Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands? [The Complete Guide]

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Do you want to learn how to build muscle using resistance bands?

You’re in the right place.

After reading this post, you will learn 

  • How to incorporate bands into your training routine
  • Which types of resistance bands are best for muscle growth
  • The best resistance band exercises for each muscle group

Let’s dive right in.

can-you-build-muscle-with-resistance-bands

Can you Build Muscle With Resistance Bands?

Yes, you can build muscle with resistance bands. 

That’s because building muscle requires three things.

  1. A Stimulus
  2. Proper Recovery and
  3. Muscular Adaptation

A stimulus is something that your body experiences which then elicits a response.

A simple example is a suntan.

The stimulus is exposure to the sun -> the recovery is getting out of the sun periodically-> the adaptation is a darkening of the skin. 

In the case of building muscle, the stimulus is tension. For your muscle tissue to grow, it needs to experience resistance in the form of tension.

It doesn’t matter if that tension comes from gravity, external weights, or from the elasticity of a band. 

As long as the stimulus is appropriately sufficient, your muscles will be forced to respond.

After the stimulation, the next thing you need to do is recover.

The recovery phase includes proper nutrition and adequate water intake. This is the only way your muscles can rebuild themselves stronger than before.

Without proper recovery, your muscles will never adapt.

Adaptation is the final step of the muscle-building sequence. If you consistently provide your muscles with an appropriate stimulus, you will eventually adapt by building muscle that is bigger and stronger. 

Bands, just like weights, can provide your body with a sufficient stimulus to induce muscle growth. [1]

How Resistance Bands Work

Resistance bands are unique in that they modify the length-tension relationship as compared to weights.

When you lift weights, the movement tends to be the most difficult at the beginning or the middle of the concentric phase

For example:

  • Pressing the bar off your chest on the bench press
  • Standing up from the bottom of a squat
  • Picking the barbell off the floor during the deadlift

Most exercises become a lot easier closer to the end-range of motion because you are able to produce more force as your muscle shortens/contracts.

The same is true for bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc.

Bands are the complete opposite.

Because of their elastic properties, bands tend to accommodate resistance.  This means that they become more difficult at the top or during the end-range of the movement.  

If you think about it, the top of the movement is when the band is stretched the most. The more the band is stretched, the more resistance it provides.

As a result, your muscles are being stimulated with varying amounts of tension throughout the full range of motion.

Resistance Bands Vs Free Weights: Can They Replace Weights?

So if resistance bands are effective at muscle building, can they replace weights?  Do you even need weights?

It depends on your goals. 

If you are a complete beginner and you want an easy way to start training, bands are a great option. 

If you are more advanced, you can still use bands to continue progressing, but you will have to become creative.

Let’s go over the benefits of resistance bands.

Resistance Band Benefits

  • Great for beginners: Resistance bands are really easy to learn and simple to implement. They often lend themselves to higher repetitions which is ideal if you are just starting out and learning the movements for the first time.

  • Portable: Bands are extremely portable. They hardly take up any space at all and provide you with numerous exercises to choose from.  

  • Easy on the joints: One major advantage of bands is that they are very safe to use.  This is especially true if you have joint issues or are recovering from an injury. They allow you to overload your muscles with an appropriate amount of tension without the pressure of actual weights holding you down. 

resistance-bands-vs-weights

  • Constant tension at the top: As you learned before, bands accommodate resistance, this means your muscles have to maintain constant tension throughout the entire range of motion.  This is especially true at the top/end range, where maximum tension is being applied by the fully stretched resistance band. With weights, it’s easy to get relaxed at the top of the movement where tension is the lowest.

  • You Cannot Cheat With Bands: There are many different ways you can cheat with weights and bodyweight exercises.  You can use momentum, improper body positions, and shorter range of motions.  It is much more difficult to do these things with bands.  The band will either stretch to its full capacity or not.

  • Multiple Planes of Movement: Weights provide tension through gravity.  Therefore, you are limited to training only in a vertical plane. Bands, on the other hand, do not have this limitation. They provide tension through elasticity. You can anchor a resistance band in front of you, behind you, or above you, which creates resistance in multiple planes.  You are not limited to moving in an up and down motion.

