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Resistance Band Workouts Are All Over Instagram and TikTok. Do They Work?

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Sick of clean eating, perfect gym outfits, and chiseled abs? A Swole Woman is here to help you be healthy, enjoy carbs, and get jacked.

Hey Casey! I have very much enjoyed reading your columns (ever since the Hairpin, RIP). I am curious about your thoughts on resistance bands; are they for real? They seem fake. If they’re useful, what’s the best way of using them? –Micah

While I am deeply tempted to make a call on the fake/real spectrum, I think first we need to talk about what it is that we are actually talking about. Then we’re going to talk about what is reasonable to expect from these products, and then I’m going to talk about how I was using them at home when all the gyms were closed, in a way that I actually sort of liked and it felt Effective Enough. 

I’m not really sure where resistance bands came from, but I can say for sure that they weren’t a thing when I was a kid. By the time 2014 or so rolled around, most fitness YouTubers were doing supplemental workout movements with them (also known as “accessories”; if you aren’t sure how those are different from “any movement at the gym at all,” start here). They would do them either after they lifted heavier weights, as endurance-building or isolation movements, or, occasionally, before they lifted heavier weights as warm-up “activation” movements to try and get certain muscles firing before challenging them with harder movements.

Resistance band stuff was particularly popular in pursuit of, as we often say in this industry, “building the booty.” This usually looked like X-band walks, side steps, kickbacks, the now infamous-”donkey kicks” and “fire hydrants” popularized by Jen Selter, and hip abductions. Like I said: moves for your butt, and for a change of pace, some more moves for your butt. 

These were mostly done with the tissue-thin, wider, shorter types of resistance bands. I have done these moves; like everyone else, I, too, want a butt, and am afflicted with chronically underactive glutes that make any usage of my butt muscles, which I need for deadlifts and squats, a struggle.

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This wasn’t resistance bands’ only use. The larger, heavier (and more expensive) “super” bands were also occasionally used to create variations for different heavy lifts. Lifters would loop them around their barbells while deadlifting to add more resistance at the top, or around a pull-up bar to loop their knee or foot through to make it a little easier to do pull-ups in volume. This last one I am a big fan of, because it makes me feel like I can do a lot of pull-ups even though I cannot. Anyway, the term “resistance band” can refer to either of these types.

Fast forward to the last six months, and everyone and their mom is selling an at-home resistance band workout on Instagram or TikTok, not to mention the resistance bands you purportedly need for doing those workouts. Invariably, these people are in really good shape, some of them even ripped for the gods. These workouts have become popular to sell because resistance bands, at least the short, thin, wide ones, are pretty cheap, and they frame up easily as at-home workouts that look more interesting, at least, than the standard “at home bodyweight strength training workouts” or “high intensity interval workouts.” Plus, you get to purchase something.

These workouts often make lots of promises, such as “getting a peach emoji butt.” So what is fair to expect from your new set of rubber bands that appear to be keeping the trainers selling the workouts in such good shape? 

Resistance bands workouts qualify as exercise

Are they workouts? Sure; any kind of moving can be a workout. The moves that people are doing in the resistance band workouts, done without any resistance bands, are also workouts. Witness this workout from the olden days of 2016, where a fitness influencer is doing a bunch of moves that to which people are lately adding resistance bands, mostly without resistance bands. If you don’t work out much in general, or even if you do, these moves with or without resistance bands will make you sweat, and if you haven’t worked out in a while, will probably make you sore. 

Other things that are workouts: Jazzercise, step aerobics, Tae Bo, P90x, Pilates, Zumba, Sweatin’ to the Oldies with Richard Simmons. There’s always something new on the horizon of working out to imply fresh promises of a transformational experience. However,

Resistance bands probably won’t be the transformational experience that fitfluencers want you to believe

Resistance bands alone probably won’t change your body shape or composition significantly; just adding a resistance band won’t change a movement from one that is “moving around, creating sweat” to one that build strength or significant muscle size, for any body part, including your butt. I don’t want to say never, but, they just don’t make many movements meaningfully more challenging, especially not the ones that tend to be marketed to people who are new to working out.

