There are endless excuses for not exercising, with time, space and money being the most common barriers people point to. But you don't need expensive equipment or a lot of time or space to get in an effective full-body workout.
As a personal trainer and fitness writer, one of my favorite low-cost workout products to use at home is resistance bands. You can use them to get a full-body workout or to target specific muscle groups, and you can achieve everything a kettlebell, barbell or dumbbell can without taking as much space. And for the elderly or those getting back into shape after an injury, resistance bands are a safer alternative to traditional weights.
SKIP AHEAD The best resistance bands
Research shows that engaging in elastic band resistance training improves balance, gait function and flexibility. What’s more, an elastic resistance band workout is useful for workout newbies and workout buffs alike. Here's information on how to use resistance bands and some top-rated options that offer multiple resistance levels, chosen based on my expertise.
How to use resistance bands
There are two main types of resistance bands: looped and tubed.
- Loop bands, or power bands, are made of a single, looped piece of lightweight rubber latex. These bands range in resistance from 5 pounds to 175 pounds and are great for bodybuilding, physical therapy and improving athletic performance. Loop bands also come in mini versions that are excellent for lower-body conditioning, as they fit securely around calves, ankles, thighs and knees and provide tension to lateral moves that build strength and muscle endurance. Mini loop bands range in resistance from 5 pounds to 50 pounds.
- Tube bands are straight, made of harder rubber and have handles on each end. They are great for beginners who are looking to have more control over the exercises. Because you hold on to a handle, you can get a better grip and control how you want the band to move.
Both tube and loop bands can be stacked to add additional tension to your workout routine. If you are new to resistance bands, however, I always recommend starting with the lowest strength band. But if you’re already incorporating strength training into your routine regularly, you may be able to move right into a heavier resistance.
To determine which resistance is right for you, perform a few 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 should be able to completely contract your arm and hold it in a steady position 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.)
Once you’re able to do 10 repetitions with your starting band, you can increase to 15 repetitions. Once that becomes too easy, increase to the next 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 since 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 best resistance bands to shop
There are so many variations of resistance bands that shopping for a set can be overwhelming. Many come in sets of five or more bands, but you can also buy them individually. It’s best to have at least three — light, medium and heavy — so you can target all the major muscle groups. Here are some great choices to consider — all of them are solid quality, with various resistance levels and stellar customer reviews.
These bands come in a set of three with a sleek carrying case and instruction booklet. I love these because they are made of a durable nonslip elastic that stays in place, making them slightly more comfortable than the average band and preventing them from rolling up or down during your workout. These GYMB bands have a 4.7-star rating across more than 30,000 customer reviews on Amazon.
Designed for crossfit, bodybuilding and muscle toning, these tubed resistance bands have seven resistance levels and are some of the most durable around — according to the brand, the FitCord X-Over Resistance Band can stand up to more than 150,000 repetitions before breaking. Sold individually, these cords can be used as a single band or crossed over to form an X. The durable rubber band is covered with fabric and is 125 inches long when fully stretched out.
These tube bands are sold individually and come in five resistance levels, ranging from very light to extra heavy. The handles are great for maximizing strength training, and SPRI offers the option to purchase the nylon SPRI resistance band door attachment so you can up your resistance when it comes to upper body and core workouts. The Xertube Resistance Band has garnered a 4.6-star rating across nearly 9,000 Amazon customers.
This pack of exercise bands is a Select Wellness Award winner. It includes a variety of different resistance levels — the lightest band in this set is about the equivalent of a 5-pound dumbbell when stretched fully, and the heaviest is the equivalent of a 35-pound dumbbell, according to the brand. The set has a 4.5-star average rating from more than 113,000 reviews on Amazon and is available in three colors: pink, berry and assorted, which includes several primary colors. An instruction booklet demonstrating various workouts using the bands for legs, arms, back, shoulders, ankles, hips and stomach is included, along with a carrying bag.
This five-piece set from Rosapoar earned a 4.7-star average rating from more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon. According to the brand, these antislip resistance bands — which range from 15 pounds to 125 pounds of resistance — are made from durable natural latex and are resistant to odor when you sweat. You can also order the bands individually. A workout manual is included, and the company also offers a free replacement policy and a lifetime warranty.
Resistance-band exercises to try
If you’re unsure how to start incorporating resistance bands into your workout, we’ve highlighted a few exercises you can do to target different muscles.
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, feeling 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, plus gives you a bit of a cardio workout.
Banded Clam Shell
Lying down on your right side, prop yourself up with your right forearm on the ground at 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.
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 to work the upper arms and upper back. Repeat 10 times.
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.
Banded Lower & Lift
Lying down on your back, wrap the band around your ankles. 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.