Resistance bands have gone from a little-considered afterthought in the gym to one of the most commonly used implements in the home and outdoor workouts that dominated fitness trends during the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, bands got their due over the past year and a half, and became valuable as much for their utility as for their wide availability as supply chains made weights tougher to find. Now, you should consider ways to keep them in your routines permanently as you ease back in to more typical training protocols.
The stretchy rubberized tools are more useful than just filling in for other, heavier gear like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, after all. Sure, bands take up less space in your house and are no sweat to toss in a bag for on-the-go training, and even the hardiest band is bound to be much cheaper than the least expensive set of adjustable weights. But a resistance band’s utility goes beyond just convenience and cost-effectiveness.
For one, bands are incredibly versatile. Using just your bodyweight and a band, you can load up essential movements like pushups and squats. Need resistance? Stand on your band to curl, press, or row it, or tether it to an anchor point (just make sure it’s safe and sturdy to avoid any mishaps) and you can perform all manner of pulls, extensions, and more. Resistance bands provide you with the ability to hit just about every muscle group in your body—if you’re willing to work hard and get a little creative with your surroundings.
The options are endless. Here’s your resistance band primer.
Why Resistance Bands Work
Even if you have dumbbells and kettlebells at home, or even if you’re fine doing basic bodyweight motions, having a resistance band around can bring serious value to your workouts.
Why? Two words: Accommodating resistance. Essentially, the farther you pull a resistance band, the more it quite literally “resists” you. That’s a different brand of resistance than say a dumbbell.
Take a biceps curl. Curl the dumbbell upwards, and there comes a point where the curl actually gets “easy” for your biceps, near the top of the motion. The length of the lever that challenges your biceps decreases as you finish the exercise, meaning gravity can no longer create challenge with the dumbbell (and your muscle no longer needs to create as much force to fight that challenge).
Do the same curl with a resistance band and as you near the top, it doesn’t get easier; instead, you have to work to earn the squeeze at the top of the curl. The stretched band is fighting you more, forcing you to accelerate through the entire range of motion and challenging your muscle fibers in a different way. You’ll have to squeeze your muscles extra-hard to fight banded resistance, a habit that will improve your dumbbell training, too.
Does that make bands better than dumbbells? No. But both tools can have a place in your training, and in the grand workout scheme, both tools can complement each other. One tool (hint: not the dumbbell), however, is so tiny that you can easily fit it in your backpack for any and every road trip.
The Best Ways to Use Bands
That all makes resistance bands a quality option for any workout. But in much the same way you might mix barbells, dumbbells, and cables at the gym, you ideally want to mix up your training with resistance bands too. Try these approaches with bands (and know that there are many more too).
Full Workout: Yes, you can use resistance bands for an entire full-body workout; they’ll challenge and push your body. Depending on the size of your resistance band, you might not be able to go incredibly heavy on some of the motions where you’ll want more challenge, such as deadlifts and squats, so if you’re doing a bands-only full-body session, consider doing this as a circuit. Aim for one pull move (a row or pulldown or curl), one push move (a pushup, overhead press, or triceps pressdown-style motion) and one leg move (squat, deadlift, or lunge) in every full-body session.
Finishers: If you have access to dumbbells and barbells, or if you’re advanced enough with your bodyweight to create unilateral challenges (think: pistol squats and post pushups), consider using bands near the end of your workout. They’re a great way to promote an active and aggressive chest squeeze on a pushup.
Dropsets: One great way to use bands at home is to use them in dropsets. A dropset has you starting with a heavier weight (or a more challenging version of a move), then “dropping” into a lighter weight or more basic version of an exercise. Because you’re fatigued from the initial work you put in on the harder move, the easier move feels, well, harder. Try it with squats. Do 10 resistance band squats, holding the band under your feet and with your hands at your shoulders. Immediately release the band and do 10 standard squats. Do 3 sets. Enjoy the burn.
The Resistance Band Moves
Mix-and-match these moves to create resistance band workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere. And when in doubt, remember to think full-body (one pull move, one push move, one leg move).
19 Starter Moves
Start with these 19 moves from David Jack, creator of MH’s Muscle After 40 program. They’ll hit your entire body in all directions. The list is highlighted by a host of critical back moves: The split-stance row, the reverse fly, the single-arm reverse fly, and the classic bent-over row.
You’ll rock your abs in this classic abdominal exercise, which takes advantage of banded resistance to challenge your core against all rotation.
12 Anytime-Anywhere Band Moves
Trainer Sean Garner, creator of the 6-Week Sweat Off, hits on many of the ideas Jack does, and adds 12 new moves for you here, including a banded monster walk that’ll light up your glutes, and a banded jump squat that’ll teach you to create lower-body explosion.
Triceps Pressdown Countdown Series
This move from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. is all about isolating your triceps, reinforcing the idea that even when your arms are straight, your triceps must be working.
Video: The Benefits of Resistance Bands Will Make You Reconsider Whether You Even Need Weights (Shape)
Rotator Cuff Shoulder Warmup
Attack the small, supporting musculature within your shoulders, bulletproofing your upper body for bench presses and pullups alike with this series of moves.
Mobility Wall Squat
Not every banded move is about pure muscle. The mobility wall squat will open your hips and improve your squat form and technique.
Hollow Hold Banded Core Series
This one is all about abs, fighting against both anti-rotation and anti-extension (can you keep your core contracted no matter how the band pulls you?). It looks easy. It’s not though.
Hollow Hold Triceps Series
You’ll train your triceps and get valuable ab work here.
Half-Iso Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown
This one will light up your back, and there’s a lot more ab challenge in it than you may expect at first.
Hollow Hold Fly to Banded Pushup Finisher
We label this a finisher, but it can easily be a main element in any chest workout too. You’ll roll around on the floor and build muscle too!
Chaos Band L-Sit Chinup
This one isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not easy. Build up to it. If you dare.
Ground-Pound Alternating Press
This one will build your chest and challenge your core simultaneously. And yes it’s fun to punch the ground.
Crucifix Arm Finisher
One resistance band, one structure, plenty of biceps and triceps pump fun.
Half-Kneeling Archer Row
Bulletproof your shoulders and build mid-back strength (and more ab strength than you think too) with this one.
Partner Hollow Body Pallof Game
Grab a partner and inject some fun (and serious anti-rotational challenge too!) into your workout with this finishing ab game.
Plank Triceps Kickback
Yes, with bands, you can grow your arms and sculpt your abs all at once! You’ll do that here.
Chest Fly Finisher
Find two posts and get ready to blow up your chest with this move, which is all about squeezing though the middle of your chest.
The face pull, when done correctly, will light up your back and bulletproof your shoulders. Fun fact: It’s best with bands.
Resistance Band Lateral Raise
Add depth to your shoulders with this simple resistance band move.
Resistance Band Athleticism Moves
Build speed and athleticism with these moves from trainer Gerren Lilles.
Banded Triceps Pressdown Series
Another move that’ll push your triceps to the limit, forcing you to own the straight-arm position.
Banded Leg Curl
This move adds hamstring size and strength. And you don’t need a lot of room to do it, either.
Try 200+ at home workout videos from Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, and more on All Out Studio free for 14 days!