What look like large rubber bands can put a little extra snap into your strength-training routine.
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Exercise resistance bands have become a mainstay of workout regimens for both muscled-up gym veterans and fitness training newcomers. The reason? They’re easy to use, extremely versatile and powerfully effective.
“No matter what your fitness level, resistance bands are a great piece of equipment to use,” says exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS.
But don’t let the simplicity of resistance bands fool you. There’s a correct way to use the bands in order to gain their muscle-building benefit. Let’s walk through some tips and exercises with Travers.
What is resistance band training?
In resistance band training, you replace bulky exercise equipment with rubber resistance bands that you stretch. The force it takes to stretch the bands works your muscles just like using free weights or machines.
Do resistance bands build muscle?
Absolutely. In fact, a 2019 study shows that training using resistance bands provides similar strength gains to using conventional gym equipment.
“Resistance bands might not look like much, but they can strengthen your muscles as effectively as more traditional weights,” says Travers. “In many ways, bands put more tension on your muscles and work them longer during movements.”
Benefits of resistance bands
Resistance bands began as a way for nursing home residents to build strength. Eventually, they became much more mainstream as people discovered the perks of training with these giant rubber bands.
Advantages of resistance bands include:
- Adaptability. You can vary workouts on the fly by changing movements to challenge your muscles in different ways, says Travers. And exercise bands allow you to increase or decrease resistance simply by shortening or lengthening the band.
- Portability. Resistance bands can easily fit in a travel carry bag to let you work out wherever you may roam. As for traditional weights … well, you’re not getting that past a TSA checkpoint.
- Cost. A decent set of resistance bands costs about $25, far less than other strength-training equipment.
Are resistance bands good for weight loss?
Working with resistance bands doesn’t just build muscle. It can also help melt away fat.
A study published in 2022 shows that resistance band training lowers body fat in people who are overweight better than other forms of training, including free weights and bodyweight exercises. The review looked at 18 trials involving 669 participants.
How to start using resistance bands
Resistance bands range from simple, flat therapy bands to flat loop bands and elastic tubing with interchangeable handles that make them more user-friendly.
Choose a set of bands with varying resistances, or tension levels. Bands often are color-coded, with greater tension offered as the band colors get darker. (More tension is the equivalent of more weight, to put it in lifting terms.)
The more strength that’s required for an exercise, the higher the resistance you’ll need from the band. (As an example, you’ll need more tension for a chest press than a bicep curl, explains Travers.)
Also, consider the types of accessories that come with the bands, such as door attachments or ankle cuffs, and match them with the types of exercise you plan to do.
Other tips include:
- Wear shoes whenever you use resistance bands to avoid slipping.
- When you connect a band to a door, give it a good tug before you exercise to make sure it’s secure.
- Regularly check bands for signs of wear and tear. “If they’ve been exposed to a lot of sun or cold, they may break,” warns Travers.
Focus on technique
Don’t add too much resistance for an exerciser or you won’t have a smooth range of motion. You’ll benefit more from using good form with lower resistance than by trying to up the tension level.
“With any type of exercise, you have to maintain proper form and posture, just like you would if you were using an exercise machine,” advises Travers. “And the reps and resistance may change based on the individual. Just take your muscles to fatigue to get the most out of a session.”
As you grow more comfortable with motions, it’s OK to challenge yourself by increasing the resistance on the resistance bands. Just make sure your form doesn’t break down when you go up a level.
A word of caution, too: Don’t overstretch bands to try to add resistance. That can cause a band to snap and lead to potential injuries.
5 simple resistance band exercises
Traverse recommends performing two sets of 15 repetitions of each of these exercises once a day on at least two days of the week:
- Chest press. Wrap the resistance band behind your back, holding both ends with your hands. Starting with your arms at your side and elbows bent, push the band out in front of you as you straighten your elbows, and hold for one second.
- Squats. Stand on the resistance band and grab both ends with your hands. While standing in a squatted position and holding the band, extend your knees up to a standing position. Lower back down and repeat.
- Biceps curl. While standing, step on the resistance band. With your arms at your side holding the band, draw up your hand by bending at the elbow and hold for one second. Keep your palms facing upward the entire time.
- Elastic band rows. Attach the resistance band securely to a door. Holding the band with both hands, draw back the band as you bend your elbows. Keep your elbows near the side of your body.
- Clamshells. Lie on your side, one leg on top of the other with your knees slightly bent. Loop a resistance band around both thighs. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee. (The motion should look like a clamshell opening.) Switch sides after each set.
This article was adapted from Cleveland Clinic Men’s Health Advisor.