July 16, 2020
Resistance bands are probably the most versatile training tool that exists, bar none. They are a must-have for any fitness enthusiast at any fitness level. Resistance bands can be utilized effectively before, during, and after a workout. Warm up, workout, cool down, resistance bands should play a role. If you know how to use resistance bands then your fitness will benefit on all fronts.
This article will go over all the various ways you can use resistance bands in your training. We will also provide links to resources for each of the ways you can use resistance bands, that way you can see examples of workouts and exercises and explore each specific purpose in-depth. Basically, we have listed everything you need to know about resistance bands, so you can use them to their full potential, which in turn will help you reach your full physical potential.
Below are 10 ways you can and should use resistance bands. Follow the links within the sections to learn more about using resistance bands for each specific purpose.
What resistance bands are we talking about?
For the purpose of keeping this article straight forward, we will be discussing the use of 41” loop resistance bands, as they are the most versatile and popular kind of resistance band people use. While glute bands and tube bands with handles are good for certain things, the 41” loop resistance bands can be used in the same ways, plus a lot more. So, if you want the most versatile resistance band, the heavy duty, multi-layered loop resistance bands are the way to go. The resistance can range from 5-200lbs, so it’s got all the resistance you could ask for (make note, 200lbs of elastic tension is much more difficult than gravitational resistance that you get with free weights).
Resistance bands are perfect for warming up. With a light 41” resistance band, you can easily target your muscles and joints to increase blood flow and body temperature. Moreover, you can activate your stabilizer muscles and get your range of motion to where it should be for the workout to come.
For example, if you are going to do a shoulder workout, you could do a quick round of banded shoulder presses, banded pull aparts, lateral raises, and so on. In just 5 minutes, your muscles and joints, and even your mind, will be ready for a rigorous workout. Jumping into a workout stiff and cold is never ideal, that’s how you get injured, whether that be a joint or a muscle tear. Moreover, just doing cardio before a workout is not enough. You need to hit the specific muscles and joints you will be working during a warm-up.
While this could have been included in the warm-up section above, as that is when you typically do mobility drills, mobility training with resistance bands deserves its own point.
Resistance bands are arguably the best implement there is for mobility training. This is because you can increase your range of motion in a manner that is safe on your joints.
Moreover, due to the nature of the resistance bands (elastic tension rather than gravity), you can focus on your mobility from all angles.
Not to mention, you will activate stabilizer muscles to greater effect due to perturbation force. Stability and mobility go hand-in-hand.
Below is one of many examples of how bands are effective for mobility training.
When focusing on external and internal rotation of the shoulder, you can anchor the band to your side and perform the movement. This will provide tension in the correct direction and angle. Conversely, when performing external and internal rotation for the rotator cuff with a dumbbell, you are fighting gravity, a downward force, which makes it ineffective for external and internal rotation, as that is a side to side (horizontal) motion. Nevertheless, people still use a dumbbell for this during warm up, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. You want tension from the right angle so you can create the mobility your stabilizer muscles need.
All in all, there are so many great mobility and stability exercises that you can do with resistance before working out to make sure you have a full range of motion. That way, you are less liable to get injured during workouts and sports. Plus, with a better range of motion, your lifts will be more effective and your movements more explosive.
This may seem similar to mobility but it is different. Mobility training involves movements with short stretches. It’s like active stretching. It gives you the mobility you need in your muscles, but doesn’t overly lengthen the muscles like static stretching does. Joint mobilization is when you hone in on a joint’s capsule.
If you have joint stiffness or pain (i.e. hip pain when squatting, shoulder pain when benching), then joint mobilization may help you decrease pain and improve your joint’s function. Essentially it will create the laxity a stiff joint needs and normalize its function. You don’t want to go overboard with this, you just want to create some breathing room for the joint to move freely.
Joint mobilization exercises using resistance bands can be done for all the joints of the upper and lower extremities, various points along your spine, and sacroiliac joints (hips). Overall, the goal is to improve joint mobility, decrease tension of the surrounding muscles, and enhance your movement. This may also help decrease pain if the pain is being caused by joint stiffness and not a specific injury to the joint.
Note: Joint mobilization exercises are often used to fix and reduce pain from impingements.
When should joint mobilization be performed?
You can do joint mobilization exercises using resistance bands before a workout or on days where you are not working out. If you do them before a workout, do a couple sets for 10-20 seconds, along with some mobility exercises.
Like dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and all the other free weight training equipment out there, resistance bands can be used for resistance training to build muscle and strength.
