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How can you benefit from resistance band workouts?

Challenging yourself physically by using different equipment is one of the many ways you can raise your fitness level. Resistance bands can make your exercises more intense and allow you to leave your comfort zone, but you must know how to use them properly. In this guide, you can learn more about what resistance bands do, the types of resistance bands available for use and different resistance band workouts for men and women.

What are resistance bands?

Resistance bands are usually 4 to 6 feet long, made of strong and thin rubber and come in different shapes, sizes and resistance levels.1 Most brands offer light, medium and heavy bands that are inexpensive and adjustable, and allow you to be creative with your workouts. They can also be easily stored in your car or your backpack or luggage, so you can do exercises almost anywhere.

Resistance bands can be used by various groups of people. Aside from athletes and fitness buffs, the following people may benefit from using resistance bands:23

  • Injured athletes, pregnant women and postnatal mothers — Resistance band exercises are low-impact and can be done by people who should not exert all-out effort because of an injury or physical constraints.
  • Children with learning disorders, attention and behavioral issues, sensory and emotional overload, and motor planning difficulties — Their bodies usually "crave" muscle work. Occupational therapists incorporate resistance bands into therapy because they're mobile and help children develop neural connections and sensory integration, encourage motor planning and promote strengthening of the core.

3 health benefits of resistance bands during exercise

You can use resistance bands to assist in strength training exercises and work out your whole body without using weights or resistance machines. Resistance bands target your muscles and help:

  • Build muscular endurance4 and isolate groups of muscles5
  • Improve performance and strength6
  • Enhance mobility, agility, coordination, flexibility7 and range of motion

Once you stretch the bands, they can make you work against more resistance, particularly at the end of your range of motion where strength is rising or already at its peak. This causes the muscles to be targeted differently and assists in developing functional muscle movements.8 Resistance bands also promote changes in your movements' velocity and train muscles to adapt to changes, unlike dumbbells or barbells that deliver constant resistance.

Resistance bands may also minimize your risk of falls, fractures and other injuries.9 They can also aid in boosting functional strength without the risk of injury linked to using gravity-dependent free weights,10 since the bands can facilitate movement throughout four planes and raise the amount of activated muscles and neurons. Workouts involving resistance bands use different vectors and aid with preventing repetitive stress in the same pathway or movement pattern of joints and muscles.

Lastly, some findings suggested that using resistance bands helped improve production of growth factors required for cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation.11 In the long run, stimulating creation of these growth factors can promote neuron survival and result in brain-related benefits.12

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What body areas do resistance bands target?

Resistance bands can be used for a full-body workout, and are also helpful if you want to target areas in your upper or lower body, arms, hips, legs and glutes.13 Adding resistance bands to a dynamic routine for ball and socket joints like the hips and shoulders can warm up your muscles, challenge them to work against little resistance14 and increase circulation and movement.

7 types of resistance bands you can use in your workouts

Resistance bands come in multiple sizes, with some having additional handles and loops attached to them. Try to buy resistance bands of different levels, so you have options that fit your current fitness level and desired workout intensity.15

Manufacturers often color code resistance bands, with each color signifying different resistance levels. Always check the color of the band/s you're buying to ensure you'll be using the right type for your fitness level, so you can enhance the effectiveness of workouts and lower injury risk. Some of the most common resistance bands include:16

Therapy bands — They're usually 4 feet long, have a wide and flat surface and are used for rehabilitation exercises.

Compact or fit tube resistance bands — While they're as long as therapy bands, compact resistance bands are tubular and have handles attached at the ends. You can use them for upper or lower body exercises (or even both), or for workouts that specifically target your arms.

Figure-8 bands — As the name implies, they take the shape of the number eight. Figure-8 bands, which are shorter compared to other bands, are attached by a tube and have two plastic handles on each side. They can be used for upper body and arm workouts.

Ring-resistance bands — Most ring-resistance bands are tube-shaped, with two soft and flexible handles on each side. Compared to other resistance bands, they're shorter and have a 1-foot circumference. Ring resistance bands are useful for lower body exercises that target your legs, hips and glutes.

Lateral resistance bands — Lateral resistance bands are tubular and have Velcro cuffs on each end. You can use lateral resistance bands for lower body exercises, as they're usually placed on your ankles. They typically target your hips and thighs.

