BUILDING STRENGTH AND MUSCLE isn’t always about lifting the heaviest weights in the gym. You build size and strength when you put your muscles under tension. Creating that tension doesn’t have to mean fully-loaded up barbells and dumbbells the size of your head. Resistance bands will challenge your muscles in different and useful ways—if you know what you’re doing.

You may have bought a few resistance bands at some point to perk up your at-home workouts. You might’ve used them a couple times, accompanying them to your YouTube-led sweat sessions in your living room. When you’re just using these tools in a pinch, you might not be able to appreciate the benefits of resistance bands if there are barbells, dumbbells, and other weights available.

We don’t blame you for wanting to pump some iron. But, you are missing out on a load of benefits that incorporating resistance bands into your training brings. Their advantages goes beyond their affordability and storable qualities that make them great companions to your home gym and on-the-go workouts. They’re also incredibly versatile. There’s a resistance band exercise to accompany any leg day, chest day, or arm day you may have programmed. Work them into your warmups, finishers, or as mainstay exercises in your strength training routines to better your movement patterns and achieve the gains you’ve been looking for—in the gym, or at home.

Here’s your resistance band primer, for training at home and anywhere else.

Why Resistance Bands Work

J. Ivan Rodrguez Pacheco / EyeEm//Getty Images

Even if you have dumbbells and kettlebells at home for doing basic movements, having a resistance band around can bring serious value to your workouts.

Why? Two words: Accommodating resistance. Essentially, the farther you pull a resistance band, the more it “resists” you. That’s a different type of resistance than, say, a dumbbell.

Take a biceps curl. Curl the dumbbell upwards, and there comes a point where the curl actually gets “easy” for your biceps, near the top of the motion. The length of the lever that challenges your biceps decreases as you finish the exercise, meaning gravity can no longer create challenge with the dumbbell (and your muscle no longer needs to create as much force to fight that challenge).

Do the same curl with a resistance band and as you near the top, it doesn’t get easier; instead, you have to work to earn the squeeze at the top of the curl. The stretched band is fighting you more, forcing you to accelerate through the entire range of motion and challenging your muscle fibers in a different way. You’ll have to squeeze your muscles extra-hard to fight banded resistance, a habit that will improve your dumbbell training, too.

Does that make bands better than dumbbells? No. But both tools can have a place in your training, and in the grand workout scheme, both tools can complement each other. One tool (hint: not the dumbbell), however, is so tiny that you can easily fit it in your backpack for any and every road trip.

The Best Ways to Use Bands

That all makes resistance bands a quality option for any workout. But in much the same way you might mix barbells, dumbbells, and cables at the gym, you ideally want to mix up your training with resistance bands too. Try these approaches with bands (and know that there are many more too).

Full Workout

Yes, you can use resistance bands for an entire full-body workout; they’ll challenge and push your body. Depending on the size of your resistance band, you might not be able to go incredibly heavy on some of the motions where you’ll want more challenge, such as deadlifts and squats, so if you’re doing a bands-only full-body session, consider doing this as a circuit. Aim for one pull move (a row or pulldown or curl), one push move (a pushup, overhead press, or triceps pressdown-style motion) and one leg move (squat, deadlift, or lunge) in every full-body session.

Finishers

If you have access to dumbbells and barbells, or if you’re advanced enough with your bodyweight to create unilateral challenges (think: pistol squats and post pushups), consider using bands near the end of your workout. They’re a great way to promote an active and aggressive chest squeeze on a pushup.

Drop Sets

One great way to use bands at home is to use them in drop sets. A drop set has you starting with a heavier weight (or a more challenging version of a move), then “dropping” into a lighter weight or more basic version of an exercise. Because you’re fatigued from the initial work you put in on the harder move, the easier move feels, well, harder. Try it with squats. Do 10 resistance band squats, holding the band under your feet and with your hands at your shoulders. Immediately release the band and do 10 standard squats. Do 3 sets. Enjoy the burn.

The Resistance Band Exercises

Mix-and-match these moves to create resistance band workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere. And when in doubt, remember to think full-body (one pull move, one push move, one leg move).

