Yoga with Resistance Bands Enhances Strength, Awareness and Mobility
Article At A Glance
Adding resistance to your yoga practice can boost body awareness in the yoga poses, activate appropriate muscles, improve your body strength, increase mobility, and add the functional movement pattern of pull. Yes, this simple, lightweight prop can bring many extra benefits to your practice. If you’re time-poor and yoga is your priority, practicing yoga with resistance bands can help you tick many more of your healthy body boxes.
How Yoga with Resistance Bands Boosts Body Awareness
Awareness of our body, our perception of what muscles are active, and what is truly going on needs practice to develop. Our yoga practice helps immensely. But sometimes, we get too caught up in making the pose look like it “should.” This can cause us to do strange things without realizing it.
Let’s look at the example of Triangle Pose (Trikonasana). As the upper body moves over the front leg, our body weight, of course, moves with it, and often we forget to really plant the back foot, to use that leg to help support us. Using a resistance band, as described below, reminds us to send energy to the back foot and activate the muscles in that leg.
How to Practice Yoga with Resistance Bands
1. Use a long, unlooped resistance band at least 1.5 meters long.
2. Start with the feet hips-distance apart at the top of the mat. Loop the band under the left foot and hold the tails in each hand.
3. Step the left foot toward the back of the mat, with the band under the foot.
4. Turn the left foot so that the toes angle toward the side of your mat and slightly toward your right foot. Keep your right foot facing the front. Make sure the loop of the resistance band is anchored by the left foot.
5. Extend the arms out to the sides with the tails of the resistance band in your hands.
6. Reach forward with the right hand and ribs. Lean into the Triangle Pose, reaching your hands away from each other.
Once we know how it feels to be doing this, we can train our awareness and recreate the activation each time we move into the pose.
Yoga with Resistance Bands: Muscle Activation
The resistance band continues to help awareness and activation as we progress in our yoga practice too. As some poses become easier for us, it’s possible to switch off a little in the pose.
Let’s go back to our example of Triangle Pose. When we’re starting our yoga asana journey, we might find reaching our hands away from each other challenging, so we are still very aware and active in the arms. If our arms are stronger, we put them in the familiar position, and then our awareness wanders. Adding a resistance band will bring your attention back to those arms and remind your muscles to activate and keep reaching.
Having to work against the resistance also has the benefit of keeping your core muscles activated to hold you steady. Triangle Pose is just one example. Practicing yoga with a resistance band for the first time will show you where you may have been losing awareness and activation in many poses.
Resistance Bands Improve Strength
With awareness and activation, we can build strength. Making the muscles contract to oppose the resistance of the band helps to build muscle strength. Of course, you can start with light resistance. Then you can slowly increase the resistance of the bands and build more muscle strength.
Building muscle strength is super important for maintaining our metabolism and also our bone density. The strength of muscle contractions stresses the bones in a good way, making them stay stronger. Stronger muscles will also improve our ability to move and can even improve our balance. As well as adding resistance bands to static pose holds, you can add movements into some poses to challenge the muscles more. For example, you can turn Warrior I Pose (Virabhadrasana I) into triceps muscle strengthening.
Warrior I Pose with Tricep Curls
1. Use a 1.5-meter-long, unlooped resistance band.
2. Start at the top of the mat in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), feet hips-distance apart. Loop the middle of the resistance band under your left foot and hold the tail ends of the band in each hand.
3. Step the left foot to the back of the mat, with the resistance band loop under it.
4. Turn the toes of the left foot slightly outward. They should face mostly toward the top of the mat. Keep your right foot facing the front of the mat.
5. Bend into your right knee, keep your left leg straight and make sure the resistance band is anchored under your left foot.
6. Raise your arms overhead with the tails of the resistance band in each hand, and turn your armpits toward each other (internal rotation).
7. Bend your elbows so your hands move toward the base of your skull, then extend your arms, reaching your hands toward the sky.
8. Repeat step six as many times as you like, making sure it’s the same amount on each side.
Yoga with Resistance Bands: Increase Mobility
The physical poses (asana) stretch muscles and tendons and release fascia, improving flexibility and range of motion. Not all types of stretches are created equally, though, and we utilize different types for different purposes. When we practice with resistance bands, we can get some of the benefits of PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) and from dynamic stretching.
These types of stretching involve muscle contraction rather than relaxation while stretching, and this gives a greater range of motion than static, relaxed muscle stretching. Research shows that contracting a fully stretched muscle against resistance relaxes the reflex that prevents further stretching and allows a stretch greater than normal. Contracting the muscle also increases temperature and blood flow, which enhances flexibility. It may not be the sole purpose of yoga, but if one of your goals is more range of motion, using a resistance band in your yoga practice will help.
For example, let’s revisit our previous Warrior I variation. Raising the arms overhead increases the resistance. The triceps muscles and even the latissimus dorsi have to contract to stop your arms from going too far back while simultaneously stretching those muscles. You are getting more from the stretch in this pose and using a more functional type of stretching.
Increase Functional Movement
Functional movements are the basic movement types that are required for everyday life, and the muscle activation patterns involved are ideally ingrained in us. The functional patterns are squatting, lunging, hinging, rotation, pushing, pulling, and walking. As you can see, yoga practice does train most of those elements right up to pulling and walking. While lunging, squatting, and rotation can help with the walk functional pattern, pulling is a little out of the yoga wheelhouse. The addition of a resistance band solves that by training muscles in all dimensions for healthy and functional everyday movement. This is perfect if you have limited time for taking care of your body and your yoga is a priority.