When it comes to building a strong, defined upper body, a well-rounded shoulder workout is a must (pun intended). And while you can't go wrong with dumbbells and kettlebells, resistance bands will get the job done just as well — without taking up valuable space in your apartment or suitcase.
"Resistance bands are great for the shoulders because they can be used in many different ways and in many different directions," says Morit Summers, CPT, founder of Form Fitness, a training studio in Brooklyn, New York.
Thanks to this versatility, you only need one band to hit the three heads that make up your shoulders: the anterior (front) deltoid, lateral (side) deltoid and posterior (rear) deltoid. If you want well-developed shoulders, you need to target all three.
And unlike free weights, bands allow you to adjust the resistance of a shoulder exercise without swapping out equipment. All you have to do to make a shoulder exercise easier or harder with a resistance band is narrow or widen the distance between your hands or feet.
It doesn't take much to challenge your shoulder muscles, either: "When working on the shoulders, a little bit of [added] resistance can go a long way," Summers says.
To get you started, Summers offers six of the best resistance band exercises to build strong, shapely shoulders. Grab a closed-loop band (a band with handles works, too) and try the following moves during your next shoulder workout.
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1. Resistance Band Overhead Press
- Step both feet on the center of the band so your feet are hip-width apart. Grip the band with each hand in front of your shoulders, palms facing forward.
- Brace your core and press your hands toward the ceiling, until arms are fully extended.
- Return your hands to your shoulders.
2. Resistance Band Bent Over Row
- Step both feet on the center of the band so your feet are hip-width apart. Grip one end of the band in each hand down at your sides.
- Keep your back flat as you hinge forward at the waist and pull your elbows back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top and pause.
- Return to start, keeping constant tension in the band.
3. Resistance Band Front Raises
- Step both feet on the center of the band so your feet are hip-width apart. Grip the band with each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing in.
- Keep your arms straight, brace your core, and raise both hands in front of you, until they reach shoulder height.
- Lower your hands back down to your thighs.
Don’t use momentum to swing your arms in front of you, rather, use the strength of your shoulders.
4. Resistance Band Upright Row
- Step both feet on the center of the band so your feet are hip-width apart. Make an X shape with the band and grip it with each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing in.
- Keep your hands close to your body and slowly lift the band in front of your torso, until your elbows reach shoulder height.
- Reverse the movement to bring your hands back to the starting position.
5. Resistance Band Pull-Aparts
- Grip a resistance band in front of your chest at arm’s length, palms facing the floor.
- Keep your arms extended and squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull the band apart, until your arms are straight out at your sides. Adjust your hand position to increase or decrease resistance.
- Bring your hands back together in front of your chest._ _
Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.
6. Resistance Band Behind-the-Head Pulldown
- Step both feet on the center of the band so your feet are hip-width apart and the free end of the band is behind your back._ _Grip the band in each hand with your arms extended at your sides at shoulder level. Your palms should face forward.
- Keep your arms straight, brace your core and press your hands toward the ceiling, until arms are fully extended.
- As you bring your hands back down, keep your arms straight and pull the band apart until your arms are extended at your sides, about shoulder level.