Choosing and Using Resistance Bands

Spice up your workouts

What to know about resistance bands?
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When it comes to strength training, most of us stick to the usual free weights and machines or, if we're feeling frisky, we may venture over to the cable or free motion machines at the gym. What you don't see a lot of, is work with resistance bands or tubing.

We're often confused about what resistance bands do and how to use them, but they're a great way to workout while you travel or add variety to your usual routine.

Resisting Resistance Bands

Some of the problems people often have with resistance bands:

  • The resistance feels different. When you use free weights, gravity decides where the weight comes from, so you get more resistance during one part of the movement (such as the upswing of a biceps curl) than the other (the downswing). With bands, the tension is constant, which makes it feel harder. Bands work much like a cable machine, allowing you to keep constant tension on the muscle. You'll also incorporate more stabilizer muscles to keep the band in alignment throughout each exercise, adding a different dynamic to the same old moves.
  • Resistance bands aren't as challenging as machines or dumbbells. With weights, you know exactly how much you're lifting. With bands, you can only go by how it feels and the tension on the band. That doesn't mean you're not getting a good workout, though. If you use good form and the right level of tension, your muscle fibers won't know the difference between weights or bands. Plus, bands offer more variety because you can create the resistance from all directions--the side, overhead, below, etc.
  • You don't know how to use them. It can be confusing trying to figure out how to use a band. Keep in mind that you can perform the same exercises as you do with free weights--the difference lies in positioning the band. For example, you can stand on the band and grip the handles for bicep curls or overhead presses. You can attach it to a door and do triceps pushdowns. You can wrap the band around a pole or chair for chest exercises or shoulder rotations. You can even do exercises on the floor like these seated biceps curls. The possibilities are endless and you'll find there are a number of exercises and workouts available to you.

    Why You Should Try Resistance Bands

    • They travel well. You can easily pack them in your suitcase for travel and do exercises in the car or in your hotel room.
    • They increase coordination. Because there's tension throughout the exercises, you have to stabilize your body. This helps with coordination, balance and it also helps you involve more muscle groups.
    • They add variety. With weights, you're often limited as to how many exercises you can do. But, the resistance band allows you to change your positioning in multiple ways. This changes how your body works and how an exercise feels.
    • They're inexpensive. Bands range anywhere from $6 to $20, depending on how many you get and where you buy them, which is nice for the budget-conscious exerciser.
    • They're great for all fitness levels. Depending on how you use them, bands can be great for beginners as well as more advanced exercisers. You can use them for basic moves or add intensity to traditional moves.

    You'll find that there are a variety of resistance bands available and you can usually find them almost anywhere including discount stores (like Walmart or Target), at most sporting goods stores. You can even sometimes find them at stores that also sell exercise DVDs like Borders or other book stores.

    You can always buy resistance bands in stores, but if you're looking for more options and, sometimes, more quality, you may find you have to order them online.

    Tips for Buying Resistance Bands

    • Buy a variety of bands. Most bands are color-coded according to tension level (e.g., light, medium, heavy, very heavy). It's best to have at least three - light, medium and heavy since different muscle groups will require different levels of resistance.  I love SPRI bands, which you can buy at
    • Buy comfortable, easy to use bands. Some bands you find in stores offer interchangeable handles, which means you have to take them off and on to use different bands. Some have handles that are larger than normal or made of hard plastic. These are minor issues, but they can make using your bands more difficult than it needs to be. Try to buy bands with padded handles and make sure you don't have to change them out.
    • Buy accessories. One key to using bands is having different ways to attach them. If you have a sturdy pole or stair rail in your house to wrap the band around for exercises like chest presses or seated rows, you may not need much more than bands. But, if you don't, you may want a door attachment - Buy at You can also buy ankle cuffs, different handles and other accessories.
    • Keep it simple. There's a wide variety of bands available - figure 8's, double bands, circular bands, etc. If you're just getting started, stick with your basic long tube with handles. Once you figure out how to use it, you may want to buy other types later for variety.

    Some Resistance Band Exercises

    If you're ready to try your resistance bands, below is a list of basic moves to get you started. I've provided tips for each exercise and you can click on the links to view the exercises. All of these moves are shown in full detail with instructions at Resistance Band Workouts for Beginners:

    • Chest Press - For this exercise, wrap the band a chair behind you - You can also wrap it around a pole, rail or use the door attachment to secure the band in the door. The resistance band should be right at about chest level and you should step far enough away from the door that you get constant tension on the band. If you're in a chair, as shown, you might need to wrap the bands around your hands several times for more tension.  Keep your elbows in a 'goal-post' position (parallel to the floor) throughout the movement. And push out and back for about 16 reps.
    • Rotating Chest Press - Wrap the band around a sturdy object and loop one handle through the other, pulling it tight.  Step away from the anchor until you have plenty of tension on the band and begin with the right side towards the anchor, arm straight.  Rotate the body, pivoting on the feet, and bring the right around all the way across and tough the left fingers.  Repeat for 16 reps on each side.
    • Seated High Row - For this move, you can keep the band where it is, unhook the handles and turn around so that you're facing the band. This exercise targets the upper back, so make sure you squeeze the back without arching or pulling the elbows too far back.
    • Bicep Curls- For the bicep curl, you can stand on the band with both feet (harder) or with one foot (easier). Hold the handles in each hand and curl up in a bicep curl, just as you would with dumbbells. You can make this move harder by stepping the feet wide or by using a heavy band.
    • Squats with an Overhead Press - You'll want a light band for this or, if you have a heavy band, you can simply do this one arm at a time.  Stand on the band and hold the handles up towards the shoulders (elbows bent) to create more tension. Squat and then, as you stand up, press the weights overhead.

      These are just a few examples of band exercises. Below is a list of full workouts you can try or, if you don't like the idea of using bands for your entire workout, try incorporating some of the exercises with your traditional weight routine for variety and challenge.

      Resistance Band Workouts



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