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5 Functional Resistance Band Exercises

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

An man performing functional resistance band exercises.

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Resistance bands are an essential training tool. They’re highly functional, space-sensitive, extremely versatile, durable, inexpensive, portable and compact. You can use resistance bands to develop a range of fitness components such as strength, power, and muscle endurance.


In addition to this plethora of positive attributes, resistance bands can be incorporated into most all exercises serving either to increase or decrease the resistance.


For example, resistance bands are brilliant to use when performing press-ups as they not only increase the load but do so at peak contraction points. (Also they make for a much safer way to increase resistance. Hands up if you’ve ever tried to position a weights disc on your back when press-upping. Besides the fact that it’s almost impossible to position the weight evenly, it’s just plain dangerous. Resistance bands eradicate all that nonsense.)


By contrast, applying bands to pull-ups, an exercise that many trainers find particularly challenging, can work in an assisting capacity. But you can also use bands to add a dynamic twist to traditional exercises. When kettlebell swings get too easy, for example, you can fasten a resistance band to the handle. Believe me, you'll be amazed at how this modification changes the texture of the exercise.


And all you need to start tapping into these fitness benefits, is a resistance band, a bit of space, and the following five exercises.


Related: FItBeast Resistance Bands | 4000 five-star reviews!

Why do resistance band exercises?

When you select a weight and perform a lift that weight remains the same through every phase of the movement; it neither increases nor decreases. This is fine but it is far from dynamic. Resistance bands work differently. As you perform the movement, say bent-over rows, the tensile strength increases reaching maximal load capacity at peak contraction – where it is most beneficial.


Furthermore, unlike conventional forms of resistance training – such as free weights, cables and machines – resistance bands are more suited (not to mention much safer) for performing explosive movements. Research has shown that varying the velocity of muscle contractions is an effective method of promoting ‘maximum voluntary torque’ – a.k.a. strength.


Training with a gym band is safer

Another benefit of training with a gym band is that they are safer. Typically, resistance band exercises are not as complex as some dumbbell and barbell movements. Also, it's pretty much impossible to overload a resistance band with too much, well, resistance. This is one of the most common causes of gym injuries: overzealous trainers piling too much weight on the bar (or machine).


The safety of resistance bands has made them the exercise equipment of choice for rehabilitation training. Physiotherapists often prescribe low-intensity resistance band exercises to people trying to improve mobility and strength after suffering an injury.


Furthermore, gym bands are often used by the elderly or people with disabilities. Because they are not as restrictive as other types of exercise equipment, resistance bands can be used by people confined to a seated position.


stretch band exercises

Now that we’ve covered the why of resistance bands we shall turn our attention to the how. Below you will discover 5 resistance band exercises to practice and integrate into your training regime. And these exercises, you’ll be relieved to learn, weren’t whimsically plucked out of a hat. They have been specially selected because they are highly functional, engage multiple muscle groups, and develop dynamic physicality.


 

Resistance band exercises #1: Bent over row

A woman performing resistance band exercises.

Muscles worked: The bent-over row is a back and bicep builder par excellence. It is arguably one of the best exercises for developing upper-body physicality and the gains it confers tend to translate very well to other exercises/sporting disciplines.


The bent-over row is a classic compound strength movement (a compound movement is one that activates multiple muscle groups across two or more joints; think squats, bench presses, lunges, etc.). Regularly performing this exercise will develop the muscles of the back and arms whilst improving your proficiency at what has to be one of the best functional movements available.


bent over row teaching points

  • Stand on the band with a double fold ensuring that your feet are shoulder-width apart.

  • The feet should be equally spaced across the band; if the band is shorter on one side the resistance will be greater.

  • Keeping the knees slightly bent grasp the makeshift handles and adopt the initiation position of the movement: hands level with the knees, back straight, head up, eyes forward.

  • To perform the movement contract through the lattissimus dorsi (back muscles colloquially called the wings) and pull the band up level with the lower part of the pectoralis major (lower chest – just under the nips).