Pallof Press

preview for Pallof Press | Form Check

Why: You’ll rock your abs in this classic abdominal exercise. The Pallof press takes advantage of banded resistance to challenge your core against all rotation.

How to Do It:

  • Attach a resistance band to an anchor at a height to which you can grab it with both hands in a tall kneeling position.
  • Kneel far enough away from the anchor so that there is some tension in the band. Grasp the band with both hands in front of your chest. Squeeze your glutes and core to create tension in your body.
  • Look straight ahead and tighten up your shoulder blades. Extend your arms away from your torso. Fight the pull of the cable or band by keeping your glutes and core tight. Hold for a second before returning back to the starting position.

Triceps Pressdown Countdown Series

preview for Eb&Swole: Countup-Countdown Triceps Blast

Why: This move from fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. is all about isolating your triceps, reinforcing the idea that even when your arms are straight, your triceps must be working.

How to Do It:

  • Tie a long resistance band up to a high anchor point. Kneel underneath it. Grab onto the band with both hands. Pull to where both arms are straight.
  • Bend at the elbow on one side, and push back down. Ensure that the upper portion of the arm stays locked in place, and there’s no movement through the shoulder. The other arm should remain straight as you do this.
  • Then, hinge slightly at the hips and press the band perpendicular to your chest. Do the same, bending at the elbow so that you drop your hand up and back towards your face. The other arm should remain straight.

Rotator Cuff Shoulder Warmup

preview for Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Warmup

Why: Attack the small, supporting musculature within your shoulders, bulletproofing your upper body for bench presses and pullups alike with this series of moves.

How to Do It:

External Rotation:

  • Anchor the resistance band to where it is in line with your waist. Walk a few steps away from the anchor point—the further you go, the more resistance you’ll have.
  • Grab onto the band with the outside hand, and bend your elbow at 90 degrees. Lock it into your side.
  • Move your forearm so that it pulls away from the midline of your body. Do 30 reps on each side.

Internal Rotation:

  • Anchor the resistance band to where it is in line with your waist. Walk a few steps away from the anchor point—the further you go, the more resistance you’ll have.
  • Turn and grab the band so the resistance faces the other direction from the external rotation.
  • Grab onto the band with the outside hand, and bend your elbow at 90 degrees. Lock it into your side.
  • Move your forearm so that it pulls in towards the midline of your body.
  • Do 30 reps on each side.

Low Lat Pull:

  • Wrap the band around an anchor point to where it’s in line with your hips. Grab onto both sides of the band.
  • Maintaining a slight bend in the elbow, pull the band back towards your hips.
  • Do 30 reps.

Band Pull Aparts:

  • Hold the band with both hands in front of you at shoulder height.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades to pull your hands apart, bringing them in line with your body. Stop where your hands are by your shoulders.
  • Do 30 reps.

Archer Row:

  • Hold the band and extend one arm out to the side a little higher than shoulder height.
  • Using the opposite arm, pull by bending the elbow out to the side and back. Think about pulling the shoulder blade back while doing so.
  • Do 30 reps.

Hollow Hold Banded Core Series

preview for Eb & Swole: Band Hollow Body Circuit

Why: This one is all about abs, fighting against both anti-rotation and anti-extension (can you keep your core contracted no matter how the band pulls you?). It looks easy. It’s not though.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor the band low to the ground.
  • Start in a hollow hold position: lay on your back and squeeze your abs to lift up your legs slightly off the ground and reach your hands backwards. Squeeze tight so that your low back doesn’t come up off the ground.
  • Grab the band with one hand. Do 8 reps of straight arm pull downs: pulling the band all the way down to your hip while maintaining a straight arm.
  • After those 8, pull the band and hold to where the arm is perpendicular with your torso. Hold for 8 seconds.
  • Add in some flutter kicks for 8 reps, lifting and lowering your legs only a few inches while maintaining that hollow body position.
  • Do 3 sets per side.

