Previous studies indicate that elastic resistance bands (ERB) can be a viable option to conventional resistance-training equipment (CRE) during single-joint resistance exercises, but their efficacy has not been established for several commonly used multiple-joint resistance exercises. Thus, we compared muscular activation levels in four popular multiple-joint exercises performed with ERB (TheraBand®) vs. CRE (Olympic barbell or cable pulley machines). In a cross-over design, men and women (n = 29) performed squats, stiff-legged deadlifts, unilateral rows and lateral pulldown using both modalities. Multilevel mixed-effects linear regression analyses of main and interaction effects, and subsequent post hoc analyses were used to assess differences between the two resistance-training modalities. CRE induced higher levels of muscle activation in the prime movers during all exercises (p < .001 for all comparisons), compared to muscle activation levels induced by ERB. The magnitude of the differences was marginal in lateral pulldown and unilateral rows and for the erector spinae during stiff-legged deadlifts. In squats the quadriceps femoris activations were substantially lower for ERB. The differences between ERB and CRE were mostly observed during the parts of the contractions where the bands were relatively slack, whilst the differences were largely eliminated when the bands became elongated in the end ranges of the movements. We conclude that ERB can be a feasible training modality for lateral pulldowns, unilateral rows and to some extent stiff-legged deadlifts, but not for the squat exercise.
Keywords: Resistance training; cross-over studies; electromyography; skeletal muscle; strength.