You’ve likely seen resistance bands lying around the gym or strapped around a trainer’s legs in an online training video. If you’ve yet to give them a try, now is the time. These bands rely on the fundamentals of resistance training to help you increase your muscular strength while also improving muscle coordination.
The American Heart Association recommends doing some sort type of resistance training at least two times a week for almost every age population. I recommend that my clients use resistance bands because of how inexpensive and transportable they are. They'll fit in your suitcase or carry on (and even in your pocket if you decide to walk to the gym) and take up no space in your home, like dumbbells or other bulkier forms of resistance equipment.
These bands not only give you freedom to workout anywhere, but they also provide enough resistance to really make a difference in your workout. While weights and dumbbells rely on gravity for resistance, resistance bands provide multi-directional resistance. This means your muscles are facing resistance on a consistent basis while you’re moving through an exercise. Studies show that this different type of pressure being placed on your joints is perfect for targeting smaller muscles that you typically wouldn’t be able to target with weights.
If you aren’t sure which band to get, I would recommend starting with a set. That way you can test them out to see which resistance level is a fit for you — and upgrade to a heavier band as you build strength.
Exercises that use resistance bands don’t have to be complex. You can simply add a resistance band to any workout routine to make it more challenging. This can be the perfect way to push past a plateau and get more out of exercises you already enjoy doing. Here are some of the basic exercises that you’re likely including in your workout regimen that you can take to the next level by simply adding a resistance band.
Lunges are one of the most basic exercise moves, but they can certainly make a difference in your thighs, hips and butt — and adding a resistance band can supercharge your results. To start, make sure the resistance band is around both of your upper thighs above your knee. Keeping your hands on your hips, take a step forward with your right foot into a lunge. From this position, stand up straightening both legs and then lift your left leg behind you to work the glute, balancing on the right foot as you lower the torso towards the ground. Come back down into the lunge, and then repeat 10 times. Switch legs.
Wearing a band when performing a squat puts pressure on your glutes and abductors, which forces you to engage your outer hips and thighs to prevent your knees from collapsing inward and maintain proper squat form. To start this exercise, stand straight up with the resistance band placed above your knees. While keeping your feet shoulder-width distance apart, lower into a squat, pushing your butt back like you’re sitting into a chair. Slowly bring yourself back up to the upright position. This is one rep. Do 20 of these.
Bicycle crunches are a fantastic way to work your abs as well as your glutes, hamstrings and quads. This exercise is a twist on the classic crunch that mimics riding a bicycle on your back. As a bonus, this will also work the stabilizing muscles and tendons around your ankles and knees. To start, lie on the floor on your back with the resistance bands around your shoe laces. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle and your hands behind your head. Start ‘pedaling’ your bicycle by bringing your right knee to meet your left elbow. Then alternate, reaching your left knee to meet your right elbow. This is one rep. Do this 15 times.
This variation of a push-up is ideal for toning your biceps and abs. Start with the resistance bands above your knees and get into a plank position with your feet shoulder-width apart. It’s important to make sure you feel tension from your band while you do this. This will work the thighs and outer glutes while performing this exercise. Do one push up, then lift your right leg up a couple of inches from the floor and reach it to the right and then back to center. Repeat with the left leg. Then do another push up and repeat this 10 times.
This modification of a traditional plank allows you to work the shoulders, biceps, obliques and abs. Plus, you’ll work the upper back (and the muscles needed for better posture). Wrap the band around your upper arms (above the elbows) and come into a plank position. From here, walk your hands to the right three times, and then walk them to the left three times. Maintain tension on the band as you move by keeping a space between your arms as you walk the hands towards and away from each other. Repeat this 5 times to each side.
Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and Pilates instructor, and host of “Step It Up with Steph” on American Public Television.