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What is Variable Resistance Training?

Variable resistance is a popular term to hear about in the fitness world today. It’s not a new concept in any way, and it’s a lot more simple than you think.

Imagine yourself in the weight room, dumbbells in hand. You curl your arms upward and complete your rep. What do you feel? Likely, you feel the same weight you did throughout the motion. If you worked through the motion quick enough, you may have even felt the weight get lighter. At that moment, gravity briefly worked in your favor.

The more seasoned gym rats know not to let this happen. They typically work through most anaerobic exercises with a slower pace to force the resistance to stay the same. This is what we call static resistance.

It’s not the only way.

What is Variable Resistance?

Variable resistance is the opposite of static resistance. Instead of the resistance of your weight staying the same throughout an exercise, the resistance actually increases as you progress through the movement. Citing the previous example, variable resistance would make the top of your bicep curl heavier than midway through it.

This leads to what fitness enthusiasts call variable resistance training, or VRT. It’s also called elastic resistance training in many cases. This is because it often takes the form of one of the fastest-growing fitness products in the industry: resistance bands.

Strong man training with resistance straps
Woman exercising in the park

How do Resistance Bands Change My Workout?

Resistance bands are the most common form of VRT you’ll find in the gym. The elasticity of these bands makes it so that your exercise gets harder at the top of your movement. Your average resistance band weighs almost nothing. However, working against it can have you pushing against resistances on par with free weights.

For example, let’s say your resistance band is marked for a weight of 30 pounds. At your starting position on a bicep curl, the resistance you feel is most likely a fraction of that. However, as you progress through the motion, the weight you feel, or more accurately, the resistance you feel, grows rapidly. At the top of your motion, the resistance band exerts even more than 30 pounds of force on your muscle.

Resistance bands aren’t the only means of VRT, even if they are the most common. The other most common form of VRT is through the use of chains. Chains can add variable resistance by lifting them directly or attaching them to other weights. The resistance grows as more of the chain comes off the ground during your exercise. It’s essentially dead weight that grows with the movement. The only downside of chains as opposed to resistance bands is that you still have to obey gravity. Resistance bands don’t work against gravity, instead just resisting their own stretch.

Why is Variable Resistance Important In Exercise?

So why does it matter whether you train with elastic bands or free weights at the end of the day?

The truth is that a virtually weightless resistance band coiled up inside your gym bag packs a lot of potential. It helps to build your muscle almost as much as conventional weightlifting. It also could improve your muscle growth in a more body-intuitive way.

Muscles have weak points that show up during movements. For example, the muscles that perform a bench press are at their weakest at the beginning of the motion. They’re at their strongest at the top of the motion, when your arms straighten and your elbows lock for support. 

With VRT, the resistance band is a bit more merciful during the weak part of your exercise. Then, it’s overtly tougher during the part of the motion when you’re at your strongest. VRT makes your muscles work harder through the entire movement and will result in more advanced muscle growth.

VRT isn’t necessarily meant to entirely replace traditional constant resistance training, although some have argued that it can. Rather, it can work as a modification of your training regime.

How Can I Incorporate VRT Into My Workouts?

VRT training should be a part of your fitness routine no matter what kind of training you do. The benefits in your muscles are well worth it.

The best way to incorporate VRT into your training is to include a VRT element in your current exercises. This can include adding chains or resistance bands to your weights. Some resistance bands have a steel clip attachment for you to hook onto other equipment. Try this free Training Room with Stroops to get hundreds of exercise videos using exclusively resistance bands.

Another way is using resistance bands to work separate from gravity with a different line of pull. An example of this would be performing tricep extensions downward against your band(s) rather than lifting weights overhead.

How to Stay Safe During VRT

You may think of resistance bands as being inherently safer than free weights—and you’d be correct. You can’t injure yourself by dropping a resistance band on your foot or trap yourself under a bench press. Resistance bands are not without danger, however.

Stroops trainer Danielle uses a Slastix Toner

The most common danger with resistance bands is that they can break. For most designs of a band, that can mean getting whipped by it when it does. There are a few things you can do to avoid this:


  1. Take time to mark off and pay attention to where your bands give you the most resistance without maxing out. Identify this area as a “training zone,” and stay inside of it.
  2. Clean your bands after use to avoid buildup of dust or grime and keep dirt from wearing it down.
  3. Invest a little more money in your workout equipment by getting a sleeved resistance band. These bands may cost more, but they will ultimately last longer, and you’ll get rid of the danger of snapping altogether.

Wrapping It Up

VRT training is a game-changer for weight training. It offers a better option in terms of safety, enhanced muscle growth and targeting, and a more well-rounded workout. With resistance bands, you can see much of the same great results that you would with conventional weights. You’ll then be able to go beyond that by working your muscles in a fuller and more intuitive way.


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