As with any kind of working out, if you keep a caloric deficit (a responsible one, not a self-harm one), the workout may cause you to lose body fat, if kept up for a significant length of time and if you have body fat to lose. But as far as getting a “peach emoji butt”—no.

Building muscle involves lifting heavy weights at SOME point in your life. This means lifting weights as heavy as you can for a few reps for a few very basic movements, eating to repair that muscle so it’s even stronger the next time, and then lifting a few more pounds for the same number of reps at the next session, and keeping up this process of progressive overload as you get stronger.

Eventually, once you’re strong, you can bulk using these newly heavy weights you can lift, eating extra food to build up the size of your muscles, if you want. THIS is how people get bigger anything, whether it’s arms or butts or legs; not by doing some bodyweight squats with resistance bands that add the same 15lbs of resistance to the sides of your knees. 

(As a technical note: While the classic bro wisdom is that sets of 6-15 reps are best for building muscle size, newer research shows that we may be able to build muscle with a greater variety of rep ranges, anywhere from a few to 30+ reps, as long as it gets you close to “failure,” or a couple reps out from not being able to do any more. But people new to strength-building get strong quickly, and doing the same little weights over and over won’t keep them moving. Also, all things being equal, between falling asleep doing 30 reps and doing 5-15 reps and being done with that set, I know which one I’d pick. Don’t be afraid of hard-enough movements and heavy-enough weights for that, in my opinion.) 

If there is anyone in your social media feeds who is honest-to-god maintaining their very lean and muscular physique through resistance bands (and even that’s doubtful; their full-size gym is probably just out of frame where they have the camera set up to film their Resistance Band Workout for a Peach Emoji Butt), I would bet real money that they are only able to do that because they have lifted heavy weights before, and it is easier to maintain strength or muscularity than it is to build it in the first place. If they are openly claiming to have gotten super-jacked from just resistance bands, again, probably they have trained really hard to build muscle, and muscle comes back more easily with relatively less stimulus once it’s been built the first time.

If that’s not also you, you can’t remotely expect similar results. The dots your brain is connecting by seeing this very fit person do a resistance-band curtsy lunges are exciting, and almost certainly the person selling the program and the resistance bands knows that. But those dots are also misleading, or at least skipping over several important steps in the process. 

Why does this matter, you might ask; can’t I simply have fun working out with my little rubber bands? I do not aim to stand in the way of anyone having fun; have all the fun you like. I love fun as well! Huge fun-haver and -enjoyer. But I sense that these workouts are sold less on the prospect of “something new and fun to try” than “empty promises of a totally transformed body by just moving around a little bit extra.” I maintain that if more people tried proper lifting, they would find it barely any harder than the average HIIT workout, and they’d sweat a lot less, probably, and get to experience the resulting benefits of feeling like basically a mobile and capable human being more quickly.  

The problem facing us all, of course, is that gyms are not reliably available right now, due to the pandemic, and many of us are stuck working out at home. I’ve further heard from many people that in places where gyms are open, mask rules are not being enforced in gyms because states allow exceptions for when the mask “interferes with activity” or in the case of “heavy exertion.” This is simply bonkers and makes no sense; you can very easily wear a mask throughout a whole workout and the peace of mind is worth the very minor possibility that anyone has to shave a few pounds off their heaviest reps for the time being. Everyone needs to relax. 

Still, there are smart ways to use resistance bands at home

First of all, if we’re investing in these guys, I highly recommend getting some of the stronger super bands, so you can get more resistance bang for your band buck. These are also less likely to snap violently and unexpectedly, potentially hurting you. If you want bands that go anywhere on your body, they should be the fabric-reinforced kind, not straight-up rubber.

