It’s time to start asking more of your strength-training routine.
It needs to help you build muscle and get lean, of course, because we all want to look better naked.
But it also needs to help you perform better in everyday tasks and athletic activities. It needs to train your body across all major anatomical movements and planes, hitting large muscle groups as well as the smaller (yet vitally important) core muscles.
This is called functional strength. If your program isn’t delivering it in spades, it’s time to get a new program.
You may want to consider an equipment change, too, because when it comes to building functional strength, there’s no better tool than resistance bands.
Why Bands are Better for Functional Strength
Like free weights, resistance bands can help you build muscle by overloading foundational movements like squats, chest presses, and rows.
But because of the linear variable resistance inherent to elastic materials (where resistance increases the more the band is stretched), bands challenge core strength and stability like no other piece of equipment.
Also, when you train with free weights, a lot of your exercises are done in a seated or lying position. This makes the exercise more stable, but from a functional standpoint, that’s not a good thing – it means your core doesn’t have to work as hard.
When training with resistance bands, virtually all of the exercises are done standing. Always on your feet, always engaging the core.
5 Great Band Exercise for Improving Functional Strength
To maximize your functional strength, grab a set of high-quality resistance bands. Aside from being effective, they’re also inexpensive (less than $80 for a top-of-the-line 5-band set) and so portable that you can use them anywhere – at home, outside, or on the road.
Once you have your bands, here are five great functional moves to do with them:
1 Band Front Squat
No movement crosses over to sports and everyday life better than the squat – particularly front squats, where the resistance is on the front side of the body, which creates a more “real world” line of pull. With bands, there’s less resistance at the bottom of the squat (your “sticking point”) and more at the top (where you’re at your strongest).
2 Band Woodchopper
Too many training routines are light on torso rotation, causing the core muscles to be under-trained and increasing injury risk. With free weights, rotational moves must be done in awkward positions (like lying down on one side) to properly stimulate the core muscles. With bands, woodchoppers and other trunk-twisting moves can be done standing, as resistance doesn’t only occur in the vertical plane (against gravity). Although this looks like just an upper body exercise, woodchoppers also challenge lower body lateral stability.
3 Band Pull-Throughs
Another key functional movement is the hip hinge, the ideal motion for lifting a weight off the ground. The key to this exercise is making sure the glutes initiate the movement, not the vulnerable lower back. The band anchored behind you in this exercise literally pulls your hips back to keep the motion glute-focused. When doing Romanian deadlifts (the equivalent exercise with free weights), you don’t get that pull.
4 Band One-Arm Press
Turning chest day into a killer core workout is as simple as doing one-arm presses from a standing position. Keeping your torso stable as you press requires a ton of involvement from the deep abdominal musculature. Doing standing chest presses with free weights or machines is, well, impossible.
5 Band One-Arm Row
Just as the one-arm press forces you to stabilize your core while the resistance from the band tries to pull you backward, the one-arm row (with the band anchored straight out in front of you) creates a similar action in the opposite direction. By doing both presses and rows unilaterally, you’re hitting the core from both sides – front and back.
Where to Get Your Resistance Bands
To get the best bang for your buck, choose heavy-duty bands like those offered by Undersun Fitness. Complete sets of bands start at $69 and come with a lifetime product guarantee to ensure your home gym is set up for years to come.