Not every resistance band exercise requires yards and yards of elastic bands -- but some do require you to create loops in the bands, which can cause premature wear and tear. That's where "figure eight" elastic bands come in. They're typically shorter than regular elastic resistance bands, and they usually have a handle at each end of the "eight." Those handles make for easy gripping, and they also help protect the bands from your shoes when you do leg exercises.
The protective handles on most figure-eight resistance bands lend themelves well to leg exercises like hip abduction, mule kicks and hamstring curls. To do hip abduction, place one foot in each loop of the "eight"; stand on one foot as you swing the other leg gently away from your body, against the band's resistance.
For hamstring curls, loop one end of the band around a smooth, vertical support -- the round leg of a sturdy piece of furniture works. Place your ankle in the other loop and bend that knee, flexing it against the band's resistance.
For mule kicks, slip one of the loops around one knee; kneel on it. Place your other ankle through the free loop and straighten your leg behind you, just as a mule or horse would do when kicking.
Because figure-eight elastic bands tend to be shorter than conventional elastic bands, they make it much easier to do upper-body exercises with a limited range of motion. For example, concentration curls: kneel or sit with a foot anchoring one of the band's loops; grasp the other one and curl up toward your chest.
Figure-eight bands are also good for doing rear deltoid flyes: Hold one of the band's handles in each hand, in front of your chest at about nipple level. Pull the ends of the band apart and back, as if you were stretching it across your chest. Make sure your elbows move during this exercise -- if they stay put you're doing the wrong movement.
You can also use figure-eight elastic resistance bands for almost any conventional elastic resistance exercise -- as long as it doesn't require an extensive range of motion. Elastic bands can snap if stretched too far -- so instead of doing biceps curls with both hands at once, stand in one loop of the band and do curls with just one arm at a time. Or stick to exercises that are unlikely to damage the band, such as pushups, chest flyes, one-armed triceps extensions and "wide grip" lat pulldowns done without anchoring the middle of the band.
Food for Thought
No matter what shape they may be, elastic resistance bands are still, at their heart, giant rubber bands. So before you begin working out with your band, look it over closely -- then stretch it out to its full length and check it over again. If you see any cracks, tears, discolorations or any other obvious signs of wear, replace the band right away.