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Resistance Band Training for Strength

Contributor Dave Granito, MS, ATC
4 minute read
A young woman exercising outdoors with a resistance band.

If you’re looking for a new way to push (and pull) your fitness to the next level, consider resistance bands.

Resistance bands are large elastic bands with differing levels of tension. Physical therapists often use them to help people recover from injuries, but strength training with resistance bands is also effective. The exertion you use to stretch resistance bands works your muscles, similar to the effects of free weights or weightlifting machines.

“It’s a common myth that you can’t effectively train with resistance bands,” says Dave Granito, MS, ATC, director of recovery and injury prevention at Mass General Brigham’s Center for Sports Performance and Research. “Exercise bands can be a part of the equation, as long as they’re part of a comprehensive approach to fitness training, and as long as you are specific with what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Granito is a former athletic trainer for the New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions. He says exercise bands can help improve overall fitness (including heart and blood vessel health), burn energy, and improve strength in targeted muscles. High-performance athletes can also use them to improve efficiency and prevent injury by working minor muscles that surround major muscles.

Are resistance bands good for strength training?

Research shows that resistance training with exercise bands can lead to the same kind of strength gains as conventional resistance training with weights. They can also help people lower their blood pressure, lose weight, and improve brain function.

Strength training with resistance bands offers many conveniences. They are:

  • Affordable: You can buy a set of several fitness bands with different tensions online for less than $20. Dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells are significantly more expensive, especially if you buy a variety of weight levels.

  • Easy to use: It’s easy to get started. Many of the exercises are simple to learn, and you can do them almost anywhere. You don’t have to join a gym or have a dedicated area in your home.

  • Modifiable: If you need more or less resistance, you don’t have to get another piece of equipment, as you would with free weights. Moving your hand toward the center of the band can increase tension if you feel like it isn’t providing enough resistance. Doubling the band also increases tension. If a band is too difficult to move, slide your hands further toward the ends of the band for less tension.

  • Portable: The bands are light, compact, and easy to pack. You can keep up with your fitness goals while traveling.

  • Safe: Resistance bands are generally safer than weights. For example, you can drop a hand weight on your foot or get stuck underneath a barbell when using one that’s too heavy for a chest press.

  • Versatile: Fitness bands are extremely versatile. You can use them for almost unlimited types of movements for every muscle group.

Advantages of resistance band training for athletes

Resistance band exercises for athletes provide several distinct benefits, says Granito. They are excellent tools for warming up and cooling down. Exercise bands can also help athletes focus on smaller muscles that need attention. When you use a band for an exercise, your body may have to work harder to control its movement.

“If you’re doing a chest press with a machine, for example, the weight moves on a rail in one direction. It’s predictable and it focuses on specific large muscles,” Granito says. “If you do the same exercise, in the same position, but use an elastic band — now it’s a little wobbly. Your smaller muscles have to work harder to stabilize that wobbly feeling.”

Stabilizing that “wobbly” feeling, he adds, strengthens smaller muscles. This can help fix faulty movements and muscle imbalances to improve the overall quality of your movements. This can make your other workouts safer and more effective, as well as improve your performance, he says.

However, if your goal is to bulk up and get bigger, you’ll likely require heavier weight with more traditional dumbbells or barbells.

“A free weight, a barbell, a dumbbell, a kettlebell — that weight is a consistent load throughout the entire motion,” Granito explains. “With a resistance band, you only experience the heaviest load during a short period in each rep.”

Remember to inspect the bands regularly, before and after every workout, for cuts and cracks. And when you’re using them, be aware. Ask yourself: "If this were to break, what’s going to happen?"

Dave Granito, MS, ATC
Athletic Trainer
Mass General Brigham

How to use resistance bands for strength training

If you’re just getting started, Granito recommends choosing:

  • One type of pushing exercise for the upper body, such as shoulder presses or chest presses (standing or lying down)

  • One type of pulling exercise for the upper body, such as biceps curls, triceps overhead extensions, or upright rows

  • One type of lower extremity exercise, such as squats or deadlifts

A general guideline is to perform 3 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions (reps) for each exercise. If you’re aiming to bulk up and build muscle mass, use higher tension and fewer reps. If your goal is more muscle endurance, use slightly less tension and do as many as 15 reps.

Always start lighter than you think you should and build on your progress each workout, Granito suggests. You’ll know you’re at the right weight if the exercise feels challenging but you’re able to keep proper form until the last few reps.

Exercise bands are generally very safe, but Granito cautions that they can break and hit you.

“Remember to inspect the bands regularly, before and after every workout, for cuts and cracks,” he says. “And when you’re using them, be aware. Ask yourself: ‘If this were to break, what’s going to happen? What’s the backdrop? Where’s the band going?’ If it’s going to smack you in the face, then that’s probably not the right way to do the exercise.”

Specialists near me

Mass General Brigham’s Center for Sports Performance and Research designs personalized programs for athletes. Our experts assess your health and your movement, then design exercise programs to improve performance and mitigate the risk of injury.

Learn about Mass General Brigham Sports Medicine services

Dave Granito, MS, ATC


Dave Granito, MS, ATC
Athletic Trainer