Best Resistance Band Exercises For Building Strength
As much as we love a zero equipment workout, having a few key pieces of equipment on hand (or the freedom of an entire gym) has the power to take your workouts, strength and fitness to another level.
When it comes to equipment that’s small, portable, affordable and beginner-friendly, you can’t go past resistance bands, and you’ll find them in a number of Sweat programs. Not sure what makes this versatile piece of equipment so popular or which resistance band exercises to try? Here’s everything you need to know!
Types of resistance bands
To get the most out of training with resistance bands, it helps to understand the range of resistance band options available and when to use each one. The resistance band you would use for a glute activation is very different to the one you would use for a seated row!
Short resistance bands
These are looped elastic bands that are most commonly placed around your shins or lower thighs. They are often used for glute activation exercises such as crab walks, glute kickbacks and clam shells, but you can also use a short resistance band around your thighs to increase the difficulty of a lift such as a barbell hip thrust.
Long resistance bands
Long resistance bands are also looped elastic bands, but the loop is much bigger in size, meaning they’re used for a different range of exercises. They can be used to reduce the difficulty of an exercise, such as looping them over a bar to make pull-ups easier, or they can make an exercise harder by adding resistance, such as by looping a band around your feet and performing seated rows.
Recovery bands vs resistance bands
While resistance bands are looped, recovery bands are non-looped elastic bands.
Recovery bands come in different lengths and levels of tension or stretch, so you can use them in your warm-up, to work out and build strength, or for mobility and rehabilitative exercises.
You can use a recovery band in movements such as face pulls, band pull-aparts and external rotations.
Resistance tubes are long pieces of thin elastic tube that have handles at either end. They can be used to add resistance to upper body exercises, such as rows, side raises, and bicep curls.
Benefits of resistance band exercises
Including resistance band exercises in your routine can have a range of benefits, including:
- They can be an effective way to make your workout more challenging and build strength, by adding extra load to your exercises.
- Resistance bands are great for stretching if you struggle with flexibility and mobility, as the bands can help you to hold difficult positions. Over time, this can help you to gain greater flexibility and mobility.
- Because they’re easy to use, come in various sizes, and can be used with many exercises, they’re suitable for all fitness levels. It's just a matter of choosing a band with the length and thickness to suit you.
- Resistance bands can help you achieve your strength training goals, by making exercises harder or easier. For example, you might loop a short resistance band above your knees to make your hip thrusts more challenging, or you might use a long band as support to help you work on your pull-ups!
- They can help you with muscle activation and mobility. Resistance band exercises can offer enough of a challenge to be an entire workout, but they can also be used to warm up by engaging the key muscle groups you’ll be working (such as crab walks for glute activation before a set of squats), or after your workout to improve your range of motion. You might find resistance bands used in physio rehab programs, too!
- They are extremely lightweight and small, making them easy to store at home or take with you to the gym, outdoors or travelling!
Resistance band workout for full body strength
These are some of the best resistance band exercises to help build full body strength, without needing any other pieces of equipment such as a barbell or pull-up bar.
You can complete 2-4 sets of these exercises if you want a full-body resistance band workout, or choose a couple to incorporate into your strength training warm-up to prepare your muscles and mind for the work to come.
Resistance band exercises for legs
For these exercises, you will need to use a short, looped band.
Donkey Kick (30 reps - 15 each leg)
- With a resistance band looped around your thighs, start on all fours on a yoga mat with your knees below your hips, your hands below your shoulders and your spine in a neutral position - like a tabletop! Draw your shoulder blades down and back.
- Keeping both knees bent, release and kick your right foot back and up towards the sky, keeping your foot flexed and stopping when your thigh forms a straight line with your spine.
- Lower your right leg back towards the mat, letting it hover just above the ground rather than touching down.
- Complete 15 reps on the same side, before switching sides.
Double-Pulse Sumo Squat (15 reps)
- With a resistance band looped around your thighs, stand with your feet slightly further than hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward. This is your starting position.
- Looking straight ahead with your shoulders back, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring your knees remain in line with your toes. Continue bending your knees, aiming for a deep sumo squat position with your upper legs to be parallel to the floor.
- Push through your heels and extend your legs slightly, before lowering back into your full sumo squat in a pulsing motion.
- Push through your heels, extend your legs and stand up straight to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 15 repetitions.
Clam (30 reps - 15 each leg)
- With a resistance band looped around your lower thighs (just above your knees), lie on your left side with your arm extended along the mat and your head relaxed on your arm. Bend both knees and draw them forward towards your chest, with your feet in line with your glutes. Think about keeping your hips stacked on top of each other, rather than letting your top hip roll forward or back. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your feet together, squeeze your glutes as you lift your right knee towards the ceiling like a clam shell opening.
