There's a misconception in the fitness community about resistance bands. Not everyone sees them as the challenging, valuable, and versatile tools that they are. Some might view them as "booty builders" and nothing more. But, resistance band exercises are great for muscle activation, dynamic warm-ups, and building full-body strength. And a whole lot more.
In this article, we'll share the reasons why everyday gym-goers to professional athletes incorporate resistance band exercises in their training. And we'll discuss different types of resistance bands and provide exercises for you to try.
The benefits of resistance bands
Besides increasing your strength and fitness levels, there are several unique benefits of using resistance bands. Let's highlight the most popular ones.
- Portable gym: Whether you're on vacation, don't have a gym membership, or want to exercise in the fresh outdoors — you can take your resistance bands where you are.
- Don't need a lot of room: If you're living in a small shared space, or have a tiny patio or balcony, guess what? You can still use resistance bands.
- Inexpensive: Compared to the cost of free weights or a TRX set, bands cost much less, even if you plan on buying a few of them.
- Mirror everyday movements: Many of the exercises you can do with resistance bands mimic functional movements. And they could be a safer, more natural way to exercise compared to free weights.
- Can assist in more difficult exercises: Let's say you want to do pull-ups, an exercise that's challenging, to say the least. Instead of feeling defeated, you can use a long loop band to assist you. Over time you'll build the strength and the confidence to execute pull-ups without any assistance.
- Create resistance during the entire workout: With every movement, your muscles are constantly under tension because they're engaged during the entire range of motion of an exercise. This consistent tension makes the muscles work harder and harder, leading to positive results and gains.
How to use a resistance band
Before jumping into the "how," let's first talk about the different types of bands that are available to you.
- Tubes with handles
- Large continuous loop bands
- Small loop bands
- Figure 8 bands
- Ring bands
Each one of these bands is used for certain exercises, but that doesn't mean you need all of them to get started. The loop bands and the thick tubes with handles are the most common.
If you're ready to start training with bands, we recommend starting with one medium and one light or heavy resistance band, depending on your current fitness level.
From a macro perspective, bands have a lot of value because they're versatile tools. Some important areas they help with are muscle activation, increasing total body strength, and assisting with warm-ups and stretching.
This term relates to your range of motion, joint stability, and muscle strength. Before you're able to strengthen your muscles, you must activate them.
Muscle activation will increase blood flow and improve flexibility while stimulating your central nervous system (CNS). This is important because the CNS influences our physiological well-being, among other things. And this activation can provide strength and conditioning benefits during your full, complete workout.
Here are a few ways to use bands to activate your muscles before diving into your workout.
With your palms about one foot apart and facing each other, place a small band around your wrists. Place your feet about hip-width apart and keep your core tight. Then bring your arms out to the sides while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause for a moment and return to the original position.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Lie down on your back, and place a small band around the top of your thighs, right above the knees, with the back part of the band resting above the backside of your knees. Now place both feet flat on the ground, with your knees bent.
Keep your left foot on the ground and lift up your right foot up using the strength in your glutes to do so. Perform each rep in a slow and controlled fashion. After about 10 reps, switch sides and repeat.
Total Body Strength
When it comes to full-body training, weights can hit all the major muscles. But, with resistance bands, you can target all the muscles, including the smaller ones that often get overlooked.
Below we'll share different band-related exercises you can use to focus on your upper and lower body.
We get it. Not everyone loves to warm-up because it might be too boring or you don't have enough time to do it. But, without a proper warm-up, the risk of injury goes way up. Plus it can also hinder your performance during your workout.
Incorporating a dynamic warm-up will increase your heart rate, body temperature and deliver oxygen to your muscles and ligaments. It will also improve your mobility, flexibility and help you focus. Convinced yet?
Resistance Band Warm-Up
Get your large loop band and fold it together to form a horizontal line. Hold each end in your hands. Standing straight with feet hip-width apart, move your arms up over your head in a circular motion.
When your arms reach your lower back region, bring your arms back over the top of your head and down towards the tops of your thighs. Do this motion several times until your shoulders feel loose and warmed up.