Super-bands can be used for lots of different things. In the highlight above, you can see how I combined them  with an old piece of piping from a hammock that never came to fruition, and by anchoring the super band on a fence and looping the band around the piece of pipe, I could to do things like bigger core movements like overhead presses, rows, as well as bicep curls and tricep pushdowns (technically you can hold the band in your hands to do these, and while you will see instructors do this in the video, frankly, it hurts and you will get sick of it) for 3-5 sets of 10-15. If you get a pull-up bar, which is highly recommended because there’s few good ways to do pulling motions at home without weights, you can loop a band around the bar to support your dead hangs, scapular pull-ups, negatives, or regular pull-ups (depending what’s appropriate for your level of experience with pull-up stuff). 

For lower body stuff, in the grand tradition of booty-building, I saved resistance bands for finishing movements at the end of workouts, because they are not the harder meat-and-potatoes movements; they are for when my big muscles are already sort of tired. A super band can add some resistance to those core pieces of my workout, like deadlifts with a suitcase full of books for 3-5 sets of 10-15. But the important part was doing sufficiently challenging movements: For instance, I get way more out of single-leg squats to a chair as practice for doing a pistol squat than, say, body weight squats with a little band added to them.

After those harder movements, I might then do hip abductions with a resistance band or hip thrusts or glute bridges or clamshells at the end, for similar reps and sets.

I am calling resistance band stuff “just a workout,” but that said, I actually did get more out of my few months working at home than “just a workout,” because it gave me time to work on my technique and activation. Now that I’m back to lifting, I notice a difference in how I move. But I already have a lot of practice with lifting heavy and some sense of what I needed to work on; I was never going to get enough weight and volume out of resistance bands ~ alone ~ to really either get stronger or change a lot about how I look, especially completely from scratch. I did get stronger doing some movements, like those single-leg squats to a chair or box or pull-ups or push-ups (ugh), but I didn’t need resistance bands for them. 

But I’m on record as saying, whatever is getting you through right now, healthwise, do it. If you can afford the resistance bands and want to try something different, go for it; just be reasonable about your expectations.

Disclaimer: Casey Johnston is not a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian, personal trainer, physiotherapist, psychotherapist, doctor, or lawyer; she is simply someone who has done a lot of, and read a lot about, lifting weights.

You can read past Ask A Swole Woman columns at The Hairpin and at SELF and follow A Swole Woman on Instagram. Got a question for her? Email swole.woman@vice.com.

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Galapagos sees record rise in penguins, flightless cormorants

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A drop in tourism and weather patterns associated with La Nina are thought to have helped the bird species in the remote archipelago.

The population of Galapagos penguins and flightless cormorants, two species endemic to the remote islands, has seen a record increase, according to study results released on Friday.

The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest species of penguins in the world, measuring up to 35 centimetres (14 inches) and the cormorants on the islands are the only type to have lost their ability to fly. They have developed diving skills instead.

“The number of cormorants has reached a record number, according to historical data dating back to 1977, while the number of penguins is at the highest since 2006,” said a statement from the Galapagos National Park, which carried out the census.

The population of Galapagos penguins, the only ones living on the earth’s equator, increased from 1,451 in 2019 to 1,940 in 2020, it added.

Flightless cormorant numbers increased from 1,914 to 2,220 over the same period.

The COVID-19 pandemic has kept tourists away from the Galapagos, helping the species that live on the archipelago recoup [File: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP]

The Galapagos Islands lie 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) off the coast of Ecuador and are home to species found nowhere else in the world.

The study was carried out by the park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in September. The main colonies present on the Isabela and Fernandina islands and the Marielas islets which are to the west of the archipelago have been classified as a natural heritage site.

Paulo Proano, Ecuador’s minister of environment and water, said the census results reflect the “good state of health of the population” of the Galapagos’ birds.

The park said the presence of the La Nina climatic phenomenon, which helps to provide more food for the birds, had contributed to the increase in their populations.

Another factor was the coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced disturbances to their nesting areas because of the drop in tourism, the park added.

