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The best resistance bands of 2021 — and a 30-day workout plan to put them to work

This total-body workout utilizes exercise bands to tone every muscle group — and you only have to do it three days a week.
Woman sitting on a blue yoga mat, using a yellow resistance band, to workout on her floor
Research shows that engaging in elastic band resistance training improves balance, gait function and flexibility and may induce greater neuromuscular fatigue than exercises with isometric contractions.Getty Images

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There are endless excuses for not exercising: time, space and money being the most common barriers people point to. But you don't need access to a gym facility, expensive equipment or a lot of time or space to get in an effective full-body workout.

One of my favorite low-cost products to utilize for in-house glute, leg and arm workouts are resistance bands. They are also super easy to pack and whip out in a small space (like a hotel room or a studio apartment). Resistance bands are a great workout tool not only because they’re super affordable, transportable and versatile, but because they can help target larger muscles as well as smaller stabilizing muscles. Plus, research shows that engaging in elastic band resistance training improves balance, gait function and flexibility and may induce greater neuromuscular fatigue than exercises with isometric contractions. An elastic resistance band workout is useful for workout newbies and workout buffs alike.

To introduce you to resistance band workouts, we’ve devised a total-body workout plan that’ll strengthen your core, tighten your glutes and add definition to your arms. This is a workout you can do in a small space in your house or hotel room, whenever you want, and it can be modified for any fitness level. And you only need one thing: a resistance band.

There are tons of companies who create resistance bands, and all of them will get the job done! You can order online or pick them up at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart or Target. Resistance bands are also sold on Amazon.

Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands

We do recommend opting for a pack of exercise bands that includes a variety of different resistance levels so that you can gradually increase it as you get stronger. This highly-rated set boasts a 4.5-star average rating from more than 77,200 reviews on Amazon. It is also available in three colors: Pink, Berry and “Assorted,” which has a slew of primary colors.

ROSAPOAR Pull Up Resistance Bands

If you’re okay spending a bit more, consider this five-piece set from Rosapoar, which earned a 4.7-star average rating from more than 1,350 reviews on Amazon. ROSAPOAR says the anti-slip resistance bands are made from durable natural latex and are resistant to odor when you sweat. If you’re only interested in just one or two bands, then you can order loops individually. Orange offers up to 15 pounds of resistance, Red up to 35 pounds, Black up to 65 pounds, Purple up to 85 pounds and Green up to 125 pounds of resistance.

Choosing a resistance band

To start, we recommend the lowest strength band. But if you have been incorporating strength training into your routine regularly, you may be able to use a heavier resistance. To determine what that will be, perform a few of the exercises with different bands to find the one that you can stretch completely to the end of a move. For example, when performing a bicep curl, you are able to completely contract your arm and hold for a moment before lowering back to the starting position. (If the resistance of the band is too much for you to control and your arm is pulled back down in the other direction, the band is too heavy.)

The lightest band in the aforementioned Fit Simplify set is approximately the equivalent of a 5-pound dumbbell when stretched fully. However, what makes bands different from dumbbells is that the tension remains on the muscles during the entire exercise, whereas with dumbbells there is a part of the exercise where the muscle is not working. For example, a bicep curl with a band uses the bicep on the way up and way down, while a bicep curl with a dumbbell uses the bicep on the curl up and barely on the way down.

Once you’re able to do 10 repetitions with your starting band, you can increase to 15 repetitions. Once that becomes too easy for your body, you can increase to the next band at an increased resistance level (from light to medium, or medium to heavy). Keep in mind that your lower body may progress to the next band before your upper body because the leg and glute muscles are larger and stronger than the upper body by design. (You may even start with a light band for upper body and medium for lower.)

The resistance band workout structure

We’re breaking down the exercises into four categories:

  • Lower body
  • Upper body
  • Abs
  • Advanced plank circuit

For the next month, you'll commit to working your lower body, upper body and abs three days a week. How you choose to get it done is up to you: You can do all three circuits on the same day, or do lower body one day and upper body and abs the next. Split up your exercises however you’d like. Also, three days a week we’ll be aiming for 20 minutes of interval cardio. You can jump on any cardio machine, head outdoors, or walk or run in place in your living room for 1 minute slowly, and then 1 minute quickly for 20 minutes total.

