How To Exercise with Resistance Bands

Workouts and Training

Resistance band exercises

Many new users are surprised at how tough a resistance band workout can be using what is basically a giant rubber band. For something that probably weighs less than a pair of your socks, it's surprisingly good at making muscles quiver. What's more, resistance bands are inexpensive and portable. 

As with any workout, warming up your muscles and joints before applying resistance will help prevent injury. A warm-up before resistance band training can be as simple as marching in place or doing the actual exercise movements minus the resistance. During each exercise, hold the band in a position that feels comfortable for you. If slippage is a problem, there are a few solutions (and, no, none of them involve quitting the workout). You can tie a knot at the ends, wrap the band once around your hand, or use bands that have handles. For each exercise, your goal is to do 8 to 12 repetitions and work up to doing 3 sets. Rest briefly, a minute or two, between each set. Here's how to create:

  • Chest squeeze. This exercise primarily works your chest muscles, especially the inner portion. Your shoulder muscles are also worked to a lesser degree. Keep the resistance light to moderate to prevent shoulder injury. If you've had any injuries to your shoulders, like a torn rotator cuff, consult your doctor before attempting this move.

    To perform this exercise, start by slipping the band through a vertical pole. The band should be roughly at chest-level. I like using the handle on my refrigerator; a staircase banister also works well. Just make sure the pole is sturdy and will stay put. It also should be smooth, or otherwise your resistance band may get damaged.

    With your back to the pole, grab each end of the resistance band. Keep the bands beneath your arms. Step forward so that the band is taut. Raise both arms up at your sides, bending your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Squeeze your elbows together and pause, then return to the starting position.

  • Back squeeze. This exercise primarily works your mid- and upper back muscles. Your arms and shoulders are also worked to a lesser degree. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Place the middle of the band against the soles of your feet. Grab each end of the resistance band so that it is taut when you're sitting in an upright position. Pull your elbows back, squeezing your back muscles and keeping your elbows close to your body. Return to the starting position.
  • Bicep curl. Holding the band in each hand, stand on the middle of the band. With your arms straight at your side and the band held taught, bend one arm at the elbow and lift toward the shoulders. This is roughly the equivalent of doing a “curl” with a barbell. Alternate each hand, or you can also do both arms at the same time. This exercise works the biceps and the brachioradialus muscle, which connects the upper and lower arms and helps to flex the elbow.
  • Resistance-band pushups. This exercise takes the good-old pushup to a new level. Rest on your hands and knees with the band ends under each hand and going over your back just below the shoulders. Move into pushup position and bend your elbows as if you were doing a bent-knee pushup. Push against the band, lower yourself, and repeat. Once you have progressed at this you can spread your weight between your hands and toes, straighten your knees, keeping them off the floor, and do pushups in this manner. This exercise works your pectoral, triceps, and deltoid muscles and the serratus anterior muscle in the upper back.
  • Squats. Step on the band with your feet shoulder-width apart. Holding it at shoulder level with both hands, go into a full squat while keeping the band at shoulder height.
  • Lateral rows. Stand on the band with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold the ends with your palms facing each other. Your arms should hang down to your sides with elbows slightly bent. Pulling your arms out the side, raise the band to the side of your body at shoulder height, keeping elbows only slightly bent, and return to the start position.
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  • Wood chop. This is a good one to work your internal and external oblique muscles. Attach one end of the band to a stationary object above your head and to the side, and wrap the other end around both hands. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Start with your arms up above the shoulder closest to where the band is attached. Keeping your elbows straight pull your hands down, across your body to the opposite hip in a chopping motion. Concentrate on using your stomach to twist from one side to the other. Slowly return to the starting position. Turn to face the opposite direction to work the other side.

These exercises are just the beginning. Many of the strength-training exercises that are traditionally done with dumbbells can be done using resistance bands. A bonus to using a band is that your core muscles are engaged during the workout, unlike some other traditional strength-training exercises. Core exercises are great for balance and core strength.

The downside to using this type of fitness equipment is that you can't measure your progress like with dumbbells and plates. However, the fitness bands are usually color-coded, and each color represents a different level of resistance, giving you the same increasing weightlifting challenge as dumbbells. But it isn't always so precise. Resistance can also vary with the length of the band. Say, for instance, you wrap the band around your hand one more time than usual for a particular exercise. Shortening the length will make the exercise harder to do.

Start off using light resistance, maintain good posture, and exhale on exertion to have safe and enjoyable workouts.


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