They’re lightweight. They’re versatile. They’re small enough to stuff inside a sneaker. Resistance bands, sold for less than $10 at your local sporting goods store, can be used for a variety of upper-body, lower-body, and core exercises. Also known as tubing, these bands are convenient to take anywhere, whether to the gym or on a business trip, so there’s no excuse not to exercise!
Other benefits of resistance-band training include constant resistance through both the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise, which provides excellent muscle fiber activation, as well as the ability to perform exercises through a large range of motion. These exercises are generally quite safe, making them particularly popular among older and novice exercisers; however, nearly everyone can benefit from incorporating resistance-band exercises into their workouts.
Resistance-Band Exercises for the Upper Body
Resistance bands offer the most versatility when used for upper-body exercises—you can work all major muscle groups. It’s a good idea to purchase a higher resistance tube to work the chest and back and a lower resistance tube to work the shoulders and arms. For toning and strengthening, perform two sets of 15-20 repetitions. Start with a slow, controlled tempo; once you’ve mastered controlling the band you can experiment with faster, more explosive reps.
Many bands come with an attachment so that you can affix them to a door frame; if this is not included you can wrap tubing around a pole or railing to perform pushing and pulling exercises (just make sure the surface is sturdy and won’t budge).
Bent-over rows. Stand on top of the tube with feet hip width apart and hold a handle in each hand (you may need to pull up some slack between your feet to increase resistance). Bend up to 90 degrees at the hip with back straight and knees soft, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and row elbows back, pulling hands to sides of chest. Slowly lower and repeat.
Lateral shoulder raises. Step on tubing with one foot near the center of the tube and hold one handle in your right hand at your side (increase or decrease slack to vary resistance). Standing up straight, raise your right arm straight out to the side until it reaches shoulder height; slowly lower to start position. Perform all reps on one side; then switch sides and repeat with left arm.
Triceps kickbacks. Stand on the tube while bent at the hips and holding both handles as you would for the bent-over rows. Pull your elbows up near your ribs and glue them to your sides; this is your start position. Slowly press backwards and extend arms straight behind you without moving elbows away from your body, then lower back 90 degrees to start position and repeat.
Chest press. Wrap the band around a bar or railing near chest height and stand facing out with a handle in each hand, elbows raised to either side at shoulder height and wrists directly in front of elbows. Lean forward slightly to create tension and press both arms forward in front of shoulders; slowly bring elbows back to start position (should feel chest stretching) and repeat.
Resistance-Band Exercises for the Lower Body and Core
While there are fewer options for working the lower body and core muscles, the good news is that each of the tubing exercises listed below each works multiple muscles at once.
Squats. Stand with both feet on top of tubing slightly wider than hip distance apart (keep feet parallel). Hold a handle in each hand and pull ends up to your shoulders (elbows will point down next to your sides so that arms form a “W”). Keeping hands in this position, slowly press hips down and back into a squat while keeping chest up and looking straight ahead. Pause at the bottom, and then stand all the way back up; repeat.
Reverse lunges. Stand with your left foot on the center of the tube and hold hands in the position described for the squat exercise. Take a big step back with your right foot and lower into a lunge, bending right knee until it almost touches the floor; push back up and tap right foot briefly behind left foot before going immediately back into a lunge on the same leg. Perform all reps with right leg, and then repeat on other side.
Lateral stepping (hip abduction).Stand with feet hip-width apart on the center of the tube and hold an end in each hand. Keeping feet parallel, take a big step to the right with your right foot, then bring your left foot in to meet the right. Reverse directions: Step to the left with your left foot, then bring your right foot in to meet the left. Another option: squat when your feet are apart, and stand upright when your feet are together.
Torso twists. Wrap one end of tube around a bar or railing and pull handle through the opposite handle so that you’re left holding one end. Keeping the band taut, stand a few feet away, facing sideways, with the handle in both hands and arms straight in front of chest. Slowly rotate your spine and pull the weight horizontally, using abs and not arms, as far as you can without turning hips. Twist back the other direction, controlling the movement on the return motion. Perform all reps; then turn around and repeat on other side.
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