This workout plan is meant to work with your schedule. Remember that you only need to get in three workouts a week. However, if you want to work out six days a week for a shorter amount of time, you can do that too. This plan also leaves wiggle room for unexpected changes in your schedule. If last-minute plans creep into your workout time, you can cut it short and nix abs, for example, and carry it over to the next day. You can make this plan work for you and your schedule.

A sample one-month resistance band workout

Download your printable calendar here. Hang the calendar on your fridge, or keep it in your purse or car, for easy reference. Remember, this is just a sample of how you can structure your workouts. The only requirement is that you complete three workouts (3 sets of each with 12-15 reps) from each category every week.

Day 1: Lower Body & Abs & Cardio

Day 2: Upper Body

Day 3: Abs & Cardio

Day 4: Lower Body & Upper Body

Day 5: REST DAY

Day 6: Lower Body & Upper Body & Abs & Cardio

Day 7: REST DAY

Day 8: Upper Body & Abs & Cardio

Day 9: Lower Body & Cardio

Day 10: REST DAY

Day 11: Lower Body & Upper Body

Day 12: Abs & Cardio

Day 13: Upper Body & Lower Body

Day 14: REST DAY

Day 15: Lower Body & Abs & Cardio & Try Advanced Sequence

Day 16: REST DAY

Day 17: Lower Body & Upper Body

Day 18: Abs & Cardio

Day 19: Lower Body & Cardio & Try Advanced Sequence

Day 20: Upper Body & Abs

Day 21: REST DAY

Day 22: Lower Body & Upper Body & Abs

Day 23: Cardio

Day 24: REST DAY

Day 25: Lower Body & Upper Body & Advanced Sequence

Day 26: Abs & Cardio

Day 27: Lower Body & Upper Body & Abs

Day 28: Abs & Advanced Sequence & Cardio

EXERCISE BANK

Now, let’s take a look at the exercise bank we have for each category. For each workout, you’ll pick any three exercises from each bank. Complete three sets (12-15 reps) of each exercise you choose. Mix it up each time and give different exercises a try.

LOWER BODY EXERCISE BANK

Band Positioning: Around the ankles

How to put the band on: Step your feet into the center of the band, and use your hands to roll the band up over the ankles. Make sure it’s open as thick as possible without any curling so that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable on your skin if you’re wearing capris or shorts.

Standing Side Taps

With the band around your ankles, pull your navel in toward your spine and bend your knees so that your booty is reaching back. Place your feet open just as wide as your shoulders. This is a modified squat position and you’ll stay here for the exercise. Tap your right foot out to the right, feeling the tension on the band and then bring it back to center so that the feet are just as wide as the shoulders. Then tap the left foot to the left and feel the tension on the band, and then bring it back to center. Repeat this for 10 taps to each side. This works the gluteus medius (the muscle on the outside of the hip) and the thighs. It’s also a bit of a cardio move since you’re tapping from one side to the other without a break.

Standing Reverse Taps

From the same position as the standing side steps, this time instead of stepping to the side, you’ll step back with each foot and tap. You’ll feel the tension on the stationary leg as well, making this a total leg and glute workout move.

Standing Adductor Lift

Standing straight up with your abs drawn in, lift the right leg out to the side, and then bring it back in. The tension that the band adds can be felt on the eccentric and concentric movement — as you push the leg out and as you pull the leg back to center. This is primarily working the gluteus medius, and also the stabilizing muscles of the legs and the standing leg that’s balancing you. Repeat this 10 times and then switch to the left side.

Band Positioning: Around lower knee

How to: Step inside the band with both feet, and wiggle the band with your fingers up around your shin bones directly underneath your knee. You can leave about 2-3 fingers’ width space from your knee down to the top of the band for reference.

Standing Banded Squat

Step the feet out as wide as the hips, pull the navel in, and bend at the knees to sit back with your glutes. Act like you’re sitting back into a chair, and then drill down through the heels to stand back up. The band helps activate the glutes with the tension around the legs, and also helps stabilize your body for a more properly formed squat. Repeat this 10 times.

