When It Comes To Strength, Elastic Resistance Is As Effective As Barbells and Dumbbells

Social distancing continues to be a fact of life for all of us.  While things are slowly opening and gyms in many communities have been allowed to operate, in my county we are still completely shut down and I for one am grateful for it.  As I battle my reduced level of activity, changes in eating habits and the slow decent into dad bod I am constantly brushing off the cobwebs and thinking about how to train at home more effectively.  While I do not have a great home gym set up I do have a fairly solid collection of different types of elastic bands complimented by some light adjustable dumbbells, a TRX and a few other useful tools.

With this new emphasis on training outside of the traditional gym space I was pleased to come across a great new research study on the effectiveness of elastic resistance as compared to traditional resistance on the development of muscular strength.  Many studies have previously shown the effectiveness of elastic resistance in building strength across a number of different populations.  While this effect was not in debate there is a limited amount of quality studies that ask the specific question of how elastic resistance compares to traditional resistance methods.  In this case traditional resistance methods are defined as weight machines and free weight exercise.

It only makes sense that if your objective is strength development you want to know what methods are the most effective in achieving that goal.  You still may have specific reasons for picking other modalities but all things being equal, we need to know which method will produce the greatest results.

This study by Lopes et al. (2019) was a systematic review and meta-analysis.  The authors found 7 studies that directly compared elastic resistance to traditional resistance published between 2003 and 2016.  All of the studies used methods to assess strength that were considered reliable and valid.  They all included training periods of 4 to 12 weeks with two to five workout sessions per week.

This big finding, elastic resistance works as well as traditional resistance for the development of strength.  Yep, that’s right.  Let’s say it again…elastic resistance works as well as traditional resistance when it comes to developing strength.

Now that does not mean that elastic resistance is always the equal to traditional weights under all circumstances.  If you are training for maximal strength or power, you will eventually hit a point where hoisting some old-fashioned iron is the only way to achieve that ultimate goal.  There will always be specific training goals that require tools other then elastic bands.  However, for the average person working out, and yes this means you, elastic resistance used well can substitute for barbells and dumbbells as your primary strength tool.  With their low cost, ease of storage and portability if you haven’t stocked yourself up with a few different bands now is the time.


Lopes, J., Machado, A., Micheletti, J., Almeida, A., Cavina, A., and Pastre, C. (2019) Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. SAGE Open Medicine, 7: 2050312119831116. Published online 2019 Feb 19. doi: 10.1177/2050312119831116

Sprint Interval Training Leads To Improved Results With A Five-Fold Lower Amount Of Time And Volume

You can’t turn on your computer or glance at your phone these days without seeing an article about how high Intensity interval training (HIIT) is the activity you must be doing to get fitter. We’ve covered some of the benefits in previous posts and pretty much every fitness professional worth their weight in protein powder is preaching HIIT. The problem has been for all the data that has accumulated recently regarding the benefits of interval training, very little research has directly compared it’s impacts against more traditional approaches towards exercise.

The reason why, this research is complicated and time consuming to conduct and there are only so many resources that are allocated to the topic. Today we have a study that shows for some important measures of cardiometabolic heath, interval training can provide similar benefits to longer duration moderate intensity cardiovascular training in 20% of the time.

Considering that lack of time is one of the major factors that people site for not meeting their exercise goals an approach that provides meaningful benefits in a short period of time could be an optimal solution for some. The exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity a week are well established and accepted. If you can cut those numbers back considerably while still maintaining meaningful cardiometabolic changes then there may be a large segment of the population that can benefit while overcoming their time restraint barriers.

The Study

Sprint interval training (SIT) is a version of HIIT that involves very brief bursts of all-out intensity followed by longer periods of low-intensity recovery exercise. Compared to HIIT, the intervals are generally shorter and harder and the recovery periods longer. In this study SIT was compared to moderate intensity continuous training (MICT), think jogging or riding the bike for a longer period of time at a comfortable but slightly strenuous pace.

The SIT group performed a 2-minute cycling warm up followed by three 20 second all-out cycling intervals. Each interval was followed by a 2-minute low-intensity recovery effort. The final recovery interval was a 3-minute cool down. The total time spent on the bike was 10 minutes per session and only 1 minute of it was full intensity sprint work.

The MICT group cycled for 45 continuous minutes at approximately 70% of the maximum heart rate. They had an additional 2 minute warm up and 3-minute cool down for a total of 50 minutes of work per session. There was also a control group that did not exercise.

In the first week of the study the subjects exercised 1 time. In the second week they exercised twice and for the following 10 weeks they exercised 3 times per week. At week 7 and at the conclusion of the 12 weeks they were assed.

Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Both the SIT group and the MICT group experienced a 19% improvement in their VO2peak over the course of the 12 weeks. At 6 weeks both groups had already achieved a 12% increase. That is a significant improvement in a relatively short period of time and similar achievement between both the SIT and MICT suggests both the time saving effect of the SIT approach but also the value of the MICT for individuals who may not be able to train at the intensity levels necessary for SIT.

Glycemic Control

The more insulin sensitive someone is, the better job their cells do of removing sugars from the blood stream. Poor insulin sensitivity can lead to high blood sugar levels and ultimately type 2 diabetes. It has been well accepted that physical activity is an effective means to improve insulin sensitivity over time. In this study the SIT group saw a 53% improvement in their insulin sensitivity over 12 weeks. The MICT group also saw an impressive 34% improvement. While both results are outstanding clearly the SIT intervention was superior.

Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Content

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and the more we have, the more energy we can produce. It is widely accepted that mitochondria production increases with physical activity, specifically exercise that is aerobic in nature, including high-intensity interval training. Measuring the activity level of the enzyme citrate synthase is a method of determining the mitochondrial content of skeletal muscle. Over the 12 weeks the SIT group in this study saw a 48% increase in maximal activity of citrate synthase while the MICT group had a 27% increase.

Putting it all together

The body of research demonstrating the effectiveness of various interval training techniques continues to grow. This study very clearly demonstrates that SIT is as effective as MICT in improving cardiorespiratory fitness, insulin sensitivity and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content. The SIT actually showed better results then more traditional training. The most interesting aspect of all of this is that the SIT protocol required a five-fold lower volume and time of exercise to achieve the same results. Just 1 minute of peak work within a 10-minute period, 3 times a week was enough to match 3 sessions of 50 minutes of MICT per week.

Now don’t think that you can just suddenly start training hard for very short periods of time regardless of your training status and objectives. This study showed positive changes with that approach and when we are talking about improving health measures the improvement is significant. If you are a higher-level athlete pushing your fitness levels toward peak levels you will still require more training, but for most average people, the lower volumes are exceptionally interesting. The higher-level athlete still can look at higher intensity training techniques, but they will be applied differently. For weight loss, both groups in this study saw a positive change in body composition but the purpose of the study was not to examine optimum approaches to body fat loss. We will cover that in other posts.

There is also the issue of how many individuals can train at SIT levels of intensity. Individuals new to exercise, older individuals and those with various physical limitations or disease states may not be able to perform SIT. For some it is a physical issue, for others a motivational one. More traditional moderate-intensity training is still valid and appropriate for many populations but for those who are looking for a shorter time commitment, SIT might just be the ideal intervention to improve their health and fitness.


Gillen, J., Martin, B., MacInnis, M., Skelly, L., Tarnopolsky, M. and Gibala, M. (2016) Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLOSOne: April 26. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154075