Resistance bands are a great way to get an effective workout anywhere. They’re compact, lightweight, and easy to pack. They are also a cost-effective alternative to traditional weights and machines that require very little maintenance and space.
This article explores how to get a good chest workout using resistance bands for a variety of exercises.
Resistance bands are elastic bands used as resistance for strength training. They’ve been around since at least the late 1800s. The first patent was filed by Gustav Gossweiler in 1896 in Switzerland. He used a variant of surgical tubing (1).
Resistance bands typically come in 3 types or forms: flat band, tubing, or loops. There also are variants of these basic versions, such as braided tubing or figure-8 loops.
It’s important to note that bands come in varying colors. There’s presently no standardization of resistance level to color. Thus, it’s advisable to test the resistance before purchasing.
Bands are typically composed of latex rubber, yet there’s also a nonlatex version to accommodate those with allergies.
Resistance bands provide an effective workout. They’re low cost, portable, and lightweight, and they require minimal space to use.
Resistance bands can provide an excellent workout and typically provide linear variable resistance. This means that the resistance increases as the band stretches further.
In other words, to increase resistance, you can stand further away from the anchor point of the band.
Thus, bands can be added to a standard barbell exercise like the bench press to make it more difficult during the end of the movement as your elbows extend.
They can also assist a lift by hooking the band to an anchor point above the weight. This will decrease the force needed to complete the lift.
Finally, resistance bands can help you perform explosive movements. For example, they can help you perform a movement like the bench press faster to develop power.
Strength training with resistance bands has been shown to provide strength gains comparable to those of barbell resistance training. One study observed similar strength improvements when comparing a 6 rep max bench press to 6 rep max elastic band pushups (2).
Resistance bands can be used for resistance or assistance during exercises. They provide strength gains comparable to those of free-weight exercises.
An extra benefit…
Resistance bands are unique in that they provide resistance for both the concentric (contracting) and eccentric (lengthening) phases of an exercise.
In other words, not only will you feel resistance when you stretch the band, but if you return to the starting position with control, you’re also working against the elastic resistance that would otherwise snap back to the starting position.
To get the full benefit of a band workout, you must move with control on the release phase of the exercise. In doing so, you’ll strengthen your muscles as they lengthen, too.
The pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior are the primary muscles in the chest.
The pectoralis major originates at the breast bone (sternum) and inside half of the collar bone. Its fibers insert at the outside of the upper arm bone (humerus), and its movements include bringing the arm from the side to upward, across the body, and rotating the arm inward (
The pectoralis minor originates from the third through fifth ribs and also the anterior side of the shoulder blade. It keeps the shoulder blade stabilized against the rib cage during pressing movements (
Similarly, the serratus anterior is a fan-shaped muscle that originates from the first through eighth ribs and inserts at the inside border of the shoulder blade. It brings the shoulder blade around the rib cage during pressing movements, such as the bench press and pushup (
These chest muscles work in conjunction with the deltoid, biceps, and triceps to move the arm in pressing and chest fly exercises.
The major muscles worked in chest workouts are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior.
When planning a workout, start with compound exercises that work your chest muscles in conjunction with other muscles of your arms, shoulders, and back. These tend to be pressing-type activities like the bench press, pushup, and dip.
Then progress to exercises that tend to isolate your pec muscles more. These exercises include chest flys and exercises that pull your arm across your body.
Start with compound exercises in your workout first, and then perform isolated chest movements.
These exercises will give you a good chest workout using resistance bands.
Chest and shoulder resistance band exercises
Resistance band pushup
- Start on your stomach with the band across your back and anchored under your hands in a plank position. You can either keep your knees off of the ground and support yourself at the toes for increased difficulty, or you can put your knees down for less difficulty.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor, maintaining a straight line through your body and taking care not to let your lower back sag.
- Then press up, extending your elbows. Hold for 1 second.
- Repeat for 8–10 repetitions for 1 set.
The press-up part can be done at a lower speed with a stronger resistance band to develop strength. Alternatively, move at a faster speed with weaker resistance to develop explosive speed and power.
Resistance band bench press
- Lie on your back with the band under your shoulder blades.
- Grasp the ends of the bands and start with your elbows bent and to the sides of your shoulders, with your hands pointing up toward the ceiling. To increase resistance, start with the band mildly stretched in the resting position.
- Next, press your arms over your chest. Hold for 1 second and then return with control.
- Repeat 8–10 repetitions for 1 set.
To make this exercise more challenging, lie on a bench or foam roller.
Resistance band chest fly
- Anchor the band behind you at hip or chest height when standing.
- Face away from the anchor point and grasp the ends of the band.
- Step away from the anchor point until you feel a slight stretch in the band. You can keep one foot in front of the other for better stability.
- Bring your arms up to shoulder level (or just below). Keep your elbows slightly bent and bring the band forward and across your body to meet in front of your chest.
- Hold for 1 second and then return to the starting position.
- Complete 8–10 repetitions for 1 set.
Chest and back resistance band exercises
Resistance band pullover
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Anchor the band away from you, overhead.
- Grasp the ends of the band with your arms straight overhead.
- Keeping your elbows straight, pull the band forward toward your hips.
- Hold for 1 second and return.
- Complete 8–10 repetitions for 1 set.
You can increase the challenge to the pecs by bringing your hands in so your palms face away from each other.
Resistance band pullup
- Anchor the band to a pullup bar overhead. Note that this exercise is best performed with a looped band.
- Next, step on the lowest part of the loop with your feet or your knees to unload your weight.
- Reach up to grasp the bar with your palms facing out and your arms shoulder-distance apart.
- Perform a standard pullup by bending your elbows and lifting your chest toward the bar.
- Complete 5–8 repetitions for 1 set.
Chest and arm resistance band exercises
Single-arm crossover fly with band
- Stand with the band off to one side of your body.
- Secure the band at the ground, either by stepping on it or looping it around a point below your knee.
- Grasp the band in your hand with a slight bend in your elbow on the same side you anchored it. Start with slight tension in the band.
- Then, pull the band up and across to your opposite shoulder.
- Hold for 1 second and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Complete 8–10 repetitions on each side for 1 set.
Fencer crossover pull
- Stand with the band fixed to a point below your knee, to the side of your body.
- Hold the band in the opposite hand, so your arm starts low across your body.
- Bend your elbow as you pull the band up and across your body, as if you’re drawing a sword from its sheath.
- Extend your elbow as you push your hand up and out, above and away from your body. Your hand will travel from down by the hip closest to the band, to out above the shoulder opposite the band.
- Slowly lower down the same way, bending at your elbow to return to the starting position.
- Complete 8–10 repetitions on each side for 1 set.
Check the band for frayed points. Resistance bands have a finite lifespan. If it’s frayed, there’s a possibility of it breaking in the middle of exercising, which could potentially cause injury. Thus, it’s a good idea to inspect it before each use.
Also, make sure the band is anchored securely and safely. Depending on the type of band you’re using, your anchor point may vary.
Always move with control, even when moving for speed. Controlling all phases of the movement will ensure you’re getting the most from your workout and staying safe throughout.
Inspect the band prior to each use, ensure that it’s securely anchored, and be sure to move with control so you minimize your risk of injury.
Resistance bands can provide an effective workout alternative for strength and power training, and they’re cheaper and more portable than other types of exercise equipment.
Resistance bands have been shown to provide strength improvements comparable to those of other types of strength training equipment. But be sure to inspect your band before each use, and don’t use it if it looks excessively frayed or worn.
With a band, an anchor point, and a little space to move, you’ll be on your way to a great chest workout in no time.