With that said, there are some negatives to using bands.  Here are the main disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Bands

  • You outgrow small bands quick: Bands usually come in about 4-5 different strength levels.  As a beginner, it is best to start with the smallest bands first, as these provide the least resistance.  As you get stronger, you will notice that you will outgrow the small bands quickly.  I.e. they won’t provide enough resistance to elicit a proper stimulus from your muscles.  It’s the same as lifting a 5 lb dumbbell over and over and expecting to get stronger. To vary the resistance you will need to modify your hand and foot positioning.

  • Big bands are really strong: On that same token, the bigger bands are often way too strong.  After you outgrow the smallest band, you will be able to start using the second smallest band easily.  However, the third and fourth bands tend to be very resistant.  It’s almost impossible to do a lot of the exercises because of how resistant the bands are.

  • Difficult to measure progress: Lastly, it’s difficult to keep track of your progress when using resistance bands. It’s hard to measure how much resistance you are actually experiencing, and any small variation in hand or foot placement can change the resistance significantly.  If you’re the type of person who likes to write down your progress in each workout – bands will be a pain in the neck.

  • Can be ineffective if you don’t position them properly: In order to get the most out of bands, it is important that you position them correctly.  You can easily make the mistake of allowing the band to have too much slack, especially at the beginning of the exercise. This is particularly true for squatting exercises. [2] You can combat this by changing your foot positioning on the band, but this can become cumbersome as you have to modify your technique.

  • They can snap: Lastly, always always always inspect your bands before using them. Thankfully, this is uncommon, as the bands designed by reputable companies will be very durable. With that said, always make sure the integrity of the band is intact.  If a band snaps while you are using it, you can seriously injure yourself. Avoid over-stretching your bands, and do not allow them to rub against rough surfaces.

So, can bands replace weights?

In theory, they can.

Bands are more effective at building muscle the closer you are to the beginner stage. As you get stronger, you will need to use stronger resistance bands, and different strategies to continue progressing.

Either way, something is always better than nothing in the world of fitness.

If you can consistently stick to a routine that uses only bands, then go for it.

I personally prefer using weights and calisthenics.

Which Resistance Bands Should You Get?

There are two major types of resistance bands.  There are closed-loop resistance bands, and tube style resistance bands with handles.

I highly recommend that you purchase loop resistance bands.  Loop bands are way more versatile.

They can be tied against structures and can be used with a variety of different hand and foot positions.  

In contrast, the handles on tube style bands will limit the number of ways that you can use the band. 

I highly recommend that you get at least 3 different colors/strengths.  Amazon has a lot of great options.

Later in the article, you’ll see 20+ exercises you can do using loop resistance bands.

How Should I Train With Resistance Bands For Maximum Results?

Resistance bands are just another form of producing tension.  Training with resistance bands shouldn’t be significantly different from training with traditional resistance.

As such, you need to design a workout program that targets all of the major muscle groups in your body.

This means you should include a few compound exercises involving both the upper and lower body.

You should also include some isolation exercises as well to help target some of the smaller, weaker muscles.

We will go over the best exercises to choose from down below.

You also want to follow a specific training split.  

You can choose to do an Upper/Lower body split, where you train upper body exercises on one day, and lower body exercises on another.

Or you can choose to do a Full Body Split, where you mix and match upper and lower body exercises on the same day.

You can’t go wrong with either approach. 

resistance-bands-vs-weights

Lastly, you want to keep track of your progress.  Write down what exercises you performed and the number of sets and reps you accomplished on any given workout.

Whenever you repeat the same workout, find a way to make small but measurable progress.

For example, you can add 1 repetition per day.

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you did 3 sets of push-ups for 10 reps-  your first workout will be

  • Set 1  – 10 reps
  • Set 2 – 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps

The next time you repeat this workout, you can try

  • Set 1 – 11 reps
  • Set 2 – 10 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps

Then the third time you do

  • Set 1 – 11 reps
  • Set 2 – 11 reps
  • Set 3 – 10 reps

And so on.

There are many changes you can make. After that gets boring, 

  • you can add one more set
  • you can perform a different variation
  • you can swap the band (or add an additional band) 
  • you can decrease your rest periods

This is the principle of progressive overload, and the only scientifically proven strategy to keep making progress. 

It may be slow- but fitness always has, and always will be a marathon, and not a sprint.

How long Until You See Results From Resistance Bands?

