If you’re summiting fourteeners and sending 5.12s, strength training with resistance bands might seem too easy. But resistance bands offer the opportunity to train your body in ways that free weights just can’t, explains Justin Kompf, a strength and conditioning specialist at Clientel3 fitness studio in Boston. When you’re training with body weight, barbells, or kettlebells, you’re working against gravity. Bands switch up the lines of force to strengthen new movement patterns, and they offer variable resistance: The more you stretch them, the “heavier” they get. So, when you perform a band-resisted push-up or squat, for example, the band applies the most resistance as you reach extension—making the easiest part of the exercise significantly more challenging. Plus, resistance bands are cheap, light, and packable, making them one of the most adaptable training tools.
Add some stretch to your strength-training routine with these do-anywhere resistance band exercises. Let your body and the band’s resistance dictate the number of reps. As soon as your form breaks down, switch to a different exercise.
What it does: Improves total-body stability and strength through the core, shoulders, and chest.
How to do it: Sling a circular a resistance band across your upper back like a shawl, with either side looped around each of your hands. Get on the floor in a high plank position: arms fully extended and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. The band will run up your arms and across your back. It should feel very tight. From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together and drop into a military-style push-up as close to the floor as possible. Pause, then press through your hands to extend your arms and raise back up to a high plank.
What it does: Trains anti-rotation, the core’s ability to resist outside forces.
How to do it: Loop a circular resistance band around a sturdy object at about navel height, grab the opposite end in both hands, and step away from the anchor point so the band runs taut and perpendicular to the front of your body. With knees slightly bent and feet about hip-width apart, hold your clasped hands at your belly button, elbows bent. Keeping your shoulders down, press your hands straight forward to extend the band, making sure not to let the band pull you to one side. Pause, then slowly bend your elbows to return your hands to your torso. Complete a full set before moving to the opposite side.
What they do: Overload the glutes and quads in their strongest range of motion to improve power.
How to do them: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart inside a loose resistance band. Squat down as low as you can without your heels raising or torso falling forward, and loop the loose end of the band over your shoulders. From here, drive through your heels to extend your hips and knees and stand up straight. Pause, then slowly lower back down into a squat.
What it does: Strengthens the muscles of the upper back, helping reinforce shoulder strength and mobility.
How to do it: Loop a resistance band around a secure object at head height. Facing the anchor point, grab the two ends of the band with both hands, then step back until your arms are outstretched and the band is taunt. Allow a slight bend in your knees to stabilize yourself against the band. From here, keeping a stationary torso, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull through your arms until your hands are next to your ears. Pause, then slowly release the tension until your arms are fully extended.
What it does: Strengthens the lower back, making it more resistant to injury.
How to do it: Stand inside a looped band, with one side running across your shoulders and the other side under the arches of your feet, as if you’re doing a resisted squat. From here, push your hips as far back as possible, allowing only a slight bend in your knees to lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor, a similar movement to a deadlift. Pause, then press through your heels and extend your hips to return to standing.
What it does: Strengthens the glutes and hamstrings while reinforcing a proper movement pattern for deadlifts.
How to do it: Loop a resistance band around a sturdy object close to the ground. With your back facing the anchor point and the band between your feet, grab the free ends of the band with both hands and step forward until there’s tension in the band. Stand tall (your body will have a slight forward lean) with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and your hands, each holding one end of the band, together at the bottom of your pelvis. From here, push your hips back and allow a slight bend in your knees until your torso is just above parallel with the floor. Pause, then press through your heels and thrust your hips forward to return to standing.
Side Plank to Row
What it does: Develops core strength and total-body tension.
How to do it: Loop a resistance band around a secure object roughly a foot off the ground, and grab the free end with one hand. With your waist in line with the anchor point, get on the ground in a low side plank so you’re holding the band with your top hand, arm outstretched and the band just barely taunt. From here, keeping your body stationary, squeeze your top shoulder blade back and then pull through your arm to row the band to the side of your waist. Pause, then slowly release the tension until your arm is fully extended. Complete a full set before moving to the opposite side.
What it does: Strengthens quads, glutes, and the muscles that surround your knee.
How to do it: Stand with one foot on top of a resistance band, loop the loose end of the band over your shoulders so it’s taunt, and take a giant step backward with your free foot so you’re in a split stance and your back heel is raised. From here, bend at the hips and knees to lower into a deep lunge. Pause, then drive through your front heel to raise back up to a split stance. Complete a full set before moving to the opposite side.
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