How to Get a Full-Body Workout With Just a Resistance Band
by Jeff Tomko
As much as we’ve come to associate weights with strength training, it’s not a stretch to suggest that a resistance band is all you need to get a complete, full-body training session from the comfort of your own home—or just about anywhere else.
Using a resistance band—an elastic device that can support muscle strength by helping to activate muscle contraction—can be traced as far back as the late 1800s as a tool to help strengthen and rehabilitate the elderly and indisposed. Consequently, for most of its existence, bands developed a reputation primarily as a physical therapy or stretching tool. But bands are often overlooked as a viable strength and muscle-building tool, eclipsed by barbells, dumbbells, and other popular varieties of iron.
Fast-forward to today, however, and as more people are working from home, the popularity of resistance bands has surged, catapulting the humble resistance band from rehab instrument to a bona fide time-saving and cost-efficient option for an optimal total-body workout.
Bands are portable and practical, and starting for as little as $10 they make pretty inexpensive additions to your home gym. (Sets containing a variety of tension levels can start at around $30.) First, you’ll want to know the three main types of resistance bands you’re likely to encounter:
Mini bands: These smaller bands are lighter in resistance and can be wrapped around your knees, ankles, and wrists for many varieties of warm-up exercises like shuffles or bridges.
Gray Cook Bands: Not as widely popular or typically found in commercial gyms, these bands, which feature handles and come in a variety of resistance options, are mostly used for stretching and functional movement patterns.
Loop Bands: These are the bands normally used for strength training. They’re thicker than mini bands and come in resistance levels of up to 200 pounds, and can be used on their own or as attachments for added resistance to barbell and dumbbell exercises in the weight room.
Resistance bands offer a minimal investment to ensure full-body workouts pretty much anywhere you choose—even if just the occasional shoulder stretch at your office desk. Convenience factors aside, one of the most often-asked questions remains: Will I get as strong from using bands as I would from lifting with dumbbells and barbells and other weight-training equipment? Research suggests you can.
According to a study published in 2019 by Sage Open Medicine, resistance training using elastic equipment provides similar gains in strength when compared with other training equipment such as weight machines and dumbbells. The results of the meta-analysis, performed by a pair of independent researchers, concluded that “elastic resistance training is able to promote similar strength gains to conventional resistance training.” Ultimately, it showed that using bands for both upper- and lower-body training resulted in the same types of gains made when using standard equipment you’d find at any commercial gym.
The Benefits of Training With Resistance Bands
By adding resistance bands to your home gym, you can toss out almost every excuse for missing a workout.
One of the major benefits of resistance band training, according to Crunch personal trainer Andres Gill-Torres, C.P.T., P.T.A., is that you have the ability to perform the same exercises you can with free weights, but with the additional advantage of hitting those muscles from a wider selection of angles that you wouldn’t normally be able to target with either barbells or dumbbells.
Using a chest press as an example, a band can be attached or looped around virtually any object—a door frame, pole, or even your own torso—to allow you to hit your pecs from different angles.
“You can adjust the movement of bands at almost any angle you would want to target a muscle, something you can’t always do with weights,” Gill-Torres says “So whichever body part you want to target, there's definitely a way you can do it with bands.”
And yes, you can get stronger as you would with weight training. Similar to progressive overload, the principle in which you gradually increase weight or intensity of an exercise to increase strength and promote hypertrophy (muscle growth), you can increase the amount of resistance with each exercise set by changing bands. Because bands come in many sizes (Rogue, for example, has seven types of bands ranging from 15 pounds of resistance all the way up to 200 pounds) you can easily build muscle and strength by changing bands and even the number of reps each set, Gill-Torres says.
“Using light, medium, heavy, and other bands can help you progress and increase strength,” Gill-Torres says. “Mixing different tensions will help you avoid your workouts from becoming stagnant.”
