Let’s see why?
A major nerd at heart, I love to think about things like the similarities and differences between different yoga props and then compare their different benefits from a body science perspective. So, I’m going to share with you the number one difference I see between a resistance band and a yoga belt + three reasons why I think adding resistance bands to a yoga practice is the bomb diggity.
It’s this: Yoga belts are stiff. Resistance bands are stretchy.
[Insert emoji of brain exploding.]
Actually, no joke. Get your nerd hats on because we’re entering the nerd zone.
1. Unlike when you pull on a yoga belt, when you pull on a resistance band, it pulls you back.
Now, wait a second. Is this the most blatantly obvious, yet, mysteriously intriguing detail about oversized rubber bands anyone has ever told you?
It’s actually the key difference between a stretchy band and a cloth belt. The constant tensile feedback from a resistance band means, as we move against it, our muscles (read, nervous systems) learn more and our sensory system (again, read nervous systems) get more input as to what is happening and where we are in space. We get stronger, but better, we get smarter at propriocepting and motor-controling our body movement.
Proprioception is how we know our body’s position and movement moment by moment. Motor control is the way our brain, like a conductor, orchestrates muscle contraction so we can move in the ways we choose to move. Motor control and proprioception need each other. We can speak of them as though they are separate, but they always function together. Additionally, a lot of research suggests that improving both are effective ways to overcome pain from injury and hypermobility.
2. A yoga belt doesn’t offer any resistance at all, whereas resistance bands offer a bouquet of different resistance levels from super light to super heavy!
Why does this mean resistance bands should run for president of the United States (aside from the most obvious reason?)
Because now, yogis, we can externally load our muscles with a force other than gravity!
You dropped your nerd hat. Put it back on.
What is external load?
External load (sometimes called external resistance) is any force – like the tensile force from resistance bands, or gravitational force – that acts in opposition to the internal force of the system (your body.) An example of internal force in your body is the contractile force of your muscles. When you lift weights at the gym, the dumbells offer external resistance to the muscles you use to lift them. When you go swimming, water acts as external resistance to the muscles you use to propel yourself through the water.
Doing yoga asana has traditionally meant that we move against the resistance of our body mass and gravity alone (body weight.) This means that we can’t really progress the magnitude of load unless we fiddle with our body’s position (or gain a bunch of weight or practice yoga with goats standing on top of us.) Even then, there is a limit to our ability to progress strength to the same degree to which we are often compelled to progress flexibility.
Pose for pose, if you compare what’s practiced in a beginner class versus an advanced class, you’ll likely see that poses practiced in these classes differ mostly in the range of motion students explore in them (bigger range of motion in fancier poses in the advanced level classes.) Meanwhile, a students body weight stays relatively the same. In other words, advancing your asana practice often means, among many things, advancing your range of motion. Range of motion advances, but body weight stays the same.
Meanwhile, increased range of motion isn’t really that useful to us (apart from fancy yoga pose shots for Instagram) unless we can actually do the work of human-beings with it. You know, like lifting stuff and managing day to day impact? Life involves impact (sometimes high impact) and lifting stuff (sometimes heavy stuff.) If our practice prepares us for our life, our practice prepares us to manage life’s loads. We need our strength and motor-control to keep pace with our flexibility so we don’t always feel like we’re on the edge of injury.
3. Resistance bands provide consistent external resistance for all three types of muscle contraction – concentric, eccentric and isometric contractions.
Quick muscle physiology lesson: a muscle can contract and exert internal force by shortening (concentrically contracting), lengthening (eccentrically contracting), and staying the same length (isometrically contracting). It’s a good idea to train a muscle to get stronger through all of these types of contractions.
Resistance bands offer an opportunity to be able to do this more often in the practice. Their constant, abiding tension provides something for your muscles to resist form early to late in the range of motion you explore. This is especially helpful for getting stronger at end ranges of motion, which is a place flexible yogis tend to ‘collapse’ and ‘hang out’ in.
Here ends our nerd out for the day. There’s a lot more, but I’d rather share it all with you in my Yoga with Resistance Bands Teacher Training!
The nerd wagon leaves soon!
Care to join the resistance and geek out on a bunch more stuff like what I’ve shared with you here?
Get ready to increase your flexibility AND strength, and then offer opportunities for your students to do the same, by joining the Yoga with Resistance Bands Teacher Training at Hot Yoga Dublin, May 24-26.
Laurel Beversdorf, B.F.A, E-RYT 500, is the creator of Yoga with Resistance Bands Classes and Trainings and Body of Knowledge™ Anatomy and Biomechanics workshops. A Yoga Tune Up® trainer and senior teacher and teacher trainer for YogaWorks, Laurel regularly presents trainings and workshops at locations like Kripalu, YogaWorks, and studios across the world. An interdisciplinary movement educator specializing in anatomy, biomechanics and yoga teaching pedagogy, Laurel is committed to raising the bar on the content and quality of yoga education. She teaches in order to help her students reclaim and strengthen a sense of power and belonging in their bodies, the bodies through which they share their gifts and transform the world. Laurel is based out of YogaWorks in NYC. You can learn more about her online Yoga with Resistance Bands classes at www.laurelbeversdorf.com