Clip-tube resistance bands — They're also tubular, have clips that allow you to attach (and detach) them from handles and can be used for full-body resistance training.

Fit loop bands — These bands are looped and flat (when laid down), and available in various lengths. Consider your fitness level and targeted level of difficulty when buying fit loop bands as short as 4 inches and as long as 2 feet. Fit loop band exercises usually work on your lower body, especially your legs, hips and glutes.

How to use resistance bands in your workout

When performing resistance band exercises, strive for good movement and form. Repetitions must be done in a smooth and controlled manner — not too fast or slow — so your joints can work through their full range of motion. Healthy Families BC suggests inhaling once the band begins shortening, and exhaling once you pull against it.17 Allot two to three seconds to perform the difficult and easy parts of the move.18

As mentioned earlier, you can use resistance bands to warm up your large ball and socket joints. Follow these instructions from John Rusin, a well-renowned strength coach who has conceptualized training protocols for boosting performance and preventing injuries:

Hip warm ups — Place a resistance band above your knees or near your ankles, bend your hips slightly backward and move your knees slightly forward. Take a few steps from side to side. You should feel some resistance courtesy of the band.19

Shoulder warm ups — Ideally, do eight to 12 reps per movement. For the first move, hold the ends of the resistance band with your hands. Place the band in front of your body slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Stretch out the band in front of your legs, and lift your hands above your head and behind the back. Reverse direction of the movement by lifting your arms upward and moving them in front of your body.

Do the second move by tying the band to a stable object that's shoulder height, and stand back far enough so there's space for movement. Pull the band toward you with both hands at shoulder level and slowly release it with your arms in a straight position. Stretch your arms to each side and slightly behind you, and focus on moving against the band's resistance.

In the last move, hold both ends of a resistance band. Place your arms in front of you, with hands slightly greater than shoulder-width apart. Stretch arms on each side and slightly behind you, making sure you move against the band's resistance.20

Resistance band exercises for your upper body

Incorporating resistance bands into your training is beneficial, as there are a lot of moves that can target different body parts. Try these resistance band exercises for your arms and shoulders:21

Biceps circuit

1. Sit down and place your feet on the middle of a resistance band and hold the handles, palms up.

2. Keep the shoulders back and pull handles toward your chest. If you want variety in your movements, add pulses or hold the handles in place for a few more seconds with hands at your chest.

3. Pull the resistance band to chest level and move back to starting position. If you're performing a biceps circuit while standing up, you can do pulses or the isometric hold.

Bicep curls

1. Sit or stand first, place both feet on the middle of a resistance band and hold each end of the band.

2. Using your arms, lift the band in front of you up to your chest and return to starting position.

If you want a challenge, Rodriguez suggests varying your bicep curls by standing and bending slightly at your hip, and drawing the hand up toward the opposite shoulder, crossing over your chest. As your progress increases, you can also do one-handed bicep curls by placing both handles of the resistance band in one hand.

1. Place both feet in the middle of the resistance band and hold each end.

2. Lift the band in front of you, using your arms, up to your chest. Return to starting position.

Reverse fly

1. Stand up, hold the resistance band with your palms down.

2. Pull the band apart at shoulder height.

3. Lift the band in front of you up to your chest and return to starting position. Challenge yourself by doing a pulsing movement in the middle of your body, or holding the position for 10 seconds after the extension.

reverse fly

Overhead triceps extension

1. While sitting down, take the resistance band and place its center underneath your glutes. Hold a handle in each hand.

2. Stretch your arms upward and bend your elbows so your hands are positioned behind the neck.

3. Press your arms straight and upward until fully extended, palms facing the ceiling.

4. Lower your arms and repeat movement.

Shoulder circuit raise

1. Stand up and place the resistance band under your feet. Hold each handle, and keep your palms down, shoulders back, elbows straight and knees slightly bent.

2. Raise your hands straight in front of you, about shoulder height, and slowly lower them down.

3. To do an overhead shoulder press, start with the same position and keep your hands on your sides. Raise your hands above your head, and make sure they remain straight all throughout.