Now, this doesn’t mean resistance bands are as good as free weights for building muscle and strength, but resistance bands do have their advantages and they can be effective. We won’t go too in-depth on resistance bands vs free weights, as you can ready about that in the link we just provided. However, we will go over some of the qualities that make resistance bands useful for trainees of all levels. Moreover, we will give you some sample band workouts & exercises for building muscle and strength.
For beginners and those with joint issues, resistance bands will provide all the tension needed to build strength and muscle. They can be used in tandem with bodyweight exercises (i.e. banded push ups) and they can be used to mimic free weight exercises (i.e. resistance band squats, banded shoulder presses, deadlifts with bands only, banded chest press, banded rows, and so on)
For those who are more advanced in fitness, resistance bands also have their place…
First, if you don’t have access to the gym or you want to do a workout outside or at home, a high volume resistance band workout will be effective for your strength and hypertrophy fitness goals. If you know how to hone in on a muscle, which advanced trainees certainly do, and you understand how to progressive overload, you can absolutely continue to build muscle with resistance bands. Here’s how to build muscle with resistance bands.
A special feature of resistance bands is that they can be anchored from any direction, so you can train in multiple planes of motion and hit your muscles from angles you simply can’t do with free weights. With tension-based resistance, you can train standing up, laying down, sitting down, or any other position. With free weights, you must fight gravity, so you need to position yourself correctly to target a muscle group (i.e. you need to bend over - bent over rows - to target your back or lie on a bench to target your chest). The biggest advantage of this is for rotational training and the transverse plane of motion. With free weights, it can be difficult to train rotational and anti-rotational movements. With bands, all you have to do is anchor them to the side.
But it's not only about angles, resistance bands also provide a different kind of force and there is no strength curve. Essentially, they hit the muscles differently, which is great for hypertrophy. You want to shock your muscles in new ways.
Let us explain...
When you push or pull a resistance band, the resistance increases until full extension. So, it's hardest at the top of the movement. With free weights, there is a bell curved strength curve, which means the movement is hardest halfway through the lift. This means bands can give you more consistent time under tension with each set.
What's more, resistance bands provide more emphasis on eccentric contraction. You really can’t do quick eccentric movements (negatives) with bands due to how elastic tension works compared to gravitational force. Bands really don't allow for jerky motions, both concentrically or eccentrically.
All that said, for those who are more advanced in fitness, a good mix of free weight and resistance band training during your workouts is ideal. You can add resistance bands to the mix as individual exercises to target the muscles differently or you can do supersets with them. There are plenty of ways to incorporate bands and reap the rewards of shocking your muscles in new ways and digging deep into the muscle fibers.
Here are 24 resistance band exercises that you can add to your home or gym workouts.
Here are various resistance band only workouts for those who want to take a break from free weights due to whatever reason (can’t go to the gym, don’t want to buy a bunch of equipment, want to give joints a rest, etc.):
The main point is, resistance band workouts and exercises are effective. Ask any pro athlete or bodybuilder if they incorporate bands into their workouts and we guarantee the answer is yes. Resistance bands have a unique place in fitness as there is nothing that really hits the muscles in the same way. The only thing that compares to resistance bands is a cable pulley. So, if you had to choose between barbells and dumbbells and barbell (or dumbbells) and resistance bands, it’s a no brainer. One kind of free weight, one kind of resistance bands. The two complement each other beautifully.
Note: If you are just looking to maintain strength and muscle, all you need are resistance bands. You can get killer workouts in with just resistance bands. And yes, you can build muscle if you really focus on time under tension. If you doubt it, try a resistance band only-workout. You will see.
One of the most popular ways that bodybuilders and powerlifters use resistance bands is by combining them with barbells and the smith machine for strength training. In fact, it is usually the most advanced lifters who employ this method of training.
When combining resistance bands with barbell, smith machines or any free weight for that matter (bands with steel mace and kettlebells too!), you are eliminating the bell-shaped strength curve.
With free weights, there is a bell shaped strength curve, which means the lift is hardest during the middle of the range of motion, then it gets easier, even though the weight load is not actually changing (obviously).
You can read more about this here - combining resistance bands and free weights for strength training. It will explain strength curves in-depth, the benefits, and it shows you examples of various exercises that combine free weights with resistance bands. The most common free weight exercises with bands are bench press, squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses.
If you want to take your hypertrophy and strength to the next level, combining resistance bands with free weights will surely help you achieve that.
Not everybody likes to do traditional cardio (running, cycling, swimming). Many people would rather do a resistance-based workout that gets their heart rate up to a cardio, fat burning level and keep it there for the duration of the workout. With resistance bands, you can do this. You can choose a light resistance band and do a circuit workout or AMRAP workout and get very similar effects as running.
If you want to do a cardio workout with bands, you should aim for a 30-minute workout.
