How To Use Resistance Bands
In this article, you are going to learn how to use resistance bands. This instruction and our ideas for tracking your progress with resistance bands are found nowhere else.
So, if you are serious about learning how to use resistance bands properly, to successfully build muscle, stick around.
how to use resistance bands
Why We Obsess About Resistance Band Training
For the last two-plus years, we’ve only used resistance bands to strength train. As traveling digital nomads, they’re the only portable option that allows us to strength train effectively anywhere.
At first, I didn’t think bands wouldn’t work. They are for old and injured people, right? Plus, I had tried them and never got results. But, then again, I am getting older and more injury-prone every day.
So, with a slightly open mind, I dove into research studies comparing free weights and resistance bands. I discovered that bands offer numerous benefits that free weights don’t.
After a year of strength training with only resistance bands, we were hooked and feeling stronger than ever on our hiking and skiing trips.
To share our love for band exercises, we designed a Resistance Band Workout Routine that would be free for all. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find a structured resistance band training routine online.
The program is free to download, complete with upper body, core, and lower body resistance band exercises, written guidance, video instruction (example below), and an 8-week workout calendar and resistance tracker sheet with built-in variety and periodization to keep you interested and challenged.
Start With The Resistance Band Basics
As of publishing this article, 250 plus people have downloaded our Resistance Band Workout Routine. Many of them still have questions about the basics of how to use resistance bands properly to achieve muscle fatigue.
In our complete program, you’ll learn everything you need to know about what exercises to do and how to use proper form with the resistance bands.
In this article, we share the basics of how to get started using resistance bands so that you are successful.
The first step is understanding that resistance bands are way different than dumbbells. So, you must be patient while you learn the ways of resistance bands.
Resistance Bands Are Just Different
Resistance bands are less straight forward than free weights. With exercise bands, the precise weight you are lifting is unknown and variable. Conversely, the weight of a dumbbell is clear and constant.
Most people have learned how to lift weights in school, sports, or from a workout buddy. However, few people learn how to use resistance bands, unless taught in physical therapy. That was how I learned about bands, but once the therapist cleared me for sports, I went straight for the weight rack.
At first, resistance bands are harder to use than weights. And by ‘harder to use,’ I mean it’s harder to hit muscle failure consistently.
While using resistance bands, you can quickly adjust the resistance on the fly. If you pick up 15-pound dumbbells and they are too heavy, you have to go back to the rack and trade them for 12 pounders. With resistance bands, all you have to do is adjust your feet or hand placement.
Additionally, with resistance bands, increasing weight is often more manageable. Commonly, weight racks jump from 15-pound dumbbells to 20-pound dumbbells. That is a wicked weight increase, especially for an exercise like bicep curls.
It’s hard to maintain form and reps when you leap like that. Again, with resistance bands, all you have to do is slightly adjust your feet or hand placement.
Where resistance bands fall short, is in the track-ability department. Any quality strength training program provides a calendar with a variety of workouts to follow and tracking sheets to record your weights and reps.
Recording this ensures progress by continuing to challenge your muscles and prevents plateau. Relying on your memory for weight, or in our case resistance level, is a sure way to plateau.
With dumbbells, it’s straight forward to record 15 pounds. However, with resistance bands, it’s not specific enough to write down that you used the red resistance band. That’s because the resistance level is variable based on the length of the band utilized during the exercise.
So, how to prevent plateau and record resistance levels? There is a proven method to track progress with resistance bands. We’ll explain that soon.
Using Resistance Bands Requires Patience
When you start using resistance bands, you need to be patient. The vast majority who try using resistance bands quickly conclude that lifting weights is more effective. We were in that category for years. That’s because, like any skill, it takes time to learn.
Lifting weights is not more effective than using resistance bands. The only exception will be if your goal is to lift a Volkswagen Beetle or look like the incredible hulk.
Resistance bands offer the same benefits as weights and more. Additional benefits of resistance bands are they provide constant tension to recruit more muscles and multi-directional resistance to build strength for more real-life movements like swinging a golf club, shoveling, playing softball, or lifting your 4-year-old niece.
Not to mention, they are cheap, minimalist, easy to transport, and are safer to use compared to free weights. I won’t give away all the benefits since we wrote an in-depth article on, ‘The Benefits of Using Resistance Bands.’ But, now you know that it’s worth it to learn how to use resistance bands.
How To Successfully Use Resistance Bands
Success means that you build lean muscle mass (this is Alex’s goal) to burn fat and maintain a lean physique, or to gain muscle bulk (this is Ryan’s goal) to protect major joints and maintain athletic performance.
The below five points, listed in order of importance, are critical to your success strength training with resistance bands.
1. You have to buy multiple bands with increasing resistance levels.
Of course, you have to buy bands, but how many do you actually need? This is 100% critical to your success.
