At a Glance
- Resistance bands are a fantastic way to exercise; flexible to use for toning, shaping and muscle strengthening.
- Resistance bands can be used for working out any part of the body.
- It’s important to know how to use resistance bands safely to get the best results and avoid injury.
Want to get bigger, tougher, faster or more toned and shapely? For many people, this is one key time of year when we turn our attention to addressing our body and fitness goals.
Most of us know what we’d like to achieve, but we can be a little limited in our methods when it comes to reaching our goals. The fitness industry can be intimidating for some people too. Not everyone likes going to the gym or fitness classes—and actually, that’s fine!
The problem is that without being involved in the fitness industry in some way, we don’t all necessarily get to know the full range of exercise options that are now out there.
For a variety of reasons, resistance bands can be great choice for many people when it comes to increasing strength, endurance, muscle power or toning and shaping up.
Resistance bands have lots of advantages, and can be used to get stuck into some surprisingly high level training. Let’s find out more about resistance bands, and give you a small snapshot of some of the exercises they can be used for.
What Are Resistance Bands?
Resistance bands are wide bands of stretchy rubber, a bit like giant elastic bands! They come in different resistance levels, and each resistance level is a different color.
Some scientific studies have found that working out with resistance tubing, when compared with using free weights and gym resistance machines, is just as effective in terms of increasing fitness.
In addition, resistance equipment is much less expensive than either gym equipment or free weights, and resistance bands can be used either alone or as a combination of several bands, so the resistance level options are almost limitless.
Resistance bands are fun to use, extremely versatile and can give an excellent workout for the vast majority of people. The equipment is compact, can be stored easily, and is highly portable; easily thrown in any travel bag or suitcase!
You can do resistance exercises almost anywhere, all you really need is your basic equipment and a little space! ou may, however, want to invest in a good exercise mat for comfort when exercising.
You don’t have to be limited to the basic equipment for resistance band exercise equipment, however, there’s a whole range of resistance tubing, loop bands and all kind of other exciting equipment out there to explore!
For now, though, we’re going to focus on doing a great range of exercises with the basic resistance bands, and we’re going to cover almost all of the big muscle groups.
How Do You Use Resistance Bands?
Basically, one or more points of the resistance band are anchored, and you use whichever part of the body being exercised to apply force against the resistance of the band.
It’s important to use resistance bands properly to get the most out of the exercises you’re doing and to help prevent any injuries. As with any exercise, everyone should do a proper warm up before using resistance bands and an adequate cool down afterwards.
Tips for Using Resistance Bands
In general, you need the band just a little bit taut in the start position of the exercise, but with plenty more stretch left in it. If you need a way of making the resistance band the correct length for any exercise, you can wind it around your hand (or foot) to take up the slack.
You could also make a loop at the end and knot it to make a handle. Be aware, though, that it can be a bit of a challenge to undo the knot again afterwards! If you need to tie a knot in your band, try to do so in a way that uses a loop of the band in the knot and leaves the end free so you can pull it to help you undo the knot.
Some exercises need the band to be secured by or around something. If an exercise gives you an instruction like this, get creative! There are probably lots of things at home that you can use to secure your band.
Door handles are good—as long as the door closes securely, and you know no-one’s going to come waltzing through it! Beds can be very useful too, the resistance band can often be secured to the headboard or footboard, or wrapped around the leg of the bed.
Chairs can work, but whatever you use, make sure the band is fastened securely and the object it is heavy enough to withstand the force of you and the resistance band.
The only place a video of you hurting yourself by using a resistance band is on a resistance band fail video like this one. Have a look, you’ll probably have a good laugh but take note and please avoid becoming a future fail video superstar!
Here are some very effective resistance band exercises. We’re going to start at the top and work our way down…are you ready? Let’s go!
Arms and Shoulders Exercises
OK, so we’re going to start with some arm exercises, nice and easy! Read through all of the instructions and make sure you’re clear before you start any exercise.
All of these exercises can be progressed by increasing the resistance of the band you’re using, and several bands can all be used together to increase resistance. Resistance can also be increased by holding a shorter length of the band to complete the exercise.
You can also progress any exercises by increasing the amount of repetitions you do per set of exercises, and how many sets you do.
It’s important, however, not to increase more than one of these factors at one time. Doing so could overload the muscle groups too much, and lead to increased risk of injury.
Some of the arm exercises also work some of the shoulder muscles as well as the arm muscles, but others are primarily aimed at the shoulders and upper back muscles; other still offer a more extensive workout.
Arms and Shoulders—Cool Curler
This one looks very easy, but it’s important to do it slowly with good technique to really get your biceps working.