One-armed shoulder circuit

1. Tie the resistance band to a stable object at shoulder height. Use your right hand to hold the handle and keep your palms down. Ensure your body is half an arm's length to the left of the band's anchor point. Pull the handle toward you until your elbow is at a 90-degree angle.

2. Rotate your arm into an "L" position, so your hand rises up and lowers to the original position in front of you. Do reps while keeping your arm to the side.

3. With the handle in your right hand, move your right leg backward. Pull the handle toward your shoulder to do a high row, with your palm facing the ground and the hand at shoulder height.

4. Turn your hand so your thumb is up and palm faces your body. Do a low row by pulling your hand toward your body, and ensure that your elbow bends so it can move behind your body once you pull your hand to your waist.

Resistance bands can be used for a chest exercise, like a chest press. Whether you're performing this move sitting down or standing up, place the resistance band behind your back and hold each end. Stretch both arms out up to the front of your chest, and move back into starting position.22

You can also do back exercises with resistance bands. To do back extensions, a type of postural exercise that'll target core muscles, follow these steps:

  • Put the resistance band under your feet. Hold both handles with palms facing up, and lift handles toward your shoulders.
  • With your back straight and shoulders leaned back, tilt forward while bracing your abdominal muscles, and slowly sit back up. You should feel some resistance in your back and core.

Work on your core by following these moves suggested by Prevention Magazine. They're good additions to a resistance band ab workout:23

Abdominal supine pulses

1. Wrap the resistance band around a stable object. Lie down on an exercise mat and grab the band with both hands, keeping them shoulder-width apart.

2. With your core pulled in, curl your head, neck and shoulders upward. Move your arms forward between your knees and pull the band. You'll be experiencing some tension because the band may pull you back.

1/2 rollback

1. While sitting down, wrap the band around your feet and hold onto the ends. Pull your arms toward your side, and keep elbows up and shoulders down.

2. Pull your core in and roll halfway back, so your spine forms the shape of a "C." Roll back up and repeat the move.

Leaning twist

1. Sit down and wrap the resistance band around your feet. Hold both ends of the band and bring them out toward your sides.

2. While keeping your spine straight, move slightly back and rotate to one side. Open your arms toward that direction.

3. Hinge back up to the center position and repeat on the other side.

These resistance band moves target areas of your lower body

If you want to do a resistance band leg workout,  try any or all of these moves:24

Banded lunges

1. Place the resistance band under your left foot. Slightly bend your knees, move your shoulders back and tighten abdominal muscles.

2. Pull the handles toward your chin, palms facing your body. Step back with your right foot and bend both knees at a 90-degree angle. Return to initial position and repeat. Move the resistance band under your right foot and perform the backward lunge with your left foot.

Resistance band squats

1. Place the resistance band underneath both of your feet, and ensure they're shoulder-width apart.

2. With palms facing you, hold the handles and move your hands up toward the shoulders.

3. Move into the squat position and perform reps. Your hips must swivel back like you're sitting on a chair, and knees must be behind your toes.

Self magazine suggests including the following exercises to a resistance band butt workout:25

Ankle jumping jacks

1. Place the band around your ankles. Stand in a quarter-squat position (a shallower squat), keep feet hip-width apart and put your hands on your chest.

2. Jump your feet out and in to perform a rep. Don't jump too high, and land with your weight focused on your heels, and not your toes.

Lateral band walks

1. Place the band around your ankles and stand in the quarter-squat position. Your feet must be hip-width apart, and hands must be on your chest or hips.

2. Step to the right using your right foot, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Allow your left foot to step to the right next so both feet are hip-width apart.

3. Take three steps to the right, followed by three steps back to the left. When doing lateral band walks, engage your core and maintain constant tension in the resistance band.

Your ankles can benefit from resistance band exercises, especially if you're recuperating from an injury. Some exercises you can try include:26

Seated calf press

1. Sit on a chair and keep your back straight. Place one foot in the middle of a resistance band. Hold both ends with your hands.

2. Extend your leg and point your toes toward the ceiling and then forward to the ground. Return to the starting position.

Resisted strengthening dorsiflexion

1. Tie the resistance band to something sturdy, and place the upper portion of your foot behind the middle of the band.

2. While only moving your ankle, point your foot backward toward your nose. Keep knees straight and continue doing this move until there is discomfort or inability to tilt the foot further backward.

