6 Resistance Band Exercises to Make Strength Training More Effective

If you're going through the effort of doing a strength workout, you probably want to boost the effects of each and every exercise, right? One of the best ways to ensure you're squeezing maximum benefits out of your strength routine is to warm-up with activation exercises.

Doing resistance band activation exercises can make your strength training workouts even more effective. (Image: Khosrork/iStock/GettyImages)

Unlike traditional warm-up stretches, activation exercises mimic the movements you're about to do in your workout. You're essentially preparing your body for the movement to come, which can help you lift with better technique and reduce your risk of injury.

How Activation Exercises Can Improve Your Workout

"By doing exercises with the same or similar movement patterns as those in our workouts, we increase blood flow to the muscles we'll using, lubricate the joints and also fire up the areas of the brain which control those movements," says U.K.-based personal trainer Julia Buckley, author of The Fat Burn Revolution.

"If you choose the right activation exercises, you'll increase efficiency and performance in your strength exercises," says personal trainer and life coach Kourtney Thomas, CSCS. "Even just an [activation] exercise or two for upper and lower body will make a big difference in how your workout goes."

Not to mention, many people work sedentary desk jobs, which can result in tight hip flexors or weakened muscles due to the lack of movement, says Kasey Kotarak, NASM-certified personal trainer at Fit Body Boot Camp in Highland, Michigan. By starting your workout with activation exercises, you can loosen up these tight spots and fire up sleepy muscles.

"Effective muscle activation is important to make progress with your training," Kotarak says. For example, if your glute muscles aren't firing during a squat or deadlift, you won't see increased muscle growth or strength in that area. And chances are, if your glutes aren't doing their share of the work, other areas of your body — namely, your lower back — are taking on extra work to compensate. Over time, this may lead to pain and injury.

The Perks of Using Resistance Bands

There are many tools you can use to prep your muscles for your workout, but resistance bands are one of the better options. "Bands are a great tool for activation because they force us to move in a very controlled manner, which helps embed proper technique," Buckley says.

Plus, resistance bands are portable and easy to use. You can find them in most gyms, or snag a set online for relatively cheap. There are several different types of resistance bands, including mini-bands, full-length loop bands (also known as superbands or power resistance bands), tube resistance bands with handles, and figure-eight bands.

Certain types of bands tend to work better for some exercises than others, but you can usually find a way to modify the exercise to fit the equipment you have on hand.

Best Activation Exercises for Strength Training

Here are Buckley, Thomas and Kotarak's favorite activation exercises. Do one or two sets of 12 to 15 reps of each activation exercise as a warm-up to your main lift. Your muscles should feel warm — not fatigued — by the end of your set.

1. Mini-Band Squat for Weighted Squats

  1. Start standing and loop a mini-band around both legs just above your knees.
  2. Step your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Keeping your torso straight, bend at the knees to lower into a squat, stopping when your thighs are parallel — or almost parallel — to the ground; don't allow your knees to collapse inward.
  4. Pause at the bottom of the squat before pushing through your feet to stand.

2. Mini-Band Lateral Walk for Squats and Deadlifts

  1. Start standing and loop a mini-band around both legs just above your knees.
  2. Step your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Bend your knees slightly and step one foot to the side. Follow with the trailing foot so your feet are hip-width apart again. Step with control to avoid rocking motions.
  4. Do all your reps in one direction before switching to the other.

3. Banded Good Morning for Deadlifts

  1. Start standing and step both feet on the center of a superband. Wrap the band around your shoulders at your traps and hold the band at the outside of your shoulders to keep the band from slipping off.
  2. Step your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward at the hips to bring your torso toward your thighs, stopping once you feel tension in the backs of your thighs (e.g., the hamstrings). Keep your chest up.
  4. Reverse the movement, squeezing your glutes at the top.

4. Band Pull-Apart for Bent-Over Rows, Chest Presses and Shoulder Presses

  1. Start standing, gripping one end of a resistance band in each hand in front of your face, arms fully extended. Your palms should face the floor.
  2. Keeping your arms fully extended, squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your hands — and the band — apart.
  3. Pause briefly before allowing your hands and shoulder blades to return to starting position.

Tip

You should feel this exercise in your upper back — not your arms.

5. Banded Standing Chest Press for Chest Presses

  1. Loop a resistance band behind your upper back and grip one end of the band with each hand.
  2. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and raise both arms to the sides so your palms and forearms are facing the floor.
  3. Press both hands in front of your chest until your arms are fully extended. Pause briefly before returning to the starting position.

Tip

To create more tension, grip the band below the handles or ends.

6. Banded Overhead Press for Shoulder Presses

  1. Stand on the center of a resistance band with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Grip one end of the resistance band in each hand and bring your hands to your shoulders, palms facing forward.
  3. Brace your core and press both hands overhead until your arms are fully extended.
  4. Pause briefly before returning your hands to your shoulders.
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