Standing Lateral Band Walk

Step into the band with both feet, and pull the feet as wide as the hips to create tension on the band. Lower down into a half squat position while pulling your navel in toward your spine, and pressing down through the heels of your feet. Then shift your weight over to your left side, and step sideways to the right. Bring your left foot slightly in, keeping tension on the band, and continuing to side step to the right like this for 10 steps. Then repeat to the left.

The next two lower body exercises are performed on your hands and knees.

Band Positioning: Around stationary foot, and on top of moving leg

How to: This is tricky, so if you find it challenging to get the band on properly (let alone do the exercise) you’re not alone. The best way to do this is to squat down and step your right foot a little more forward than your left. Wrap the band around the front of your right shoe, and then while holding the band, lower onto your right knee and wrap the band around the left shoe as well.

Donkey Kicks

From your hands and knees, pull your navel in toward your spine. Make sure your hands are underneath your shoulders with your fingers spread wide and pressing down through your fingers and your hands. Open your knees just as wide as the hips, and make sure the knees are under the hips. Then, press the right leg up so that it’s at a 90 degree angle, and then press up through the foot to work the glute and hamstring of the right leg. You’ll also be stabilizing with the left leg and working the left glute.

Band Positioning: above knees

Fire Hydrant

From your hands and knees, pull your navel in toward your spine. Get into the same positioning as above, and instead of reaching your leg back behind you, reach the right leg out to the side. This is a motion similar to a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Open the right leg out to the right side, and then bring it back toward center. Repeat this 10 times, and then switch to the left leg.

The next exercises are performed lying down on your side.

Band Positioning: Around upper thighs

Banded Clam Shell

Lying down on your right side, prop yourself up with your right forearm on the ground on a 90 degree angle. Bring the legs slightly forward of your hips, and pull your navel in toward your spine. Then, bend the knees so that your legs are at a 90 degree angle. Keep your feet pressing together as you open your top knee up away from your bottom knee as if you’re opening up a clam shell. Repeat this 10 times, and then switch sides or move onto the next exercise.

Band Positioning: Around your ankles

Side Lying Banded Leg Lifts

Lying down on your right side with the band around your ankles, press your right forearm into the ground at a 90 degree angle. Bring the legs slightly forward of your hips and pull your navel in toward your spine. Then pull the left leg straight up away from the right leg, and lower it back down. Maintain tension on the band throughout the whole exercise. Repeat for 10 repetitions and then switch sides or continue on to the next exercise.

Band Positioning: Lying on your right side, step onto the band with your left foot and wrap the band around the right shoe.

Side Lying Inner Thigh Banded Leg Lifts

Lying down on your right side with your left leg behind you and your feet in the strap, pulse the right leg up 10 times. This is working the inner thigh.

UPPER BODY EXERCISE BANK

Band Positioning: Around the forearms

Rear Delt Pull

Bend the elbows at a 90 degree angle so that your arms are parallel to the ground. Reach the arms forward and then bend the elbows and bring the arms toward your chest as you squeeze your upper back. This works the medial deltoid, rear deltoid, scapula, and biceps. Repeat 10 times.

Banded Open & Close

Bend at the elbows and bring your arms up into a goal post position at chest level. Open and close the arms (reference photo) to work the upper arms and upper back. Repeat 10 times.

Band Positioning: Hold the band with your left hand on your chest, and your right hand holding onto the band below.

Tricep Extension with Band

Using your left hand, press the band to your chest. Use the right hand to press down against the band into a tricep extension, and then come back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.

Band Positioning: Standing on your knees, step the right foot forward into a modified lunge position, and then wrap the band underneath the right knee.

Bicep Curl 1 with Band

Put the right hand through the band in an open-face position to start. Then, pull the right hand with the band up toward the shoulder into a bicep curl, and release down. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides.

Band Positioning: Around forearms

Bicep Curl 2 with Band

Hold the bands on outside of your forearms with the palms face up and your elbows hugging in towards your side body. Then, curl the hands up toward your shoulders into a bicep curl, and lower back down. Repeat 10 times.

Shoulder Press with Band

From the same positioning as above, curl the arms up into a bicep curl and use this as your starting position. Then press arms up over head with abduction against the bands, and then lower down to the start position. Repeat 10 times.

