Your warm-up, workout and cooldown are like a nutritious three-course dinner. You begin with an appetizer, indulge in your main dish and finish with a dessert. Resistance bands are like seasoning; sure, flavorless food is edible, but your meal is a lot more enjoyable with a little spice on top.
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As with seasonings, there's an endless amount of resistance band varieties on the market, each adding its own flavor to a workout. But just as you wouldn't toss a random spice onto a dish, you don't want to incorporate just any resistance band to your workout.
Before you buy, ask yourself a few preliminary questions and consider all your options.
Choosing the Best Resistance Band
Resistance bands are a staple in almost every home gym. And it's no surprise, considering they're relatively cheap, easy to store and extremely versatile. Although they're straightforward to use, buying a set of bands isn't always as easy, considering there are quite a few styles to choose from.
Before purchasing, ask yourself what types of exercises you'll be doing with the bands, recommends K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS and author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50. This will help you narrow down the biggest variant: band length. If you anticipate doing mostly upper-body moves, you might want to consider bands with handles, for example. All lower-body exercises, and you might want a mini band.
Ask yourself also how you want to grip the band, how you want to anchor it, and how thick or durable you'd like the band to be. Then, find the style that meets your criteria.
1. Best Overall: Long Looped Bands
Long Looped Bands
As far as versatility goes, long looped bands (also known as pull-up assist bands) are tops, Fetters says. These bands are about an inch wide and about two to three feet long and come in a variety of colors, designating different resistance levels.
Long looped resistance bands are an excellent fit for just about any workout, allowing you to do more exercises than possible with a shorter band. While there's no one way to use a long looped band, generally you'll anchor one end of the band either under your feet or around a stable structure and hold the other end in your hands.
These bands shine in compound exercises, like a squat to overhead press, deadlift or wood-chop, Fetters says. But you can also double- or triple-loop these bands to recreate exercises you'd generally do with a shorter band, like lateral band walks or banded glute bridges.
Although any band has the potential to snap if you apply too much force, be particularly cautious with a long looped band, as you risk the rubber hitting your face during certain pulling exercises, Fetters says.
"For this reason, some trainers adamantly tell people to not do face pulls with resistance bands," she says. "I rarely have trainees perform face pulls [a back and shoulder exercise] with bands unless I'm incredibly confident that they have thick, quality bands, and that they will retire the band at the first sign of fraying or cracking."
Buying long looped bands in a pack tends to be the most cost-effective option, Fetters says. Produced in a variety of resistance levels, these bands tend to be a little pricier than shorter bands, as they're usually more durable. You can expect to pay between $30 to $40 for a set of long looped bands.
What You Need to Know
- Long looped bands are incredibly versatile and the best exercise bands overall.
- Use long loops by anchoring one end of the band under your feet or to a structure, holding the other end in your hands.
- Toss any cracking or fraying long looped bands, as they can snap and could cause injury.
2. Best for Lower-Body Exercise: Small Looped Bands
Small Looped Bands
Small looped resistance bands, sometimes called mini bands or booty bands, are generally 9 inches long and about 2 inches wide and come in a variety of colors and resistance levels.
Small looped bands are best for training the lower body, particularly the glutes and hips, Fetters says. While there are many creative ways to use all resistance bands, you'll generally loop mini bands either above your knees or right above your ankles. Avoid looping any bands directly around your knee joint.
Small looped bands come in handy for lateral band walks or banded glute bridges during a dynamic warm-up for more muscle activation pre-workout. Or, loop a band above your knees during your hip thrusts for a challenge.
With some creativity, you can also use these bands for upper-body exercises, although they're not hugely versatile, Fetters says. Longer bands are better suited for upper-body or total-body workouts. "Still, [small looped] bands are the cheapest you'll find," she says. "I pretty much recommend everyone across the board invest in a set of these."
These bands are sold in packs of three or more, including several different resistance levels. Usually, a pack with a light, medium and heavy band will cost around $10 or less. Plus, they take up practically no space at all.
