A lot of strength athletes use bands as a way to make their barbell lifts more challenging, but if anyone were to suggest using bands for an entire workout, they’d get scoffed out of the building. But here’s the thing: Resistance bands are a great tool. They provide tension throughout a full range of motion, are affordable, and they’re compact so that you can take them anywhere.
It turns out that a lot of very strong folks agree. Below, we’ve curated five resistance band workouts — which target specific body parts and your full body — and provide a warm-up for you to try. Think you can’t build a toned body or get strong with bands? Think again.
Resistance Band Workouts
Famed bodybuilder John Meadows came up with this workout. It’s angled toward hypertrophy and strength — if you’re training with bands alone, you’re better suited for higher rep and hypertrophy training.
Band Press: 3 x 10-12
To warm up the pecs, wrap the band around your back and push.
Banded Push-Up: 3 x max reps
Single-Arm Flye: 3 x 10-12
Anchor your band to something chest height and pull it across your body with your arm.
Low-Angle Crossover: 3 x 10-12
Step into the band and stand on the bottom, grab two corners underhand, and lift your arms with slightly bent elbows so that your hands meet at neck height.
Lateral Raise / Overhead Press Superset: 3 x 10-15
After 10 to 15 reps of the lateral raise, go straight into the overhead press, which is when you’ve stepped into the band (underneath the middle of both feet) and are pushing overhead.
Triceps Kickback: 3 x 10-15
Wrap the band around a pole around elbow height, bend over a little and push your hands down, like a triceps press on a cable machine.
Triceps Pushdown: 3 x 10-15
Just loop the band over the top of an open door and push them down like a regular cable press down.
This workout comes from James Grage, a bodybuilder and co-founder of Undersun Resistance Bands. He divides this workout into three supersets, each repeated four times. He keeps his heart rate up during his rest periods with jumping jacks or jumping rope.
- Triceps Pushdown: 4 x 20 reps
- Biceps Curl: 4 x 15 reps
- Jump Rope between sets
Anchor the band in front of you around ankle height and curl them with a slightly neutral grip. On the fourth set, make the reps explosive for added juice.
- Preacher Curl: 4 x 15
- Overhead Triceps Extension: 4 x 15
- Jumping Jacks between sets
You’re hitting the same muscles from different angles with this workout. To perform a bench-free preacher curl with bands, you want to anchor the band in front of you and lean forward slightly, so you’re pulling perpendicular to the body.
During the overhead triceps extension, which you’re anchoring at foot height behind you, move from neutral grip to “pinkies out” as the move finishes. Again, make the last set for both exercises explosive.
- Behind-the-back Cable Curl: 4 x 15 reps
- Single-Arm Pushdown: 4 x 15 reps
- Jumping Jacks between sets
[Related: The 8 Best Biceps Exercises for Greater Growth]
Anchor the band at elbow height. As you complete the curl, rotate the hand from neutral to thumb turned outward to emphasize the biceps’ long head as the preacher curl emphasizes the short head.
For the pushdown, stand perpendicular to the band and, with the upper arm and elbow fixed in place, push the band from your mid-chest to your hip. Keep your palm facing you the entire time.
There are great band workouts for the back, but this one from IFBB bodybuilder Fouad Abiad is a doozy. He suggests you hold the peak contraction in all your reps for a one-second count.
Close-Grip Pulldown: 4 x 15-20
Seated Cable Row: 4 x 12
Anchor the pole at chest height and bring your wrists to your ribs. Ensure you’re not lifting your shoulders, and instead keep your shoulders and elbows down to ensure you’re hitting the mid-back.
Bent Over Row: 4 x 8-10
Abiad calls this the meat and potatoes of the workout. One can step on and grab a thick band for these, but Abiad distinguishes his bent-over cable rows by using a bar — you can grab a steel bar from a hardware store for 10 bucks or use a tough broom handle.
