Do Resistance Bands Work for Strength Training?

It's hard to beat the gym for access to every type of fitness equipment your heart desires, from elliptical trainers to free weights and machines. If you're looking for a compact, portable and affordable alternative, strength training with resistance bands is a viable option. After all, you can't take all that equipment with you when you travel and it probably won't fit into your house. Resistance bands, on the other hand, are lightweight and easy to move around.

One of the benefits of resistance bands is that they are light and easy to bring with you when you travel. (Image: g-stockstudio/iStock/GettyImages)

Tip

Strength training with resistance bands is very practical and effective, especially if you travel a lot. However, it does have some limitations.

Benefits and Limitations

There's a lot to love about doing your strength training with resistance bands: They're so small and light that you can take them along when you travel and store them in a drawer at home. They're also much more affordable than buying your own weight machines — if you're ordering online, you can have them shipped to you without paying an arm and a leg (as opposed to dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells).

With that said, elastic resistance bands do have some definite limitations. One of the biggest is the amount of resistance they provide. Even the heaviest bands won't compare to the amount of resistance you can get from big dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells.

If you're a serious lifter, resistance bands alone might not challenge you enough to progress. And while you can mimic almost any dumbbell and some barbell exercises with elastic resistance bands, you generally can't use them to mimic power lifts or kettlebell moves. However, few pieces of exercise equipment are as beginner-friendly as elastic resistance bands.

Elastic resistance bands can last through a lot, but they will eventually break down. Always inspect your them before every use and retire them if there are any signs of cracking, breakage or obvious fading — which could lead to a surprising (at best) or injurious (at worst) break.

Resistance Band Workouts for Beginners

If you're just getting started with elastic resistance bands, here's your general plan: Aim to work all your major muscle groups at least twice a week, doing at least one or two sets of eight to 12 repetitions for each exercise. Give each muscle group at least one full day to rest before you work it again.

Not sure where to start? Choose at least one exercise from each of the following categories.

1. Band Exercises for Your Back

Move 1: Elastic Band Pulldowns

Elastic band pulldowns work all the major pulling muscles of your back and arms.

  1. Hold both ends of the elastic resistance band in one hand. Use a foam anchor to hold the midpoint of the band in place over the top of a door, or tie a knot in the midpoint of the band and close the knot into the top of the doorway.
  2. Kneel facing the door, keeping your chest up and out, and extend your arms up. Adjust your grip so there's mild tension in the elastic band when your arms are extended.
  3. Pull your arms down in front of you, letting your elbows lead the way. Complete the repetition by slowly releasing back to the starting position.

Move 2: Seated Rows

You can also use your elastic resistance bands to do seated rows, which also work the pulling muscles in your back and arms.

  1. Sit down on the floor, a yoga mat, or even your bed. Any comfortable, flat surface will do.
  2. Extend your legs straight in front of you and loop the exercise band around your feet. Make sure the band is fully secure. If you're not flexible enough to sit up straight with your legs fully extended, you can bend your legs slightly at the knees.
  3. Sit up straight and extend both arms forward, gripping each end of the resistance band in one hand. There should be mild tension in the band when your arms are extended.
  4. Draw both ends of the band back toward your navel, keeping your hands and elbows close to your body.
  5. Stop when your elbows break the plane of your torso, and return to the starting position with a controlled motion.

2. Band Workout for Your Chest

Move 1: Resistance Band Chest Press

To work the major pushing muscles in your chest, triceps and shoulders, consider using your resistance bands to mimic the motion of a chest press:

  1. Wrap the band around your back, just below shoulder height. Each end of the band should come out under one armpit.
  2. Grasp one end of the band in each hand and bend your arms, elbows lifted out to the side at just under shoulder height. Keep your hands straight in front of your elbows and adjust your grip until there's mild tension on the band.
  3. Straighten your arms and press your hands straight out in front of you; your straight arms should end up directly in front of your shoulders.
  4. Bend your arms and return to the starting position with a smooth, controlled motion.

Move 2: Resistance Band Push-Ups

If your chest, triceps and shoulders are already strong, take on the challenge of adding a resistance band to push-ups:

  1. Assume the push-up position, balanced on your hands and toes, body straight from head to heels.
  2. Drape a resistance band across your shoulders so the ends emerge beneath your armpits, and pin each end of the band securely under each of your hands.
  3. Bend your arms and lower yourself into the "down" position of the push-up, then adjust the band beneath your hands so there's mild tension in this position. Just getting the band tension correct can be a workout in and of itself.
  4. Straighten your arms to press back into the "up" position of the push-up, moving against the band's resistance. This completes one repetition.

Tip

You can also use your resistance bands for other arm and shoulder exercises, such as biceps curls, triceps kickbacks, front raises and lateral raises.

3. Resistance Band Exercises for Legs

Move 1: Resistance-Band Squats

Squats are almost perfect as a lower-body exercise. If you're just starting out, work on nailing squat form without any extra resistance. Once you're ready for a bigger challenge, it's time to add the resistance bands.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and pin the middle section of the resistance band securely beneath both feet.
  2. Hold one end of the resistance band in each hand. Extend your hands straight down by your sides.
  3. Sink down into a squat — think hips back, chest up, back flat — and adjust your grip on the band until there's mild tension in the "down" position.
  4. Stand up against the band's resistance, then sink back into the "down" position to complete one repetition.

Move 1: Static Band Lunges

Not every lunge variation works well for elastic resistance bands, but static lunges can be effective, and they target every muscle in your lower body. That said, you should practice lunging form without resistance bands first, and only add the resistance bands once you're confident with your form and ready for the extra challenge.

  1. Hold one end of the resistance band in each hand, and securely pin the midpoint of the band to the floor with one foot.
  2. Step back with your free leg, and bend both knees to lower into a lunge position.
  3. Check your form: Your back knee should be under your hips, and your front knee should be over your toes, not protruding forward beyond them.
  4. Bend your elbows and bring your hands up toward your shoulders. Adjust your grip on the resistance band until there's mild tension on in this position, which is the "down" position of your lunge.
  5. Push off with both legs to stand up straight again, bringing your rear foot up to meet the other foot. Keep your elbows bent and the hands in front of your shoulders to maintain the tension on the band.
  6. Step back with the same leg and bend both knees again, lowering back into the lunge to complete one repetition.

As always when you're doing a one-sided exercise like this, remember to switch legs and do a full set on the other side, too.

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