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You may have heard resistance bands can be a great workout tool. But how do you use resistance bands the right way to achieve results?
Resistance bands are a type of fitness equipment that comes down to an elastic cord or loop. At first, it may be hard to imagine that this can benefit your workouts in any way.
However, resistance bands can offer both some unique and more general advantages that can make many exercises more effective or open the door to completely new exercises.
One of the first benefits of resistance bands is that they are easily accessible. Even if you are a resistance training beginner or intermediate, work out at the gym or at home, you can use resistance bands in some way to modify your workouts.
Should you use resistance bands?
The first step before learning how to use resistance bands is figuring out whether you should actually do so. While resistance bands can be great they are not a miracle tool that will instantly, or even over time, will get you to any workout goal.
There are different types of workouts. The most common distinction is workouts that focus on cardiovascular health (running, cycling, swimming,…) vs strength training to build muscle (squats, bicep curls, crunches,…).
What resistance bands actually do is make certain movements harder for your body parts by pulling against your muscles.
If you are more of a beginner to strength training this may sound like something you don’t want. However, the way you build and preserve muscle is by engaging these muscles enough so that they get damaged.
This damaging makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
So resistance bands can be really effective for increasing the resistance in strength training exercises and in turn cause muscle growth. This is generally considered to be the “proper” way to use resistance bands.
For other types of workouts like cardiovascular training, coordination, and balance, resistance bands will usually not be that helpful.
Body parts where resistance bands stand out
Resistance bands are certainly not the only fitness equipment option to make resistance training exercises more challenging. There are a wide variety of resistance band alternatives that can help you do the same, sometimes more effectively.
Even so, there are some relatively unique things about this fitness equipment option. The first one is that you are not limited to one direction of resistance. Most free weights only work against the one direction of gravity.
The second is that you can loop resistance bands around your feet. Most free weights cannot be held by your feet.
These things make it so resistance bands are especially useful for training inner thigh muscles, training outer thigh muscles, isolating hamstrings, and isolating quadriceps.
That being said, resistance bands can definitely also be used for training some of the more typical muscles and for making some of the more typical exercises weighted.
Lastly, the resistance of bands increase as you stretch them out. During exercises like a dumbbell curl, this is the opposite. As you get higher your muscles are under less tension. This can be both an advantage or disadvantage of resistance bands.
Types of resistance bands
While all resistance bands work with the same principle of elasticity, there are different types with each their own advantages and disadvantages. The main types include:
- Free ends resistance band: This type has free ends and often comes with handles. These are mainly helpful where handles are a benefit. Some examples include lateral raises, bicep curls, and chest presses.
- Loop resistance band: This type is basically one big elastic loop. These are mainly helpful for exercises like squats, the good morning, and lunges, where you want to loop the resistance band behind your shoulders.
- Mini loop resistance band: This type is a short loop. It is mostly used to loop around your upper legs. Some exercises include sideways leg raises, leg abductions, and sideways crab walks.
One of the good things about resistance bands is that they are versatile. You can for example knot the free ends resistance bands to get a big loop resistance band. And you can definitely use the big loop for exercises like lateral raises, bicep curls, and chest presses too.
The exception is mini loop resistance bands. These have a rather specific use, training thigh muscles. For this goal, you can also use the other resistance bands by looping them multiple times around your thighs.
Resistance band accessories
One of the benefits of resistance bands is that you can get in a relatively good workout with just the bands. There are however also some resistance band accessories that can make your workouts more effective or more comfortable.
For some exercises you will need or benefit from anchoring your resistance bands somewhere. By doing this you can do exercises like tricep pushdowns, lat pulldowns, or straight arm pulldowns. Or make exercises like chest presses, tricep kickbacks, and leg adductions more effective.
Besides that, if you have resistance bands without handles, the bands can be uncomfortable to your hands. To avoid or at least reduce this you can wear workout gloves when you use resistance bands.
4 of the best resistance band exercises
Once you understand and have the previous things, you can get to actually using resistance bands.
Everyone from beginners to advanced individuals can use resistance bands by holding them or looping them in such a way that during certain movements they offer extra resistance to muscles.
While there are a lot of different resistance band exercises, with the 4 options below you can already see a lot of progress in growth and strength in muscles all over your body.
How heavy your resistance bands should be for the exercises varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much resistance would be right for you, you can start with a light or no resistance band and slowly build up from there.
1. Resistance band squats
To do a resistance band squat take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width. Anchor the resistance band below your feet.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- At the lowest point put the resistance band over the back of your neck so most of the pressure rests on your shoulders.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Repeat the downward upward motion for a certain number of repetitions.
Resistance band squats train muscles like your glutes (butt), quadriceps (front thighs), calves, lower back, and to a certain extent hamstrings (back thighs).
2. Resistance band rows
There are different versions of resistance band rows. To do a bent-over resistance band row take the following steps:
- Anchor the resistance band(s) under your feet which are at about shoulder-width.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at a 45-degree angle with the ground while keeping your back straight.
- Grab the resistance band with stretched arms at a point where you experience a small amount of resistance. Point your hand palms backward.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Bent-over resistance band rows train muscles like your latissimus dorsi, biceps, rhomboids, trapezius, and to some extent leg and lower back muscles.
3. Resistance band pushups
Pushups without resistance bands are already a great exercise option. By adding a resistance band you can train your muscles even more. To do a resistance band pushup take the following steps:
- Lie on your stomach on the ground. Loop a resistance band around your back and under your hands. Put your hands at about shoulder width under your shoulders. Hold the band at points where you already feel some extra tension on your back in this position.
- Move up your back so your body is in a straight line. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Slowly push yourself up with your arms until they are slightly less than stretched. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
- Alternate between the positions in step 2 and step 3.
Resistance band pushups train muscles like your chest, triceps, and shoulders, and to some extent core muscles like abs and obliques.
4. Resistance band shoulder presses
To do a resistance band shoulder press take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Anchor one or two resistance bands under your feet. Hold one or part of the resistance band in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move your hands up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower your hands back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Resistance band shoulder presses train muscles like your shoulders and triceps, and to some extent core muscles to keep your back straight.
Ways to make resistance band exercises harder
As your muscles become stronger, you will have to make the same exercises more challenging to keep seeing the same amount of muscle growth and strength progress.
There are many ways to make resistance band exercises harder, even when using the exact same resistance band. Some examples include:
- Use a band with bigger resistance
- Grab the resistance band closer to the anchor
- Wrap part of the resistance band multiple times around your feet or hands
- Use multiple bands
- Fold your band double
- Do the exercise with one arm/side at a time (can also help you avoid possible muscle imbalances)
How you should make resistance band exercises is mostly a matter of personal preference and what equipment you have available. In any case, you have plenty of possibilities to choose from.
How do beginners use resistance bands?
Beginners use resistance bands the same way as more experienced individuals. That means holding or anchoring the resistance bands in a way that certain movements become harder to do for your muscles. In turn, this can increase muscle growth and strength.
What is the proper way to use resistance bands?
Generally speaking, the “proper” way to use resistance bands is as extra resistance in strength training exercises. The exact steps to use them will vary from exercise to exercise. You can also use resistance bands for stretching.
Are resistance bands really effective?
Exercise bands can really be effective. That being said, they are only really effective up to some point. Individuals more experienced with resistance training may need to switch to equipment like a weighted barbell to train for example the strong muscles in the legs.
What do resistance bands actually do?
Resistance bands pull back with more and more force as you stretch them out. This can make them helpful for doing resistance training exercises at a more challenging and effective intensity.