The resistance band might conjure up images of the lycra-clad Mr Motivators of the Nineties, but they’re more relevant than ever.
Whether you’re going gym-free or want to bolster your home workout set-up without swapping out the sofa for a TRX rig, fitness bands deserve a place in your training roster.
“Whilst not a new bit of equipment, resistance bands have exploded in popularity,” says Adam Shilliday, personal trainer at Rise N Grind. “Essentially, they’re simple elastic bands of varying tensions, providing enough resistance to help build muscle and strength.”
Despite their simplicity, fitness bands are incredibly versatile. With a bit of imagination they can help you work through a range of movement patterns, including pushes, pulls and static holds, all from the comfort of your own home / local park / wherever the heck you feel like getting a sweat on.
“They’re portable, cheap, effective and offer a full body workout for experts and beginners alike,” says fitness and wellbeing coach Rachel Lines.
What to Look for in Resistance Bands
As with any kit, it pays to do your due diligence when investing in bands – the last thing you want is a band that’s going to snap. Or worse, get coiled up around your legs mid squat.
“There are hundreds of different bands on the market, from small loop bands to multifunctional bands with attachable handles,” says Lines. “Personally I look for bands that come with a door jammer, as the height adjustment provides a huge range of options for training different parts of your body.”
“I’d also make sure the bands you get offer a range of strengths,” Lines continues. “Lighter bands are good for mobility or rehab exercises, like rotator cuff exercises, while heavy bands provide a good workout for upper back and legs.”
The Best Resistance Band Exercises for Men
Resistance Band Row
The humble row works your upper back, helping to maintain posture – ideal if you find yourself hunched over a laptop on a regular basis.
“Set your door jammer level with your chest,” instructs Lines. “Grip the handles in a neutral grip with plans facing each other. With your arms extended, step back until you feel tension in the band. Place your feet in split stance (one foot forwards and one foot backwards). Keep your hands raised and level with your chest as you exhale and draw your elbows behind you into the row.”
No door jammer? Anchor the band around your feet, or a table leg, completing the same movement from a sitting position.
Resistance Band Face Pull
A deceptively tricky move, the face pull hits your rear deltoids, a generally overlooked shoulder muscle that does more than just fill out your shirt – strong delts mean more strength and power for overhead presses and the bench.
You can either do this one seated, with the band wrapped around your feet, or anchor it in a door if you’ve got a resistance band with a jammer. Grab the brand with both hands (an overhand grip, please, otherwise you’re just hitting your biceps) and extend your arms so your elbows are locked. Squeeze your shoulder muscles to pull your hands towards your face, finishing with your fists next behind your ears. Hold the tension for a couple of seconds to really work the muscles, then slowly return to the start position. You should be locked at the hips throughout – if you’re swinging then you’re recruiting your lower back muscles and not working your shoulders properly.
For a tweak – if you’ve got two resistance bands – pull your hands apart so they finish outside the line of your shoulders. You’ll work more of the big muscles in your upper back and shoulders, so it’s also a perfect warm-up before your big lifts (once the gyms are open again).
Resistance Band Chest Flyes
Not only does this work your pectorals, it’s great for opening up a tight chest. If you suffer from regular chest or upper back aches, this should be a staple.
Essentially, it’s a cable crossover but using bands rather than a machine. “Anchor the band round fixed position, like a lamppost or tree trunk,” says Shilliday. “Stand with your back to the anchor, holding the band with your arms out at your sides, palms facing each other. With a slight bend in the elbows bring your palms slowly towards each other, feeling the stretch across the chest.”
To avoid injury – and to get the most from the movement – go as slowly as you can when returning your hands to the start position.
Resistance Band Chest Press
A barbell and bench are a big commitment for the home gym. But you can still work your chest without having to fill your living room with metal.
Lie flat on your back with a resistance band running under your shoulder blades. Holding one end in each hand, drive up and away from the floor. Because the resistance increases the further you move your hands, work slowly to get maximum muscle activation.
