You're eating more of the right foods than the wrong ones. You're getting plenty of cardio, whether it's walking at lunch, running on the treadmill or sweating it out at spin class. But you're still not seeing the results you want in terms of weight loss and body composition.
You keep hearing how strength training is the key, the missing puzzle piece that will help you burn more calories, build muscle definition and even boost your heart health, mood and bone density. But the idea of lifting heavy weights or navigating those complicated-looking machines at the gym scares you a little—okay, maybe more than a little.
The good news? You can start an easy and effective strength training regimen without touching a single weight.
At first glance, it might not seem like there's much to a resistance band. Some of them are stretchy, tube-like cables with handles on both ends, and other versions are wide, flat bands in the shape of a circle.. Can you really get an effective, full-body workout with a single piece of stretchy rubber?
The short answer: Yes! Instead of relying on heavy, cumbersome weights, resistance bands use your own body weight to create resistance. They also allow you to perform more precise movements that target specific muscle groups that are difficult to work with weights. Plus, because you have to work harder to maintain balance and stability when exercising with a band, you'll use more muscles than you would on a traditional machine.
As an added bonus, resistance bands are practically weightless and perfectly portable. You can easily toss a band in your briefcase or suitcase, making on-the-go workouts a breeze. They're even affordable enough to keep one at home, one in your gym bag and one at the office.
Although all bands look alike, the various colors indicate different levels of difficulty. Bands are available in various tension levels, with some colors more difficult than others.
Ready to hop on the BANDwagon? To help you get started, we asked some trainers to share their favorite resistance band exercises.
From fitness coach Christel Oerum
"This is a great isolation exercise for the biceps. Use it to finish up any workout!"
- Start on the right knee with the left foot stepping on the resistance band.
- Grip the resistance band with the right hand. Place the left hand on the left leg for balance.
- Curl the arm holding the resistance band toward your face.
- Pause at the top of the movement before slowly lowering the arm back down.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions (10-12) before switching arms.
- If you have a very long resistance band, do the exercise standing instead.
From fitness trainer Maggie Winzeler
"This is my favorite resistance band exercise because it's a great warm-up movement and a gentle way to work through the full range of motion for the shoulder joint. It's ideal for stretching out chest muscles that get tight from desk work, travel, driving, carrying children and more. Everyone can benefit from stretching them more often because they tend to get overly tight and damage our posture."
- Start with the resistance band in front of your body at hip level. Place your hands wide on the resistance band so that there is a little slack.
- Pull wider on the resistance band to tighten the slack and engage your arms.
- Maintaining light resistance, slowly lift your arms keeping the elbows straight overhead (but not locked).
- Continue to lift overhead in a smooth motion followed by a lowering of the arms (still in a straight position) behind the body. The whole motion from front to back makes an arc with the arms. When your arms are behind the body you should feel a gentle tightening of the posterior muscles (back and shoulders) and a relaxing release and stretch in the frontal muscles.
- While maintaining light tension on the band, slowly bring the arms back to the front of the body to the starting position. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
From Jason Karp, owner of Run-Fit
"This is a great exercise to target the shoulders. Since you are pushing up over your head, you are directly opposing gravity, which makes the exercise harder."
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the handles of the resistance band with elbows bent at 90 degrees and pointing down and palms facing forward.
- Press the handles up and in together over your head until they meet.
- Lower the handles back along the same arc to the starting position and repeat for 10-12 reps.
Isometric Plié Squat with Rear Deltoid Squeeze
From fitness trainer Amira Lamb
"This move works the rear deltoids, trapezius, quadriceps, glutes and calves."
- Assume a plie squat position, making sure your knees stay aligned with your second and third toes. Statically hold this position.
- Hold the tubing at chest height with the thumbs rotated up to the ceiling. As you strongly exhale, pull the tubing outward and raise your heels while staying in that plie squat.
- As you breathe in, return your heels to the floor and return the arms to the start position. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.
Lying Glute Bridges
from personal trainer Heather Tyler
"I love having clients perform the lying glute bridge with adduction: It works the hamstrings, glutes, quads, hips and even the core. There's also the option to add a second band for shoulder adduction, as well. An efficient lower-upper body combo!"
from Rui Li, owner of New York Personal Training
- Lie on back with bent knees and circular resistance band positioned just above (or below) the knees.
- Keep the feet and shoulders on the ground as you squeeze the glutes and press your hips up to form a bridge while pressing out on the band with your knees. Keep the feet shoulder width apart and tighten abs while you lift.
- Hold for 3 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat with no pauses for 15 reps for three sets. (You can mix it up with varying speeds, pulses, and quick and slow lifts.)
- To add a second band: Extend arms straight over the head with the band over wrists, hands facing each other. Press out against the band lifting your hips. Your shoulders should feel the adduction.
"This move works the obliques, abdominals, glutes, inner thighs, deltoids and latissimus dorsi."
- Start by holding the band on one end while the other end is secured to a pole. The band should be around chest level. Start with your arms straight out and shoulder blades packed down tightly.
- When "chopping", simply pivot the trailing foot and turn the body 90 degrees so that it is facing away from the point where the band is secured. Squeeze the glute on the trailing leg's side as you pivot. Keep the core tight and utilize the obliques.
- Repeat for 10-12 times per side.
Banded Hip Thrusters
From strength coach Cassie Lambert
From fitness trainer Shane McLean, with Balance Guy Training
- Place your upper back against a bench or box. If you are at home, use a couch or chair.
- Place a small circle band one or two inches above the knee.
- Pick one leg up and press your hips up while keeping the weight of your body resting on the heel of the leg that is placed on the floor.
- Complete 10-12 reps on each leg.
"This is a total body exercise that is easy to perform and helps strengthen imbalances that exist between our left and right sides."
- Place the resistance band under both feet and hold the handle at shoulder height.
- Squat down, aiming your glutes at your heels while puffing out your chest.
- As you rise from the squat, start pressing the band overhead until your bicep is next to or behind your ear.
- Slowly lower your hand down to shoulder height and repeat.
- Perform 10-12 reps on each side.
Narrow Seated Row
From personal trainer Esther Avant
"This exercise targets muscles of the upper back. Typically, people spend a lot of time focusing on the muscles we can see. Backs are often neglected, and this can lead to weakness and imbalances. Building a strong back is important for keeping good posture and remaining pain- and injury-free."
When you can’t get to the gym and need a quick, full-body workout, a resistance band could quickly become your new best friend. It’s an amazingly versatile and effective way to target muscles you may have been missing!
- Sit down on the floor with legs out straight in front of you. Place the band under your feet.
- Grab one handle in each hand with palms facing each other and thumbs up.
- Keeping your chest up and back straight, pull the handles toward your ribs while you exhale. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
- Once the handles have reached your torso, pause for a second and think about contracting (pinching together) your shoulder blades.
- As you inhale, straighten your arms back out in front of you to return to the starting position. Do not lean forward or round your back as you do so.
- Repeat for a total of 10-12 reps.