"[Resistance bands] come in a variety of lengths, difficulties—light, medium, heavy, extra-heavy—colors, and shapes," says NASM-certified personal trainer Danny Saltos. "You can do a variety of exercises using resistance bands such as bicep curls, shoulder press, chest press, squats, and many more."
If you're a newbie who wants to give resistance band exercises a try, keep reading to learn the benefits of it, nine beginner-friendly moves, and tips on how to execute your resistance band workout like a pro.
Benefits of resistance band exercises
Strength training with a set of dumbbells or other hefty weights will get the job done, but when it comes to weights vs. resistance bands, the stretchy loops and cables have some distinct advantages.
1. Easy on the joints
"Resistance band exercises are very much like traditional weight-bearing exercises, except that they have an anchor point and therefore engage more of the body with each exercise," says Floery Mahoney, founder of Board30, a fitness studio franchise that provides a full-body resistance band workout. "The smooth and constant tension is much better for your joints and even helps strengthen your joints the more you use them." This is why many experts recommend resistance band exercises for seniors in particular.
2. Increases strength evenly
If you want to ensure a symmetrical workout, resistance bands have your back (and core, and arms—you get the gist). "Resistance band exercises increase strength evenly, both concentrically and eccentrically [meaning, when you contract and release], so your muscles are strong but more pliable and less injury-prone," Mahoney says. This can also be useful if you're trying to maximize time under tension since you can keep that tension on both the way up and the way down.
3. Builds muscle
Resistance bands may look flimsy, but don't be fooled: They can help you build some serious muscle. "You can build muscle mass using resistance bands by increasing the tension and doing fewer reps," Mahoney says. "You can also incorporate cardio more easily than with weights," which are bulkier and more unwieldy.
4. Travel friendly
Resistance bands make a great travel companion. You literally need no other equipment (see versatility benefit below). "Stuff them in your luggage or throw them in your backpack," Saltos says. "Some can even be bundled together in a small mesh bag."
Versatility is another big benefit of resistance band exercises. "You can do just about every gym movement from the comfort of your own home," Saltos says. "You can work your glutes, quads, chest, back, arms, and abs, all with a good set of bands."
6. Great for all fitness levels
Whether you're just starting to get into your fitness flow or you're a total fitness fanatic, resistance bands work great for folks at all fitness levels because they come in a range of resistances. "Most sets of bands come in a variety of bright colors," Saltos says. "This is visually appealing but also serves as a way to identify the different thicknesses/difficulties of each band. The lighter bands offer less resistance, and the heavier bands offer much greater resistance."
9 resistance band exercises for beginners
Resistance band exercises for legs, arms, and core are all on the menu for novice-friendly moves.
Take your squats up a notch by adding a resistance band into the mix for a killer resistance band glute workout. "This added resistance from the band mimics the same stimulus as using free weights or a cable machine," Saltos says. Your legs and butt will feel the burn.
- Step on the band with both feet shoulder-width apart, and hold onto the ends of the band with one hand on each side.
- Bend your knees and sit your butt back like you're sitting in a chair.
- Return to standing.
Common mistake to avoid: Choosing too heavy of a resistance band. Opt for a light band for this move.
2. Chest press
If you want to work on upper body strength, a resistance band chest press will help.
- Find an anchor point that is about shoulder height (i.e., a fence, a sturdy pole, a door frame anchor), and loop the band around the anchor.
- Grab one handle in each hand and face away from the anchor point
- Come into a staggered stance a couple feet away from the anchor point, with your arms bent at the elbows and lifted to chest height.
- Press the resistance band out until your arms are locked out in full extension.
- Return to bent position slowly and with control.
Common mistake to avoid: Standing too close or too far from your anchor point. Make sure the resistance band is just more than taught when you have your elbows bent so there's still room to extend it further out in front of you.
3. Bicep curls
A resistance band bicep curl (shown at about the 11-minute mark in the above video) is another easy beginner exercise both Saltos and Mahoney recommend. Mahoney’s tips for proper execution include tucking your elbows as you do the curl, maintaining a straight spine, and keeping a slight bend in your knees.
- Stand on your resistance band in a staggered stance using one anchor point (your left or right foot), holding one handle in each straight extended arm.
- Keeping your elbows at your side, bend your elbows so you bring the band up to shoulder height.
- Release back down slowly and with control.
