Resistance bands are the ultimate versatile, affordable, ultra-compact home gym. You can get a fantastic, quick body workout with something that fits into a drawstring backpack or an airplane carry on. Bands are obviously great for workouts on-the-go in hotel rooms and elsewhere, but they’re so effective that they can and should become a centerpiece of your strength training experience at home or at your favorite gym.
My “Road Warrior” workout incorporates resistance bands and also shows how easy it is to get in a good workout when you’re at home or on the road. All you need is a set of resistance bands and a floor, then you’re set. It’s the ultimate do anywhere, no excuses routine.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
Why are resistance bands so effective? I believe they offer a unique stimulus unlike hoisting heavy metal or working with a machine. First of all, when you move resistance bands through open space, you recruit the small stabilizer muscles that aren’t necessary when going through the fixed range of motion of a machine. Lifting free weights also recruits stabilizer muscles, but the training stimulus feels different. Free weights focus on the development of explosive power, like when you apply maximum force into the ground to achieve a deadlift. With resistance bands, you’re not only developing strength but also improving balance and flexibility. This makes resistance bands particularly beneficial for older adults 1, since these three attributes—strength, balance, and flexibility—are critical to preserve quality of life in later years and to avoid the disastrous consequences of routine falls. Falls are now considered to be the number one cause of injury and death from injury in Americans over age 65.2
This “felt sense” of the bands’ unique engagement fits scientifically when you consider that gravity represents the resistance for lifting a weight, while elastic tension represents the resistance from a band. When lifting a weight, your resistance is always in a downward direction—into the ground/the opposite direction of your life. Deadlifts require leg force applied into the ground, while you achieve a bench press by pressing your torso down into the bench. With resistance bands, the direction of the resistance is the opposite direction of how the band is stretched, so you have endless variety possible. And while people criticize resistance bands for offering less resistance than a weight until the final segments of the movement when the band is stretched furthest, there is no inertia effect with bands like there is with free weights. When you provide the initial force to hoist a weight, momentum helps it travel through the range of motion to the finish line. Imagine a bicep curl where you provide the initial explosive force of bending the elbow to raise the weight. After that, the weight essentially goes along for the ride to the top of the lift. With a band, you have to provide constant force or the band will recoil. It’s kind of like cranking your bicycle pedals up to speed and then cruising along at the same speed without pedaling for a little while, due to the effects of inertia.
Basically, all manner of strength training delivers fantastic benefits, and you needn’t worry about the pros and cons of various methods unless you have very specific goals. Even then, if you hear that 1) you can’t get big without free weights, 2) resistance bands deliver a less effective workout than machines, or 3) that your muscles require constant variation in workout patterns to avoid stagnation, laugh off the bro-science and congratulate yourself for making a commitment to fitness. If you never go near a gym but commit to a handful of resistance band exercises in your hallway every morning before you get into your busy day, you can develop extremely impressive functional fitness to enjoy a long, healthy, active, fit life.
Best Resistance Bands
Stretch Cordz are one of my favorite resistance bands with handles. I know you can bands-with-handles products everywhere, but I’ve had several inexpensive pairs break in creative ways, such as the plastic handle cracking or the band violently snaps in two. Stretch Cordz are sturdy and come in color-coded graduated resistance, starting with really easy Silver (rated at 3-8lbs resistance) to Blue (rated at 14-34lbs)
Noted strength and conditioning coach and powerlifter Mark Bell has invented a unique and extremely effective giant rubber-band style device called Hip Circle, which allows for all manner of lower body resistance exercises. When you strap your legs together with a band, you can get a fantastic isolation on the glutes, which often get overlooked in sporting activities and atrophied when you sit in a chair all day. You’re likely to get plenty sore when you first start using them from the intense glute activation, so start slowly and keep at it. Even a few minutes of work a few times a week can do a fantastic job preventing knee injuries.
TheraBand and PerformBetter also make simple elastic bands for multipurpose usage, including dynamic stretches and drills, and assorted resistance exercises for upper and lower body. My favorite use of these bands is to attach a band at ankle level, bend my knees as if I’m in a skiers tuck, and slowly shuffle my feet forward, backward, and side-to-side. Your glutes will start to burn in 20 seconds or less, guaranteed!
Resistance Band Exercises
My “Road Warrior” workout shows a few moves you can do anywhere by just holding onto the resistance bands yourself. However, if you can use your resistance bands in a permanent setting such as your home, arrange for them to be affixed to a stable object to allow for a bigger variety of great exercises.
I recommend tying the center strap to a pull-up bar, so two cords hang down with handles on each end. You can also wrap the center strap around a doorknob, close the door, and pull the strap through to the other side of the door. This creates a stable base to pull from. Or, screw a sturdy threaded hook or threaded “screw eye” into a stud or large outdoor beam, then use a carabiner to attach the center straps of the resistance bands to the stable object. Below are a few more moves you can try out.
Stand sideways to the doorway, knees slightly bent, back straight, and bend at the waist to a 45-degree angle. Grab the handles and stand far enough for the cords to be fully extended and under slight tension. Hold handles at shoulder level and pull across body and down to finish at opposite knee (e.g., right shoulder across to left knee.) Try to keep torso facing forward at all times, emphasizing the movement of the arms and shoulders through the range of motion. Perform reps until temporary failure, then switch sides to pull from left shoulder (nearest doorway) across to right knee. Can you see how this mimics the golf swing, on the side that you swing? Now you know how Tiger Woods and the rest of them hit the ball 320 yards on the fly! Even if golf really is your thing, always complete an opposite set to achieve muscular and flexibility balance.
Facing doorway, grab handles in front of you and back up until you achieve significant tension. Then pull the handles backward with arms ending in bent position at chest height, on either side of your chest. Return to center and repeat. Try to engage the erector spinae muscles that run along either side of your spine and minimize the emphasis on the small muscles of your arms. On the final repeat, hold the contracted position for 15 seconds. Keep spine and especially neck straight and elongated at all times.
Grab handles and back up until you achieve tension. Then, bend forward at the waist to near 90 degrees if possible. Extend arms fully in front of you while holding handles together. Keeping spine straight and elongated at all times, initiate a butterfly swim stroke by pulling the handles down your body line on either side until arms are fully extended at your sides. Control your recovery back to starting position. This is a fantastic exercise for the lat muscles. For swimmers, a few minutes of this strenuous move can equal the muscular endurance development from 30-60 minute swim workout. This is the validated premise of the popular Vasa Trainer, invented nearly 30 years ago by Rob Sleamaker.
Facing away from the doorway, grab handles at chest height on either side of chest, and walk out until you achieve tension. Initiate a bench press move by extending each arm forward, followed by a controlled recovery.
Thanks for stopping by, everybody. Let me know your thoughts on the video (and other info). Are you looking for more quick and easy workouts? Are you digging the video content? What are you doing for simple routines these days?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.