Resistance bands have long been touted as a great tool for improving mobility and getting a deeper stretch, but they might also be what’s missing from your strength-training arsenal—especially if you’re looking to graduate to more difficult moves. Don’t let their size fool you; one band can pack a mighty punch.
“Resistance bands are a great addition to many lifts and an easy way to elevate bodyweight exercises,” says Fitbit Coach and certified personal trainer Adrian Richardson. “They make the entire movement—contracting and lengthening muscles—more challenging. To overcome it you have to recruit more power, force, and velocity—a process known as compensatory acceleration—which can lead to more muscle-fiber recruitment and increased strength, explosiveness, and muscular endurance than doing bodyweight training alone.”
The “give” of resistance bands can also help you modify challenging bodyweight movements you’re still working towards achieving, like pull-ups. At the weakest point in your range of motion—usually at the bottom of a movement—they allow you to get that extra boost of leverage.
Ready to kick your strength-training routine up a notch? Get started with these total-body resistance-band exercises. Aim for 8-10 reps of each movement. If you’re craving a bit more of a challenge—or as you get stronger— just swap out your band for one that provides more tension and has a little less give.
Banded Front Squats
“If you’ve ever attempted a heavier squat only to have to bail halfway up, then incorporating bands may be for you,” says Richardson. “Training this movement with a band will help you overcome the “sticking point” halfway through the lift (where moving the load becomes the most difficult) by demanding that you generate more power and forcing you to overcome the increased resistance of the band.”
Strengthen: quads, upper back, shoulders
1. Stand on a circular resistance band with your feet hip-distance apart. With your arms bent at 90-degree angles and your palms facing up, rest the band across your palms towards the base of your hands.
2. Hinge at the hips and lower yourself as you would in a normal squat, making sure your chest remains up and your knees don’t move past your toes.
3. Once your thighs are parallel with the ground (or a bit lower for a deeper squat), push through your heels and explode up, contracting at the top.
“Using a band to help with pull-ups can help you squeeze out the last few reps of a challenging set or help you build the strength and confidence needed to attempt your first unassisted pull-up,” says Richardson. “The key here is to use a small band that will help, but not do the work for you.”
1. Loop a band over a pull-up bar to create a foothold.
2. Step one foot into the band (keeping the other foot out of the band). Stand on a box for height assistance, if needed.
3. Placing your hands on the bar at about shoulder-width apart, pull yourself up by contracting your lats. Use the give of the band to lift your chin over the bar. Lower back down in a slow-and-controlled motion, making sure not to swing or waver back and forth.
Banded Hip Thrusts
“Banded hip thrusts are a cheap and effective way to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quads without having to go to a gym, move a bunch of weight plates, or risk injury,” says Richardson. “When done correctly, they provide about the same amount of muscle activation in the lower glutes as their barbell counterpart.
1. Lay on the floor, pinning your shoulder blades to the ground. Your knees should be bent at 90 degrees and your feet should be planted firmly on the floor at about shoulder-width apart.
2. Place a band across your hip crease, making sure to take the slack out of it so that it’s taut enough to provide the necessary resistance.
3. Bracing your core, lift your hips and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
4. Lower back down in a slow, controlled motion.
“Adding resistance bands to push-ups is a great way to build muscular strength and endurance since the force needed on the concentric (upward) phase of the movement is increased,” says Richardson. “As you push your body away from the ground, the band is stretched and the load on your muscles is increased. This means that more muscle fibers are recruited and that you have to work harder to complete the rep. Banded push-ups also force you to lock in your form—specifically your core and leg engagement—on both the eccentric and concentric (up and down) phases of the movement while helping you build a solid strength base before adding weight plates to the mix.”
Strengthen: chest, shoulders, delts
1. Grab both ends of a resistance band and drape it across your back. Pull tight enough to allow there to be tension in the band.
2. Assume proper push-up position with your shoulders stacked above your wrists.
3. Pinning the band’s end under the palms of your hands, slowly lower your chest to the ground. Make sure to drive your elbows back and not out.
4. On the way up, press against the resistance of the band and back to plank position.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.