If you skimp on buying the right number of resistance bands, you’ll find that many exercises are either too difficult to do with proper form, or not challenging enough to achieve muscle fatigue.
When that happens, you’ll disregard the efficacy of bands altogether. At least that is what we did when we tried a total body training routine with only two different bands.
We use the SPRI Xertube resistance bands, and the two of us share four bands. We have the SPRI Light (Green), Medium (Red), Heavy (Blue), and Ultra Heavy (Purple) along with two door attachments
For our SPRI bands (which are the most quality brand out there), that correlates to the below resistance levels or weight ranges. In my experience, these numbers are a little bit high.
For example, if you typically chest press or squat holding 45-pound dumbbells, and you don’t have the purple resistance band, you will plateau and not feel challenged. Or, if you do shoulder side raises with 10-pound dumbbells, and you don’t have the yellow or green band, you won’t be able to do the exercise at all.
We know this from experience. For the first six months of our journey using resistance bands, we only had the Red (Medium) and Blue (Heavy) bands. For both of us, too many exercises were either far too easy or far too challenging.
Buying the full range of resistance levels is a must (this is coming from two minimalists). It’s worth it because if you don’t invest, you’ll decide that bands are not efficient, and they’ll just dry out and crack in your basement.
These are the bands that we recommend. You will need a minimum of three resistance bands if you work out individually, but four is ideal. If you work out as a couple, you need at least four resistance bands, but all five would be perfect.
We don’t own the Very Light (Yellow) band, but on days when one of us is lifting half-gallon cartons of almond milk, we know it would be more effective if we did.
The Resistance Bands We Use:
The SPRI resistance bands are the brand we use and trust. They are accepted as the industry leader by top gyms. That speaks volumes since they wouldn’t buy a brand that is known to snap in the customer’s face.
Also, to clarify terminology, resistance bands and resistance tubes are similar but different. Technically, resistance bands are flat and looped (like an enlarged rubber band), whereas resistance tubes have handles. We only use resistance tubes. However, like everyone else, we refer to them as resistance bands.
For someone like Alex, who is 5’4″ and weighs 110 pounds, we recommend Very Light, Light, Medium, and Heavy. For reference, she typically bicep curls, shoulder presses, squats, and bent-over-rows 10, 12, 25, and 20-pound dumbbells, respectively.
For someone like Ryan, who is 6’1″ and weighs 175 pounds, we recommend Light, Medium, Heavy, and Ultra Heavy. For reference, he typically bicep curls, shoulder pressed, squats, and bent-over-rows 20, 25, 50, and 40-pound dumbbells, respectively.
2. Mark the centerline and track resistance.
Let’s say you’re doing bicep curls. If your feet are not equidistant from the center of the band, one arm is curling more weight than the other. Mark the center with a Sharpie (shown below) to ensure that your muscles remain balanced.
Marking the center is also important for our system of track-ability. Again, this is crucial for consistently challenging yourself with increased weight. We’ll share more on our method for tracking resistance soon.
It’s easy, and in the below picture, we would record B6 on my printed tracker sheet.
3. Use the right resistance.
The goal is to achieve muscle fatigue between 8 and 12 reps. So if you can only pull off seven reps before your form breaks, you need to lessen the resistance. You’ll learn all the tricks to do that next.
Also, there is nothing wrong with body weight. If the move is hard without weight, you don’t need a resistance band.
4. Use a mirror.
We only started using a mirror (even a reflective glass pane is helpful) recently. Wow, it makes a huge difference. We both noticed a lot of strength and flexibility imbalances by monitoring our form in the mirror.
It’s useful to have your workout buddy keep an eye on your form too, one of the many benefits of working out as a couple, but a mirror has proved helpful for us.
5. Safety, safety, safety.
We both used to be materials engineers for large corporations. Every meeting began with, “Let’s dedicate the first five minutes to safety…” [Insert eye roll here].
So, here we go… a few pointers on safety.
First, we love to work out barefoot. But, it’s not good with resistance bands. There are many nerve endings in your feet, and the pressure and abrasion from the rubber band can damage them over time. So, wear good shoes. For us, that means our minimalist toe shoes.
Next, avoid abrasive surfaces. Don’t wrap your bands around a metal pipe, fence, or a tree trunk. They will damage or break the bands. Stick to your mat and the door attachment that comes with the bands.
Especially while you’re on the go, you have to deal with a variety of floor surfaces. Sometimes sand, gravel, concrete, or tile. Therefore, we use this rubber travel yoga mat for our resistance band workouts, and all of our other exercises, especially couple’s yoga sessions.
Lastly, check the bands regularly. If you find that one has become damaged or cracked from the cold or UV, replace it.