3. Hold this position for two seconds and slowly release your foot. Return to the neutral position and repeat.

Challenge yourself by performing difficult moves with resistance bands

You can use a resistance band if you want to do modified versions of these challenging moves. While they are difficult at first, with adequate practice you'll be able to perform them efficiently:

Resistance band pushups or banded resistance pushups

1. Place the band behind your shoulders and under your armpits.

2. Move into a modified pushup position. Bend your knees and place the resistance band under your hands.

3. Perform a pushup.

4. Return to starting position and repeat move. According to Rodriguez, you'll feel resistance from the band as you do the pushup. Once your fitness level increases, you may do banded resistance pushups in place of regular pushups.

resistance band pushups

Resistance band deadlift

1. Stand with your feet apart, wider than shoulder width, and bend the knees and push hips back to squat.

2. Loop the resistance band around each foot. Step on one side of the band, and place the other side on the floor across your feet.

3. Use your hands to grab the middle portion of the band.

4. For a harder workout, hold both sides, with palms facing you and hands shoulder-width apart. While keeping arms tight on your sides, hold the band tightly as you stand up and push through with your glutes. Afterward, move into a squat position and repeat.

Resistance band pullup

1. Use an overhand grip to hang from a pullup bar. Have a resistance band anchored on the bar, and place one foot inside the band.

2. Do a pullup, with your chin going above the bar. Avoid swinging your body.

3. Once done, slowly lower yourself while controlling movement.

8 resistance band exercises for beginners

If you're a beginner, pick a resistance band that may allow you to perform one set of eight reps, and do this for two weeks. As your fitness level increases, perform more reps, add more sets and switch bands or gradually increase the amount of resistance. Some resistance band exercises for beginners include:

  • Pull downs
  • Leg press
  • Horizontal triceps extension
  • Reverse fly
  • Frontal raise
  • Horizontal chest press
  • Biceps curl
  • Gas pedal

"The Resistance Band Workbook" suggests adding another set of exercises after the first two weeks. Perform one set first, rest for 45 seconds and then do the second set. Once you can do two sets of eight reps without straining, switch to a band that will offer more resistance or exercise with two easy bands. This will make it more difficult for you to perform six to eight reps.

Continue doing sets until you are strong enough to perform eight to 15 reps,31 but make sure you allot time to rest between resistance band workouts.

Safety tips when using resistance bands

Safety should be a priority when using different types of resistance bands. Talk to a physical therapist or personal trainer to learn about the ideal posture and technique needed when using resistance bands. Always begin with light resistance, and slowly add more as your fitness level increases.

Because resistance bands can accelerate the return or eccentric phase while the body is returning to its original position, joint stress can be increased and cause injuries. To minimize this risk, Rusin suggests rotating two to three weeks of resistance band workouts, and take two to three weeks of time off. Before using resistance bands, check their condition so they won't snap during your workout. Try following these tips to prevent resistance band breakage:32

Look for cracks, tears, punctures or weak spots, and discard resistance bands with said defects. Refrain from taping or gluing damaged areas. Look for signs of disconnection in the area where the band connects to handles.

Perform standing resistance band workouts on carpets, wooden floors, grass or exercise mats, and not on rough surfaces like cement, since this can tear the band. Check the surface for sharp objects and discard them.

Ensure that resistance band tubing is properly anchored or secured under your feet before exercising.

Refrain from using resistance bands under direct sunlight and inside a pool (the chlorine may damage them).

Use a damp cloth to clean the resistance bands.

Avoid cleaning resistance bands using soap or chemicals.

Store resistance bands in a dry place at room temperature.

If you need some support, tie the resistance band to a sturdy object or item. Refrain from tying the band around your extremities since this can cause circulation problems. People with latex allergies should first purchase latex-free resistance bands or look for other strengthening or weight loss methods before using a resistance band.33

Resistance band exercises are an inexpensive but beneficial addition to your workout

Their ability to target muscles in different ways can make resistance bands a valuable part of your workout. Resistance bands are available in different colors and levels for various fitness levels, and they won't cost you a hefty sum of money. Plus, they can be stored and brought easily to any location.