Find the middle of your resistance band. Lay it on the floor, and stand on it at the middle point. Firmly grasp one end of the band in each hand, and stand up straight with your hands by your sides.
Keeping your palms facing upwards, and your elbows tucked in to your sides, slowly bend your elbows, feeling the muscles working against the resistance of the band, until your hand is roughly level with your shoulder.
With a smooth movement, begin to let your arm straighten again, but keep full control of the movement, don’t let the band just tug your arms straight again. Repeat the exercise with the opposite arm.
Do 10 to 15 reps on each arm.
Progression: Use a heavier resistance band, increase the number of reps or try the next exercise.
Arms and Shoulders—Concentrated Curler
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, one in front of the other and knees slightly bent; this is known as a lunge stance. Put the middle of your resistance band securely underneath your front foot. Take one end of the band in each hand.
Whichever foot is in front right now, that’s the arm we’re going to work on. Keep your elbow in light contact with the inside of the knee. This puts you in a good position to really give the biceps a good workout.
From this position, do your biceps curl by bringing the hand up to shoulder level, and controlling it back down again.
Do 8 to 12 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you can incorporate a lunge and squat, as follows:
Arms, Legs and Core—Lunge, Squat and Curl
Place the middle of the resistance band under the right foot, with the left leg out behind you. Place one end of the band in each hand. Keep your back straight, tummy pulled in, and don’t hold your breath.
Bend the knees to a 90-degree angle. As you do this, bring your hands up to your shoulders, keeping the elbows tucked in to the sides. Return arms and legs to the start position.
Do 10 to 12 reps, then change legs and repeat.
Arms and Shoulders—Triceps Trick
Secure the middle of the resistance band to a stable object in front of you, and hold each end in one hand. In a lunge stance, have your arms tucked into your sides, but with your elbows bent so your forearms are parallel with the floor.
Against the resistance of the band, slowly and smoothly straighten your arms fully, then bend your elbows again and slowly return to the start position, controlling the band tension.
Repeat this exercise 8 to 12 times.
Progression: Use a heavier resistance band, or increase the number of reps, or try the next exercise.
Arms and Shoulders—Triceps Push
Sit on the middle of your resistance band on a comfortable chair with a low back. Take one end of the band in each hand, and position your arms so that your hands are behind the neck.
With the palm of one hand facing upwards, slowly push your hand up towards the ceiling until your arm is straight, then slowly lower back down and repeat with the other arm.
Do 10 to 15 reps on each arm.
Progression: Shorten the band, use a heavier resistance, or increase the reps.
Back and Core Exercises
There are many benefits to strengthening and toning your back and core muscles. The core muscles are around your lower trunk which help to support you, and especially help to support your lower back.
Here are some great exercises you can do with a resistance band to give your core and really good workout.
Bent Over Rower
This targets the latissimus dorsi, the rear deltoids, the rhomboids, trapezius and the biceps, so it’s a great workout for the upper back, rear neck muscles and the upper arms.
With feet shoulder width apart, stand on the middle section of your resistance band. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Bend the knees slightly, and pull in the abdominal muscles. Bend forwards to about a 45-degree angle, but keep your back straight.
Your arms should be outstretched in front of you, dangling down towards the floor. As if you were rowing a boat, pull your arms up and backwards, but keep them against the side of your torso.
In the end position you should have your hands against the side of your body, with your elbows sticking out behind, but in line with the rest of the arm. Slowly control the movement back to the start position ready for the next repetition.
Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Walk It Out
This is a simple exercise to do to get your body moving and fire up your control and stability muscles.
Anchor both ends of the band at waist height to a very heavy, stable object. Facing away from the object, put yourself in the middle of the band, and place the front of the band on the front of your waist.
Keeping your core muscles tight and standing up tall, take small steps away from the object securing the band, until you have made the band stretch as much as you can. Keep count of the number of steps you take. Take small backward steps to the start position.
Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 times, trying to beat the number of steps you took the first time by trying to get the band to stretch a little further—but remember to keep those muscles pulled in and back straight!
Abdominals and Pelvic Floor Exercises
The abdominal muscles are an important part of our core stability muscles, which are particularly important for supporting the spine.
Sitting on an exercise mat, knees bent to 45 degrees. Put the middle of your band under the bottom of the feet, and hold one end in each hand. With your hands by your sides, hold your trunk at approximately 45 degrees, so that your body is in a curved shape.
A hold in this position gives all of your lower abdominal muscles a great workout. You can incorporate a biceps curl on each exhale, then return your arms to your sides on each inhale.
