When you look at a tiny little jalapeño pepper, it’s hard to imagine what a punch it packs until you put it in your mouth. So it goes with resistance bands. It is hard to look at a little band next to a big dumbbell and believe it, but resistance bands are a great strength training tool. They might be small and unassuming, but the power they have sneaks up on you. Just one band can be used to strengthen all major muscle groups.
Resistance bands originated in the early 1900s and were made from surgical tubing. Their original purpose was muscle rehabilitation, though the photos from exercises at that time look similar to exercises used for strength today. The bands made a comeback in the fitness market during the 1990s. They have continued to increase in popularity.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
You’ll find many reasons to purchase and use this simple piece of fitness equipment.
Versatility: While dumbbells provide you with a heavy lift, and weight machines are stable and easy to use, neither has the versatility of resistance bands. You can begin performing a band squat and immediately add a bicep curl to the move. Or you can easily take a resistance band lunge and add an overhead press. The possibilities are endless.
Muscle recruitment: Due to the great versatility of resistance bands, they are also more efficient. A bicep curl with a dumbbell is a fixed motion and the muscles used are predictable. Add the instability of the band, and muscle fibers all over your arms and shoulders kick in to keep the band stable.
Affordability: Resistance bands are relatively inexpensive—even the good ones! Some are less than $20. You can buy multiple bands with varying resistance levels and still keep your costs low.
Portability: Putting a treadmill away when company comes over can be cumbersome. Moving dumbbells under the bed gets to be a hassle. This is not the case with the resistance bands. Small, light and flexible, they can be tucked away anywhere—including your handbag or gym bag. Take them to the office, put them in a suitcase, or bring them upstairs or downstairs easily.
One of the main benefits of using resistance bands is increasing and strengthening natural movement patterns used in daily activities such as following through on a golf swing, throwing a football, lifting something up high, or even opening a door.
Types of Resistance Bands
Rubberized resistance bands come in many forms.
Traditional bands are long cylindrical tubes with plastic handles attached to the ends. They differ in thickness, which determines how difficult the band will be to use. These bands are great for basic strength exercises.
Looped bands are similar to traditional bands, but without handles; you can loop them around your ankles or wrists, or hold the band in the center.
Braided tubes are four strands of tube braided together. Like traditional bands, they come in a variety of resistance levels. The braid provides added durability, so these tubes hold up in the most rigorous training applications (like outdoor environments).
Flat bands are great for physical therapy, mind-body exercise, and seniors.
The Superband, popular with CrossFit fans and other athletes, is great for pull-up assistance and partner exercises.
Bands are color-coded, but the colors can vary by brand. For example, one popular brand makes yellow bands with the least resistance for beginners or seniors, green is light resistance, red is medium, blue is heavy, and purple is ultra-heavy. Always test different band colors before choosing the best band for you.
How to Choose a Resistance Level
Which one is right for you? The first thing to keep in mind is that you can’t compare a resistance band with a dumbbell.3 A certain color band is not equal to a certain size dumbbell. Physics dictates otherwise.
When lifting weights, gravity plays a big part. You get more resistance when lifting against gravity, but then gravity makes lowering the weight easier. However, when using tubing, you do not fight gravity. Instead, the band presents you with resistance in both directions. The ability to move freely when using tubing allows you to mimic and recreate everyday movements.
To determine the right color band to use: You should reach moderate to maximum muscle fatigue between 20 and 30 repetitions. If your chosen band is too easy, you’ll know. If it’s too hard, you won’t be able to complete the exercise repetitions.
To work on strength, do fewer repetitions at a higher resistance. For endurance, do more repetitions against less resistance. Keep in mind that one band might not cut it for working out your entire body. Different muscles have different strengths, so you might want to buy two different resistance levels right off the bat.
A Word From Verywell
If you’re new to exercise, a resistance band workout for beginners is a great place to start. Or (for all levels), use resistance bands for a full-body stretching routine. Grab a band and experience all the benefits resistance bands have to offer for shaping a stronger, leaner you.