Hollow Hold Triceps Series

preview for Eb & Swole: Hollow Body Triceps Band Finisher

Why: You’ll train your triceps and get valuable ab work here.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor the band low to the ground.
  • Start in a hollow hold position: lay on your back and squeeze your abs to lift up your legs and arms slightly off the ground, keeping your arm parallel with the ground. Squeeze tight so that your low back doesn’t come up off the ground.
  • Grab the band with one hand. Do 8 tricep extensions, bending and straightening at the elbow to pull the band down towards your waist. Keep your upper arm parallel to the ground.
  • After those 8 reps, shift your upper arm to perpendicular to the ground. Squeeze the tricep and straighten the elbow to point the arm towards the ceiling. Do 8 reps here.
  • Do 3 sets per side.

Copenhagen Plank Mini Band Challenge

preview for Eb and Swole: Copenhagen Miniband Plank Challenge

Why: Copenhagen planks are difficult enough to begin with—add in a mini band, and you have a whole other challenge.

How to Do It:

  • Place a mini band around your feet. Start in the Copenhagen plank position by planting your top foot on a bench or raised surface. The closer you put your knee to the bench, the less difficult this will be.
  • Place your forearm perpendicular to your torso on the ground. Think about squeezing both shoulder blades and glutes to raise your hips to create a straight line from your shoulders to your foot.
  • From here, drive your bottom knee forward against the resistance of the band.
  • Do 6 reps. On the last rep, hold the top position for 6 seconds. Do 3 sets on both sides.

Half-Iso Kneeling Straight-Arm Pulldown

preview for Eb & Swole: Half-iso Straight Arm Kneeling Pulldown

Why: This one will light up your back, and there’s a lot more ab challenge in it than you may expect at first.

How to Do It:

  • Tie a long resistance band up to a high anchor point. Kneel underneath it, with your glutes squeezed and abs engaged. Grab onto the band with both hands, and pull to where both arms are straight.
  • One arm at a time, bring your arm up diagonally towards your head. On the way down, pull the band down and apart.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Hollow Hold Fly to Banded Pushup Finisher

preview for Eb & Swole: Pushup to Hollow Body Hellset

Why: We label this a finisher, but it can easily be a main element in any chest workout too. You’ll roll around on the floor and build muscle too!

How to Do It:

  • Loop the resistance band through your thumbs and around your back. Start in a high plank position, with your shoulders directly over top of your wrists and your heels over your toes. Squeeze the abs and glutes to maintain a flat back.
  • Punch out 10 reps of pushups through the resistance of the band. After those 10 reps, keep the band in place and roll over onto your back.
  • Pull your shoulder blades about an inch off the ground, and pull your legs off the ground too. Squeeze your abs to press the lower back into the ground.
  • Straighten the arms above your chest. With a slight bend in the elbow, lower down and squeeze back up to do a banded chest fly. Do 10 reps.
  • Alternate the two movements, pyramiding your way down to zero reps.

Chaos Band L-Sit Chinup

preview for Eb & Swole: Chaos Band L-Sit Chinup

Why: This one isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not easy. It will force you to remove any kipping or rocking from your chin up. Build up to it—if you dare.

How to Do It:

  • Set up your chaos band overhead.
  • Grab on, and pull your legs up to where you create a 90 degree bend through the hips. Maintain this position.
  • Pull your elbows back and down to bring your chin up to the band. Squeeze the abs and core tight, aiming not to move any other part of the body.
  • If the leg hold feels too difficult, tuck your knees back towards your chest. You’ll still be working your abs, with less pull of gravity.
  • Do 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps.

Ground-Pound Alternating Press

preview for Eb & Swole: Ground Pound Alternating Press

Why: This one will build your chest and challenge your core simultaneously. And yes it’s fun to punch the ground.

How to Do It:

  • Attach two bands to an anchor point about waist high on either side of a rack.
  • Start in a tall kneeling position and wrap your hands into each band. Hinge through the hips maintaining a flat back by keeping the abs locked in.
  • From there, drive one arm to the ground. Hold that position while you drive the other arm to the ground. Slowly bring one arm back at a time.
  • Do 3 sets of 8 to 10.

