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rear lunge with biceps curl

Philip Friedman/Studio D

For under $10, you can purchase a resistance band - and get a total body workout that will build muscle, burn fat, and strengthen bones. Here, a few reasons we find resistance bands, well, irresistible:

They're versatile. Free weights and machines create tension in only one direction (either from pulling up or pushing down), but bands give you resistance both ways. You'll benefit from "concentric" contraction, which causes muscles to shorten, and "eccentric" contraction, which elongates muscles and sculpts your body. With bands, you can control the tension to work different muscle groups, adjust the level of difficulty, and add variety to your fitness plan.

They're portable. It's easy to take them with you on a stroll or slip them in your suitcase before a trip.

They're safe. There's a slimmer chance of injury using bands than with other exercise equipment.

They work. A recent Spanish study showed that bands are just as effective as machines for beginning to shed pounds.

 

Convinced? If you're ready to rev up your workout, follow these smart tips from exercise physiologist and personal trainer Nikki Carosone:

Go online. To find the least expensive bands, Carosone recommends searching Amazon.com. Bands are also sold at Target, Wal-Mart, and most sporting goods stores.

Start with a medium-tension band. Most bands are color-coded according to resistance level. There's no industry standard, but often, yellow corresponds to lightest resistance, green to light, blue to medium, red to heavy, and black to heaviest. The thicker the band, the more resistance it provides. On a scale of 1 to 10, the exercise difficulty should feel like a 7 or 8. It's a good idea to buy at least two different tensions, since some parts of your body may be stronger than others.

Choose bands with swivel handles.These make it easier to transition from one muscle group to the next (e.g., from biceps to triceps), allowing your body to work with the band as opposed to against it. Once you're comfortable with the basic model, you can also try accessories like Velcro cuffs that wrap around your ankles.

Make sure you attach the band to something that won't move. Many exercises require you to hook the band to a solid object at home or at the gym. A chair might go flying, so it's best to use a stable railing or pole. If you don't have something sturdy, look for bands that come with door attachment straps; simply thread the band through the loop at one end of the strap and secure the nub at the other with a closed door. You can also buy an attachment separately for under $5.

Check out how-to guides. Many bands come with pullout diagrams that illustrate exercises for your abs, upper, and lower body — and some brands, like Bodylastics, include workout DVDs. For additional moves, search YouTube, suggests Carosone. You'll discover dozens of ways to tone up and trim down, so your routine never becomes a bore.

 

Ready for a workout using a resistance band? Get started with these easy moves that will tone your muscles and eliminate flab.

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