There are many middle school and high school athletes using weights to enhance their athletic performance, but there are also many others who feel they are unsafe and could potentially be damaging. Recently, band training has also become a popular form of resistance training for kids. Bands are less intimidating and do not have the stigma of creating bulk. which have made them a favorite with the crowd who dislikes weights.
But are bands a better choice from an athletic development standpoint? Possibly, depending on your specific areas of need.
Bands create resistance at the end range of an exercise, which makes sense because the farther it is stretched the more you have to work to stabilize it. With this end range challenge a young athlete can build tremendous amounts of joint stability in their hips and shoulders, helping to prevent injuries. Not to mention, it has the additional benefit of improving flexibility at the same time.
Bands also need to be controlled a lot more throughout the drill, which stimulates the nervous system and improves coordination. Coordination development is an often overlooked aspect of improving sports performance, and is best developed before age 15.
The third and possibly most valuable benefit of band resistance is that it can create horizontal forces on the body. Weights are dependent on gravity and only create vertical resistance, but most sports injuries occur due to a horizontal force imposed on an unstable joint, often when cutting or stopping to change direction. By strengthening in this plane of motion, you can train to prepare for the exact type of forces most commonly seen in athletics.
Despite all these benefits, it is important to understand that weight training stimulates other critical needs in young athletes that you will not get from working with bands alone.
Bands will not help to build muscle, which many young athletes need as they look to compete at higher levels within their chosen sport. And explosive power does not necessarily get improved through bands very well. Sports revolve around speed and power, which bands can only improve to a point. Medicine balls, Olympic lifting, and pure strength gains are needed to maximize speed and power potential.
So which is better for an athlete’s long-term success? Band strength and speed work has unmatched value for young athletes, but is not a true replacement for weight training. A workout program that capitalizes on the stabillity benefits of bands plus the strength and power gains from weights would provide the best of both worlds. Avoiding one or the other will not optimize the training effect for any athlete as they move towards physical maturity.