As far as investing in at-home fitness equipment goes, you can’t go wrong with a set of resistance bands. They take up zero floor space and can be used in lieu of weights to work nearly every muscle in your body. But once you’ve got a set (we recommend the Mind Reader Resistance Loop Multicolor Exercise Bands, which come in five different sizes), the question remains: How the heck do you decide which one to use for a given exercise in your resistance band workouts? To help you figure it out—and make the best out of every band in the pack—we tapped Roxie Jones, a NASM-certified trainer with Alo Moves, to share her expertise.
“Resistance bands are especially beneficial for someone who is new to resistance or strength training because it can help them in the beginning phases of getting stronger,” says Jones. Since bands rely on resistance, instead of added weight, to strengthen your muscles, they can help to prevent fitness newbies from doing too much too soon while still challenging their muscles. “And for someone who is more experienced, bands can help them create better muscle activation prior to a strength training session. Better activated muscles mean better lifts.”
As a general rule, the bigger the muscle you’re working is, the heavier the band you’re using should be. “Bigger muscles require more of a challenge,” says Jones. This means that moves that hit the smaller muscles in your upper body, like your biceps and triceps, are best done with your lighter bands, while your lower body (where most of your biggest muscles are) should be challenged with the heavier ones. Of course, as you get stronger, feel free to level-up as you see fit. With that in mind, here are the best trainer-approved moves for every band in your collection.
Mind Reader Resistance Loop Multicolor Exercise Bands (Set of 5)
Light and extra-light band exercises
1. Push-ups: Get into a push-up position with the band around your wrists and your hands planted slightly outside of your shoulders (wider than you normally would if there wasn’t a band involved). Breathe in as you lower your entire body down to the floor with your core and glutes engaged, and exhale as you push back up.
2. Single-arm rows: Since you’ll only be working one arm at a time in this move, you’ll definitely want to go light with the resistance. Put your arms in a bow and arrow-type position at a 45-degree angle, locking out both hands and making fists around the band. Keep your wrists straight and exhale as you bring your working arm all the way up to your shoulder. Then, switch sides.
3. Tricep pulldowns: Stand up straight with your core engaged and your elbows squeezed toward your rib cage. Place the band around your hands with your palms facing down. Bend your elbow to hold one hand toward your shoulder, and use the other hand to push down on the resistance band toward your hip, pulling it apart as far as you can.
Medium band exercises
1. Leg raise with split: Lie on your back with the resistance band around your ankles. Keep your legs straight and engage your core to pull them up in the air, lifting your butt off of the ground and creating a 90-degree angle with your body. When you get to the top, pull your legs outward into a split to get an extra burn in your outer thighs.
2. Plank with foot taps: With a band around your ankles, walk out into a plank; be sure to keep your core and glutes engaged so that there’s a straight line from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Tap one foot out to the side at a time, stabilizing through the center of your body to avoid any hip rocking.
3. Bicycle crunches: Hit those obliques extra hard by lying on your back, placing a medium band around your feet, and raising your legs to tabletop. With your hands behind your head, kick one foot out in front of you and crunch up through your obliques to bring your opposite knee and elbow to touch. Though it may feel challenging at first, you’ll build up momentum as you move, so it will get easier the faster you kick.
Heavy and extra-heavy band exercises
1. Side step squats: Putting a set of heavy resistance bands around your ankles is a great way to up the ante on any type of squat. For this version, start with your band around your ankles and step one foot out to the side, lowering down into a squat position. Keep your chest up and core tight, and try to get your butt as close to parallel to the floor as you can. After you hit the bottom of the move, drive through your heels to return to standing. Repeat on the other side.
2. Kickbacks: This one will light your glutes on fire. Get down on all fours, and wrap one end of the resistance loop around your foot and hold the other end under your hands. Raise your leg straight back and up as far as it will go, keeping your core tight to avoid any drooping in your lower back. Return your knee to the ground and repeat.
3. Clamshells: Target your glutes by lying on your side with your knees slightly bent, one leg on top of the other, and a resistance loop around both thighs. Slowly lift and lower your top knee with your feet together, using the outside and inside of your thighs to resist the pull of the band.
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