Resistance bands—stretchy sashes and tubes—may not look like much compared to the other gear in the strength training area of your gym. They are, however, a great tool for keeping your muscles challenged. Beyond the fact that they can provide a welcome break from weight machines, they offer results without as many safety concerns. In fact, resistance bands are often used in physical therapy, since they allow you to work muscles without putting lots of pressure on a single joint. Plus, they’re portable and easy to store (making them great for at-home use), and just one band allows you to complete a mix of moves that targets different areas of your body.
Getting started with resistance bands is easy. The shorter and thicker bands create more tension—meaning you’ll need to use more strength to stretch it. So, be mindful of choosing a band (by a good quality brand) that isn’t too easy or too hard for you to manipulate, so you can successfully complete an effective workout. (You may find switching bands necessary, depending on the moves you’re doing.)
Virtually every exercise you can do on a weight machine or with free weights can be done using resistance bands. Some translations may be obvious, while others might require a little creativity. For example, tubes usually have handles on both ends: Step on one while holding the other to do standing bicep curls, or shut one end in a door to do standing triceps extensions. And if you need more resistance, try using two tubes together.
To begin your relationship with resistance bands, try this combination of upper- and lower-body exercises. Each can be done with any type of band.
What It Does: Strengthens your shoulders and deltoids (the muscle that wraps around the top of your shoulder)
How to Do It: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place one end of the band under your right foot. Hold the other end of the band in your right hand and place your right arm straight down at your side, thumb facing forward and elbow slightly bent. Soften your knees and engage your abdominals. Lift your arm out to the side and all the way up to shoulder height, turning it as you go so that your palm is facing forward. Slowly lower your arm back to your side and repeat.
Be careful not to…bend your upper body. Keeping your posture erect allows your shoulder and deltoid muscle to do the work—and become stronger.
What It Does: Strengthens your upper back muscles
How to Do It: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, avoiding locked knees. Hold the band so that your hands are slightly wider than your shoulders and your palms are facing the floor. Lift your arms to chest height, then expand your chest and pull your shoulder blades back as if you were cinching them together. Slowly bring your arms back in front of you and repeat.
Be careful not to…move your lower body. Keeping your legs and hips still allows the focus to remain on your upper back muscles.
What It Does: Targets your inner thighs
How to Do It: Place a chair on your left side so you’re able to hold on to its back. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, tie your resistance band into a loop and place it so that it’s taut around your ankles. Holding the back of the chair for support, shift your bodyweight onto your right leg, keeping that knee slightly bent. With your left foot flexed, lead with your heel as you lift your leg forward (this will keep the band from falling). Cross your leg in front of your body, and then slowly return to starting position and repeat.
Be careful not to…shift your hips and shoulders. Maintaining a stable stance allows your inner thighs to benefit from each rep.
Interested in a few more? Try these resistance band exercises from the American Council on Exercise.