Exercise bands, also known as resistance bands or resistance tubing, are one of the best ways to build strength. These affordable pieces of exercise equipment can even help serve as a remedy for joint pain. Even better? They’re super travel-friendly. In fact, they serve as the perfect option for adding resistance when traveling, since they take up very little space in the suitcase. While free weights seem to be the go-to for building muscle and strength, you might be surprised at what resistance bands can do for you — no matter what your level of fitness.
Resistance bands come in a variety of styles. Common names include things like exercise bands, tube bands, loops bands, fitness bands, workout bands, Thera-Band and therapy bands. Some are flat, while others are tubular with handles — my personal favorite. Each comes with various levels of resistance, allowing you to gradually increase resistance as you perform the exercises correctly and build muscle strength (1, 2) Perhaps best of all. They are super affordable, compared to free weights and weight machines.
A recent study compared resistance training using elastic tubing with weight machines and free weights. Researchers determined the effects were the same in terms of building fitness. The options are almost endless with resistance bands, with the equivalent of 3-to-20 pound weights readily available. (3, 4)
Benefits of Exercise Bands
1. Perfect Solution if You Can’t Make It to the Gym
Resistance tubing offers plenty of benefits. One major perk? They’re very wallet-friendly. They’re the perfect investment if you can’t afford a gym membership. Exercise bands are easy to find for as little as $10. With various resistance options offering the same benefits as hand-held weights, getting a great strength-building workout is easy. There are tons of apps available for daily workouts. (I’m including one for you at the end of this article. You can also try the one available on my website through a resistance band exercises video.) (5)
2. Training with Resistance Bands Improves Muscular Strength
Resistance bands may seem like a less-than-ideal workout for those with more advanced fitness levels, but you might be surprised. These bands can challenge even the most fit, as long as you choose the right bands and use them correctly. A study looking at healthy women using resistance bands to improve muscular strength and endurance found the bands improved total fitness, specifically muscular performance, muscular adaptation and cardio fitness. (6)
3. A Great Option for More Sedentary Lifestyles
It’s not uncommon for people to avoid weight machines and dumbbells, especially for anyone who lives a more sedentary lifestyle; however, even the most sedentary can benefit from resistance bands. According to a study, healthy adaptations can occur using resistance exercise. The study evaluated the use of resistance bands and weight machines in 45 healthy sedentary women. The results indicate that a decrease in fat mass, possibly even visceral fat, which is dangerous to the organs of the body, and an increase in repetitions was achieved confirming that resistance exercise can provide healthy muscle adaptations. (7)
If you suffer from too much sitting, these fitness bands are a great way to ease into a more active lifestyle.
4. Great for Rehabilitation Exercises, Such as Knee Osteoarthritis
Forms of resistance training have a long history in physical therapy environments, especially since healing exercises are easy to do at home, in addition to the therapy session. And resistance bands can come in especially handing if you’re looking for knee-strengthening exercises.
A recent study examined if best home-based rehab program using resistance bands on the lower extremities resulted in positive outcomes. The focus was specifically on those with knee osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease.
Participants using the bands found they obtained more stability and overall improvement in the functionality of their knees when using the bands. Conclusion? Resistance band training improves overall quality of life in individuals suffering from knee osteoarthritis. (8)
5. May Help Improve Hip Functionality
When scientists conducted studies using two exercises called monster walks and sumo walks to evaluate the progression of rehabilitation in the hips, they found strong evidence that supports the use of exercise bands. With each exercises, resistance bands were placed around the knees, ankles and feet. The resistance was altered while measuring the effects. The results showed improvement in hip functionality, specifically by strengthening the gluteal muscle group. These types of exercises, using band resistance, may help those suffering with hip and back problems. (9)
How To Purchase & Use Exercise Bands
As I noted earlier, many people think resistance bands are not as challenging as weight machines or dumbbells, but that isn’t necessarily true. By using good form and choosing a band with the right level of tension, your muscles will benefit just as well.
When choosing a band, you can test it out by placing a handle in each hand, then simply standing on the band with feet hip distance apart. Slowly perform a bicep curl, taking the hands all the way to the shoulder-chest area. If you can successfully perform this exercise with some level of difficulty — meaning it isn’t too easy or too hard, yet still a challenge, that band will probably work well. Since most bands vary in tension (brand new resistance bands offer more tension than a used one), there are various ways to modify them. For example, placing the feet wider while standing on a band will usually add more tension. Dropping one of the handles while performing certain exercises can reduce the tension.
You can do most any exercise that you would do with weights using a resistance band. The idea is to place some form of tension on the band by using your feet, hands or looping the band around a stable object, such as a door or post.
When purchasing bands for a resistance band training program, or choosing them at the gym, you will usually find about 3 to 4 options, ranging from lighter tension to heavier. But again, over time, even the toughest version will lose some tension.