- Lower your right knee with control to return to the starting position.
- Complete 15 reps on the same side before completing the remaining 15 repetitions on the other side.
Glute bridge and opening (12 reps)
- With a resistance band looped around your thighs, lie on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your knees and position your feet hip-width apart firmly on the mat, with your spine in a neutral position. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat. This is your starting position.
- Press your heels into the mat, and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting on your shoulders.
- While keeping your hips raised and your glutes squeezed, open your knees outwards, pushing against the resistance of the band.
- Draw your knees inwards until they are hip-width apart again.
- Lower your spine onto the mat one vertebrae at a time, followed by your hips.
- Repeat for 12 repetitions.
Crab walk (15 reps each side)
- With a resistance band looped around your lower thighs, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees into a half squat position, keeping your knees in line with your toes. This is your starting position.
- While maintaining a squat position, take a step to the left with your left foot, pushing against the resistance of the band so your feet are further than shoulder-width apart. Staying in your squat position, step your right foot inwards your left to return to the starting position. With each step, don’t let the band go slack at any point - keep your feet wide enough that there is always some tension in it.
- Complete 10 reps on the same side before switching sides.
Resistance band exercises for arms
These upper body exercises use a range of different bands, so try them all for variety or choose what works with the equipment you have on hand.
Lateral plank walk (16 reps - 8 each side)
- Loop a short resistance band around your forearms, then set yourself up in a high plank position. Your shoulders should be over your hands, your body in a straight line from feet to shoulder, and your belly button drawn towards your spine to engage your core. You should feel a bit of resistance in the band already.
- Step your right hand and foot outwards so that your hands and feet are slightly wider than your shoulders. You should feel the tension increase in the band, challenging your upper body.
- Step your left hand and foot inwards to return to the starting position, keeping some resistance in the band the whole time.
- Complete eight reps in the same direction before completing the eight reps in the other direction.
Band pull aparts (20 reps)
- Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Hold one hand on each end of the recovery band with an overhand grip (palms facing down) and extend your arms directly in front of your chest, ensuring that your elbows are completely locked. This is your starting position.
- Using the muscles in your shoulders and back, pull both ends of the recovery band outwards and backwards until your arms are in line with your shoulders, forming a T shape with your body. You should feel a squeeze between your shoulder blades and the resistance band should be tight.
- Hold this position briefly before gently drawing the ends of the recovery band together to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 20 repetitions, trying to keep some resistance in the band the entire time - don’t let it go slack if you want to keep your muscles challenged.
Seated row with resistance tube (15 reps)
For this exercise, it is recommended that you use a resistance tube with handles, but you could also use a long recovery band.
- Sit on a yoga mat with your feet in front of you, and wrap the resistance tube around the bottom of your feet before holding the handles and extending your legs out straight in front of you.
- Sit up tall and draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out, and think about drawing your belly button towards your spine to engage your core. Extend your arms in front of you. This is your starting position.
- Using the muscles in both your arms and back, bend your elbows and pull the handles backwards towards your ribs, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. You should feel a squeeze between your shoulder blades.
- Straighten your arms to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 15 repetitions.
Bent over row (15 reps)
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart on the middle of a recovery band, then hold onto each end of the band and hinge forward from your hips until your chest is facing the floor with a slight bend in your knees. Extend your arms directly below your chest towards the floor.
- Bend your elbows and pull both ends of the recovery band towards your ribs, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body. You should feel a squeeze between your shoulder blades.
- Extend your elbows to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.
Alternating lat pull-down (15 reps each side)
- Stand with your feet hip width apart, and loop a resistance band around your thumbs and reach your arms straight overhead with palms facing forward, making sure there’s some tension in the band. Gently draw your belly button towards your spine to engage your core.
- Draw your left elbow down towards your ribcage, bringing the arm inward towards the left side of your body, keeping your palm facing forward while your right arm remains straight overhead.
- Extend the left arm back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side and continue to alternate for the specified number of reps. You should feel tension in your shoulders, back and core.
Include these resistance band exercises in your next workout!
These resistance band exercises can be incorporated into any of your warmups, workouts or active recovery sessions, and are a great way to mix up your usual routine and challenge yourself. Ready to start including resistance band exercises in your routine? Give these a go!
If you’re looking for other pieces of equipment to use during your recovery sessions, foam rolling is a great option, too! Incorporating resistance band exercises and foam rolling into a rehabilitation session can help to reduce muscle soreness and tension, as well as help prevent injury.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.