Let me ask you something:
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about muscle growth?
Is it traditional weight training in a gym? Or perhaps calisthenics in the park? Or maybe even high-intensity interval training such as doing sprints.
If you’re like most people, one of the three modalities probably came to mind – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Weight training, calisthenics, and HIIT are all great ways to build muscle.
But, there is a fourth incredibly effective way to build muscle that most people don’t even think about:
Training with resistance bands.
Today, we’ll go over absolutely everything you need to know about using resistance bands effectively, what you can expect, and which exercises you can do. In the end, we’ll also share two great routines you can do at home.
But First: Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands?
I know what you’re probably thinking:
“Getting big with resistance bands? I thought they were only useful to get a pump or to do rehab exercises.”
Prevailing wisdom suggests that we need traditional gym training to build muscle: squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press. Lift heavy, train often, push yourself to your limits, and you’ll build muscle.
Sure, that’s one way to go about it. But it’s not the only effective way to stimulate hypertrophy.
You see, to develop your muscles, you need to put them under tension – simple and clear. How you do that doesn’t matter. Your body can’t tell the difference between you curling a jug filled with water, a boulder, or a barbell – it can only gauge the level of tension you’re putting on your biceps.
And, based on that, it makes the necessary improvements, so it can better handle this stress the next time around.
So, to answer the question of, “Can you get big with resistance bands?”, the answer is yes – you absolutely can.
To build muscle with resistance bands, you have to follow the standard principals of progressive overload. In order for your muscles to get bigger, you have to somehow make them work harder than before.
No Matter Where You Train, You Can’t Forget The Principle of Overload
With that said, don’t think for a second that building muscle with resistance bands is a walk in the park. No. It’s tough. It’s challenging. It’s even grueling at times. But it happens quite effectively, so long as you push yourself.
The truth is, you need to push your body hard if you want to make muscle growth happen. The great news is, you can do that with bands quite effectively.
There are several primary ways to apply the principle of overload:
- Lift heavier weights (or, with resistance bands, increase the resistance).
- Put your muscles through a greater range of motion.
- Training with the same resistance, but doing more sets and reps.
- Training with the same resistance, but with more effort and explosiveness.
- Doing the same amount of training, but in less time (increasing training density).
- Doing the same training, but more often throughout the week.
- Training to failure and then using intensity techniques to push yourself further. Such include drop sets (using lighter bands, for example), static holds, partial reps, and the rest-pause technique (for example, resting for 10-15 seconds and doing a few more reps).
The good news is, you can use all of these strategies to apply overload in your banded training. Except for the last one (which is primarily for advanced folks), let’s take a look at the other ones individually:
1) You can increase the resistance by using tougher bands or by stretching the one you’re currently using to a greater extent.
I recommend having several bands (from light to extra-tough) because that will allow you to gauge your progress better and use the appropriate bands for the specific exercise. For example, you can use an extra heavy band for overhead pressing, and a light band for lateral shoulder raises.
2) The most important thing we can do to optimize our muscle growth is to take full advantage of the current level of resistance we are using. Meaning, we need to perform each repetition with a full range of motion. So, before even thinking of increasing the resistance, make sure that your muscles stretch and contract to their best ability.
For example, when doing banded bicep curls, always extend your elbows fully and then bend them past 90 degrees to feel the bicep contract on top position.
3) This is an obvious one and becomes mandatory at some point. Put simply, no matter how much effort you put in your training, how perfectly you do each rep, and how much weight you’re lifting, there will come the point where the only way to progress further is to simply do more. Meaning, you will eventually have to add more sets (and reps), more exercises, or all of the above.
4) If you’re able to train with the same resistance but push it or pull it more explosively over time, that’s also a sign of progress. Plus, adding some speed and explosiveness work here, and there is a great way to spice up your training and become more athletic.
5) If you’re limited on equipment and your primary way of overloading is to do more reps and sets, then trying to increase the training density is a great way to achieve overload. For example, if it takes you 40 minutes to complete a workout this week, then try doing it in 38 minutes next week. Then 36. Then 34, and so on.
6) Increasing your training frequency itself is not a magical way of building muscle. But, if you do the same workout twice per week instead of once, that’s twice the volume. And, as we know, training volume is tightly correlated with muscle growth. More volume delivers better results, to a point, of course. But, so long as you train sensibly, you will make significant progress.
So, if you find that your progress stalls, adding more workouts throughout the week is a great way to restart the gain train.