Standing Pulldown: 3 x 15
These reps should be slow and controlled, so you may want to use a lighter band here. Remember, this isn’t a lat pulldown; your arms are straight and shoulder-width apart. Again, keep your shoulders down and chest up.
Lying Pullover: 3 x 12
[Related: The 6 Best Upper back Exercises for Strength, Size, and Improved Posture ]
Start with 30-50 goblet squats — hold something heavy.
Bulgarian Split Squat Superset: 3 x 10
Place your back leg up on a couch or chair, with the band looped under your foot and holding it in front of you. Hold at the top for 10 seconds on the last rep, then move into 10 bodyweight Bulgarian split squats. Rest for two or three minutes and repeat
Single-Leg Glute Raises: 3 x 15-20
Don’t arch your spine and throw pressure onto your low back. Keep the back neutral so the core and the glutes are properly engaged. This exercise will be difficult for most people with their body weight, but you can loop a band over your hips if you want extra resistance and can anchor the band to either side of you.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift: 3 x 10-12
Stronger folks might want to use two bands here, each under one foot, or you can get a thicker band and loop it under both feet and behind the neck. Keep your legs straight through the entire movement and feel your hamstrings ignite.
Terminal Knee Extension: 3 x 15-20
Secure a band at knee height, wrap it around the back of your knee, and bend and straighten your leg. These are good for your vastus medialis oblique, the “teardrop” muscle” on your quads.
Step Squat: 3 x 10-12
Bodyweight Calf Raise: Max reps
Step onto a step, do 10 calf raises, perform a full 10-second hold on the last rep, then keep repeating this set (no rest!) until you can’t anymore.
[Related: Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Strength, Cardio, and More]
A lot of full-body band workouts neglect the back because they’d rather keep things fast-paced and biceps-centric.
However, for a complete full-body, strength-focused workout, this one from Tanner Wideman is surprisingly simple. It’s short, but you’re meant to repeat it three times. (Ignore the text on the screen at 11:45, where he calls a side bend an overhead extension.)
- 15 x Bent Over Row
- 12 x Band Pull-Apart
- 15 x Bicep Curl
- 8 x Overhead Triceps Extension
- 15 x Band Push-Up
- 12 x Overhead Press
- 8 x Side Bend
- 20 x Toe Touch
- 20 x Front Squat
- 15 x Romanian Deadlift
- 10 x Squat Jump
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Do this warm-up before each of the five workouts above. Although bands are not tough on the body like barbells and dumbbells, it still pays to get your blood moving and your muscles and joints ready for action. Run through one time with a light, looped resistance band.
Spiderman with Rotation: Five reps each side
Assume a front plank position, step top the outside of your foot, and reach your arm towards the ceiling.
Band Front Squat: 10 reps
Cross your arms in front of you with a light, looped band and keep your chest up as your squat
Band Lateral Walk: 10 reps on each side
Anchor the band around the middle of your foot and keep your toes pointed forward as you step from side to side
Band Biceps Curl: 10 reps
Do 10 quick biceps curls with the band underneath your feet
Band Pull Aparts: 10 reps
Assume a shoulder-width grip and keep your shoulders down and chest up and pull the band apart.
Inchworm To Downward Dog: Five reps
Hinge down and place your hands down on the floor and walk out to a plank position. Push into a downward dog, return to the plank and walk your hands back to your feet.
Band Programming Suggestions
Bands are unique in that you can train solely with them or use them as an accouterment to your more traditional barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell-focused workout.
If you’re interested in working out with just bands, then feel free to train with them up to five to six times per week. You want to allow one day for muscle recovery, but bands are less taxing on your body than weight training. Doing push-ups with a band that offers 60-pounds of resistance, for example, is pretty challenging but is far easier on the joints and central nervous system than, say, sets of bench press with 225 pounds.
You’ll still follow a similar workout split as if you were lifting weights. So, you could do two leg days, two upper-body days, and two arm days. Or, you could break up your workouts by body part if bodybuilding is more you’re thing.