Your Full-Body Resistance Band Workout
For the warm-up exercises, below, Gill-Torres suggests performing one set of 10 reps (each side, when applicable). For the workout, perform each exercise for three sets of 10–15 reps. (If pressed for time, you can also do this as a circuit—one exercise after the other for three rounds—working for 40 seconds and resting 20 seconds between exercises.) Rest 60 seconds between rounds.
Standing lateral walks
Using a mini band looped around your ankles while maintaining a tall stance and keeping your hips facing forward (avoid rotating your hips), take one step to the right, keeping tension in the band at all times and avoiding any slack in the band. You should feel the band providing resistance as you work to keep your knees forward and avoid “caving” (knees rotating inward). “This really activates your hip abductors, and really helps the hips remain in equilibrium when you’re doing moves like lunges or even walking and running,” Gill-Torres says. You can either complete your sets by taking 10 steps in one direction and then switching, or you can alternate feet with each step.
Hold one end of a lighter-resistance loop band while your feet are placed on the opposite end of the band, about shoulder-width apart, with knees slightly bent. As you brace your core, begin raising the band in front of your chest (think front dumbbell raise motion), only this time extend your arms outward until your arms begin forming a “V” at around eye level. While squeezing your shoulder blades, hold for about a second before lowering back to the start position. That’s one rep. “This works all the shoulder muscles,” Gill-Torres says, “and is especially good for people who have shoulder problems or limited range of motion.”
Standing Hip Abduction
This move can be done in multiple ways, either with a mini band looped just above your knees or with a mobility band looped around one foot while attached slightly off the floor to a post or other sturdy object. Raise the banded leg away and outward from your body. Hold briefly before returning to the start. If you’re using a mobility band, you can even cross your working leg past your opposite leg for an added stretch.
Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet planted firmly on the floor, with bands looped slightly above the knees. From there, thrust your hips in the air until they are parallel with the floor, while focusing on pressing your knees outward. Pause, then return to the start position.
Perform three sets of 10-15 reps for each exercise. Rest 60 seconds between sets and 90 seconds between exercises
Squat to Shoulder Press
Hold one end of a band with both hands at shoulder level, while standing on the opposite end with feet about shoulder width apart. Begin lowering yourself into a full squat position with your hamstrings parallel with the ground. Focus on keeping your hips squared while squeezing your glutes before driving up from the deep squat position. Just before your legs become fully extended (standing tall), begin pressing the band over your head, extending your arms as far as possible. Pause before returning your arms back to shoulder height. That’s one rep. “Getting both a lower-body and upper-body press all in one motion makes this one of the most effective and efficient exercises,” Gill-Torres says.
Horizontal Chest Press
This exercise can be performed either standing, sitting on a bench (or Bosu ball), or even sitting or kneeling on the floor. Loop or attach a band around a secure object (like a post or door, or even your torso). While holding each end of the band in each hand, use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) as you press your arms forward. Bring your arms back to the start position. That’s one rep.
Horizontal Lat Row
This move can be done with both arms or as a single-arm exercise. Loop a band around a secure object, grabbing one end of the band (or both), using a neutral grip. Keeping your core tight, squeeze your shoulder blades as you pull the band in toward your chest. Pause for a second before extending back to the start position. That’s one rep. If you have a pullup bar or overhead attachment, you can loop a band around it and turn this exercise into a vertical lat pulldown.
Overhead Triceps Extension
Loop a band over a secure device, like a pullup bar. Keeping your knees slightly bent, grab the band overhead with both hands (you can also make this a unilateral move by holding with just one hand). Press the band forward to full arm extension, focusing on preventing your elbows from flaring out as you look to get a good triceps squeeze at the end of the movement before returning to start position.
Band Biceps Curl
Hold both ends of the band with each hand, keeping your feet placed securely on one half of the band, about shoulder width apart. With palms facing up, brace your core before curling the band up until your palms reach about shoulder level. Slowly lower the band back to the start. That’s one rep.