If you scroll through Instagram and don't see a mini-band workout video, were you really on Instagram? The small rubber loop has slingshotted to full social peak, and no wonder: It's the cheapest, easiest way to make any body-weight exercise more effective.
Originally a proven alternative to free weights and machines for the elderly and injured, elastic bands have been confirmed in a new review to boost muscle strength and functional performance in healthy folks too. But that's not the only reason we love mini bands. Let us count the ways...
They increase muscle activation
Mini bands are unique among resistance tools because they place constant tension on your muscles, keeping them equally engaged for both the contracting and lengthening phases of an exercise, says Alexia Clark, a personal trainer in Scottsdale, Arizona. In fact, one study in the European Journal of Sport Science found that using elastics can increase muscle activity up to 15 percent more than training with dumbbells. The stretchiness of the band also allows you to tap smaller stabilizing muscles that you can't hit with dead weight, because they pitch in to maintain control all along the range of motion (so the band doesn't slip or snap). And bands do all this without adding weighted stress on your joints (mainly your hips and knees). So "while you might get sore, you literally can't overdo it," says Ben Bruno, a personal trainer in Los Angeles.
They fast-track fat loss
Calorie burn goes hand in hand with muscle activation: The more muscle fibers you work—especially within your glutes—the more cals you zap. And that's just in the moment. Bands help build muscle size and strength over time, and it takes more energy to maintain muscle, so you'll spur your resting metabolism as well.
They refine your form
Their best function is an inherent "autocorrect feature," as BJ Gaddour, trainer and creator of workout-subscription site TheDailyBJ.com, puts it. An example: Placing the band above or below your knees for squats and deadlifts pulls your knees together, which can cause "valgus"—a form flaw women are prone to because of their wide hips. "This forces you to reflexively push your knees apart, helping you burn out your glutes and hamstrings," says Bruno. (It also reduces knee pain.) A band around your wrists can enhance pushups, too, by encouraging optimal elbow angles.
They strengthen weak spots
Your glutes and scapular muscles benefit most from bands, as they don't always engage properly with weights, says Gaddour. "You'll better sculpt those areas and be more proficient at any exercise." How we move those muscles also matters: We tend to lack lateral stability, since we mostly move forward and back or up and down. When used for moves like squat walks, the band amps mobility in that direction—crucial for dynamic activities like ice skating and dancing.
Bands aren't coloured just for looks—the shade reflects their level of resistance. (Each brand has its own spectrum, and some sell a variety pack, so read the description before buying.)
Here are a few of our faves:
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.