The islands, which served as a natural laboratory for the English scientist Charles Darwin for his theory of the evolution of species, takes their name from the giant tortoises that live there.

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US to base Coast Guard ships in western Pacific to tackle China

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The United States will deploy Coast Guard patrol ships in the western Pacific to counter what it described as “destabilizing and malign” activities in the region by China, the country’s top security adviser said on Friday.

The US Coast Guard was “strategically homeporting significantly enhanced Fast Response Cutters … in the western Pacific,” White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in a statement.

Describing the US as a Pacific power, the statement added that China’s “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific threatens our sovereignty, as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors and endangers regional stability”.

It said US efforts, including by the Coast Guard, were “critical to countering these destabilizing and malign actions.”

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statement, which came just ahead of a planned visit to Asia by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne pose prior to their bilateral meeting in Tokyo on October 6, 2020 ahead of the four Indo-Pacific nations’ foreign ministers meeting. – (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / POOL / AFP)

Pompeo led a meeting of the so-called Quad in Tokyo this month. Washington hopes the grouping of the US, Japan, India and Australia can act as a bulwark against China’s growing assertiveness and extensive maritime claims in the region, including to nearly all of the South China Sea.

On Sunday, Pompeo will begin a five-day tour of India – where he will be accompanied by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper – and then he will continue on to Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Maritime security and a “free and open Indo-Pacific” will be high on the agenda, the State Department said.

Incursions

In July, Esper condemned a “catalogue of bad behaviour” in the South China Sea over the previous months, accusing the Chinese military of having sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat, harassing Malaysian oil and gas vessels and escorting Chinese fishing fleets into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

O’Brien added that the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was also studying whether to permanently station several of its patrol ships in the area of American Samoa in the South Pacific.

Last month, Indonesia protested after Chinese coastguard ships travelled into its exclusive economic zone, which is situated between its own territorial waters and international waters and where the state claims exclusive rights to develop natural resources.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines also claim the parts of the sea nearest to their shores.

The US Navy regularly conducts what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations in the disputed sea – angering China, which has developed military outposts on islands and islets.

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An island built from coral: How Indonesia’s Bajau made a home

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Bungin Island, Sumbawa, Indonesia – Scattered across many of the islands and coastal communities in Southeast Asia, the Bajau, numbering about one million people, are the world’s largest remaining group of sea nomads. But their culture is under threat.

In the Sulu Sea between Borneo and the Philippines, where the Bajau have roamed the ocean for 1,000 years, insurrection by the Abu Sayyaf armed group has led to an increased military presence and curfews restricting movements on both sides of the border.

On the islands of southern Thailand, where the group are known as Moken, they live in stilt shanties that cling like barnacles to coastlines that are rapidly being consumed by buildings built for tourists.

In Indonesia and peninsula Malaysia, many Bajau have given up ocean-based life by marrying people from local communities and seeking jobs in the cities.

But one Bajau community on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa has preserved its unique way of life by building their own islet out of coral, allowing it to evolve separately from the mainland.

With 3,500 residents on just 8.5 hectares (21 acres) of land, Bungin Island also stands out as the most densely populated of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands.

No crime

When the first Bajau arrived in Sumbawa from the southern Philippines 200 years ago, Bungin Island was just a sandbank on the north coast. In the Bajo language, Bungin means “a mound of white sand”.

Traditionally, the Bajau harvested coral to make foundations for their homes, expanding what was once a sandbank [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

They built their spartan stilt houses on the sand, but as their numbers grew, they enlarged the island by harvesting coral to build foundations for houses on low-lying sections of the surrounding reef. With the help of relatives and friends, it typically takes a week to build a 70-square metre (172-square acre) plot and structure.

“We have a good life here and we have enough money because all the time, every day and night, we are looking for fish,” said Surat, a Bungin Island elder, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

The Bajau are accomplished fishermen and free-divers who can remain underwater for as long as eight minutes on a single breath. Some children have their eardrums pierced to prevent them from bursting from water pressure while diving.