Crucifix Arm Finisher

preview for Eb & Swole: Crucifix Flex Finisher

Why: One resistance band, one structure, plenty of biceps and triceps pump fun.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor your band around hip height.
  • Start in a tall kneeling position. Grab the band with the side closest to the anchor point.
  • Extend that arm out to the side to where the elbow is in line with the shoulder. Curl the band towards your face, not to move the upper arm. Do 10 reps.
  • Flip around and remain in the tall kneeling position. Grab the band with the same hand, with it around your head.
  • Keep the hips and shoulders square forward. Extend the arm out to the side for a tricep extension, without allowing the upper arm to move. Do 10 reps.
  • Alternate the two movements, pyramiding your way down to zero.

Half-Kneeling Archer Row

preview for Eb & Swole: Half-Kneeling Archer Row

Why: Bulletproof your shoulders and build mid-back strength (and more ab strength than you think too) with this one.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in a half kneeling position with one knee propped up.
  • Hold the band and extend the arm on the same side as the propped knee out to the side a little higher than shoulder level.
  • Using the opposite arm, pull by bending the elbow out to the side and back. Think about pulling the shoulder blade back while doing so.

Partner Hollow Body Pallof Game

preview for Eb & Swole: Partner Hollow Body Band Raise

Why: Grab a partner and inject some fun (and serious anti-rotational challenge too!) into your workout with this finishing ab game.

How to Do It:

  • Set up with your partner shoulder to shoulder facing opposite directions.
  • Both of you will get into a hollow body hold position: lay on your back and squeeze your abs to lift up your legs slightly off the ground. Squeeze tight so that your low back doesn’t come up off the floor. Hold on to either end of the resistance bands.
  • Press the band up towards the ceiling at any point between your chest and over your head. You and your partner will choose random spots between this point so the pull to your partner is different every time.
  • Once you press out, do 3 seconds of flutter kicks in that position before returning back to the beginning.
  • Do 2 sets per side.

Plank Triceps Kickback

preview for Eb & Swole: Plank Hold Triceps Finisher

Why: Yes, with bands, you can grow your arms and sculpt your abs all at once! You’ll do that here.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor your band at a low height.
  • Set up in a low plank position. Stack your elbows directly beneath your shoulders and extend your legs. Rest your weight on your elbows and your toes.
  • Squeeze your glutes and core to create full-body tension. Think about pulling your belly button into your spine. Your back should form a straight line; don’t let your pelvis dip down or your butt to rise up.
  • Grab the band with one hand. Pull down to where your upper arm is in line with your torso. Bend and straighten at the elbow for a tricep extension. Don’t move your upper arm.

Chest Fly Finisher

preview for Eb & Swole: Chest Fly Finisher

Why: Find two posts and get ready to blow up your chest with this move, which is all about squeezing through the middle of your chest.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor your bands a bit higher than hip height.
  • Start in the kneeling position. Grab one band in each hand.
  • With a slight bend in the elbow, pull both bands together in front of your chest. Maintain that contraction with one arm while doing another rep with the opposite arm.
  • Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

Face Pull

preview for Resistance Band Face Pull

Why: The face pull, when done correctly, will light up your back and bulletproof your shoulders. Fun fact: It’s best with bands.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor your band at face height.
  • Grab the band with both hands. Pull the band back towards your face, keeping the elbow in line with the shoulder, coming into a goal post position with your arms.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull. Hold for count before releasing.

Resistance Band Lateral Raise

preview for Band Lateral Raise

Why: Add depth to your shoulders with this simple resistance band move.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor the band by looping it through one foot. Grab onto the band with the opposite arm.
  • Raise the arm up to shoulder level while maintaining a slight bend through the elbow.
  • Hold for a count at the top. Slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Do 15 to 20 reps.

Resistance Band Athleticism Moves

preview for 5 Moves You Can Do With a Band and a Bar

Why: Build speed and athleticism with these moves from trainer Gerren Lilles.