What You Need to Know
- Short looped bands are great for lower-body exercises.
- Loop these bands above your knees or ankles but never around the knee joint.
- These are relatively cheap and can be bought in multi-level packs.
3. Best for Upper-Body Exercise: Tubes With Handles
Tubes With Handles
- KIKILIVE Resistance Bands Set ($34.99 for 5, Amazon)
- RitFit Single Resistance Exercise Band With Handles ($16.98, Amazon)
- AIRIVO Resistance Bands Set ($39.99 for 11 pieces, Amazon)
Like short looped bands, exercise tubes with handles are a less dynamic option. Often used in the pre-dumbbell stages of strength training, these bands are a few feet long with a handle attached to either side of the rubber.
These tubes are probably the most intuitive resistance bands to use: All you need to do is hold a handle in each hand, anchoring the band either under your feet or to a stable structure.
The handles are the biggest draw here, as they feel more natural for upper-body resistance exercises, like biceps curls, shoulder presses and chest presses, Fetters says. While you can seamlessly perform these exercises with long looped bands as well, the handles definitely provide added comfort, preventing the rubber from irritating the skin.
While the handles add comfort, they also take away from the versatility of these bands, Fetters explains. If you're focused on upper-body exercise or can afford several different resistance bands, these are a great option to consider. But for general workout purposes, she recommends skipping this style.
You can buy resistance bands with handles in various colors and resistance levels. However, these are usually the priciest type band, costing between $30 to $50, depending on the set.
What You Need to Know
- Handles add a level of comfort but also limit versatility.
- These bands are a good option if you are focused on upper-body workouts.
- Tubes with handles are usually pricier, ranging between $30 and $50.
4. Best for Comfort: Cloth Looped Bands
Cloth Looped Bands
When you work with thicker bands that deliver higher levels of resistance, the rubber can begin to dig into your skin, causing some discomfort.
Cloth looped bands are a great solution, especially if thicker small looped bands are giving you grief. This style looks a lot like the small looped band; however, they're usually a few inches wider and made of stretchy fabric.
Also sometimes called booty bands, hip circles or glute loops, these are best for lower-body band exercises. They're used exactly like the small looped band: Place hip circles just above your knees during a workout, avoiding contact with the actual joint.
Stronger than rubber looped bands, cloth bands aren't the best option for beginners, as they'll probably feel too high in tension, Fetters explains. With that said, some cloth bands do come with an adjustment option, enabling you to manually tighten the diameter and increase or decrease resistance.
Cloth bands are available in packs of different resistance levels, ranging from $20 to $30.
What You Need to Know
- Instead of rubber, these bands are made of a comfortable stretchy cloth.
- Cloth bands are used exactly like a small looped band but deliver more resistance.
- You can buy cloth bands in packs, ranging from $20 to $30.
5. Best for Rehab Exercise: Latex Elastic Bands
Latex Elastic Bands
Also known by the popular brand name TheraBand, these elastic bands are a mainstay in most physical therapy practices, Fetters says. Unlike other resistance band styles, these are not looped and are usually sold by the roll, allowing you to cut the rubber to the length of your preference.
These latex bands are usually much thinner and lighter in tension than all other resistance bands, making them the perfect tool for rehabilitative exercise prescribed by a physical therapist. You can use this style by holding each end, anchoring the middle portion under your foot or around a structure. Or, you can knot them yourself and create your own short-looped band.
Although they're versatile and can be used like the short and long looped bands, these aren't too practical for actual exercise. As they're super light and, often, manually knotted, they break pretty easily, increasing your chance of getting snapped by the band, Fetters explains.
Pricing on latex bands can range anywhere between $10 to $100, depending on whether you buy by the roll or in a set.
What You Need to Know
- Latex bands are usually used by physical therapists for rehabilitative exercise.
- These bands are very light in resistance and snap easily if you're not careful.
- You buy these bands in a set or by the roll; they range anywhere from $10 to $100.