bands to activate your glutes, you’re either the Hulk or you need to seriously invest in bands with greater tension. Please stick with just one band and focus on perfect, diligent reps that really connect your mind with your muscles. Focus on feeling the activation of the glutes or deltoids. Just like any exercise modality, using exclusively a band will not allow you to achieve your exercise goals alone, however, if implemented properly with clean form, it can take your training to a whole new level- while most importantly improving your joint health tremendously!
Where to Purchase???
I get all my bands through the company Perform Better because I find them to be the most durable and affordable:
(I usually only use the yellow, green or blue mini-bands with clients- start with green, which is medium tension and adjust down to yellow or up to blue depending on your level)
(I prefer the orange 1/4″ band because it has enough tension to get a great workout in for all fitness levels, but not too much tension where compensation becomes an issue once fatigue sets in)
Give some of these moves a try, especially if you’ve never done them before. Let me know what you guys think, and I’m already looking forward to diving into the next topic!
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass