published Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Pierce: How to use the versatile resistance band

Don’t read this if you’re younger than 50.

No, today’s column is for all the baby boomers and senior adults who left the recent Times Free Press Life Expo for Boomers & Seniors with that day’s hottest freebie in their hands: a big rubber band.

When I walked into the exhibition hall, I immediately noticed the huge crowd of seniors huddled around the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee booth. There was a line extending into the aisle as well as people standing three deep around the table trying to work their way to the front.

What could excite the AARP crowd like that, I wondered. A free week in Branson?

I got in line.

I was surprised to find it was simply a large elastic band permanently knotted in the middle to form a figure 8, which I recognized as a resistance band.

Having had a dad in assisted living, I know they are popular for exercise that’s low-impact on joints but high in results.

So now that we’ve all got one, how exactly do we use it? I asked Kristy Brewer, who has a master’s degree in exercise science and is an exercise physiologist at Erlanger’s Chattanooga Lifestyle Center.

“You can do just about anything with that exercise band,” she said, “and anybody can use them.”

She then reeled off a list of exercises it was good for, including tricep overhead extensions, tricep kickback, seated row or standing row, chest press, kneeling glute press, pushups, punches, side and front leg raises and leg curls.

Brewer also told me they are popular with people who like to exercise while traveling because they are easy to pack.

She explained that usually resistance bands are color-coded: the darker the color, the more resistance. A light band, a weight resistance of 3 to 5 pounds, would be for beginners. Bands go up to 16 pounds in resistance.

I told her our resistance bands were royal blue, but I thought that was due more to the fact it was a BCBST giveaway and that was company logo colors.

But assuming this blue band is medium-weight resistance or less, here are some exercises she shared to try at home.

“Start with one set of 12 to 15 reps,” Brewer said. “I wouldn’t go above 20 reps at first. The first couple of weeks do one set, then add a second set in another couple of weeks.”

* The reverse fly: Put each hand in a loop in front of the chest, then pull the loops apart as far as you can.

(Ladies, think of that rhyming exercise we all chanted hopefully in junior high: “We must, we must, we must increase the bust.” Same idea.)

* Work the inner and outer thigh muscles: Sit in a chair and place one loop over each knee. Now move your knees away from each other and back together.

* Bicep curl: Place one foot in one loop on the floor to hold it in place, and hold the other loop while in a standing position. Keeping your elbow close to your side, pull the hand holding the loop upward toward the shoulder, then straight back down.

* The seated row: Pointing one leg out straight, toes toward the ceiling, hook one loop of the band over that foot. Hold the other loop, bend your arm and pull the band around behind you in a rowing motion.

Brewer says to do this on each side to work the back muscles.

* Standing row: Stand in the middle of the band, lean forward so your back is parallel to the floor and your head near your feet. Grab the loops and bring them behind you in a rowing motion, then down.

Why is playing with this big rubber band important as we age?

“They strengthen weak muscles very effectively, which is important in preventing falls in senior adults,” said Brewer. “It’s a fairly easy way for senior adults to keep strength and good muscle tone in their arms and legs.”

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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