Resistance band walks are a common and popular tool in both personal training and strength and conditioning. And for good reason – in the right context, they can assist with glute activation and help to build great glutes.
Examples of resistance band walks include:
- lateral / sumo band walks
- x walks
- monster walks
But are band walks a great exercise for everyone?
And what can be the drawbacks of employing band walks in your training whether you’re a personal trainer, a gym goer, or an athlete?
Recently I've come across lots of content regarding the application of resistance bands for strength and activation purposes. Generally aimed at the everyday athlete, from recreational runners, to busy city centre professionals and general gym junkies.
For me as an experienced Manchester personal trainer and athlete, band walks are something I feel can often do more harm than good.
To say you are going to become a "stronger runner" or your "glute activation" will improve through utilising different types of band walks and band assisted activation drills isn't always (and I'd say is rarely) true.
This is especially true when we're talking about your everyday (non-pro) athlete, and office workers (we train a lot of people who work in and around Spinningfields in Manchester’s city centre).
Mobility is the critical factor
I can guarantee that almost all of the personal training clients I see week in week out at our Manchester city centre personal training gym will struggle with some sort of mobility issue. More so around the hip complex, due to prolonged periods of sitting and inactivity, which has the tendency of creating super tight musculature.
I want to focus on this specific area as this is where we see most of these so called ‘super exercises’ with a resistance band are aimed at.
So let's look at hip complex anatomy
The muscles of the hip complex that will generally be used during band assisted walks and assisted activation drills are below, I'll try and keep it simple and specific because there are plenty!
We have the
- gluteus maximus
- gluteus medius
- gluteus minimus
- TFL (tensor fasciae latae)
- psoas major
- ITB tract (tendon)
- and you could probably add in rectus femoris and vastus lateralis for the lateral line
All of the above are muscles that are generally very tight and restrictive in the general population.
Due to our Westernised culture and prolonged periods of sitting and inactivity, or even excessive activity (runners for example), we often become very tight and immobile through this key area.
Now we can begin to hit the nail on the head
We have come to the conclusion that tightness is a key factor in day to day life and that will determine one’s ability to move freely and more efficiently.
If you have sub-optimal mobility through your hips, adding band assisted walks / band activation exercises to your programming is likely to only make your issues worse.
That burning sensation when performing lateral band walks for instance isn't activation nor is it building any sort of strength. It's just making a tight muscle even tighter and even more restrictive!
We need to delve deeper into the art of movement
There are many exercises that can be of far greater benefit than any sort of band assisted exercise. For example MFR (myo-facial-release), functional range conditioning, trigger point therapy, integrated movement mechanics, and not to mention good old fashioned strength training utilising correct movement mechanics.
For example, the following exercises will begin to activate, strengthen and work through vital movement mechanisms, without hindering key components of the hip complex:
- eccentric focus step downs
- tri-planar lunge patterns
- glute bridge variations
- TRX over range split squats
- TRX speed skaters
Breaking down facial build up and tight musculature is key to improving one’s ability to move more freely, with more efficiency, and with greater strength and/or endurance.
Only then will applying specific protocols regarding activation, mobility and strength really work.
Benefits of optimal movement go beyond athletic performance and are foundational for life
These strategies also mean staying pain and injury free, optimising movement for a long, physically healthy, and functional life!
If you’d rather be rock climbing, trekking, snowboarding, surfing and paddleboarding in your 90’s rather than struggling to make the stairs, never mind having greater confidence in your ability to perform optimally and stay pain and injury free at any age, focusing on mobility and functionality as well as aesthetics and performance is critical. Band walks might not be the best choice for a lot of people in this regard.
This is the end goal, right? Tight, immobile, musculature only holds you back from achieving your performance goals and living a full and free life.
At the end of the day specificity is key, too. Runners need to run to become better, faster runners, and to help them on that journey bio-mechanical efficiency is imperative.
Assisted band exercises and silly band walks will not help with this. They will often only promote many other dysfunctions and imbalances that will be detrimental to our movement capacity, quality of movement and life, and health.
That’s not to say that resistance band walks always lead to dysfunction and should always be avoided in every case. EMG (electromyogram) research, where electrical activity in muscles is measured, shows that resistance band walks do lead to increased muscular activity through the hips.
Translating this kind of research, which may benefit high level athletes who most likely have optimised mobility, into an office worker, general gym going individual, or everyday athlete who has sub-optimal mobility and a host of other postural issues, is most likely not appropriate and may well lead to further problems.
That, and the fact that there are simply much better exercises to achieve a better outcome when you need to achieve optimised glute activation.
There's more to creating a strong, athletic and aesthetically pleasing body than fad gimmicks and quirky exercises!
Remember... function always outweighs aesthetics and creating strong, optimally muscular and powerful function will always lead to better performance and quality of life.
To your lean, healthy, optimised future,
Tommi Baker - Optimised Personal Trainer