One of my fitness secrets is that I travel with a resistance band everywhere I go. It’s so easy for me to roll up a band, throw it in my bag, and get a great workout while I am on the road.
However, at the time of writing this, COVID-19 has forced me to get resourceful with my training (even at home). As you know, I like to mix up my training quite often and bands have become a staple in my training. I have always been a fan of a heavy barbell, but resistance bands offer an entirely different style of training that can’t be emulated by anything else.
I want to share with you five of my favorite, easy-to-learn resistance band exercises. Never discount the value of basic fitness equipment. It doesn’t take much to get an awesome sweat and pump with resistance bands!
What Makes Bands Unique?
Resistance band training is different from any other exercise modality. When banded exercises are performed correctly, you will have constant tension throughout the movement. There is no ‘weightlessness’ in banded movements like there is with heavy objects. You can cheat a dumbbell curl (with momentum, angles, etc.), but you can’t really cheat a banded curl. This makes banded work very different from traditional weight training.
Dynamic resistance is something that is also exclusive to bands. Because of the stretchy nature of a band, there is more resistance as you stretch the band. When the band is relaxed, there is very little resistance, but when it is fully stretched, the band is pulling with maximal resistance. This is a spectrum based on how far you stretch the band. Compare this with lifting a barbell. If a bar is loaded to 135 lbs, it will be 135 lbs throughout the entire movement. Dynamic resistance is another unique element that bands provide.
Lastly, resistance bands don’t weigh much. As I mentioned earlier, I travel with them. I cannot throw a 50 lb dumbbell in my backpack and fly somewhere for a week. However, I can throw a 1 lb band in my backpack and get 50 lbs of resistance out of it, when it’s stretched. This is a convenience that I’ve really grown to enjoy and depend on while I’m traveling.
5 Banded Exercises for Strength
Keep in mind, these are movements designed for strength. I chose exercises that are difficult to emulate with bodyweight exercises. I love bodyweight training, but unless I have a pull up bar available, It becomes difficult to train my back (in my opinion, one of the most important muscle groups for posture and a balanced physique). Here are five exercises that are staples in my banded exercise strength routine.
All of the exercise names are linked with our demo videos so you can see exactly how I’d like you to perform the movements.
This exercise is incredibly effective at improving upper back (thoracic) strength and mobility. The Pull Apart works the same musculature that helps us maintain good posture – both in sitting at our desk and when we’re trying to keep a max-effort front squat from sliding off our shoulders.
One of the best tips I can give for any exercise is to be deliberate. Pull the band apart under constant tension and return to the starting position with complete control. Depending on where you place your hands, the tension can be increased or decreased. Keep in mind that the band will require more force to pull apart as it stretches.
The posterior chain is one of the most important muscle groups for athletic performance. For those of us who aren’t worried about that, it’s still nice to have a great butt. The Deadlift is a strong, compound movement that engages the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. This exercise directly combats all that sitting that most of us do.
Safety first: Keep your back flat. This will place the tension on the muscles that we want to target. Start in an athletic stance. While standing on the band, grab the ends of the band in each hand. From your setup position, drive your feet into the floor and extend your hips to lock out the movement. Stand tall and be sure to control the movement on the way back down.
Developing strong pulling muscles is often overlooked. If you don’t have time (or the equipment) to throw a heavy barbell, this is a great substitute. The Upright Row is also a fantastic auxiliary movement that compliments the Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch.
Stand on one end of the band. Grib the band with both hands, no more than one foot apart (close grip). Pull the band up below your chin, leading with the elbows. It is very important to keep both feet on the band so it does not snap you in the face. Return the band back down to your hips under constant tension.
If you can bang out a fair amount of push ups, this one is really spicy. I would not advise this movement for someone who is still developing their ability to do 10 consecutive push ups or less. However, if you would like to add a degree of difficulty and complexity to the push up, this is a great modality.
Grab an end of the band in each hand. Move the band over your head to your back. Extend both arms and place your hands on the ground (we’re still getting in position). Now, you should be in a plank with the band wrapped around your back with an end in each hand (full tension). Slowly lower yourself to the floor until you reach the bottom of your Push Up. Extend the elbows, exhale, and lock the Push Up out at the top.
Curls are a great way to isolate the biceps – and who doesn’t want awesome arms? While some of the other pulling exercises will engage the arms as well, this isolating movement is a great way to pump up the guns.
Stand on one end of the band and grab the other end with both hands. Grip the band so that your hands are parallel with your palms facing each other (hammer grip). There should be a slight tension, at the start, when your hands are lowered to your hips and maximal tension when you flex the elbow to finish the curl. Control the movement and enjoy the pump!
Banded movements are a group of exercises unlike any other. The way that bands stretch and increase the resistance throughout the range of motion is an interesting concept to apply to your training.
Additionally, bands are relatively inexpensive and easy to travel with. From your gym, to your home workouts, to your hotel room, resistance bands can provide a very accessible form of strength work.
Strength can be improved and tested in so many ways. What resistance band exercises are your favorites? Do you have a top five? Let us know in a comment below and until next time.. Stay moving!