Shoulder Side Raise with Band

Band Positioning:Around forearms

Start with your arms parallel to your body, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle (to create two goal posts in front of your abdomen) with palms facing each other. This is your starting position. Then pull the arms out to the side and up like wings as high as your shoulders with elbows still bent (you should have created a straight line from your shoulder to your elbow). Lower back down.

Bentover Row with Band

Band Positioning: Step on the band with the right foot and lower down onto your left knee. Then, lean forward, hold onto band with the right hand.

For this exercise, pull the band up by hugging your elbow into your side and squeezing the right shoulder blade in toward the center of your spine, and then release the arm down. Continue pulling up and then releasing down for 10 repetitions, and then switch sides.

ABDOMINALS EXERCISE BANK

Band Positioning: Placing the band below the knees is easier, and placing the band above the knees outside of the thighs is more challenging.

Banded Bridge

Lying down on your back, bend your knees with your feet on the ground as wide as your hips. Bring the band around your upper thighs. Take a deep breath in, and then exhale as you pull your navel in toward your spine, and tilt your pelvis so that your hips are coming close to your ribs. Slowly roll up into a bridge position, pressing against the band and opening the legs wide. As you come up into the bridge position with your back off of the ground, hold it at the top. Then, pulse the legs and the band out to the sides for 10 counts. Slowly lower the back down onto the ground vertebrae by vertebrae and then repeat for 10 times.

Banded Lower & Lift

Lying down on your back, wrap the band around your upper thighs. Pull your navel in toward your spine and reach the legs straight up toward the ceiling. Open the feet wide enough to put tension on the band, and then lower the legs down as far as you can without lifting your back off the ground. Then bring the legs back up to center. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Banded Toe Taps

Lying down on your back, bend your knees with your feet on the ground as wide as your hips. Bring the band around your upper thighs. Take a deep breath in, and then exhale as you pull your navel in toward your spine, and tilt your pelvis so that your hips are coming close to your ribs. Bring the knees up into a tabletop position at a 90 degree angle. Open the legs to put tension on the band, and lower the feet toward the ground. Keep the knees bent. Then bring the knees back up to the starting position, and repeat for 10 times.

Band Positioning: On top of the left shoe and on the bottom of the right shoe

Banded Criss-Cross with band around top of shoes

With the band wrapped around your shoes, lie down on your back and bend the knees up into a tabletop position. Place your hands behind your head. Exhale and curl up into a crunch position. Extend the left leg and curl up toward the right knee, and then switch. Bicycle the legs and criss cross your chest to work the internal and external obliques. Repeat 10 times to each side.

ADVANCED PLANK SEQUENCE

Pick one of these at a time to try, or do them all at once when you feel physically ready. These are pretty challenging moves.

Band Positioning: Around the outer wrists

How to: On your hands and knees, put your hands through the band and place it on the outsides of your wrists.

Plank Push-Ups with Banded Arms

Come up onto your toes into a plank position. Press down firmly with your hands and make sure your shoulders are over your wrists. Pull your navel in toward your spine, and keep your back flat. From here, step your right hand out to the right, pulling on the band, then lower down into a push-up. For a modification, this can be done on your knees. Then, walk the hand back to center, and walk the left hand out to the left, lower down into a push up, and come back to center. Repeat this for 5 push-ups on each side. This works your core, chest, back, and upper arms.

Band Positioning: Around the ankles

How to: Sitting down on the floor, wrap the band around your ankles and then press back onto your hands and knees.

Plank Jumps with Banded Ankles

Press up into a plank position from your hands and knees. Pull your abs in tight, and then jump both of your feet out and then back in to center. Keep tension on the band even as you come back into the center so that the band stays taught around your ankles. This works your core, shoulders, arms, gluteus medius, thighs and hamstrings.

Modification: Plank Modified Jumps with Banded Ankles

Instead of jumping the feet away from each other and then back in, simply tap with right foot out to the right and back to center, and then tap with the left foot out to the left and back to center.

Plank Banded Booty Lifts

Come into plank position with your shoulders over your wrists and your feet as wide as your hips. Keep your right leg straight as you lift it up a few inches off the ground, and then place it back down. Repeat on the left side. This will really burn the hamstrings and the glutes. Repeat each side 10 times.

TRY THESE FITNESS ROUTINES

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Nicole Saunders, Shop TODAY contributed.