  • Hold the contraction for a count of two seconds.

  • Release under control.

  • Repeat.


 

Resistance band exercises #2: Squat

A woman performing resistance band exercises.

Muscles worked: primarily the legs: quadriceps, gluteus (maximus and medius) and hamstrings. Squatting has also been shown to develop whole-body strength.


According to Delavier, author of Strength Training Anatomy, 'the squat is the number one bodybuilding movement because it involves a large part of the muscular system.’ Because squatting involves and recruits so many neighbouring muscles, it can promote whole-body growth. In his book, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger tells us that squatting increases testosterone production which a precursor for muscle growth.


squat teaching points

  • Stand on the band ensuring that it runs underneath your instep – what you certainly do not want to happen is the band slipping from under your feet; the potential epidemiological fallout of such an eventuality is significantly worse for males: think eunuch.

  • Now, for this next position, you’re going to have to perform a bit of origami. Pull the band up and slip your arms through it ensuring that the band runs across the anterior deltoids.

  • Stand up and manoeuvre yourself into the initiation position.

  • Under control perform a squat ensuring to observe correct lifting principles: back straight, firing through the quadriceps, pushing the hips forward, no locking out at the knee.


 

Resistance band exercises #3: Punches

A woman performing resistance band exercises.

Muscles worked: primarily those of the chest (pectoralis major), triceps and anterior deltoids. Punches also help develop core strength.


I love performing punches with a resistance band. A couple of minutes of shadowboxing sets your deltoids on fire and gets your heart rate up. Also, for the boxers out there, resistance band punches can help improve the snap and power of your punch.


punching teaching points

  • Position the resistance band around your back, hooking your hands in the loops. It'll feel like you are locked in place.

  • A quick tip. Ensure that the band is positioned under the deltoids otherwise, when you start punching, it'll ping off and whip you in the back of the head.

  • Hold your hands up as you would when shadowboxing. (If you're new to shadowboxing, teach yourself this effective boxing drill with our Complete Guide to Shadowboxing.)

  • When the band is securely in position, you're ready to start punching.

  • Don't worry about pugilistic perfection just yet. First, get the hang of throwing straight punches.

  • To get the most out of this resistance band exercise, set a two-minute countdown timer and see how many punches you can throw before your arms turn to spaghetti.


 

Resistance band exercise #4: Lateral raise

A woman performing resistance band exercises.

Muscle worked: The lateral raise mercilessly attacks the anterior, medial and posterior heads of the deltoids (basically the shoulders). In addition, the trapezius muscle is also recruited, albeit to a lesser extent, to assist the movement.


The lateral raise is a classic shoulder sculpting and developing exercise that is traditionally performed with dumbbells. However, by dispensing with tradition, and instead executing this time-honoured exercise with a resistance band, you will work your shoulders in ways that they have never been worked before.


Lateral raise teaching points

This exercise can be performed either as a single or double-arm movement. The teaching points to follow apply to both.


  • Stand on a resistance band ensuring that it passes under your instep. If you do not heed this first bit of advice, and instead try to secure the band under the ball of your foot, or stupider still, your toes!, it will likely ‘ping’ (yes ‘ping!’) from beneath your hoof potentially causing injury to yourself or an innocent bystander.

  • Grasp the band but before raising it to your side, position your feet so that they form a solid base.

  • Under control raise your arm to the side until your fist is level with your shoulder. The palm of the hand should face downwards and there should be a slight kink at the elbow.

  • Once you reach peak contraction – and with a resistance band you’ll feel this far more acutely than you would with a dumbbell – lower under control.

  • Repeat.


 

Resistance band exercise 5#: Shoulder press

A woman performing resistance band exercises.

Muscles worked: Those of the shoulder, upper pectorals and triceps. If you modify the movement and turn it into a ‘push press’ (or thruster), it will also engage the quadriceps and a whole host of other muscles.