Four Great Benefits Of Using Resistance Bands
If you think that bands are useless, think again. Here are five incredible benefits:
They allow us to train at home or on the road
In these pandemic times, resistance bands offer us the incredible chance to have effective workouts at home. But, even after it’s all over, you can grab a quick workout at home, or take the bands on the road.
So, rather than continually having to worry about finding a gym to work out at, you can take a set of five bands and a door anchor to have a great workout in your hotel room, at the beach, in the park, or virtually anywhere else.
You can train more explosively with bands
Imagine that you’re holding a dumbbell in your right hand. If you produce just enough torque with your bicep, you will curl it gradually to the top. But, if you curl it explosively, it will gain some momentum, and thus remove some of the tension on your bicep.
Now, imagine the same scenario, but now you’re holding a band that is attached somewhere below your waist. If you curl it slowly, you will lengthen it gradually, and you will feel it becoming progressively tenser. If you curl it explosively, you will complete the repetition a bit faster, but you won’t be able to gain the same momentum thanks to the band’s linear variable resistance.
In other words, you’ll be able to apply a lot of force from the start, but you won’t have the momentum to worry about, and the tension on your bicep won’t decrease as a result of that. In fact, the more the band lengthens, the harder your bicep will have to work to keep extending it.
This is why explosive training is best done with bands or with weights attached to bands – it eliminates the element of momentum and allows you to make the most out of each repetition.
You can use bands in combination with calisthenics and gym exercises
While most people see bands as a stand-alone exercise tool, they offer incredible versatility and can be used in combination with many great exercises.
For example, if you want to make the push-up more difficult, you can wrap a band around your arms, rear delts, and back for extra resistance. If you want to front squat, but don’t have access to a barbell and power rack, you can step inside a loop band, wrap it over your shoulders, and perform the exercise.
If you can’t do a single pull-up yet, you can loop a band over the pull-up bar, step inside it, and allow it to remove some of the resistance, thus allowing you to work your way up.
The truth is, bands have so many uses that it would be a huge mistake to never take advantage of them.
Bands offer an excellent alternative to many classic gym exercises
As we’ll go over below, bands are such a great piece of fitness equipment because they offer numerous alternatives to many classic gym and bodyweight exercises.
Even if you don’t have access to anything else, you can still do proven exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, shoulder presses, lateral raises, leg extensions, leg curls, chest flyes, back rows, pulldowns, and much, much more.
Stay tuned for some specific ideas a bit later in this guide.
The Difference Between Training With Bands And Free Weights
The first time you train with a resistance band might feel a bit awkward and weird. The truth is, there’s a different resistance curve, and fine-tuning your training will take a bit of time and dedication.
The biggest differences are:
- Getting used to the linear variable resistance – how the band offers more and more resistance the more you stretch it.
- Getting used to training with bands as a whole.
Unlike traditional weights and gym machines that offer the same level of resistance throughout each repetition, bands become progressively tenser. So, the first thing you need to fine-tune is how much slack to leave on the band, so you’re able to complete each repetition.
Next, like any other type of machine or equipment, you need some time to learn how to use bands. Certain fine details take some time to master – how to attach the band, how to wrap it around your body, how to set up correctly, and such.
For example, even if you’re a decent front squatter, it will take you some time to get used to doing the exercise with a band because the experience is inherently different.
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11 Great Exercises You Can Do With Resistance Bands
There are quite a few resistance band exercises you can do, but the eleven below are some of the best and most effective ones to get started with:
Bands are great for exercises like the bicep curl because they allow for a strong contraction at the top. What’s more, you can customize the angle of attack by attaching the band on various heights and training the bicep better.
Here is one variation.
Tricep extensions (above head)
Overhead tricep extensions are great for training the back of the arm and do a particularly good job of emphasizing the long head – the largest and most prominent of all three heads.
What’s more, thanks to the band’s linear variable resistance, you can cause an incredible contraction at the top.
Here is how you can do this exercise.
Chest flyes are typically done on a cable machine, but you can also do them with a band and reap all of the fantastic benefits. Plus, all you need here is a band and an attachment point.
Here is one way to perform this exercise.
If the regular push-up is too easy for you, don’t worry. By adding a resistance band to the movement, you can make it much harder and better able to develop your strength and muscle mass further.
Here’s how to do it.
Seated back rows
Seated back rows are an excellent exercise that emphasizes the rhomboids and lats. Usually, we can only do it with a special gym machine, but if you have a band around, you can make it work. All you need is an attachment point, and you’re covered.
Here is how you can do it.
When it comes to great lat exercises, most people think of the pull-up and lat pulldown. The pulldown, however, is usually done on a special machine, so performing it at home is often impossible… or is it?