On the whole, running is great for cardiovascular health and burning fat because it gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a set duration of time. This is what makes your heart healthy. It improves blood flow, blood pressure, cholesterol and it burns fat. All important aspects of a healthy heart.
So, as long as you get your heart rate up to the correct range for cardio (50% and 85% of max heart rate), you are essentially doing cardio, just in a non-traditional manner. The approach is different but the results will be the same.
Bands are perfect for this as they are less taxing on your muscles, so you can actually keep up with the pace for the time needed to have cardiovascular benefits (30+ minutes). And while the goal is to improve cardiovascular health, the side effect is burning fat. Win-win.
The 41” loop resistance bands are the only type of bands that can be used to assist you during workouts as well, not just add resistance to your movements. With loop bands, you can get the assistance you need to perform bodyweight and calisthenic exercises that you can’t do on your own.
For example, if you can’t do a pull up, you can use a band to essentially make yourself lighter. As you get stronger, you can use lighter resistance bands and eventually you can do the movement without the assistance of the band.
This is the best approach to performing bodyweight movements as many bodyweight movements trump machine exercises. i.e. pull ups trump cable pull downs for the most part.
Beyond what is better, bands or a machine, you want to be able to throw around your own bodyweight. That is one of the main points of fitness. If you can’t do a pull up, that should be one of the first goals you have in fitness as it is one of the most essential exercises. Same with push ups.
Here are some exercises that resistance bands can assist you with:
While these are some of the most important ones, there are many other ways you can think of to use bands to assist you. The concept is simple, the band just needs to prove tension in the direction that assists you rather than resists you. So, if you have a band anchored to a pull up bar, and you step on it, you are now being pull up by the bands. Conversely, if you had the band anchored to the floor somewhere, and you looped it around your feet, it would be pulling your down, making the pull up harder.
What a fantastic tool right? You can use it to make exercises harder and easier.
Note: This concept can apply to many free weight exercises too. One example would be squats. If you anchored a band above you in a squat rack and you looped it through your armpits, you would have assistance from the band when you press up from the squat (concentric phase). This allows you to train the eccentric motion with a heavier weight. People are much stronger in negative movements, but can't practice that as the concentric phase would be too difficult with said weight load. This is a great way to build overall strength, as much of our strength gains come from the eccentric phase of a lift.
Athletes have been using bands for years for explosive training. By anchoring a band in the opposite direction that you are moving and performing an exercise like box jumps or sprint takeoffs, you are increasing your explosive power in that movement.
Note: For these kinds of exercises, if you can, it is best to have a partner who can hold the band behind you rather than an anchor.
In the following link, we use bands for various explosive exercises and plyometrics - box jumps, bear crawls, sprints, and so on.
There really is no better equipment to help you improve your explosiveness than elastic force, and this applies to big lifts in the gym too, as you are eliminating the strength curve.
Resistance bands are the perfect tool for improving your flexibility. While you really only need your bodyweight to improve flexibility, resistance bands are essential for those who lack flexibility.
First, you can get a deeper stretch.
Let’s say you can’t reach your toes from a seated floor position with your legs extended. You could anchor a band in front of you and pull yourself forward with the band, thus stretching further than you could without the bands.
Another great way to use resistance bands for flexibility training is by getting into stretches that you’d otherwise be completely unable to. For example, let’s say you want to stretch your quads but you can’t do the classic standing quad stretch. With a band, you could lie stomach down on the floor and loop the band around your foot or ankle then pull it over your shoulder and get the same stretch from the floor position.
Not to mention, most people who train rigorously are sore throughout the week, which causes stretching to be more difficult. Bands can be the help you need to loosen up those muscles and recover quicker.
These are just a few examples of how bands can help your flexibility training. Overall, bands can help you correct your stretches so you can really hone in on muscles. There are so many ways to use bands for stretching, and because of that, even the most flexible people use bands during flexibility training.
Examples of Leg Stretches with Bands
If you are coming off of an injury or you have unresolved joint stability issues, bands are the absolute best. Resistance bands target smaller stabilizers better than free weights due to the need to constantly stabilize the movement. You can’t get away with jerky motions with bands like you can free weights.
Elastic tension provides a perturbation force, which causes stabilizer muscles to really kick into gear.
With resistance band exercises, you will build up strength in the muscles around your joints at the same time as the larger muscles, so you can get your stabilization back to where it should be.
What’s more, in regards to rehabilitation, resistance bands are the least taxing on your joints. You can build strength and muscle without all the wear and tear to the joints that free weights cause. Elastic force is far better for rehabilitation than the gravitational force.
Example of rotator cuff rehab exercises.
Example of knee rehab with bands.
Examples of scapular stability exercises with resistance bands.
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