The Resistance Band Exercises that Build Muscle and Burn Fat

Tom Ward
·6 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Esquire

The resistance band might conjure up images of the lycra-clad Mr Motivators of the Nineties, but they’re more relevant than ever.

Whether you’re going gym-free or want to bolster your home workout set-up without swapping out the sofa for a TRX rig, fitness bands deserve a place in your training roster.

“Whilst not a new bit of equipment, resistance bands have exploded in popularity,” says Adam Shilliday, personal trainer at Rise N Grind. “Essentially, they’re simple elastic bands of varying tensions, providing enough resistance to help build muscle and strength.”

Despite their simplicity, fitness bands are incredibly versatile. With a bit of imagination they can help you work through a range of movement patterns, including pushes, pulls and static holds, all from the comfort of your own home / local park / wherever the heck you feel like getting a sweat on.

“They’re portable, cheap, effective and offer a full body workout for experts and beginners alike,” says fitness and wellbeing coach Rachel Lines.

What to Look for in Resistance Bands

As with any kit, it pays to do your due diligence when investing in bands – the last thing you want is a band that’s going to snap. Or worse, get coiled up around your legs mid squat.

“There are hundreds of different bands on the market, from small loop bands to multifunctional bands with attachable handles,” says Lines. “Personally I look for bands that come with a door jammer, as the height adjustment provides a huge range of options for training different parts of your body.”

“I’d also make sure the bands you get offer a range of strengths,” Lines continues. “Lighter bands are good for mobility or rehab exercises, like rotator cuff exercises, while heavy bands provide a good workout for upper back and legs.”

The Best Resistance Band Exercises

Add these moves into your weekly plan, or complete them as a gruelling at-home circuit. Aim for four sets of 12 reps each, upping the squats to 15 reps per leg.

Resistance Band Row

The humble row works your upper back, helping to maintain posture – ideal if you find yourself hunched over a laptop on a regular basis.

“Set your door jammer level with your chest,” instructs Lines. “Grip the handles in a neutral grip with plans facing each other. With your arms extended, step back until you feel tension in the band. Place your feet in split stance (one foot forwards and one foot backwards). Keep your hands raised and level with your chest as you exhale and draw your elbows behind you into the row.”

No door jam? Anchor the band around your feet, or a table leg, completing the same movement from a sitting position.

Resistance Band Chest Flyes

Not only does this work your pectorals, it’s great for opening up a tight chest. If you suffer from regular chest or upper back aches, this should be a staple.

Essentially, it's a cable crossover but using bands rather than a machine. “Anchor the band round fixed position, like a lamppost or tree trunk,” says Shilliday. “Stand with your back to the anchor, holding the band with your arms out at your sides, palms facing each other. With a slight bend in the elbows bring your palms slowly towards each other, feeling the stretch across the chest.”

To avoid injury – and to get the most from the movement – go as slowly as you can when returning your hands to the start position.

Resistance Band Chest Press

A barbell and bench are a big commitment for the home gym. But you can still work your chest without having to fill your living room with metal.

Lie flat on your back with a resistance band running under your shoulder blades. Holding one end in each hand, drive up and away from the floor. Because the resistance increases the further you move your hands, work slowly to get maximum muscle activation.

Resistance Band Bicep Curls

Simple but reliable, the bicep curl does exactly what it promises: builds serious arms.

“Stand on the band, shoulder width apart, then lift both handles to your side and curl the bands up, squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement,” says Shilliday. “Keep the core braced and the glutes tensed.”

Try not to swing your back into it as you curl; leave the movement in your biceps for best effect.

Resistance Band Rotator Cuff Stretch

Issues with the rotator cuff can seriously impact movement through the shoulder. Work some band stretches into your warm-up to avoid unnecessary restrictions.

“Attach the band to a door handle. Standing side on to the door with your chest lifted and abs engaged, hold the band in one hand, your elbow at 90 degrees,” says Lines. “Without moving your arm, bring your hand (and the band) away from your body by moving your shoulder, as though you’re opening an invisible door with your elbow glued to your side.”

Resit the urge to move your arm. Keep it still and let your shoulder do the work (and feel the benefit).

Resistance Band Woodchop

Not only can you pretend you’re chopping actual logs for your imaginary cabin, the woodchop is great for helping carve out those obliques.

Again, this is a spin on a move more commonly done with a cable machine. But you've probably not got one of those at home. Anchor the band at around head height, either with a door jammer or by looping it round a branch. “Stand side on and far enough away so you feel some tension on the band," says Lines. "Raise your hands out in front of you as though you’re getting reading to bring an axe down. With your arms extended in front, engage your core as you turn and bring the axe – sorry, your arms – diagonally down.”

Keep your arms straight and focus on rotating through the core.

Resistance Band Squat and Side Lift

This squat variation targets your hamstrings, glutes, adductors and core for a movement that builds muscle, balance and mobility.

“Stand with the band under both feet,” begins Lines. “Your feet should be just wider than hip-width apart, and you should from the ends of the band just above waist height. Squat down, keeping your weight on your heels then explode upwards. At the top of the squat shift your body weight to one side, lifting the opposite leg as high as you can away from the body. Try not to fall over before lowering yourself into the next squat, and switching legs.”

Struggling to nail a clean squat? Lines advises you keep your knees in line with your big toe, keeping your chest raised as your send your hips backwards.

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