Now, holding each end of the band, place the middle portion underneath your feet. Have your feet close together, with just a small space separating them. Stand up straight and then slowly bend forward, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings. Come back to vertical and do at least 10 reps in total.
You'll need a small loop band with medium to high resistance. Step into the band and pull it up to your mid-thigh. Bend your knees slightly and then step to the left two times, then step to the right two times. Repeat this cycle for 30 to 60 seconds.
Resistance Band Exercises For Athletes
Now that you got your warm-up in, it's time for the more challenging exercises. Whether you're a professional athlete or stepping up your athleticism in the gym, these resistance band exercises can help you achieve your goals.
They involve many athletic moves that can benefit those who play baseball, tennis, volleyball, and soccer. Or those who box, are UFC fighters, or football players.
Soccer, volleyball, and tennis players, in particular, require strong legs for the types of movement and running their sports require. Therefore, intensifying squat exercises with a resistance band is a great way to increase lower body strength.
- For this exercise, you'll need a small loop band.
- Step inside the loop and pull it up over your knees.
- Then, with feet hip-width apart and fingers interlaced for support and balance, lower down into a squat.
- Repeat this 12 to 20 times and perform 3 to 5 sets. Or, if you're working with a limited timeframe, do one long set to failure.
Hip and butt lifts
For an exercise that targets the glutes and hamstrings, you'll want to give this a try.
- Place a small loop band over your knees, resting it on top of your lower thighs.
- Lay down on your back, bend your knees, and put your feet flat on the ground. Keep them about hip-width apart.
- Squeeze your glutes while lifting your hips towards the ceiling. Hold for a second, then lower yourself onto the floor.
- For more intensity, lift one foot off the ground by an inch and use the other foot to push into the ground and lift up. Then switch sides.
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times for 3 to 4 sets.
Many sports require athletes to be quick on their feet and to make short or long-running bursts. Using resistance bands in this exercise can strengthen your abs, hip flexors, and glutes all at the same time. In turn, your reaction time and speed will improve.
- You'll need a small, high resistant band loop.
- Sit down on the floor and place the band over the center of your feet.
- Lay down and keep your thighs and knees perpendicular to the floor while your shins are parallel to the floor. Keep your arms flat on the ground.
- Kick out one leg strength in front of you. Hold the position and then bring your left back to the center.
- Alternate legs and continue to do this 10 to 15 more times.
Standing or Seated Band Rows
This upper body exercise is great for strengthening the upper back muscles and your core. There are a few variations of it that you can choose from based on the type of bands you have.
- To do standing rows, you'll need bands with a hook on one end and handles or loops on the other end that you can easily grip.
- You'll need a sturdy fixed object to attach the hook to, or to wrap your long loop band around.
- Once you're set-up, stand up straight and slightly bend your knees.
- Keeping your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, and elbows close to your side, start to pull on the bands. Moving your elbows back, behind your body.
- Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times and complete several sets.
- For this exercise, you can use a long loop band or a band with handles at each end.
- Sit down on the floor, with your legs out in front and close together. Keep a straight back to form a 90-degree angle with your body.
- Place the bands around the middle of your feet and grab each end or handle. Bring your elbows close to the side of your body.
- When you're ready, start to pull on the bands, moving your elbows back behind you. Then slowly release the tension and return to the starting position.
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times. Take a break and complete a few more sets.
Athletes like martial artists and boxers who require strong upper bodies could get more out of using bands while they do their pushups.
- Start with a long loop band with moderate resistance.
- Place it behind your back and underneath your armpits while hooking each end around your thumbs.
- Get into a pushup position and make sure to keep your head and neck in alignment with your body.
- Bring your chest down toward the ground while maintaining good form. Do this 10 to 20 times for each set.
Lateral Lunge & Torso Twist
This is an excellent exercise for tennis players, who move side to side, twist, and stretch side to side with their forearm and backhand swings. This is also beneficial to baseball players who step and twist when swinging the bat.
- Using a long band with handles, wrap the band around a fixed, sturdy pole or freestanding piece of gym equipment.
- Grab the handles in both hands and stand with feet together.
- Then take a big step with one leg out to the side (laterally) while twisting from your waist and pulling the bands across your body and way out to the side.
- Repeat this several times and then switch sides to complete the rep.