Resistance Band Front Raise
A resistance band will never feel as heavy as a huge pile of iron, so they’re particularly good for moves where you’re not lifting as much weight anyway. The front raise hits your deltoids, an oft-ignored shoulder muscle that helps hone that broad-up-top V-shape.
Start by anchoring the resistance band under your feet, then grab it with both hands, in front of your thighs, with an overhand grip. Brace your core – no swinging – and lift your hands until they’re level with your chin. Hold the position for a second – and another – then slowly lower the weight. Pacing is crucial with this one. Try for two seconds up and four seconds down, to feel a muscle-building burn deep in your shoulders.
Resistance Band Bicep Curls
Simple but reliable, the bicep curl does exactly what it promises: builds serious arms.
“Stand on the band, shoulder width apart, then lift both handles to your side and curl the bands up, squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement,” says Shilliday. “Keep the core braced and the glutes tensed.”
Try not to swing your back into it as you curl; leave the movement in your biceps for best effect.
Resistance Band Triceps Kickback
Your triceps make up around two-thirds of your upper-arm muscle, and yet everyone’s obsessed with bicep curls. The smart way to tighter sleeves is to hit your tris hard – and the kickback is pretty much the best isolation move there is.
Anchor the band at around waist height – use a door jammer if you’ve got one, or loop it round a doorknob – then step back until you feel some resistance. Bend at the waist and hold the band in one hand, arm bent and fist near your shoulder. Using your triceps, straighten your arm behind you. Try to keep your core locked – if you’re swinging at the hips or recruiting your back and shoulder muscles, take a step closer to the anchor to lighten the load.
This is great for building triceps size, but you’ll see added benefits to your big lifts, too. Add this move in if you’re struggling with sticking points in your bench press.
Resistance Band Rotator Cuff Stretch
Issues with the rotator cuff can seriously impact movement through the shoulder. Work some band stretches into your warm-up to avoid unnecessary restrictions.
“Attach the band to a door handle. Standing side on to the door with your chest lifted and abs engaged, hold the band in one hand, your elbow at 90 degrees,” says Lines. “Without moving your arm, bring your hand (and the band) away from your body by moving your shoulder, as though you’re opening an invisible door with your elbow glued to your side.”
Resit the urge to move your arm. Keep it still and let your shoulder do the work (and feel the benefit).
Resistance Band Woodchop
Not only can you pretend you’re chopping actual logs for your imaginary cabin, the woodchop is great for helping carve out those obliques.
Again, this is a spin on a move more commonly done with a cable machine. But you’ve probably not got one of those at home. Anchor the band at around head height, either with a door jammer or by looping it round a branch. “Stand side on and far enough away so you feel some tension on the band,” says Lines. “Raise your hands out in front of you as though you’re getting reading to bring an axe down. With your arms extended in front, engage your core as you turn and bring the axe – sorry, your arms – diagonally down.”
Keep your arms straight and focus on rotating through the core.
Resistance Band Shoulder Press
There aren’t many bodyweight moves that hit your shoulders, unless you’re adept at hand-stands, which is why building muscle up top is almost impossible without a gym. Unless you’ve got a resistance band.
Anchor the band by standing on it, then grasp it with both hands at chest height. Breathe in, brace your core and drive your arms straight up, locking your elbows. Pause for a second then slowly lower them. Really eke out the eccentric movement – that’s the lowering part – to work as many muscle fibres as possible across your entire shoulder. If you’re letting the tension in the band do the work, you’re not getting the full benefit.
Resistance Band Squat and Side Lift
This squat variation targets your hamstrings, glutes, adductors and core for a movement that builds muscle, balance and mobility.
“Stand with the band under both feet,” begins Lines. “Your feet should be just wider than hip-width apart, and you should from the ends of the band just above waist height. Squat down, keeping your weight on your heels then explode upwards. At the top of the squat shift your body weight to one side, lifting the opposite leg as high as you can away from the body. Try not to fall over before lowering yourself into the next squat, and switching legs.”
Struggling to nail a clean squat? Lines advises you keep your knees in line with your big toe, keeping your chest raised as your send your hips backwards.
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