Resistance bands are a favorite of travelers and home-gym-havers because they can fold up into a small, light, easily transportable package. But even when you have access to a full gym, there are still a ton of exercises where resistance bands are the right tool for the job.
Here are some of the best band moves that you can do at the gym, including several that make use of a rig or squat rack.
I do banded pull-aparts as a warmup almost every time I’m in the gym, and I know a ton of lifters who swear by them as a great exercise to balance out all the pushing we end up doing when we bench press, overhead press, and more. A long, thin band is good for these; consider doing high rep sets of 20 or so.
Band walks are a whole family of exercises, really: You can put the band around your knees or your ankles, and you can step sideways, forward, or in a zigzag pattern, to name a few. These all work various muscles of your butt and hips, and are done with a thick, short circular band: basically, a booty band.
Assisted versions of bodyweight exercises are massively underrated. Not only can they help you work up to a movement you can’t otherwise do, they’re also great at helping you do higher rep sets—like if you can do 5 pushups on your own but want to be able to bust out 15 in a row. They’re also great to assist advanced versions of the exercise, like if you want to do clapping pushups or one-arm pushups but aren’t quite there yet.
Climbing a rope is a great way to work your arms, back, and core, but if you don’t have an actual climbing rope and a high ceiling, you’re out of luck. Fortunately there’s an exercise you can do with a resistance band that lets you do the same motion. Anchor the band above you, for example on a squat rack or pullup bar, and pull it hand-over-hand until the resistance is almost pulling you off the ground. Then reverse, using your strength to return the band to its starting position under control.
This one gives you a workout similar to the “sissy squat” machine you’ll find in some gyms. Use a very thick band, fold it around a support like a squat rack upright, and put both ends of it around your knees. Now you can bend your knees and hips while keeping your shins vertical. This gives you many of the benefits of an air squat while being easier on the knees (for those of us who sometimes get achy knees) and while leaving ankle mobility out of the equation entirely.
Deadbugs are a great alternative to crunches, but once you’ve gained some core strength you may find that they’re not hitting like they used to. Pushing up into a band while you do the movement may bring back the challenge. The video above shows several variations, but the simplest is just to anchor the bands to a rack around floor level, and push up (as in a bench press) while moving your feet. You can also do leg raises this way.
Dips are another bodyweight exercise that can benefit from assistance, whether you’re working up to your first one or just want a lighter version so you can do more reps. The trick here is to loop the band over the handlebars, making a little stretchy hammock for your knees.
Ever wanted pushups to use more of your core? If doing them on the floor isn’t fun enough, give this one a try. Stretch a thick band across a rig or squat rack (you can even use the safeties or the j-cups) and put your hands on it while you do your pushups.
You may think you know this one, but we’re going to use the band a little differently from what you’ve probably seen. Instead of hanging the band from the pullup bar, where it drags across your body and can smack you in the crotch if it slips, we’re going to put a band across the squat rack, in a similar position as the chaos push-up. Rest your knees or your feet on the middle of the band, and now you have a type of assistance that’s attached to the rack, not to you.
This isn’t a good replacement for a strict press, since the instability makes it so you won’t be able to use as much weight. It is, however, excellent training for the muscles that stabilize your shoulders during a press, including your core—basically everything from the hips up. Make it harder by using thinner bands, even if it means you need to double them up to keep the weights from dragging on the ground. You aren’t limited to plates for this one, by the way; kettlebells work well, too. For an extra challenge, use a weight that is easy to press and then walk around (or march in place) while holding it overhead.
Hamstring curls are one of those exercises that’s hard to do without a machine. A resistance band gives you a great way to do them, though: lay on your belly and anchor the band to a rack or a heavy kettlebell around floor height. You can do the move with one leg at a time or with both.
Earlier we used bands to make pushups easier, and to make them more unstable. Now, let’s use them to make pushups just plain harder. Hold the band in both hands so that it runs across your shoulders.
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