Choosing and Using Resistance Bands

If you do not have access to a gym and other fitness venue—or you simply prefer to work out at home—you may want to look into adding resistance bands to your repertoire. They can become an integral part of your regular fitness routine—or kick-start an exercise habit—right in your living area or bedroom. 

In fact, resistance bands are a fitness trend experts say deserves a permanent spot in your workout. Here’s what you need to know about the types of resistance bands available as well as their benefits and purpose.

What Are Resistance Bands?

Resistance bands are a lightweight, inexpensive, and super versatile equipment that allows you to work out anywhere, says Emily Skye, a certified fitness trainer and creator of the Emily Skye FIT app. They also can help you build strength by providing tension that your muscles have to work to resist, she explains—and that makes any exercise super modifiable.

“The further you stretch a band, the more resistance your muscles are working against,” Skye says.

That makes resistance bands an excellent tool for beginners and seasoned gym lovers alike. Suppose you are just starting a fitness program. In that case, these bands help you integrate more resistance in a controlled way, applying gentle pressure to your muscles as your body builds coordination within exercises.

“Let’s say you’re new to strength training, and you’re trying bicep curls for the first time,” Skye says. “With dumbbells, you need to exert maximum force from the start of the movement to curl the weight up. A resistance band can help you build up your power by easing you in with less resistance at the start of the movement.”

But just like training with weights and machines, it’s easy to increase the resistance of your bands as you get stronger, continuing to challenge your muscles. Beyond the serious strength gains, resistance bands also improve muscle stability, mobility, and flexibility—critical components of injury prevention.

Research also shows that resistance bands are an ideal tool for rehabilitating a range of injuries. A study published in the European Journal of Physical Education and Sports Science found that resistance band exercises were the best approach to help athletes recover from knee injuries.1 Other studies show how they are effective in other forms of rehabilitation, too, like from surgical procedures2 and restoring someone’s walking abilities after a stroke.3

Types of Resistance Bands

Most resistance band workouts you will come across incorporate the popular latex or fabric loops (AKA mini bands) you put around your wrists, ankles, or thighs. But there are other styles of bands available that are suited for different types of workouts or movements. Here is an overview of the primary types of resistance bands.

  • Tube bands with handles: These bands are great for any exercise you’d use a dumbbell for, like bicep curls, shoulder extensions, or shoulder presses.
  • Figure 8 bands: Although these bands can be used similarly to loop bands, the figure 8 design comes with soft handle grips, making it easier to perform certain exercises. 
  • Ankle resistance band: Designed to loop around each ankle, this band adds resistance to exercises like side steps and leg lifts.
  • Power resistance bands: These oversized loops are usually more than 40 inches long, making them very versatile for bodyweight assistance (like for pull-ups), resistance (like for bear crawls or box jumps,) and exercises (like rows) that require an anchor point.
  • Therapy bands: These bands generally have less resistance, allowing for deeper stretches and mobility training.

Benefits of Using Resistance Bands

Resistance bands provide a different kind of workout, meaning they have some unique benefits and perks. Plus, they are as effective as more expensive equipment. Here are some of the benefits of using resistance bands.

Enhances Strength Training

Resistance bands are often used to mimic gym equipment like free weights and cable machines. Studies have shown that you can achieve similar strength gains with resistance bands.4

One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicates that muscles respond to strength training with resistance bands just as well as other types of equipment, such as free weights and different machines.5 You can even use resistance bands in conjunction with other equipment, like a back extension machine, to enhance your workout. How resistance bands engage your muscles may offer extra advantages over other muscle-building methods.

Improves Mobility

Free weights and traditional machines rely on gravity to provide resistance, making them one-dimensional. By contrast, bands provide resistance in all planes, requiring more muscle activation and recreating daily movements more effectively.6 Try adding resistance bands to your home boxing equipment for a well-rounded workout.

Increases Coordination

Resistance bands also can benefit your form and balance. Not only do they require us to control motion in an open space—unlike machine-based exercises—but they also work your muscle stability and coordination.

Offers a Budget-Friendly Option

Most resistance bands cost between $6 and $30 less than your average monthly gym membership. They also come with almost no footprint, making them easy to stash away at home and pack for when you’re on the go.

Reduces Injury Risk and Are Easy-to-Use

According to the National Safety Council, most sports and recreational injuries in the U.S. occur while using traditional exercise equipment.7 A resistance band can be a safer strength-training option because of the way the band activates stabilizer muscles and reduces pressure on your joints.

Resistance bands also have a limit to their stretch, so you’re less likely to overextend muscles or joints. Plus, you have more control over the intensity and can stop an exercise without worrying about gravity.

They’re also simple to use. If you’re new to resistance bands, Skye suggests adding one to simple bodyweight exercises you’re already comfortable with.

“For instance, loop a band just above your knees when doing squats,” she says. “Or place a band around your ankles in butterfly kicks to really give yourself something to kick against—you’ll definitely feel the extra work in your core.”

If you have a long loop band, it’s easy to replicate classic weighted moves like bicep curls or rows with the band anchored under your feet, too. But make sure to have good technique in your exercises—even if that means starting with lower resistance.

How to Choose the Right Resistance Band

To get started, you only need one band, Skye says. But once you realize how versatile and easy-to-use resistance bands are, you’ll realize you have many options. Here’s what the experts say to get started.

Buy a Variety of Bands

When looking for a resistance band, the biggest thing to look for is the strength or tension of the band, Skye says. If you’re a beginner, you should start with a light band. To help you know what to choose, she indicates that bands are often color-coded—like yellow for light and black for heavy. But keep in mind that color systems differ between brands and products.

Prioritize Quality

You also should look for quality bands when making your purchase. You don’t want a resistance band that will get sticky or snap in the middle of an exercise, Skye says.

“A thicker band will usually be more durable,” she says.

It’s also a good idea to check before each workout to look for wear and tear. If you notice any breaks in the rubber or damage to the band, it’s time to replace it.

Consider Material Type

Resistance bands are available in either an elastic fabric or rubber latex, and which is best comes down to personal preference. 

Fabric bands don’t roll up or slide around during your workout, Skye adds. That’s why fabric bands are generally ideal for lower body exercises. Meanwhile, latex bands can offer more stretch, which can be better for upper body exercises, explosive movements, joint stability exercises, and stretching.

Check Out Accessories

The most straightforward resistance band kits include simple band loops. But depending on what you’re using your bands for—or if you want to expand your collection—you can opt for bands that include different accessories, like handles, door attachments, or ankle cuffs. If you’re just starting, the experts advise keeping it simple to encourage building your exercise habit.  

We’ve tried, tested, and reviewed the best resistance bands. If you’re in the market for resistance bands, explore which option may be best for you.

 Tested & Trainer-Approved: The 10 Best Resistance Bands, Plus 7 More We Like

Resistance Band Exercises and Workouts

If you’re ready to try your resistance bands, here are several workouts and exercises to try:

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