Band-resisted exercises don’t always garner the respect they deserve. Often considered inferior to using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, band-resisted exercises tend to tend to have a reputation for being only for beginners or inexperienced lifters. Even more disappointing, in some circles, resistance bands are perceived as tools used strictly for rehab or physical therapy.
I want to challenge those perceptions. Yes, resistance bands are undoubtedly a great tool for beginners, inexperienced lifters, and those rehabbing an injury or coming back from surgery, but don’t underestimate their effectiveness and versatility beyond those realms!
Resistance bands are not only convenient, allowing you to perform challenging and effective exercises anywhere, anytime, they can add another dimension of difficulty to your training whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter. If a gym membership isn’t in your budget, you don’t have time to go to a gym regularly, you spend a lot of time traveling, or you simply prefer to train at home, band-resisted exercises expand the options available to you. Adding band resistance to many exercises you are already doing can offer new challenges and increase the difficulty of those exercises, whether they’re bodyweight or you’re using other training tools like barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells.
Here are three of my favorite band-resisted exercises that give your whole body a workout.
*Always remember to listen to your body and work within your fitness level, particularly if trying progressions described below.
Band-Resisted Single Leg Deadlifts
This band resisted deadlift variation is a fantastic way to make your make single-leg deadlifts a little (or a lot!) tougher, as it really forces your muscles to work harder during the sticking points of the exercise. The initial lowering, or eccentric portion of the exercise will require significantly more control, as will the lock-out at the top. This exercise strengthens and develops the muscles of your posterior chain, including the hamstrings and glutes. It also strengthens your core muscles.
You will need a band to perform this single-leg hip hinging exercise. Once you have developed the adequate strength, stability, and mobility, and mastered the technique, you can add more resistance using dumbbell or kettlebell.
- Stand on one foot keeping a slight bend in the knee.
- Imagine that you’re “suctioning” your foot onto the ground. Form a tripod base by keeping the weight on the mid/back of the foot and the toes down, particularly the first and last toes. These parts of the foot should remain in contact with the floor for the duration of the exercise.
- Loop a resistance band underneath the middle of the standing foot, and grab it with one hand to create a significant amount of tension in the band. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with the other hand.
- Create tension in the upper body by contracting all of the muscles in your arms, and driving them into your sides, keeping the elbows straight. Imagine crushing something in your armpits.
- Draw the shoulder blades together and downward. Imagine tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
- Before you hinge and push your hips back, take a deep breath in through the nose, engage the core, and actively tuck the rib cage down toward the pelvis.
- Hinge and push the hips backward, as far as possible while maintaining a neutral-ish spine. Be careful not to bend at the waist or round the upper back. (I say ”neutral-ish” because it can vary from person to person.) Imagine pushing your glutes backward into a wall behind you, or having a band attached around your hips that is pulling you backward. You should feel tension in the hamstring of the working leg the entire time.
- Keep the hand holding the band, and the weight, close to your legs. Do not allow them to drift forward.
- Once you feel a slight stretch in the hamstring, squeeze the hamstrings and glutes and press your body away from the floor to return to the upright position. Lock out at the top by squeezing the hamstrings, quads, and glutes, pushing the hips forward, and finishing the knee extension (be careful not to hyperextend the knee).
- With this (and many exercises), going lower doesn’t always make the exercise better. You don’t necessarily have to feel a stretch in the hamstring for this exercise to be effective. Stop before you feel your torso “collapse” or your lower back round. This is a hip-hinging movement, and the movement should come from the hips, not the lower back.
- Reset, and repeat for the prescribed number of reps with one leg, then switch and perform all reps with the other leg.
Note: Do not allow twisting of the pelvis, torso or spine. Focusing on breathing, bracing, and tucking the ribs, and keep the back leg close to the center of the body. Also avoid looking up by keeping the chin tucked so the neck is in neutral alignment.
You can make this exercise more challenging by using a thicker band with more resistance, or using a heavier weight (or both). You can also perform negative reps and can make the eccentric phase three to five seconds long.
You can make this exercise easier by using a thinner band with less resistance, or by performing a double-leg band-resisted deadlift.
I picked up this challenging and very innovative push-up variation from Tony Gentilcore. The chaos push-up can help you strengthen and develop the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps. It also forces the anterior core muscles, scapula and shoulder stabilizers to work big-time, providing a whole lotta bang for your buck.
You will need a resistance band and a squat rack. Watch the video below to make sure you’ve set up the resistance band correctly.
