The Resistance-Band Workout

Resistance bands are ideal for everyone, from beginners to elite athletes — and so is this lightning-fast, do-anywhere workout.

They don’t look like much. Next to the kettlebells and high-tech cardio machines you see in the average gym, resistance bands — those colorful lengths of rubber tubing with a handle on either end — look like party favors: training equipment for people who can’t handle the tough stuff.

Don’t be fooled. Though they make a great tool for novices and those recovering from injury, resistance bands provide an intense workout for people at any fitness level. In fact, they may be the most challenging and effective — not to mention convenient — piece of exercise equipment you’ve never taken seriously. Los Angeles–based celebrity trainer Valerie Waters, inventor of the Valslide (a portable gym staple that adds challenge to leg and core workouts), says, “When I’m at the gym, I always use resistance bands in my workouts — whether I’m training myself or my clients.”

What makes bands so great? Versatility, portability, convenience, and ease of use. By securing the center of the band to a stable object — think of a banister, doorknob, or even your own feet — and pulling or pushing the handles, you can perform an almost endless variety of strength-training moves in a limited space, with little transition time between movements. And since the level of resistance changes depending on the thickness of the band and how far you stretch it, all you have to do is take a step toward or away from the anchor point to change the “weight” you’re lifting.

This unique and variable form of resistance also makes good sense physiologically. Many of your muscles get stronger as they approach their fully contracted state: You’re more powerful in the top half of a squat than the bottom half, for example. When you heft a barbell or dumbbell, the weight you use is limited by what you can lift in the toughest part of the move — meaning your muscles work their hardest for only a portion of each repetition.

Use a band for resistance, and your muscles get more of a challenge when they need it (as they contract) and a bit of a break when they don’t (as they stretch). At the end-range of each exercise, you may well be “lifting” more than you normally would using a barbell or dumbbell. That can translate into more strength throughout a muscle’s entire range of motion.

For a sampling of just how challenging band training can be, give the following full-body workout a try — at home, at the gym, or in a hotel room. All the equipment you need fits easily into your favorite carry-on bag.

The Band Workout

Perform the following six exercises back to back, with minimal rest between moves. Once you’ve finished the circuit, grab a quick drink of water — don’t take longer than 30 seconds of rest — and repeat one or two more times for a lightning-fast strength-training workout that will challenge your cardio system as well. “The whole thing will take you less than 20 minutes,” says workout designer Valerie Waters.

1. Anti-Rotation Reverse Lunge

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  • Loop the band around a railing or other waist-high object. Pass one handle through the other and pull the band tight. Grasp the free handle in both hands.
  • Holding the handle against your body at chest height, step back a few feet to create tension on the band, and turn so your arms are perpendicular to the outstretched band.
  • Keeping your shoulders and hips square, extend your arms straight out.
  • Do a reverse lunge: Step back with your right foot and bend both legs, lowering your right knee to about an inch from the floor, resisting the band’s pull toward the anchor point.
  • Reverse the movement until you are standing again.
  • Repeat for the appropriate number of reps. Then turn so your right shoulder points toward the anchor point and repeat the reverse lunge movement, this time stepping your left foot back.

Reps: Eight to 10 per leg

The Finer Points: For a slightly tougher version, step back with the leg that is
closest to the anchor point.

 2. Resistance-Band Fly

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  • Loop the band around a chest-high anchor point so that the two ends of the band are the same length.
  • With your back to the anchor point, hold the handles at chest height, arms extended in front, palms facing one another, hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a step or two forward to create tension on the band, and assume a staggered stance with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Keeping your elbows slightly bent and your arms parallel to the floor, slowly open your arms to the side in a wide arc, stopping when your elbows are just behind the plane of your torso. Don’t shrug your shoulders; keep them down and relaxed.
  • Reverse the movement, pause, and repeat.

Reps: 15

The Finer Points: Don’t let the bands overstretch your shoulders; stop the move well before you feel a deep stretch through your shoulders.

3. Chest Press

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  • Secure the band to a chest-high object.
  • With your back to the anchor point, hold the handles at chest height, arms extended in front with your palms down and your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a step or two forward to create tension on the band, and assume a staggered stance with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  • Slowly bend your arms, bringing the handles close to the sides of your chest, as if lowering the bar in a bench-press exercise.
  • Reverse the movement, pressing the bands forward and under control.

Reps: 15

The Finer Points: Step forward a few inches between the previous exercise and this one to increase the resistance.

4. Squat to Row

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  • Secure the band to a waist-high object. Face the anchor point, hold the handles, and step back a few feet to create tension in the band.
  • Assume a shoulder-width, feet-parallel stance with your arms extended in front. If the band is slack in this position, step back another foot or so.
  • Squat fully until the tops of your thighs are parallel with the floor, keeping your weight in your heels, your chest high, and your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Reverse the movement, returning to a standing position.
  • Slowly pull the handles toward the sides of your torso, simultaneously pulling your shoulder blades together.
  • Extend your arms in front of you, and repeat.

Reps: 15

The Finer Points: Make the two movements distinct: Squat, then row.

5. Swimmer


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  • With the band anchored to a waist-high object, face the anchor point, grasp the handles, bend your knees slightly, and lean forward at the hip joints until your torso is about 45 degrees from the floor.
  • Extend your arms toward the anchor point and walk backward a few steps until you feel tension on the band.
  • Keeping your arms straight and your lower back in its natural arch, sweep your arms out to the side and downward in a breaststroke-like motion until the handles are near your hips.
  • Reverse the movement until your arms are in front of you again, and repeat.

Reps: 15

The Finer Points: Keep the back of your neck long, and don’t let your head push toward the floor as you perform the move.

6. Deadlift

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  • Step on the band with both feet, shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend your knees slightly and sit back, hinging forward at the hip joints until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Shorten the band by wrapping it around your hands until you feel tension.
  • Keeping your back straight and your abs engaged, push through your heels and drive up through your hips to a standing position.
  • Pause briefly in the stretched position, then slowly reverse the movement until you are
  • in the starting bent-over position again.

Reps: 15

The Finer Points: Keep your back straight throughout the movement. If you start to lose the arch in your back as you bend forward, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

This article originally appeared as “Stretch Your Workouts” in the November 2013 issue of Experience Life.

is a contributing editor at Experience Life.

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