Before using resistance bands, especially if you're a beginner, pick a sturdy band that offers light resistance and perform movements slowly and in a controlled way. You can also ask a physical therapist or trainer for help, so you're able to use the bands properly, reap the many benefits linked to them and avoid injuries in the long run.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about using resistance bands

Q: What is a resistance band used for?

A: Resistance bands are mainly used for full-body strength training exercises that target your arms, hips, legs and glutes and other areas in your upper and lower body.34 Resistance bands may also work for low-impact exercises and occupational therapy.35,36

Q: What are the benefits of resistance bands?

A: Numerous health benefits have been attributed to training with resistance bands:

Helps you perform whole-body strength training exercises without using weights or resistance machines

Boosts performance, mobility, agility, coordination, flexibility37 and range of motion

Assists in reducing fall and fracture risk, as well as joint injury risk because they slow down movements at the end of your range of motion

Increases functional strength38

Helps avoid repetitive stress in the same pathway or movement pattern of joints and muscles

Enhances production of growth factors needed for cellular growth, proliferation and differentiation,39 and promoting neuron survival and increased brain benefits40

Q: Do resistance bands help build muscle?

A: Resistance bands can help build muscle endurance41 and isolate certain groups of muscles,42 and promote development of functional muscle movements.43 Unlike dumbbells or barbells that provide constant resistance, the bands are able to work on your muscles differently by stimulating them to adjust to changes that develop during exercise.

Q: Can resistance bands help you lose weight?

A: There is insufficient information regarding resistance bands' ability to promote weight loss. The book "Practical Guide to Obesity Medicine" highlights, however, that resistance training exercises may not be an effective workout for people who wish to lose weight.44

In a 2010 JAMA study cited in the book, Type 2 diabetes patients who did resistance training alone didn't have improved hemoglobin A1c levels compared to a noncontrol exercise group at the end of the study, and positive results were recorded through a combination of aerobic and resistance training.45

Q: How many times a week should you use resistance bands?

A: According to the book "Move to Lose" by Chris Freytag, strength training exercises involving resistance bands must be done two to three days a week to help promote muscle growth and enhance metabolism.46

Q: How many reps should you do when using resistance bands?

A: The amount of reps you should be doing depends on your fitness level. If you're a beginner, do at least one set of eight reps for the first two weeks, and then add another set after the said timeframe. Once you can do two sets of eight reps without straining, increase your resistance and try to do six to eight reps with increased difficulty. As your fitness level improves, you can try doing eight to 15 reps, or more.47

Q: How do you use a resistance band properly?

A: Focus on proper movement and form instead of the amount of reps. Do exercises as smooth and controlled as possible, and not too fast nor too slow.48 If you're a beginner, use light resistance bands first and switch to more difficult bands when you feel your fitness level increasing.

Resistance bands should also be in optimal condition before and during use, as overuse may cause breakage. Check out the guidelines mentioned above on how to properly use and care for resistance bands.

Q: What type of resistance bands can I buy?

A: Sports stores and retailers offer an array of resistance bands. It's recommended that you use different types of bands to add variety to your workout and ensure you're using one that suits your current fitness level and desired workout intensity.49

Most resistance bands are color-coded to indicate tensions and resistance levels. Common types of resistance bands include therapy bands, figure-8 bands, compact or fit tube resistance bands, ring-resistance bands, lateral resistance bands, clip-tube resistance bands and fit loop bands.50

Q: What exercises can you do with resistance bands?

A: You can use resistance bands to modify some moves you are familiar with, such as pushups, deadlifts and pullups. You can also target specific areas of your body through resistance band exercises like:51

Arms — Bicep curls, reverse fly, overhead triceps extension

Shoulders — Shoulder circuit, one-armed shoulder circuit

Chest — Chest press

Back — Back extensions

Abs/core52Abdominal supine pulses, 1/2 rollback and leaning twist

Legs — Banded lunges, resistance band squats and leg press

Butt53 Ankle jumping jacks, lateral band walks and squat to lateral leg lifts

Ankles54 Seated calf press,55 resisted strengthening dorsiflexion and resisted strengthening inversion

Q: How much calories are burned after using resistance bands?

A: Women's Health magazine notes that a metabolic resistance training circuit, which may be performed using resistance bands, can burn roughly 340 to 505 calories per hour.56

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