I prefer to keep a variety on hand. Most bands are color-coded which indicates the level of tension they offer from light to medium to heavy. Having all versions can offer more options for you during your workout. I look for bands that are easy to use and do not require changing out handles. I like to grab and go.
There are some accessories that may make it easier for you. For example, if you don’t have a sturdy place to wrap a band around for movements such as chest presses, you may need to purchase a door attachment. But remember that you can do these most anywhere using your own body weight. Just keep it simple. (10)
Resistance Band Workout
Resistance band workouts provide so much variety and the flexibility to do them most anywhere. Below is a great workout for all levels. Perform the suggested set based on your level. After each set, rest for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat.
For beginners, perform 2 sets of 8 for each exercise using the lightest resistance band. If you need more resistance because you find it to be too easy, either shorten the distance where you are holding or standing on the band, or choose the next resistance band level up for the added challenge.
For intermediate, perform 3 sets of 12 and choose an intermediate level band of resistance.
For advanced, choose the heavier resistance band and/or have both the medium and heavy available. Perform 3 sets of 20 for each exercise.
Exercise 1: Bicep Curls
Stand on the band and hold handles with the palms facing toward the ceiling. Keep the abs tight and bend the knees slightly with feet hip distance apart. Bend arms, keeping elbows close to the body, and bring the palms toward shoulders like a bicep curl. Slowly return to start.
Make sure you control the entire movement instead of allowing the band to snap back. If you need more tension, either choose another band or place the feet a little wider.
Exercise 2: Squat
Stand with both feet on the band about hip distance apart. Grab the handles and hold hands upright at the shoulder. Go down into a squat as if sitting in a chair, then stand up pushing off with the heels. Repeat the movement for your set.
Challenge Move: As you stand up, try an overhead press by simply raising the arms above the head, then back to the shoulders as you squat.
Exercise 3: Tricep Extension
Stand in a shallow lunge position with your right foot on resistance band. Leave the left handle on the floor while grabbing the right handle in your right hand. Place your right elbow towards the ceiling, hand and forearm dropping behind your head while keeping a hold of the handle. Place the left hand on the back of the elbow for support.
Slowly raise the right forearm and hand towards the ceiling and slowly return to start. Keep the elbow and lower arm close the head throughout the move. Once you finish the set with your right arm, switch to perform the set with your left arm.
If the tension is too tight, either add more slack by adding more length to the tension area by stepping your foot towards the left side of the band or choose another band.
Exercise 4: Lunges
Stand with your right leg forward and the right foot on the middle of the band while holding the handles. Position your left leg back back in a lung position, making sure that the knees are at a 90 degree angle as you lunge down to the floor.
While lunging, keep tension on the band by bending elbows performing a bicep curl halfway. Return to start and repeat, then switch legs and repeat the set on the other side.
Exercise 5: Woodchop
Stand with feet hip-width apart on center of tube, cross it once in front of you, which adds tension. For more tension, you can spread your feet wider and/or cross the bands twice. Grasp a handle in each hand and place arms by your sides. Bend knees slightly into a half squat and bring both handles together in front of you and across the body towards the floor towards the right foot, with elbows slightly bent. Then twist to the opposite side as you pull the bands, reaching up into the air, pivoting on the right toes to then do it again as one continuous movement. Complete the set on the right side, then do the other side.
This one can be challenging, since the goal is to get the arms overhead to the opposite side, really working the obliques. The further down you go to the floor and the higher you reach, the better the results. If the band is too tight to perform correctly, let go of the handle that is on the inside. In this case, it would be the left handle. When you switch sides, it will be the right handle. Keep the abdominals tight throughout the entire exercise.
Exercise 6: Upright Rows
Stand with feet hip-width apart on center of tube, cross it once in front of you, which adds tension. For more tension, you can spread your feet wider and/or cross the bands twice. Arms are down at your sides. When you are ready, bring the handles up towards your chin, keeping the arms close to the body. You can allow the handles to touch while performing this move to help with form. Slowly lower back down with control. Repeat.
Precautions When Using Exercise Bands
When bands wear out, they can snap and break. It is always a good idea to carefully inspect the bands before using. Always control the move, both on the eccentric and concentric portion of the exercise. Take caution when performing any new exercise and do it slowly. Make sure you always maintain proper form when performing any exercise.
Final Thoughts on Exercise Bands
- Exercise resistance bands are a great way to maintain fitness and increase muscle strength as well as endurance.
- Since resistance bands are compact, taking them with you wherever you go gives you the opportunity to maintain your fitness.
- Resistance bands offer great ways to help recover from injury and rehabilitate weak areas of the body. Talk with your sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist to find a program that is right for you.