As an avid gym-goer and powerlifter, the early days of the 2020 lockdown forced me (like many similarly fit-minded folks) into a frustrating position. Without access to dumbbells, barbells, and machines, how would I possibly be able to keep the gains I’d made pre-pandemic? Turns out, retaining strength wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be thanks to one low-cost, super-simple tool: resistance bands.
In the beginning, I purchased my resistance bands out of pure desperation. All dumbbells and kettlebells were back-ordered for months, and bands were one of the few options available. And since they only clocked in at around $20, snatching up a set seemed like a low-risk move. As I began using the bands in place of my regular strength tools, though, I quickly learned that they packed a major resistance punch—and seemed to provide a new strength workout entirely.
To win you over to Team Resistance Band, here’s everything you need to know about them.
4 Big Benefits Of Resistance Bands
Not sold on bands? These four legit benefits of sweating with them are sure to sway you.
1. They Increase Your Muscles’ Time-Under-Tension
Yep, just one small addition to your workout gear can make a major impact on your calorie burn and muscle growth.
“When people think about strength training, most picture weightlifting,” explains Danielle DeAppolonio, C.P.T., group fitness instructor and The Vitamin Shoppe Associate Marketing Channel Manager. “Strength training is all about putting our muscles under tension, and we do so by adding resistance to our movement, which bands can accomplish.”
Read More: 5 Ways To Crush It With A Resistance Band
Plus, resistance bands, as opposed to dumbbells or kettlebells, increase the amount of time your muscles spend under tension, says DeAppolonio. Take bicep curls as an example. When you lift the dumbbell in a biceps curl, the majority of your force is used to lift the dumbbell upward (the concentric motion). As you extend your elbow and lower the dumbbell (the eccentric motion), you’re still working against gravity, but the tension is much more reduced. With a resistance band, however, you’re working against both gravity and the added tension on the resistance band as you lower, she explains.
What this means: When using resistance bands, your muscles work hard as you lift and lower. (Not bad for a piece of rubber.)
And while the tension of a band might not feel as intense as, say, a 20-pound dumbbell, you’ll achieve fairly similar results with both types of workouts, according to one meta-analysis published in SAGE Open Medicine.
2. You’ll Avoid Plateaus
If you’ve never used a resistance band for strength training, chances are your body (and brain) will need a bit of time to adjust. And that’s a good thing if you want to avoid plateauing, says Marisa Golan, C.P.T., owner of E(M)POWERED training and The Vitamin Shoppe Community Manager.
“Resistance bands challenge your muscles in a different way, which forces them to adapt differently,” she explains. (Plus, since we get bored of doing the same thing all the time, using a different modality keeps things fresh and interesting.)
3. They Help You Master Form
Another bonus? Working with resistance bands can help improve your form in certain exercises. “If you squat using a small resistance band around your thighs, for example, the band won’t be taut if you have a too-narrow stance,” Golan explains. (FYI: In a perfect squat, your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointed out slightly.) Meanwhile, if the band feels as though it’ll rip apart or is sliding or folding, you might have a too-wide stance.
If you’re newer to strength training, resistance bands can also help encourage proper form before you hit the heavier weights, Golan adds.
4. You’ll Save Money
The final, and arguably most important, benefit of resistance bands? They’re pretty darn cheap.
And while DeAppolonio and Golan note that resistance band prices can run the gamut, even bands on the lower end of that range will likely help fuel a solid workout.
We love these Short Resistance Bands from Women’s Best ($19.99 each), which come in light, medium, and heavy resistance levels. If you’re looking for more variety when it comes to your workout gear, this pack of five different Mini Loop Bands from Sports Research Corporation costs just shy of $22.
By comparison, if you’re lucky enough to snag a pair of dumbbells, they often range from $30-$300 per pair, depending on weight.
3 Types Of Resistance Bands and How To Use Them
With that in mind, there are a few different types of resistance bands you can incorporate into your workouts. Here’s the lowdown on each.
1. Tubed (With Handles Or Loops)
These open-ended bands feature stretchy, rubbery material with two-handle grips fixed to either end. They vary in density and are often available in multi-pack options for different levels of resistance.
These bands are great for exercises like biceps curls, triceps extensions, and even back rows or lateral pull-downs (although you might need a door anchor for that last one). Beyond resistance training, you can also use a long, tubed resistance band in place of a yoga strap for post-workout stretching, says DeAppolonio.
2. Looped Bands
Available in either cloth or rubber varieties (both DeAppolonio and Golan prefer cloth), these small but mighty bands, also known as hip bands, are a personal favorite for both DeAppolonio and Golan. Why? Versatility.
“Small hip bands are great for foundational movement,” DeAppolonio explains. Placing a looped band around your thighs above your knees when squatting, for example, can help up the intensity of the movement (in addition to improving your form).
Besides squats, you can use looped bands for glute bridges, glute kick-backs, and leg raises. DeAppolonio and Golan also like using them for core moves, like lateral plank walks (with the band looped around your ankles or hands).
3. Pullup Assist Bands
These thick, heavy-duty looped bands have minimal stretch, making them especially useful for assisted pull-ups or other exercises that support a lot of weight, such as pull-aparts and upright rows.
If you’re doing pullups with these, just make sure you have a sturdy base to loop the band around (a.k.a. don’t put faith in a questionable beam or something similarly flimsy). Like tubed bands with handles, you can also use these thicker resistance bands for stretching.