Studies of Bajau who start diving from young have shown their spleens, the organs which store oxygenated red blood cells, are 50 percent bigger than average.

Bungin Island has also developed a strong sense of community. When the heat of the day eases at dusk, people come out onto the tightly packed streets to shop, mingle, eat and pray in the mosque.

The Bajau are renowned for their ability to free dive and are famous for their salted fish [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Indonesians are renowned for their hospitality but on Bungin Island they really roll out the red carpet, sharing drinks, meals, laughter and conversation with visitors. And apparently, there is no crime on the islet.

“We don’t have locks on our doors,” said Rizky, Surat’s neighbour. “Everyone knows each other so it’s not possible to steal anything here.”

‘The problem with corona’

The nature of the sea gypsies’ lifestyle means they have missed out on many basic services.

Bajau communities in Indonesia are lacking “in the areas of health and education … [and] many Bajau are illiterate,” found the Joshua Project, a research project focused on Indigenous cultures with Christian minorities.

In the mid-1990s, the Indonesian government embarked on several large infrastructure projects to drag Bungin Island into the 21st century.

It built a wide sand causeway linking the island to the mainland and making it easier for islanders to sell their salted fish at mainland markets.

Nearly all the Bajau on Bungin island are Sunni Muslims [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

It also built a large government school on the mainland-end of the causeway and connected the islet to the national power grid. And tackled overcrowding by shipping in thousands of tonnes of sand to reclaim an additional 2.5 hectares (6.1 acres) of land from the seafloor.

The causeway also had an unintended effect – it turned Bungin Island into Sumbawa’s leading attraction for domestic tourists who would come to marvel at the paper-eating goats.

As plants cannot grow on the islet, the domesticated goats that roam the streets search instead for paper, cardboard and cloth. For many children, the highlight of visiting the islet was to feed the goats pages from their exercise books. For adults, it was long lazy lunches at Resto Apung, a floating seafood restaurant and fish farm with breathtaking coast and mountain views.

But when Indonesia temporarily banned domestic travel in April to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, tourism came to an end. With Indonesia’s coronavirus outbreak still surging, it has yet to recover.

“We had many tourists before the problem with corona,” said Surat. “But as we live so close together it is impossible to socially distance. The restaurant and our guesthouse had to close.”

Rubbish dump

The causeway has also brought more worrying problems.

Plastic and other household waste has collected around the shore of Bungin Island [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Before it was built, islanders ate only seafood, some greens and ric, and used organic materials like coconut shells and palm fronds as bags.

Easy access to the mainland introduced cheap packaged foods, water bottles and plastic bags and no waste management system to deal with it.

The result is that Bungin Island has been turned into a rubbish dump; its shores are carpeted with tonnes of rotting waste – all of which ends up in the delicate marine ecosystem the Bajau depend on to survive.

When asked about the problem, islanders laugh – a typical Indonesian response to awkward questions and social situations.

But a study published by the University of Queensland in July on plastic literacy in remote Indonesian coastal communities found a majority of people in the communities did not see the plastic waste as a threat and believed its only negative effect was to “make the village look dirty”.

The study’s authors suggested a two-pronged solution: the creation of “rubbish banks” – a term used in Indonesia for a recycling facility where plastic can be sold, sorted, shredded and moved down the value chain; and plastic awareness and environmental education.

Goats live on the island subsisting on a diet of paper and cardboard [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Awareness initiatives have already led to changes of some centuries-old traditions.

In the past, customary law dictated that young people who wanted to marry had to harvest coral to build a home of their own. The 21st-century residents of Bungin have different ideas.

“Now, if you get married, you stay with your parents and slowly, you save up money to buy a house on Bungin,” said Surat. “Most people do it this way because it’s easier than building with coral and doesn’t hurt the reef where the fish live so we can keep on fishing.”

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