Maintaining your body in this position can be very hard work at beginner level, so aim to do around a total of eight smooth, controlled biceps curls, then lie flat to give your muscles a break. If you can’t quite manage all eight, no problem, just work at your own pace.
If you feel ok to try a second set, go ahead, but don’t overdo it. Aim to increase your level gradually to avoid injury, reduce the amount of after-exercise muscle soreness (a good cool down helps with this too) and keep motivation high!
Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you can progress it to also get the pelvic floor and deeper abdominal muscles working too:
As you exhale, pull up from the lowest front part of the abdominals, slowly pull everything inwards and upwards, as if you’re trying to zip yourself up on the inside. Relax the muscles on the inhale, and prepare to zip-up again on the exhale.
Legs and Hips Exercises
There are some great exercises for the hips and thighs you can do with resistance bands.
Squats are a bit of a legend when it comes to exercises, and with good reason. Squats give the entire leg a great workout, from the quadriceps muscles and glutes right down to the calf muscles. They’re also great for improving muscle control and balance. Research shows that squats are also great for improving knee stability.
To squat with a resistance band, stand on the band with feet just over shoulder width apart. Hold one end of the band in each hand, and bring your hands up to rest on the top of each shoulder.
Keep your back straight—no rounded shoulders—with the tummy tucked in, core muscles engaged and your chest up. Keeping your knees in line with the hips and feet, bend your legs so your knees end up over your toes. Slowly push back up into the start position.
Repeat 10 to 12 times.
Progression: As you return to the start position, add in a ceiling shoulder press; against the resistance of the band, just as your body returns to standing, push your arms straight up above you towards the ceiling. Slowly bring the arms down to the shoulders again, controlling the movement against the resistance of the band.
Ok, so anyone who thought you needed an Olympic weight lifting kit (and be an Olympic weightlifter!) to do a deadlift—hold onto your hats! The huge great barbell these gigantic guys use is just one way of providing resistance, and you can use a resistance band to do a very similar exercise.
The deadlift is a great exercise for a lot of large muscle groups in the body. It primarily targets the buttocks and the back of the thigh. But here’s the bonus; it also works the front and inner thigh muscles, the calf, the abdominals, including the obliques, other core muscles, and many of the back and neck muscles.
That’s what I call a great deal when it comes to exercise efficiency, more than 10 muscle groups in one hit!
Fasten your resistance band securely in a loop, or stand on both ends of the band, with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Bend at the knees and grasp the middle area of the band with both hands at about shoulder width apart, arms straight and by your sides.
Keep your back straight throughout the exercise, and your core muscles pulled inwards and upwards. Lift your chest and look ahead of you. Keeping your arms straight, breathe in and stand up smoothly, pulling against the resistance of the band.
Lower yourself back down to the start position by moving your hips backwards very slightly, then gently bending your knees. Don’t allow the force of the band to pull you back down, control the movement.
The Crab Walk
This exercise is a great exercise for working on balance and stability as well as the hip abductor muscles in the lateral thigh.
It needs a little bit of space each side of you. Tie a knot securely in the resistance band so that you have a loop. The loop should be the right size so it fits around both thighs with no slack in the band when standing with your feet shoulder width apart.
Keep your back straight and tummy tucked in, but breathe normally. With your hands on your hips, take a medium sized step to the right, then bring your left leg in to shoulder width apart.
Step to the right for approximately 10 steps, then step 10 times to the left.
Precautions for Use
Before starting any new kind of exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure that particular kind of exercise is safe for you to do.
Before every use, check your resistance bands and any other resistance band accessories to make sure there are no scuffs, tears or holes on the bands, and the other equipment is safe to use.
Start out at a basic level and gradually increase the level of exercise. Don’t increase resistance and the number of reps you do at the same time. If you want to make changes to both these variables, that’s fine, but stagger them gradually to avoid injury.
One of the watch points when using resistance bands is that not all manufacturers adhere to the same color coding system for their bands. So, for example, one manufacturer’s red band might have a resistance of 5 pounds, but a red band from a different company might have a higher or lower resistance. Check what the actual resistance of a band is before you buy or use it.
So, now we can see that resistance bands are a fun, inexpensive way of strengthening and toning muscles, as well as increasing endurance. They provide a very flexible way to exercise—either at home or away—and require very little space and minimal equipment.
Resistance bands are also extremely flexible in providing a huge range of different exercises. They can be used to target any muscle group; it just takes a little research or imagination to work out how to use the band to apply resistance to a particular movement, and you’re away!
It’s pretty hard to find an exercise system that compares favorably to resistance bands for all their advantages, especially when you factor in the minimal expense and the ability to provide increased resistance and exercise progression, which is only limited by your imagination and the amount of bands you have!