- Assume a push-up position with your hands on the resistance band, approximately shoulder-width apart, with your shoulders directly over your hands.
- Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels. Keep the chin tucked and the spine in neutral-ish alignment as discussed above.
- Before starting the exercise take a deep breath in through the nose, engage the core, actively tuck the rib cage down toward the pelvis, and squeeze the glutes. This set-up provides the lumbo-pelvic stability you’ll need perform this grueling exercise. During a properly executed push-up, there should be no movement in the pelvis, torso, or spine.
- Descend into the push-up with complete control (don’t mindlessly drop down).
- Keep your elbows at a 20- to 40-degree angle with your body. In a properly executed push-up, the position of the arms should resemble an arrow, not a letter T. At the bottom of the push-up, aim to bend the elbows to 90 degrees. If you can maintain proper form, going deeper than 90 degrees may be OK.
- The shoulder blades should move toward each other and down. Imagine tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants. As you return to the starting position, the shoulder blades should glide outward, away from each other.
- Exhale as you return to the starting position.
- Reset and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Note: Keep the core and glutes engaged when you reach the bottom point of the push-up to prevent technique breakdown and maintain efficiency. Make sure that you’re keeping the core and glutes engaged and the ribs tucked down toward the pelvis throughout the entire movement to prevent the hips from collapsing or twisting, the spine from hyperextending, and the rib cage from flaring.
You can make this exercise easier by performing a traditional push-up without the challenging band set-up. If you are not yet able to perform an unassisted traditional push-up, elevate your hands onto a bench or onto a barbell positioned on a rack at an adequate height for your ability level, or perform a modified push-up or a band-assisted push-up.
You can make this exercise more challenging by elevating your feet onto a bench or a box. You can also perform negative reps, taking three to five seconds to lower yourself down, or perform pause reps, holding the bottom position for three to five seconds before returning to the starting position. You can use additional resistance, like a weight plate or chains on your mid back. (I don’t recommend placing the weight over the shoulder blades because it will interfere with proper movement of the shoulder blades.) Lastly, you can hit slightly different muscle groups by performing diamond push-ups.
Band-Resisted Stir The Pot
This band-resisted core exercise strengthens the muscles of the anterior core and helps improve lumbo-pelvic stability. This fun and effective plank variation will help you develop the strength and stability necessary for resisting excessive extension of the spine. If you are performing this exercise correctly, aside from the arm movement, your body should remain completely still. This exercise is brutally challenging, particularly with the added band resistance.
You will need a resistance band and a stability ball to perform this anti-extension core exercise. The greater the band tension, the more challenging the exercise will be.
- Fasten a resistance band around a secure bar or post at about the same height as the top of the stability ball. Grab the band and position yourself at a distance that creates a moderate amount of tension.
- Place your forearms on top of the stability ball to get into a plank position. Your body should be as straight as possible from head to heels. Your spine should be in neutral-ish alignment, maintaining a slight hollow-body position.
- Engage the core and glutes and actively tuck the rib cage down toward the pelvis. This will provide the lumbo-pelvic stability needed to perform this exercise.
- While keeping your entire body (except your arms) rigid and in a fixed position, extend your elbows to roll the ball forward and perform circles, or “draw” a figure eight or letters. Then perform each movement in reverse.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose before performing the roll-out component and hold your breath for the duration of this portion of the exercise. Exhale when performing the movement in reverse and are moving the ball back in towards your body.
- Stop the movement when your shoulders are directly above your elbows, reset and repeat.
- Keep the arms relaxed so they do not dominate the exercise, and keep the shoulders packed (in their sockets). Keep the shoulder blades drawn together and down. As with the other exercises, imagine tucking each shoulder blade into the opposite back pocket of your pants.
Note: Throughout the entire exercise avoid collapsing the neck or hips, hyperextending the lower back, flaring the rib cage or allowing the hips, torso or spine to twist.
You can make this exercise easier by not using a band, using a band with less resistance, or by shortening the movements and not extending the arms as far out.
You can make this exercise more challenging by using a band with more resistance, extending your arms even more, placing a weight or chain across your mid-back, performing negative reps and slowing down your speed, or elevating your feet onto a bench or box.
When you are performing any band resisted exercise, make sure that you select a tension of band that allows your client to perform every single rep correctly. In many instances, people dramatically decrease the overall effectiveness of the exercise, and sometimes increase their risk of injury, by working with too much tension. Start your client out with very little band resistance, and only increase the overall tension when they are able to own every reps.
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