Think gym machines and free weights are the only ways to strengthen and tone your muscles? You may be overlooking resistance bands. The stretchy plastic bands or tubes can be used in a variety of ways to target almost any muscle group.
Since they take up little space, they’re popular workout tools for people who travel a lot or don’t have room for exercise equipment. Former trainer, Stephanie Mazal, P.A., says, “you can work all the same muscle groups with resistance bands as you can with free weights.”
Generally, the lighter-colored bands have less resistance, which means you can move them more easily. Lighter bands are commonly used for arm and wrist exercises. Darker, heavier bands are usually used to work larger muscle groups, such as the back and legs. Beginners and people recovering from an injury are typically advised to start with lighter bands and work their way up.
Resistance bands may be preferred for people with arthritis because they put less pressure on the joints, but still target muscles. “For people with arthritis, resistance exercise can help strengthen muscles around the joint and lubricate the joint,” says Joey Gochnour, B.S., B.S., M.Ed., R.D.N., L.D., NASM-CPT.
They’re also generally safe for use during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association’s exercise guidelines recommend avoiding lifting weights above the head or using weights that can strain the lower back. Resistance bands can provide a way to modify a strength training routine for pregnant women. Orthopedic spine surgeon Hooman Melamed, M.D., who is part of Dr. Oz's Sharecare network of experts, says that using a resistance band in the third trimester can help reduce back pain.
Here are three resistance band exercises recommended by Spectrum Athletic Clubs fitness trainer and finalist on “Survivor: Gabon,” Matty Whitmore.
Bicep curls target the front muscles of your upper arm.
- Stand on the resistance band and hold on to each end with your palms facing out.
- Suck in your abs to help support your lower back and keep your knees slightly bent.
- Bend your arms and bring your palms toward your shoulders in a bicep curl. Keep your elbows at your sides; do not bring them forward as you lift.
- For more tension, you can position your feet to be wider apart.
Chest presses work the muscles in your chest and upper body.
- Wrap the resistance band around a sturdy object behind you at chest level.
- Start with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, and your forearms parallel to the floor.
- Keep your right arm stationary and press your left arm out.
- Bring your left arm back and then press forward with your right arm.
- Continue by alternating your arms. When you feel you are ready you can do both arms at the same time.
Shoulder abductions work the muscles surrounding your shoulder as well as the muscles in your upper arm.
- Stand on the center of the resistance band and grab each end with your hands.
- Raise your arms out to your side, stopping at shoulder height.
- Slowly return to starting position and repeat.
Lunges work several muscles in your legs and buttocks. It’s a good exercise for toning and strengthening your legs.
- Stand with your right leg forward and your left leg back, with the band positioned under your right leg.
- Maintain tension on the band by bending your elbows and holding lower on the band so there is no slack in the banc.
- Lower into a lunge until both knees are at 90 degrees, front knee behind the toe.
- Repeat with your left leg forward.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities that work major muscle groups on two or more days each week. If you’re not currently strength training, resistance bands may be a good way to start. Plus, they cost a lot less than free weights, which are often priced by the pound.