The standing shoulder press is one of the best upper-body strength developers and is the exercise of choice if you have designs on building overhead pushing power. Furthermore, it is eminently modifiable; as briefly mentioned (above) there is the option of incorporating the legs – turning it into a push press – or taking a full squat prior to the press – which would qualify as a thruster.


But that’s like trying to run before you’ve learned to walk. If you’re new to resistance band training, I advise mastering the foundation exercise – standing shoulder press – before tackling the modifications.


Shoulder press teaching points

  • Stand on your resistance band ensuring that it passes under your instep. You know why you should do this: slip . . . whip!

  • Make sure that your feet are spaced about shoulder-width distance.

  • Grasping the band with both hands, manoeuvre it so that it is suspended in line with your clavicles.

  • Before executing the movement space your hands so that they are positioned outside of your shoulders.

  • Now you are ready to press!


 

Resistance band quick FAQ

Now that you're on your way to mastering five functional resistance band exercises, you might have a few questions about this brilliant training tool. Below, I have answered a few frequently asked resistance band-related questions.


If the FAQ fails to answer a question you have, pop it in the comments box.


What is a resistance band?

Quite simply it is a 2-metre-long loop of elasticised material – usually silicone. The resistance load of bands range from as little as 5kg to 50kg. This load can also be increased by double folding the band or simultaneously using multiple bands. That’s all there is to say about them.


Why are resistance bands so good?

Well, beyond the positives aired above, resistance bands obey your natural biomechanics. By this I mean, that if you were to hop on a piece of gym machinery, such as the seated leg press or chest press, the range of movement available would either be fixed or extremely limited. The problem with this is if your body does not naturally follow this predetermined range, performing the movement could, over time or with excessive loads, result in injury.


What I’m trying to say here is we all move differently but exercise machines do not accommodate our biomechanical idiosyncrasies. Because of their flexible properties resistance bands do not force you into a fixed range of movement but instead faithfully observe the natural contours through which you move. This makes for a much more natural exercise experience.


Related: 10 Pieces of Exercise Equipment for the home gym

How can I use resistance bands in my workouts?

Honestly, there are a million and one ways to use resistance bands. But I'll quickly cover just a couple.


Resistance bands make for a brilliant addition to circuit training workouts, either in the capacity of increasing the intensity of other exercises or on their own. So, for example, you might decide to tether a band to kettlebell to add that extra dimension when performing swings or squats. Alternatively, if perhaps you're new to training, you might instead opt for a less technical exercise such as resistance band bent-over rows.


Another method of making use of bands is by completing a 10, 15 or 20-minute AMRAP after a cardiovascular session. On concluding, say, a 5-mile run, or 10k row, you would set a countdown timer and work through five resistance band exercises, performing 10 repetitions on each. The goal is to accrue as many repetitions as possible in the allotted time.

 

Best exercise bands

If after the favourable account of the benefits of training with resistance bands, you’re left wondering why you haven’t yet got your own, two top-quality products have been sourced to save you the trouble.


core gain resistance band

Core Gain's resistance bands are a well-rated product that offers a varied range of resistances. From 15 to as much as 56kg you will be able to find a resistance to suit your training requirements.


In addition to the four bands, Core Gain throw in a nifty little storage bag and an instructional guide.


Odoland resistance bands

Ordeland's pack of 5 resistance bands are one of the best-rated products on the market. With over 1500 reviews they still retain 4.5 stars.


As well as providing a wide range of resistances, from 5 to 50kg, you also receive a number of useful attachments. These attachments increase the number of applications of the resistance bands.


 

To Conclude

Truly, resistance bands are perhaps the single most diverse, multi-functional piece of exercise equipment money can buy. And for the pittance they cost resistance bands open up whole new vistas of exercise options.


Few training tools offer so many positives with so few negatives. It’s for this reason that no exercise regime is complete without resistance bands.


Related: Now you're ready to try these CrossFit Exercises

 

About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or info@hungry4fitness.co.uk.

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