As with all types of exercise, seeing results depends on several factors.

  • How often you are exercising
  • How much you are exercising
  • Your nutrition
  • Your recovery
  • Your starting weight and body fat percentage
  • Your genetics 

With that said, if you are consistently training and following all of the guidelines above, you should start seeing results in about 12 weeks. 

Results will vary.

The Best Resistance Band Exercises

Okay so now, let’s get to the main purpose of this post.

The exercises.

Below you will find a comprehensive list of resistance band exercises you can do anywhere.

Provided you have somewhere to loop the band around.

So without further ado…

Upper Body Compound Exercise Video

Upper Body Isolation Exercise Video

Here are the exercises broken down by muscle group:

Resistance Band Exercises For Chest and Triceps (Horizontal Push)

Pushups

Wrap the band around your upper back and place your hands through the loops on either side.

band-push-ups

Bench Press / Floor Press

Similar to the push-up, wrap the band around your upper back and grab the two ends of the loop.

band-bench-press

Chest Press

Wrap the band on a sturdy pole and put your hands through the two loops.

band-exercise-for-chest

Resistance Band Exercises For Shoulders (Vertical Push)

Overhead Press

Stand on one loop of the band with a shoulder-width stance and grab the other loop with your palms facing forward.

band-overhead-press

Incline Chest Press

Wrap the band on a sturdy pole and put your hands through the two loops.

band-incline-chest-press

Resistance Band Exercises For Back (Horizontal and Vertical Pulls)

Bent-Over Row

Stand on one loop of the band with a shoulder-width stance and grab the other loop with your palms facing forward. The wider you stand, and the lower down you grab the loop, the more resistance the band will provide.

band-exercise-for-back

Lat Pulldown

Loop the band around a horizontal bar and grab the other end of the loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band over the bar and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

band-lat-pulldown

Band Pull-Aparts

Grab both ends of the band with the loops dangling on each side. The closer you grip the band, the more resistance it will provide.

resistance-band-pull-aparts

Rear Delt Flys

Stand on one loop and grab the other loop with your opposite hand to provide enough tension throughout the full range of motion.

band-rear-delt-fly

Face Pulls

Loop one end of the band around a sturdy pole and grab the other loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band around the pole and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

resistance-band-face-pulls

Resistance Band Exercises For Arms

Biceps Curls

Stand on one loop of the band with a shoulder-width stance and grab the other loop with your palms facing forward. The wider you stand the more resistance the band will provide.

Alternatively, you can do each arm individually for a more challenging exercise.

band-exercises-for-arms

Lateral Raises

Stand on one loop and grab the other loop with your opposite hand to provide enough tension throughout the full range of motion.

band-exercise-for-shoulders

Tricep Pushdowns

Loop the band around a horizontal bar and grab the other end of the loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band over the bar and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

resistance-band-exercise-for-arms

Overhead Tricep Extensions

Loop the band around a horizontal bar and grab the other end of the loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band over the bar and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

band-exercises-for-triceps

External Rotations

Loop the band around a sturdy pole and grab the other end of the loop. Stand far enough away from the pole to ensure there is enough tension throughout the full range of motion.

band-external-rotations

Lower Body Compound Exercise Video

Lower Body Isolation Exercise Video

And here are the lower body exercises broken down by muscle group.

Resistance Band Exercises For Legs (Knee Dominant Patterns)

Front Squat

Stand on one loop of the band with a shoulder-width stance and grab the other loop with your palms facing forward.

It is best to use a stronger band for this exercise to make sure that there is enough tension at the bottom. (Rather than widening your stance which changes the exercises significantly).

band-front-squats

Band Squats

Wrap the bands twice around your knees and stand slightly wider than shoulder-width.

resistance-band-squats-for-legs

Lunges

This exercise can be done in a variety of ways. You can place one loop around your neck and the other loop on your back foot.

Alternatively, the other loop can go under your front foot too.

band-exercises-for-muscle

Resistance Band Exercises For Glutes and Hamstrings (Hip Hinge Pattern)

Deadlift

Stand in the middle of the band and grab both looped ends with your palms facing backward.

