fitnessLooking for an inexpensive, portable method for improving your strength and athletic performance? Try resistance bands. Among the types of resistance equipment available are tubing with rubber handles, circular tubing or bands, figure-8-shaped tubing, and flat elastic bands. Tubing or bands are also available with handles or straps that attach to a chair, stability ball, or door.

Available in different levels of tension, resistance bands and tubing can be used by exercisers of all fitness levels and ages—from beginners to competitive athletes, from children to seniors. Bands are color-coded according to the amount of tension and level of difficulty, making it easy to choose the appropriate resistance for your fitness level.

Resistance bands, which are also commonly used for physical therapy and rehabilitation, can provide strength-training benefits that free weights cannot. Using bands and tubes, you get consistent resistance throughout the entire range of motion in an exercise, and it’s possible to achieve a greater range of motion and variety of direction while maintaining resistance. This allows for functional strength training, mimicking movements from daily life or sports to improve function and performance. For example, older adults can use resistance bands to improve arm strength for reaching overhead or to improve hip and leg strength and balance to prevent falls. Athletes can use resistance bands and tubes to mimic a golf or  tennis swing or a baseball pitch and generate resistance while running with a band around the waist. Resistance bands and tubing can also be used to add more challenge to yoga poses and Pilates exercises.

Injuries can occur while using resistance bands and tubing despite their simplicity and ease of use. The most common injury, as with many types of exercise, occurs as a result of overuse. Performing too many repetitions of one exercise or too many exercises using the same muscle group can result in sore muscles, tendonitis, and/or repetitive stress injury. Another common injury occurs when exercisers use a band with too much tension. Beginners and those with limitations frequently choose resistance bands that are too difficult for their fitness levels, which can lead to muscles strains, sprains, or soreness.

An often-overlooked danger with resistance bands and tubing are skin or eye injuries. Exercise bands and tubing are just large rubber bands. If attached to a chair or doorway, they can slip off, snapping forward with enough force to injure your skin or cause serious eye trauma. Some exercises involve standing on the band or tubing while doing bicep curls or other upper body movements, and injury can occur if the band slips out from under your feet. Also, bands and tubing can wear out. Exercisers accustomed to using hand weights, which are very durable, may not pay attention to wear and tear on resistance bands and tubing. After a few weeks of use, the length of the bands or tubing should be examined for small tears or splitting. If they split fully during an exercise, skin or eye injuries may occur when the pieces snap apart.

With careful use, resistance bands and tubing are great additions to a weekly workout routine. And they can go where weights can’t—in your purse or pocket for a workout during a lunch break or in your suitcase for a workout on vacation or a business trip.