The truth is, so long as you have a band and a high point of attachment (for example, a home pull-up bar), you can make it work.
Here’s one idea.
Overhead band presses
The overhead press is one of the best compound exercises for shoulder growth. Typically, we do them with a barbell or dumbbells, but they can just as easily be done with a band.
Here is one great variation you can do.
Lateral band raises
And while we are on the subject of shoulder training, we can’t go on without covering the effective lateral raise. Usually, this exercise is done with a dumbbell, kettlebell, or a cable machine, but we can also grab a band and train our lateral deltoids incredibly well.
Here’s one way to do this exercise.
Bulgarian split squats
If you’re looking for a unilateral (one side at a time) exercise to train your glutes, quads, and hamstrings incredibly well, then look no further than the Bulgarian split squat.
For a beginner, the bodyweight version of this exercise will be more than enough to help them train their legs properly. But, once you’re past that, you can use bands to challenge yourself further.
Here’s how you can do this exercise with bands.
Hamstring curls are an essential exercise for the optimal development of the rear thigh muscles. The thing is, most people are used to doing these on a special gym machine. So, now that gyms are off-limits, they’ve forgotten all about this great exercise.The good news is, you can do hamstring curls with a band. Here’s how to do it.
If you’re looking for an exercise that will train your rear deltoids and help you keep your shoulders healthy, then look no further than face pulls. When done correctly, the face pull trains our rear delts and also strengthens the rotator cuff muscles, which helps ensure greater shoulder stability and health.
The best part is, you can also do this exercise with a band.
Bands And Bodyweight Training – Can We Make It Work?
Banded and bodyweight training are usually seen as two different things. But, the truth is, we can combine them and reap great results.
Take, for example, the classic push-up – an excellent exercise for chest, shoulder, and tricep development. But, there comes the point when this exercise no longer feels challenging enough, and you would have to do countless repetitions to make it challenge you adequately.
This is where introducing a band can be so beneficial. All you have to do is wrap a band around yourself and use it to increase the tension and make the exercise more challenging, especially at the top.
Here’s another example:
Many people find the classic pull-up to be very challenging, and few work their way up to their first pull-up repetition. But, if you introduce a band into the mixture, you can make the pull-up easier. This can help you work on the movement pattern and fight your way to your first ever unassisted pull-up.
There are plenty more exercises you can add a resistance band to, either to make them a bit easier or more challenging, depending on what effect you’re looking for.
Two Great Routines You Can Do At Home
Before wrapping up this guide, let’s take a look at two great routines you can do at home. Both of these will include some banded and some bodyweight movements.
The Home Push-Pull-Legs (PPL) Routine
The first routine will be your more typical gym workout where you’re doing several sets of each exercise before moving on to the next thing. The goal here is to build up training volume and progressively overload your body.
Start with three weekly workouts – for example, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Monday – Workout 1 (Push)
Banded push-ups – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Overhead band shoulder press – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Lateral band raises – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Chest flyes – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Overhead tricep extensions – 2 sets for as many reps as possible
You should alternate between push-ups and band shoulder presses as your first exercise of the workout. For example, if you start with push-ups this time, begin with band shoulder presses on your next workout.
Wednesday – Workout 2 (Pull)
Inverted rows – 4 sets for as many reps as possible
Seated back rows – 4 sets for as many reps as possible
Band lat pulldowns – 4 sets for as many reps as possible
Bicep curls – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Band face pulls – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Friday – Workout 3 (Legs)
Bulgarian split squats – 3 sets for 12 to 20 reps per leg
Bodyweight jump squats – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Lying band hamstring curl – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Lying single-leg glute bridge – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
Standing unilateral calf raise – 3 sets for as many reps as possible
A Home Banded Circuit Workout
Unlike the previous routine we looked at, now the goal is to do all of the exercises back-to-back with minimal rest in-between. Once you’re done with the exercises, catch your breath for a couple of minutes and repeat the whole thing.
Push-ups – 30 seconds
Bodyweight jump squats – 30 seconds
Wall sits – 30 seconds
Jumping jacks – 30 seconds
Overhead band tricep extensions – 30 seconds (for each arm)
Step-ups – 30 seconds
Plank – 30 seconds
Lateral band raises – 30 seconds (for each arm)
Bulgarian split squat – 30 seconds (per leg)
Bicep curls – 30 seconds (per arm)
You can rest for up to 10 seconds between exercises. Under normal circumstances, one round should take you about 5 to 7 minutes. Then, take two to three minutes to catch your breath and go at it again.
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