Common mistake to avoid: Swaying your back. Make sure to have a slight bend in your knees and a slightly tucked pelvis so you don't compensate for an upper body challenge by bending your lower back.
4. Core kick
Core kicks are sort of like a reverse crunch meets a boat pose. You'll challenge your core along with your upper body and legs, a true full-body move! Maloney recommends doing this move one leg at a time, but you can see a variation of the move with both legs hooked in the resistance band in the video above.
- Sit on a mat and wrap your resistance band around one foot and hold the ends with both hands.
- Keep the foot with the resistance band in the air and lean back at a 45-degree angle.
- Bring your knee in towards your chest and then press out for 30 seconds.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Common mistake to avoid: Rounding your spine. Try to keep your core engaged and your spine straight.
5. Back rows
You don't need weights or a rowing machine to get your back row on either. This move will help build back strength, flexibility, and stamina.
- Sit on the ground with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Loop your resistance band around your feet, holding one end in each hand.
- Sit up nice and tall, and pull both hands back in a neutral grip, bending your elbows while keeping them tucked in at your side.
- Extend your arms straight slowly and with control.
Common mistake to avoid: Leaning too far back or too far forward. You want to be sitting just slightly back so that your core is engaged but not so much that your shoulders round forward.
6. Lateral shoulder raise
Target your shoulders and abs with a lateral shoulder raise supported by your handy resistance band.
- Stand on your resistance band using one foot as your anchor.
- Raise your right and left arms out until they are parallel to the ground so that your body resembles the letter T.
- Lower your arms back down to your sides and repeat.
Common mistake to avoid: Not moving through the full range of motion. Make sure to bring your arms up to a T and not just into an arrow.
7. Tricep press
To get the backs of your arms (your triceps) nice and toned, give a resistance band tricep press a try.
- Stand on your resistance band and bend 45 degrees at the waist.
- Tuck your elbows into your rib cage with a 90-degree bend at the elbow.
- Press straight back with the hands to engage the triceps. "It's important to keep your head in line with your spine and the elbows stable," Mahoney advises.
- Return your elbows to bent at 90 degrees.
Common mistake to avoid: Letting your elbows splay out. Make sure to keep them glued to your sides.
8. Shoulder press
Give your shoulders some love with a resistance band shoulder press. You can do this with both arms at the same time or one at a time.
- Start by standing up straight on your resistance band.
- Holding the resistance bands, bring your hands up to shoulder height with your elbows out to the side.
- Press both hands straight up from the shoulder.
- Return to bent elbow position.
Common mistake to avoid: Reaching slightly out in front of you instead of straight up overhead.
9. Quad press
Resistance band leg workouts can give you a major lower body burn, and this variation of a press specifically targets your quads.
- While standing, put your resistance band around one foot, and hold on to the ends of the bands.
- Bring your knee up towards your core.
- Press down and forward at a 45-degree angle. "Make sure you have a slight bend in the support leg and a straight spine," Mahoney advises.
Common mistake to avoid. Don't lock the knee of your standing leg.
Resistance band exercise tips
Test the resistance level
Before you start getting into reps, Mahoney recommends testing the level of the band’s resistance first. If the resistance is too much or not enough, you can then adjust as needed.
How do you know what strength resistance band is best for beginners?
“Choose a band level that is challenging but that you can move through your full range of motion,” Alissa Tucker, CPT, CES, the master trainer of AKT, previously told Well+Good about resistance band workouts. “If you’re not sure which level band to choose, we always recommend grabbing two. You can start with the heavier band and if/when you feel your form start to slip or that you’re cutting your range of motion short, switch to the lighter band.”
Watch your form
As with any other style of exercise, Mahoney says watching your form is key. "Engage your core to protect your spine and don't lock out your joints," she says. If something doesn't feel right, Saltos says that's a sign to double-check your form.
Although these resistance band exercises are great for beginners, you should take it easy (and slowly) when you're first starting out. "Start by doing 30-minute workouts three times per week," Saltos says. "You can slowly build up to 45 and 60 min workouts over the course of time."
Keep your resistance band training interesting by experimenting and finding what feels good. "Play around with different modalities such as higher reps using lighter bands and lower reps using heavier bands," Saltos says. "You can also do exercises for time, which is a great way to challenge your muscular endurance."
Want some help getting started? Check out this full-body resistance band workout for 20 minutes of joint-friendly challenge.
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