How to Do It:

Banded Side Shuffles:

  • Anchor the band at hip height. Step into the band and place it across your hips.
  • Shuffle out to the side against the resistance of the band, not crossing the feet.
  • Stay low in the legs. Control the return back to the anchor point.

Banded Running in Place:

  • Anchor the band at hip height. Step into the band and place it across your hips.
  • Run against the resistance of the band, pushing off and landing on the toes.

Banded Anti-Rotation Hold:

  • Anchor the band at hip height. Grab onto the band.
  • Stand far enough away from the anchor so that there is some tension in the band. Grasp the band with both hands in front of your chest. Squeeze your glutes and core to create tension in your body.
  • Look straight ahead and tighten up your shoulder blades. Extend your arms away from your torso. Fight the pull of the cable or band by keeping your glutes and core tight. Hold here.

Banded Row:

  • Anchor the band at hip height. Grab onto the band with one hand.
  • Set the feet up in a staggered stance, with one foot in front of the other. Square up to the anchor point.
  • Pull the elbow down and back, contracting the shoulder blade as you pull.
  • Hold here for a second before releasing.

Banded Pushup with Feet to Hands:

  • Anchor the band low to the ground. Step your feet inside so that it is resting over the top of your feet.
  • Start in a high plank position, with your shoulders directly over top of your wrists and your heels over your toes. Squeeze the abs and glutes to maintain a flat back. Drop your chest to the floor for one pushup.
  • Upon return, jump your feet into your hands against the resistance of the band by bending at the knee and hip.

Banded Triceps Pressdown Series

preview for EB & Swole: Tall Kneeling Tricep Tension Pressdown

Why: Another move that’ll push your triceps to the limit, forcing you to own the straight-arm position.

How to Do It:

  • Tie a long resistance band up to a high anchor point. Kneel underneath it, with your glutes squeezed and abs engaged. Grab onto the band with both hands, and pull to where both arms are straight.
  • Keep the upper arm tight into the body and straighten at the elbow by squeezing the triceps.
  • Once your forearm gets a little lower than elbow height, hold for a few seconds. Then, continue pressing down to finish the rep.

Banded Leg Curl

preview for Seated Band Leg Curl

Why: This move adds hamstring size and strength. And you don’t need a lot of room to do it, either.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor your band around halfway up shin height. Lace your feet inside to where the band is resting on your Achilles.
  • Sit on a bench some distance away from the anchor point. The further away you are, the more resistance you’ll get on the exercise.
  • Start with your legs straightened in front of you. Curl your heels down and under, pulling them towards your bottom. Hold for a second before releasing.

Banded Row to Curl

Why: The row is one of the key movements to build your back. To increase your strength, you’ll also need bicep strength. This move works both.

How to Do It:

  • Start in a seated position, legs straight, band wrapped around your feet, core tight. Arms should hold the ends of the resistance band.
  • Relax your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades.
  • Pull the band back toward your ribcage, focusing on pulling from the elbows. Return to the start.
  • Immediately tighten your core, rotate your palms so they face skyward. Without moving your elbows above your shoulders, curl the bands toward your torso, squeeze when you get near the top. Do 1 rep.
  • Return to rowing position. Do 2 row reps, followed by 2 curl reps.
  • Repeat the pattern until you’ve done 5 row reps and 5 curl reps.
  • Do 3 sets.

Resistance Band Preacher Curls

preview for Eb and Swole: Seated Row-to-Curl Series

Why: If you’re looking for exercises to help to build bigger arms, look no further than the preacher curl. This variation uses only a resistance band, so you can do it anywhere.

How to Do It:

  • Start seated on the ground, legs straight, core tight. Loop the resistance band around your feet. Grab a handle with each hand and curl up, raising your upper arms so elbows are slightly below shoulders. Don’t let your elbows shift up and down.
  • Squeeze one biceps hard, while doing a curl rep on the other side. Repeat on the other side. Focus on taking your time during each curl rep.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 to 12.

Headshot of Ebenezer Samuel,  C.S.C.S.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men’s Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He’s logged training time with NFL athletes and track athletes and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men’s Health in 2017, he served as a sports columnist and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.  

Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, a senior editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.