How Hard Are You Working When You Exercise with Resistance Tubing?

When strength training with weights, it’s relatively easy to determine how much weight you can lift. The weights have numbers, after all, and with just a little experience and some simple math you’ll be able to figure out what your limit is, for example, for a bench press — what the max amount of weight is that you’re able to lift for a single rep, or what your max is for two reps, or four reps, or eight reps.

From there you can make adjustments accordingly depending on your goals. Training for strength, muscle size, or muscle endurance involve different approaches. If you want to get big, for example, you’ll be lifting heavier weights in sets of fewer repetitions, maybe between six and twelve. If you want to build endurance, your weights will be lighter but your sets will be longer, maybe from fifteen to twenty reps each.

But we’re not here to talk about weights, so if that’s what you’re interested in, check this out instead.


Resistance Tubing and Perceived Exertion

The other option with strength training is resistance tubing or bands. These elastic resistance devices come in a variety of resistance levels and lengths that defy the easy math of a stack of weights. They provide a great strength training workout, but it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much force is involved with each rep. It depends on a combination of variables that are just too much trouble to measure, such as the band’s resistance level, its length, and how far it gets stretched.

So how do you know which band to use to get an appropriate workout for your resistance training goals?

The answer again comes with experience. You’ll probably need to try a variety of resistance levels to get a feel for what works best for you. And you might want to continue using a variety of resistance levels anyway, with lighter tubing for warmup and heavier tubing for greater muscle fatigue.

The other thing to consider is something called the Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE. There are a number of RPE scales to choose from, but basically they are a way to subjectively rate the intensity of an exercise.

With the OMNI-RES scale, you rate your exercise on a scale of 0-10 (from extremely easy to extremely hard) or with the Borg scale you rate it from 6-20 (with 6 being no exertion at all and 20 being maximal exertion).

RPE numbers have been used with accuracy by weightlifters, who report the top of the scale (10 on the OMNI-RES) when lifting their max weight for one rep. Studies have also shown this RPE scale to be accurate and useful in determining training dosage levels for resistance bands.

The bottom line, though, is that if you’re working out for general fitness and strength training with resistance tubing, it’s probably just your personal experience and how you feel that will be the best determiner of resistance and set sizes — again following the principles of heavy resistance and fewer reps for strength and mass, and lighter resistance and more reps for muscle endurance.






6 No exertion Reading a book, watching TV
7 Extremely light Tying shoes
9 Very light Chores like folding clothes that seem to take little effort
11 Light Walking through the grocery store; some effort but not enough to speed up breathing Endurance training zone
13 Somewhat hard Brisk walk; moderate effort that speeds your heart rate and breathing but doesn’t make you out of breath
15 Hard Bicycling, swimming, or other activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding; breathing very fast Strength training zone
17 Very hard The highest level of activity that you can sustain
19 Extremely hard A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long
20 Maximal exertion

*An interesting side note is that multiplying the scale number by 10 will give you a rough estimate of what a person’s heart rate might be at these exertion levels (with the caveat that not everybody has a resting heart rate of 60 BPM, and that max heart rate is generally considered to be 220 minus a person’s age.)