How to Adjust Resistance Level With Bands
For many of you, this may seem elementary, but it’s essential to know your options for adjusting the resistance level of your bands. Once we review adjusting resistance, we’ll learn how to track your weights so you can record it and match or beat that resistance the following week.
Color is the obvious adjustment. First, select the right color band and then adjust the resistance to meet your needs. Muscle failure is always the goal with resistance training. If you’re not reaching muscle failure between 8 and 10 slow (2-3 count up, 2-3 count down) reps, then you need to adjust resistance.
Once you select the right color band for the exercise, you can use your stance to help adjust the tension. For example, I use the green band for shoulder side raises. It’s a bit heavy for me, so I sink into a slight lunge position to decrease the amount of resistance.
For some moves, like shoulder front raise, the staggered stance is also helpful for balance and stability. As shown below, in staggered stance, you only put one foot on the centerline of the band. With only one foot on the band, you’re at the low end of the resistance range.
The shorter the band, the higher the resistance. Therefore, putting both feet on the band in square stance increases the resistance level.
If the resistance is too high, you can sink into a slight squat or move your feet closer. To increase the resistance level, move your feet further apart.
Can you move your feet further apart without changing the resistance? Yes, and this is really helpful. If the correct resistance level means your feet are only 2 inches from the center, then your stance is very narrow, and balancing might be a challenge.
To move your feet further apart, place them two inches from the center and then pull on the handles to create tension. Then, one foot at a time, step your feet into a wider stance, stretching the band between your feet.
You will definitely need to do this with moves such as sumo squat, where your feet are in a very wide stance.
With some exercises, such as bent-over rows, your muscles can pull a lot of resistance. To maximize the resistance level of that band, you can loop it, shortening the band and therefore increasing resistance.
For some resistance band exercises, such as lat pull-downs (pictured below), band pull-aparts, and reverse rows, the resistance level is set by your hand placement.
The shorter the band, the higher the tension, which means that the closer your hands are to the center, the higher the resistance.
Distance From The Anchor
In many resistance band exercises, such as resistance band pull-ups or chest flys, you’ll utilize the door attachment to anchor the band at various heights. The most common heights used are elbow height, overhead, or at floor level.
For door-mounted resistance band exercises, the further you are from the anchor point, the higher the resistance level.
How To Track Resistance Level
Tracking resistance is so critical. How are you going to increase strength if you don’t match or increase resistance level week after week? This will make or break your success with a resistance band training routine.
With free weights, it’s easy. Simply write down the weight of the dumbbell. But, resistance bands require more creativity. If you’re following a strength training routine, make sure you have a weight tracking sheet similar to the one included in our Resistance Bands Workout Routine (pictured below).
Additionally, tracking your resistance level changes is useful for motivation. It’s hard to remain motivated if you don’t see progress. When on week two of your training plan, you see that you can increase from a B6 to a B8 on squats that’s motivating progress.
Below is a snippet from our calendar and tracker sheet.
So, what the heck is B6 and B8? This is our system, so feel free to use it or tweak it to fit your style.
Resistance Level With Foot Placement
For exercises like squats or bicep curls, track the color of the band used, along with the distance your feet are from center. So, in the above example, I used the blue band, and my feet were 6 inches from the center.
For some moves, like resistance band lunges where only one foot is on the band. In that case, all you can track is the color of the band.
For other moves, you might need to loop the band to increase resistance. In the photo below, I would record this as B15. We don’t use a measuring tape, so our distances are just estimates.
Resistance Level With Hands Placement
For exercises like band pull-aparts (pictured below), you will need to track the distance from your hands to the centerline. Based on the below hand placement, I would record R12. The next time, I would target R10 to keep my muscles challenged.
Resistance Level With Distance from The Door
For moves like chest fly, you can track distance from the door. Of course, you’ll want to make sure your door attachment is at the same height every time. If you follow our Resistance Bands Workout Routine, you’ll get instruction on door attachment height for various moves.
We measure our distance from the door with our feet. Starting at the door, we toe to heel away from the wall until we feel adequate tension. In the photo below, I would record this as B5, since I used the blue band and was five foot lengths away from the wall.
Resistance Tracking Sheet
Of course, this is all for nothing if you don’t have a tracker sheet to write down your resistance after each move. So, either create one of your own or download our free Resistance Band Workout Routine which includes a printable tracker sheet.
Resistance Bands Workout Routine
Download and instantly access the full workout calendar and resistance tracker sheet. You'll also gain access to written and video guidance for each exercise.
- Videos of 55 leg, core, back, arm, shoulder, and chest exercises with resistance bands.
- Professional instruction to ensure proper form.
- An 8-week calendar and weight tracking sheet with built-in variety and periodization.
- Access to all future revisions to the program.
- Support. We're always here to help.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world, originally as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship, as a couple.