Believe it or not, you don't need heavy weights to build muscle. Resistance bands are an easy, cheap, and convenient option that can help you see those muscle gains similar to conventional methods (like weight machines and dumbbells).
"Resistance training is highly regarded in the athletic community, thanks to its ability to hone athletic skill and increase athletic power," states Marshall Weber, certified personal trainer and owner of Jack City Fitness. "It’s also popular for its sheer flexibility. This is not a workout that requires loads of fancy equipment. Resistance workouts focus on working your body against a physical force, and though this force can range from machinery to body weight, many athletes choose to use resistance bands."
Scroll on for the 10 best resistance band moves for a full body workout.
What better way to start resistance exercise than with the classic squat. "The stretching and contraction tension during power squats make them one of the best muscle building movements you can do," comments Kiel Digiovanni, co-founder of SET FOR SET Fitness. He says you'll likely see improvements in your mobility, core strength, and joints.
If you want to kick your regular squat up a level, Digiovanni states that you can also do a power squat. "A main difference between a power squat and a regular squat is that you will be in a wider stance and you should explode up once you hit the bottom of the squat."
- Place your mini band around your mid-thigh.
- Open your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower yourself into a squat position by sending your hips backwards. Make sure your back is straight and that your knees are aligned with your toes.
- Once you've lowered into the squat position, push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.
Whether you choose a regular squat or power squat, aim to do 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
"The band bicep curl is an amazing exercise with a low learning curve as it is an isolation exercise that specifically targets the biceps," says Digiovanni. "Bicep band curls build arm strength and help to maintain upper body health as they are involved in elbow flexion and shoulder stabilization."
You'll likely notice picking up your kiddos or carrying in the groceries are much easier after adding this move to your routine.
- Start in a kneeling position, with one knee on the ground and the other leg at a 90 degree angle with your foot planted on the floor. Keep your back straight.
- Put your resistance band on the leg that is not kneeled on the floor, placing it just above your knee.
- Take your hand on the same side as the leg with resistance band and grab it with your palm facing up.
- Pull the resistance band up toward your chest making sure your body stays straight and you aren't leaning forward.
- Lower the resistance band and repeat.
Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps on each arm.
Adding this to your resistance workout routine will really have you feeling it in the mornings. "This is a rather technical exercise that, if done properly, can result in some amazing benefits including a stronger posterior chain, lower back, and glutes," comments Digiovanni.
Since it can be easy to incorrectly perform this move (and potentially cause injury), using a resistance band is a great way to get the technique down without any additional weight while still improving strength and range of motion.
- Step both feet into the band and place it right above your knees keeping your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Place your hands behind your head and keep your knees slightly bent.
- Fold downward to about a 90 degree angle, keeping your knees soft and your back straight. You should feel this in your hamstrings.
- Lift yourself back up and return back to the starting position.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps.
"Hitting all three gluteal muscles, the humble hip bridge is a wolf in sheep's clothing," comments Digiovanni. "The strength building benefits are realized by your core, legs, glutes, and lower back at the same time."
- Lay down on the mat with your knees bent at 90 degrees and feet flat down.
- Place both legs in the resistance band and have it sitting just above your knees.
- Slowly lift your hips off the floor and toward the ceiling while contracting your glutes and engaging your core.
- Open your knees slightly to push against the resistance band as you raise your hips off the mat.
- Lower down to the starting position and repeat.
Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Bow and Arrow
Target your chest, back, and shoulders with this Katniss Everdeen-inspired move. Strengthening these muscles can help to improve your posture and increase mobility.
- Begin with one side of your band in each hand, an engaged core, and your feet planted hip-width apart.
- Bring your hands up to the height of your chest while extending your left arm out to the side.
- Bring your right elbow back toward your right side. "As if you were actually pulling a bowstring," comments Weber.
- Repeat on the other side.
Perform 2 to 3 sets with 12 to 15 reps.
"A strong core will make all your other workouts just that much easier!" states Weber. That's exactly what you're targeting here with bicycles. Every drive of the knee will have you feeling the burn in your lower abdomen and obliques.
- Lay on your back with the band around your thighs, just above your knees.
- Bring your hands gently behind your head with your elbows out wide.
- Bend your knees to a 90 degree angle and engage your core.
- Lift your shoulder off the mat (using your core and not your neck!) and extend your left leg out to hover as you twist your right elbow to your left knee.
- Switch sides and continue alternating right to left while continuing to keep your shoulders raised.
Do 2 to 3 sets with 10 to 12 reps.
Lateral Band Walk
"This exercise is a great warm-up movement to activate the smaller glute muscles or to add as an isolation movement in your program," states Lizzie May, personal trainer and fitness consultant at Mom Loves Best. "The band will add resistance to the knees and encourage your gluteus minimus and gluteus medius muscles to remain contracted throughout the movement."
Not only will your bum be burnin', but this exercise will also strengthen your hip abductors which are located on the outer surface of the pelvis. "If you have knee joint issues, this movement will help to increase knee stability and improve your squat load," adds May.
- Place both legs in the band and place it around the middle of your shins (you can also place it as far up as mid-thigh).
- Keep your legs hip-width apart, have a slight bend in the knees, glutes tight, and pelvic tucked in.
- Step to the left 10 times, then back to the right 10 times while continuing to remain low.
- Repeat this 3 times.
If you're sitting at a desk all day, this exercise can help counteract the toll that has on your back. "This exercise opens up the chest which improves range of motion, can reduce upper back pain, and reinforce scapular retraction which can improve posture," states Digiovanni.
He also states that, "bands are great for chest flies as they limit the stress placed on your elbow joints compared with using dumbbells."
- Take your mini band and place it around a secure object (such as a door handle).
- Get in a kneeling position, with one leg at a 90 degree angle with your foot planted on the ground and the other with your knee down. Place yourself to the side of the band.
- Using the arm on the same side as the leg with your foot planted, grab the end of the resistance band and pull it toward the front of your face keeping a slight bend in your elbow.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
Do 2 to 3 sets with 12 to 15 reps on each arm.
"We spend a ton of time focusing on the front of our body, it's about time we focused on our back!" comments Brock Armstrong, fitness expert and owner of Brock Armstrong Coaching. "This exercise strengthens your back while also helping you maintain mobility in your entire shoulder joint."
- Standing straight with soft knees, hold the band at the end in both hands with your arms straight out in front of you about shoulder height.
- Pull the band out to the sides with both arms until you feel resistance.
- Return your arms back to the front and repeat.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
You may be familiar with lunges, but this time we want you to reverse it and add resistance. "Sure, this exercise builds strength, but its real super power is building stability and balance," says Armstrong. We'll gladly take all 3!
- Insert both legs in the resistance band and place it right above your knees.
- Stand with soft knees and feet about shoulder width apart.
- Step back with one foot and drop your knee down so it's at about a 90 degree angle. Be sure to keep your body straight and don't let your knee on the opposite leg go past your feet.
- Raise back up and return foot to the start.
- Repeat with both sides.
Do 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps on each side.
Lopes JSS, Machado AF, Micheletti JK, de Almeida AC, Cavina AP, Pastre CM. Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. SAGE Open Medicine. 2019.