If weight training is more your thing, you should still consider using bands to add accommodating resistance. You can use bands to make a barbell lift easier or harder. For example, looping to bands around the top of a power rack and then on both sides of a barbell will allow a lifter to pull more weight (since the band is pulling up on the bar). The point of this “reverse deadlift” is to load up the bar with more weight so your body can acclimate to heavier loads. Folks doing bodyweight exercises like pull-ups can loop a band around a pull-up bar and do assisted pull-ups to work up to a full pull-up.
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Lastly, feel free to replace any of your accessory work with band versions of those moves. The complete tension that bands provide from top to bottom often leads to a better pump while remaining more joint-friendly. Say your elbows are feeling a little creaky, then try band curls instead of barbell curls.
Different Types Of Bands
Bands come in many different shapes and sizes, but the main three categories are:
Looped bands are arguably the most versatile band on the market. You can perform virtually any exercise with them, loop them around various tools, and employ them for a mobility workout.
Bands With Handles
Resistance bands with handles are easier to grip for moves like curls and presses, but they’re not quite as versatile as looped bands. These are a good option if you plan on adding a few band movements into your standard weight training program.
Mini looped bands are a great tool to target the smaller muscles of the hips and shoulders as they can be looped easily around your wrists and ankles for exercises such as wall sides and lateral walks. If you have a problem with your knees caving in during a squat, wearing a mini band around your knees will help solve this problem.
[Related: Everything You Need to Know to Build Your First Workout Program]
The Benefits Of Bands
Versatility and Ease of Use
Whereas a barbell requires you to load and unload it to change weight, you can easily swap bands for more or less resistance. You can grab lower down or higher up on the band to create more or less tension. Bands are also light and compact so that you can pack them on vacation for a workout anywhere.
You Can Add Bands to Weights
Accommodating resistance was addressed above, but bands can be looped around tools like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, to create more tension during an exercise. Grab a kettlebell, loop a light band around the handle and the other end around a sturdy anchor point (like the leg of a squat rack), and then perform swings. You’ll notice that the move is more difficult throughout the full range of motion, especially at the apex, where the tension is at its peak.
Improves the Strength Curve
The strength curve is the muscular force generated at each point throughout an exercise’s range of motion. Because of joint angles, the resistance is not constant. For example, during a dumbbell bench press, more force is needed during the first third movement than a lockout, where the weight almost feels light.
When added to an exercise, resistance bands oppose this strength curve. When the band is not stretched, less force is required to get it moving, but more force is needed when you are locking out, therefore improving your strength where you need it most, at lockout.
Easier On Your Joints
When you’re lifting barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc., they’re putting a certain amount of stress on your joints. But when the bands are not stretched, they put minimal stress on your joints since there’s less of an overall load, which is great if you suffer from achy joints. Of course, if you’re suffering from joint pain, always consult with your doctor before participating in an exercise routine.
Other Resistance Band Considerations
Bands are portable and easy to use, but there are a few things you need to look out for when using these stretchy tools.
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[Related: Best At-Home Bodyweight Workouts]
Check For Damage
Before you use a resistance band, check for cracks and splits. Bands can break if not properly maintained or due to normal wear and tear. Please take a quick look around the band by stretching it out and checking for cracks and tears before every use.
When securing a band either around an object or around your feet, please make sure that the band will not come loose and bite you in a place that hurts.
Difficult to Measure Progress
Due to the ascending resistance of resistance bands, it’s difficult to measure gains and progress because it’s hard to figure out the exact poundage you’re lifting. Although different size bands give you resistance numbers, it’s not an exact science.
More Resistance Band Workout Tips
Bands are a great way to add volume to your training and strengthen your muscles from all angles without adding much joint stress. Now you know the five best resistance band training workouts, it is time to get to work.
Now that you have these five resistance band workouts in your workout arsenal check out these other helpful band training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
- The 8 Best Band Exercises for Mass, Strength, and Endurance
- 7 Full-Body Resistance Band Exercises You Can Do at the Office
Featured image: Friends Stock/Shutterstock