There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing resistance band squats, what will the effects be?
Resistance band squats are simply regular bodyweight squats but you apply a resistance band or two in the right places to make the exercise more challenging.
There are different resistance bands and placements with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Keep in mind that even though there are upsides, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.
How to do a resistance band squat
As mentioned before there are different resistance bands for squats and ways to place them. This article will consider a squat with a big loop resistance band anchored safely under your feet and over your shoulders as the “standard”.
To do a resistance band squat of this type 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.
Squats are a great exercise choice to build muscle mass. To build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 squats depending on how advanced you are and how heavy your resistance bands are.
The way you build muscle in places like your legs is by engaging these muscles so that they get damaged enough. This may sound counterintuitive but this damage makes it so your body repairs these muscles, and adds a bit more to be better prepared to exert similar efforts in the future.
If you stick to exercises with the same weight, as your muscles become stronger this same effort may not damage your muscles enough to promote extra muscle growth.
By adding extra resistance with bands to exercises like squats you are better able to damage the muscles in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t overdo it, give your body enough nutrients, and give your muscles enough rest this can in turn lead to faster and more leg muscle gain.
Things to keep in mind
Even though resistance band squats can offer valuable benefits, there are also potential downsides. Adding weight to regular squats increases your injury risk. Make sure you can do regular squats without a problem before adding a resistance band to the exercise.
If you have lower back or knee issues, resistance band squats may not be the best choice since most of the variations make it harder for these body parts in one way or another. Some of the alternatives at the end of this article may be safer ways to do a challenging leg workout.
When in doubt talk to a professional to see if you should do leg exercises and which ones would be a good choice in your situation.
How heavy your resistance bands should be for squats varies from individual to individual. If you are not sure how much resistance would be right for you, you can start with light or no resistance bands and slowly build up from there.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that resistance squats are not for you.
Resistance band squat variations
The first way to change up resistance band squats is by switching between some of the following different types of resistance bands:
- Free ends resistance band: This type has free ends and often comes with handles. This resistance band can be especially helpful for upper body exercises but it can definitely make squats more challenging too.
- Loop resistance band: This type is basically one big loop. For a back squat, a squat with resistance on your shoulders, this resistance band is perfect. It can be used for other variations too but these will be more tiring for your hands.
- Mini loop resistance band: This type is a short loop. It is mostly used to loop around your upper legs. In theory, you could also make a complicated setup of multiple bands to add resistance toward the ground.
Once you have an idea of the different types of resistance bands you can think about the different placements. Some examples include:
- Horizontally around your upper legs: Mini loop resistance bands are most often used for this variation but you can use the other types too. This variation engages your glutes slightly more but it also generally influences your technique negatively (1). Pay very careful attention to your technique if you choose this option.
- Butterfly squat: For this option, you place a band around your upper legs. At the bottom of the squat movement, you turn your knees outward and back inward. The technique concerns are similar to the previous option.
- Different places to hold: Most resistance band squats anchor the resistance bands below your feet or somewhere close to the ground. Upper resistance band anchors can vary. Some examples include front squat (in hands held on front shoulders), goblet squat (in hands held at chest height), and Zercher squat (held on the insides of your elbows).
- Different leg positions: The resistance bands are still anchored below your feet or somewhere low but leg positions can vary. Some examples include sumo squat (feet wider and pointing outward), split squat (one foot forward one backward with most of your weight on the front leg), and
Which resistance band squats are the best choice for you depends on factors like what bands you have available, personal preference, training goals, experience, etc. When in doubt the “standard version”, a back squat with a big loop resistance band and feet at about shoulder width, can be a good place to start.
Benefits resistance band squats
Some people question how useful resistance band squats can be but adding a resistance band to your squats can offer you some of the following amazing benefits over bodyweight squats.
1. Helps you build more muscle
Squats are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance. Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Some of the muscles you work out with squats and the resistance band version include:
As explained previously, doing resistance band squats can lead to faster and more muscle gain compared to regular bodyweight squats.
2. Can help you lose more weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
A big factor in how many calories you burn during a workout is your weight. To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more weight you carry, the more energy you need to fuel movement.
For example a 155-pound (70 kg) person doing squats for 15 minutes burns around 110 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person doing squats for 15 minutes burns around 131 calories.
There will likely be a difference in how much a resistance band increases calorie-burning vs the same resistance in body fat but that just shows how doing resistance band squats can benefit weight loss. The extra muscle mass you gain with resistance band squats benefits calorie burning too.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
3. Can improve athletic performance
Getting better at a certain sport or exercise isn’t necessarily done by doing these activities more. Cross-training which is training in a different sport can be useful.
One study suggests that jump height in turn is related to sprint performance (4). This means that adding squats with a resistance band to your routine can improve your performance in basically any sport that involves fast running.
4. Helps you build fast muscle
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”. Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (5).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner squats will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where squats start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers. If you add a resistance band at this point you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.
5. Improved bone density
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now. However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts. The same goes for your bones, by putting pressure on them you make them stronger in the long-term.
Squats with a resistance band put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight squats. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
6. Makes your squats more time-efficient
Another benefit of doing squats with a resistance band is that it can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
A more intense cardio workout can train your cardiovascular system in a shorter amount of time than one at a lower intensity.
Adding an extra challenge with a resistance band to squats can help with both of these things. This benefit of resistance band squats is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
7. Improves posture
When doing squats, even more with resistance band squats, with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (12).
Resistance band squat alternatives
The main reason people turn to resistance band squats is that the bodyweight version is not challenging enough. There are both resistance alternatives and exercise alternatives that are also great options.
Resistance alternatives include free weights like a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. But also gym machines like a smith machine, leg press machine, hack squat machine, etc.
Squat exercise alternatives that may be challenging enough even without a resistance band include lunges, Bulgarian split squats, step-ups, etc.
Both of these two categories can be more effective and more fun alternatives to resistance band squats.
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many benefits from a resistance band in your squat routine. Do keep the added injury risk in mind.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing resistance band squats is not for you.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor in a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently.
If you like resistance band squats, great. If not, regular squats, squat alternatives, and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.