Is resistance training part of your routine? If not, it should be. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend that healthy adults strength train twice a week.

Some people might be wondering how to do this, with gyms closing again in some states and barbells and dumbbells in short supply from retailers. Here’s a potential solution: fitness bands.

Why use resistance bands

With just two or three resistance bands of varying thickness, you can fit all of your fitness equipment in a small bag. But fitness bands are more than portable, accessible and affordable. “You basically can do just about any exercise with a band that you could with any weight machine or free weight,” says physical therapist Phil Page, author of “Strength Band Training.”

In fact, resistance bands could give you more bang for your buck than dumbbells, barbells or home strength machines, says Page, who is also an assistant professor at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University. He cited a Clinical Biomechanics meta-analysis that found by allowing movement in multiple planes, the bands may enhance motor control. 

They also help you avoid pain, says Todd Durkin, a strength, speed and conditioning coach and the author of “Get Your Mind Right.” Although you should check with your physician before starting a strength-training program, resistance bands are an excellent choice for those with musculoskeletal issues. In addition to letting you vary your plane of movement as needed, they are “easy on the joints,” says Durkin, who uses them with professional athletes, including NFL quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel.

According to La Niecia “Coach La La V” Vicknair, a certified personal trainer and the founder of Thrive Health Lab in Los Angeles, resistance bands can reduce your risk of injury and build strength more efficiently by preventing you from using momentum as a crutch. For example, you might jerk your torso backward to create momentum during a biceps dumbbell curl. This compensatory movement pattern — which isn’t possible with bands — increases your risk of injury while decreasing the amount of work required of your biceps.

Bands are also versatile. You can go “as difficult or as easy as you want, based on how you’re using the band,” Durkin says. For some moves, “the closer you extend the anchor point, the easier it would be. The further you stand away from it, the harder it would be.” For others, it’s a matter of adjusting your grip; choking up on the band increases the difficulty. Still not challenged? Vicknair suggests holding dumbbells while performing the banded moves.

Types of bands

A quick Internet search will reveal a dizzying array of options (still in stock, as of the time of publication). Here’s a quick guide to three popular styles. If you plan to make resistance bands a staple of your strength-training routine but want to take a minimalist approach, Vicknair recommends purchasing a set of loop bands and heavy-duty bands.

Loop bands, such as the Limm Resistance Loop Bands, $12.92. Although the exact size may vary, these are 12 inches long and two inches wide, and they come in a set of five bands of varying levels of resistance. Featuring a flat surface, they’re also known as mini-bands.

Bands with handles, such as the Whatafit Resistance Bands (set of five), $49.99. Featuring detachable handles, they’re heavier than loop bands and have rounded edges. You can loop them behind a pole or a tree or use the included door anchor to use a door as an anchor point.

Heavy-duty bands, such as the Power Guidance Resistance Bands (set of four), $36.99. Much thicker and longer than loop bands, they have a rectangular profile. You can loop them around a tree or a pole.

Safety first

Beginners should consider scheduling a personal training session to check form and prevent injury. Many trainers now offer sessions online or outdoors. Alternatively, Page suggests watching credentialed fitness professionals demonstrate the exercises on YouTube.

He also advises newbies to first perform every exercise without the band “to make sure you have the movement down” before adding resistance.


Resistance bands offer myriad exercise options. This group of four exercises focuses on compound (or multi-joint) movements and hits every major muscle group.


Equipment: bands with handles or heavy-duty bands

Muscles targeted: legs, glutes, core

1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward.

2. Place the band under your heels.

3. Keep your arms by your sides and flex your elbows, so your hands are by your shoulders and your palms are facing forward.

4. Grasp the handles or the band across your palms.

5. Keeping your chest up, bend at your knees and hips, dropping as low as you can while maintaining good form; keep your heels down, and make sure your knees are over your toes.

6. Come back to standing while engaging your glutes.

Lateral walk

Equipment: loop band

Muscles targeted: glutes, hip abductors

1. Step inside the loop band and position it so it is resting on your ankles.

2. Widen your stance to create light tension on the band.

3. Bend your knees slightly.

4. Keeping your feet aligned with your shoulders and your hips level, step to one side.

5. After completing the desired number of reps, repeat in the other direction.

Band pull-apart

Equipment: bands with handles or heavy-duty bands

Muscles worked: shoulders, back

1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart.

2. Flex your shoulders to 90 degrees, and with your arms out in front of you and your palms down, hold the band in your hands with light tension.

3. Extend your arms out to your sides and back as far as possible, with your arms straight and your shoulders retracted (shoulder blades back and down).

Standing chest press

Equipment: bands with handles or heavy-duty bands

Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, arms

1. If you’re using bands with handles, anchor them to a door frame behind you, or use a pole or a tree to anchor either type of band. You can also step on the band, using your feet to anchor it.

2. With your feet about hip-width apart, your palms down and your elbows flexed to 90 degrees, grasp the band and raise your arms to shoulder height, making sure there is light tension on the band.

3. Press your arms in front of you, straightening your elbows and keeping your shoulders retracted and core engaged.

How many repetitions and sets you should complete depends on your fitness level, your goals and how much resistance you’re using. No matter what, it’s important that you’re fatigued by the time you complete each set. According to Durkin, “the last three to five reps are where your huge dividends are paid.” Once your muscles start burning, he suggests pushing through another three to five repetitions. By your third round, Vicknair says, “you should feel like this is a struggle.”

As long as you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a barbell or a band. As Durkin puts it: “The bottom line is the body, [and] the body doesn’t know the difference.”

Pam Moore is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer, speaker, marathoner, Ironman triathlete and group fitness instructor. Visit her at