The great charm of bodyweight exercises is that you can do them anywhere, so your fitness routine need never be interrupted by travel or those days where you don’t have the time or resolve to make it to the gym. The biggest downside of bodyweight training is, however, that you are limited in the amount of resistance you can use.
That’s where resistance bands can help. They’re easily stuffed into a bag or even a jacket pocket, so portability is no concern, and you can use them to significantly increase the resistance in your bodyweight workouts to help challenge your muscles.
Below you’ll find a range of beginner, intermediate and advanced resistance band exercises, selected and explained by Matt Gleed, personal trainer and ambassador for resistance band brand Let’s Bands. The exercises use three different types of resistance band: mini (a small looped band), max (a larger looped band, which is usually also thinner than a mini band) and flex (a strap band with two ends). You can also just get a flex band and knot it as appropriate for each exercise, but it will be easier to have the different bands to hand.
We’ve also added a few of our favourite moves because we just couldn’t resist.
Beginner Resistance Band Exercises
Targets Shoulders and chest
“Attach a max band to a stable object behind you,” says Gleed. “Step inside the band and hold it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulder blades down and back, and engage your core and glutes. Your hips and knees should be slightly bent for balance.
“Push the band out in front of you. Fully extend your arms and squeeze your chest muscles. Slowly return to the start. Keep your chest up while performing the press and do not let your upper back hunch.”
Targets Glutes and legs
“Stand on a max band with your feet shoulder-width apart,” says Gleed. “Grasp the other end of the band and hold it by your shoulders, with both hands facing up and elbows pointing out. Bend your knees to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Your feet should point forwards, your knees should be in line with your feet and behind your toes, and your back should be straight.
“Keep pushing your knees out as far as possible – don’t let the band pull them inwards. If you cannot keep your knees out enough, only lower yourself halfway down into the squat.”
“Lie on your back with a mini band around your feet and your knees bent,” says Gleed. “Put your hands next to your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Press your lower back into the floor and lift your upper body, simultaneously pulling one leg towards your chest. Keep your elbows facing outwards and make sure your neck is in line with your spine. Do not curl your chin towards your chest. Alternate legs with each rep.”
Stand on a looped band with your feet hip-width apart and hold the other side of the band in one hand. Keeping your upper arm still and bending at the elbow, bring your hand up to your shoulder, then slowly lower it back down, making sure you’re not letting the band drag your arm down without control. Do all your reps on one side, then switch.
Loop a short band around your thighs just above the knee and then lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted close to your bum. Lift your hips to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, working against the band so your thighs don’t collapse inwards. Pause at the top, then slowly lower back the start, still pushing your thighs out against the band.
The crucifix hold with free weights gets pretty intense pretty quickly, so starting with the resistance band comes highly recommended. Even so, don’t be surprised if you soon feel it in your shoulders. Stand on the resistance band with your feet together, take the top of the band in both hands and raise your arms to the sides until they’re parallel to the ground. Hold that position. Aim to hold for 30 seconds at a time over the course of three sets.
Intermediate Resistance Band Exercises
Targets Chest, shoulders and arms
“Place a max band around your upper back and hold the ends in your hands,” says Gleed. “Assume a press-up position, with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Lower your body until you are touching the floor with the tip of your nose, then push yourself back up. Keep your core and glutes activated throughout, and pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. For less resistance, step through the band first so that only one, rather than both, lengths of the band go around your back.”
Targets Glutes and legs
“Wrap a flex band twice around your legs,” says Gleed. “Once around your lower thigh just above your knee and once again around the mid thigh. Then cross the band over and hold each end outside your hips. Take ten to 12 steps to one side, then reverse the direction of the steps to the start. Don’t let your knees rotate inwards. Keep your toes facing forwards and your back straight throughout.”
Kneeling horizontal chop
“Attach one end of a max band to a stationary object above your head,” says Gleed. “Stand side-on to the band and put the knee closest to the band on the ground. Hold the band in both hands and bring it to your opposite hip in a chopping motion, turning your trunk away from the attachment. Keep your arms straight throughout.”
Squat to overhead press
Stand on a large looped band with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold the other side of the band in both hands by your shoulders with your palms facing upwards. Drop into a squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground, then drive back up and as you come back to standing press your arms overhead until your elbows lock out. Bring your hands back down to your shoulders slowly, then go straight into another squat.
Stand on the resistance band with your feet together and a slight bend in the knees. Hold the band with your hands together, palms facing towards you. Next, pull the band towards your chin for a three-second count, hold the top of the move for two seconds, and then lower again over three seconds. Aim for three sets of six to eight reps, but don’t worry if you fall short first time out.
Advanced Resistance Band Exercises
Targets Shoulders, back and glutes
“Attach a flex band to a fixed point in front of you,” says Gleed. “Stand tall with your arms extended in a Y position, holding the ends of the band in each hand. Pull your shoulder blades down and back and engage your core and glutes. Lower into a squat, maintaining the shoulder and arm position. Avoid lifting your shoulders, bending your elbows, and arching or rounding your back. Also watch out for your knees caving in or your toes turning outwards.”
Squat with broad jump
Targets Lower body
“Attach a max band to a stable object behind you,” says Gleed. “Place the band around your hips and get into a squat position. Jump forwards explosively, driving your hips forwards, then land softly.”
Side plank reverse flye
Targets Abs and upper back
“Attach a flex band to a stable object,” says Gleed. “Grasp the other end of the band and get into a side plank position with the band taut. Keep your hips high off the ground, your spine neutral and your core braced. Maintain the side plank position while pulling the band towards you until your hand is above you and forms a straight line to the elbow supporting you. Don’t let the weight rotate your pelvis and torso forwards.”
It’s all too easy to pick too heavy a weight if you use dumbbells for this shoulder exercise, which makes it a good candidate for the resistance band.
Stand on the resistance band with your feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees. Lean forwards slightly with a straight back so that you’re looking at your toes. Hold the resistance band with a shoulder-width grip and your hands by your thighs, palms facing towards you. Keeping your arms extended, raise your arms for a three-second count until your hands reach shoulder height. Hold this position under tension for one or two seconds, then lower slowly. Aim for three sets of six reps.