It is best to use a stronger band for this exercise to make sure that there is enough tension at the bottom. (Rather than widening your stance which changes the exercises significantly).

resistance-band-deadlift

Good mornings

Stand on one loop with a shoulder-width stance, and wrap the other loop around your neck.

resistance-band-leg-exercises

Cable Pull Through

Loop one end of the band around a sturdy pole and grab the other loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band around the pole and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

band-exercises-for-hamstrings

Resistance Band Exercises For Glutes

Glute Bridge

Simply drape the band across your hips and firmly hold onto both ends with your hands. Widen your hands to provide enough tension at the bottom of the exercise.

band-exercise-for-glutes

Lateral Band Walks

Wrap the bands twice around your knees and stand slightly wider than shoulder-width.

glute-exercise-with-bands

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

Loop the band around a sturdy pole and grab the other end of the loop with both hands. Alternatively, you can just place the middle of the band over the bar and grab both loops for a more challenging variation.

band-exercise-for-legs

Resistance Band Ab Exercises

Here is a short video of three effective ab exercises you can do with resistance bands. These three exercises train the rectus abdominus as well as the oblique muscles.

Other Ways To Use Bands In Your Training – Using Bands For Assistance

You can also use resistance bands to help assist you in performing challenging exercises.

The most common example is the pull-up.

You wrap the band against the pull-up bar and place one or both feet in the band. The band will provide the most assistance at the bottom of the movement.

Here’s what it looks like.

Similarly, you can use bands to help you to perform dips by looping a band underneath your legs.

You Can Also Combine Bands With Weights

This is an advanced strategy that should only be done once you are experienced enough. The purpose of this strategy is to accommodate resistance throughout the entire length-tension relationship.

Remember how I mentioned that traditional resistance exercises tend to be hardest at the beginning of the concentric movement and get easier at the very top?

When you add bands to these exercises, they provide very little resistance at the beginning of the exercise (where it’s hardest).  As you progress through the range of motion, the band stretches and begins providing more resistance.  

The bands will be fully stretched and provide the most resistance at the very top of the exercise- requiring you to maintain a high level of tension throughout the entire range of motion. [3]

This is particularly helpful for you if you struggle near the top, aka the lockout of weighted exercises.  

But I repeat, do not try this until you have established a good foundation of fitness. 

A Full Body 20 Minute Resistance Band Routine

Ok, now let’s put it all together.  Here is a quick 20 minute workout routine you can do anywhere with just 1-2 bands. 

Workout A

ExerciseSets / Reps
Front Squat4 x 12
Banded Push-Ups or Chest Press3 x 10
Lat Pulldown3 x 12

Superset the banded push-ups and the lat pulldowns

Workout B

ExerciseSets / Reps
Deadlift4 x 10
Shoulder Press3 x 8
Bent Over Rows3 x 10

Superset the shoulder press and the bent over row

Workout C

ExerciseSets / Reps
Lateral Band Walks3 x 20
Band Pull Aparts2 x 15
Bicep Curls2 x 15
Band External Rotations2 x 15
Tricep Extensions2 x 15

Superset the band pull aparts and the bicep curls

and Superset the band external rotations and tricep extensions

A 6+ Month Workout You Can Do At Home

If you like the idea of working out at home, you should check out the WCT Home Workout Program.

It is a complete done-for-you workout program that takes you from an absolute beginner to… wherever you want it to take you.

The workouts require you to use your own body weight as resistance and resistance band exercises are also included.

No more gym memberships.

No more waiting for equipment.

No more commutes.  

The workouts are designed to be done in ~20 minutes a day and provide you with numerous ways to progress.

Wrap Up

So that’s how you use resistance bands to build muscle.  They are best if you are a beginner, but can provide you with several unique ways to train as you become more experienced. 

What do you think?  Have you ever trained with resistance bands?

Are you going to incorporate them into your routine?

Comment below and let us know.

Next You Should Read:

REFERENCES

1) Lopes, Jaqueline Santos Silva, et al. “Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” SAGE open medicine 7 (2019): 2050312119831116

2) Iversen, Vegard M., et al. “Multiple-joint exercises using elastic resistance bands vs. conventional resistance-training equipment: A cross-over study.” European journal of sport science 17.8 (2017): 973-982.

3) Shoepe, Todd, et al. “The effects of 24 weeks of resistance training with simultaneous elastic and free weight loading on muscular performance of novice lifters.” Journal of human kinetics 29 (2011): 93-106.

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, a NASM CPT, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy individuals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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