June 12, 2021 10 min read
Resistance bands make working out convenient and super-effective. They apply constant pressure on your muscles and you can carry them discreetly to bust out some fast exercise wherever you are when you find the time.
But picking the best resistance band for the job can be challenging. Navigating the various styles and resistance levels is key to getting the best workout possible, so it’s important to know and understand not only how various resistance band models are different but also how you can incorporate them into your workout routine to push your muscles to their limits.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the five types of resistance bands, which one you should select depending on your fitness goals, and how you can include them in your workout safely and effectively.
Resistance bands are highly effective at opposing muscle movement so that fibers have to exert themselves, causing the damage that is so crucial for strength gains and muscle growth through hypertrophy.
We tend to imagine bodybuilders working out with giant weight plates on either end of barbells or lifting huge tires to get chiseled and ripped. Although they’re small, resistance bands can help produce similar results.
Of course, even the strongest resistance band doesn’t provide the same challenge as incredibly heavy weights do. If you’re already an advanced lifter, you’ll probably need to include standard strength training exercises in your regular workout routine. For most people, resistance bands will be enough to meet their fitness goals.
It’s also possible to include resistance bands in many strength training exercises. For example, you could wrap a resistance band around each end of a barbell and underneath the bench to make bench presses more difficult throughout the entire exercise.
Manufacturers typically use synthetic rubber, latex, or similar material to construct their resistance bands. Many also weave in elastic fabric to make their latex bands more comfortable and less likely to slip and roll.
The elasticity of the band is key to how it works. You can either wrap the band around two parts of your body or fix it to an anchor point so that movement away from one end of the band creates tension. This tension provides resistance against your muscles, forcing them to work harder to complete a given movement.
As you increase the range of motion of an exercise, the resistance from the band increases. The practical meaning of this linear increase in resistance is that you can steadily improve the performance of your muscles in an incredibly functional way. There’s no better way to improve your range of motion than to continuously practice running through that range of motion under the continuous pressure a resistance band provides.
Broadly speaking, resistance bands fall into one of the following five categories. Many companies design unique variations on these five or use proprietary materials to make their product stand out against the competition, but if you’re looking for the right kind of resistance band to suit your workout routine and fitness goals, understanding these 5 types is a good place to start.
Easily the most popular tool for resistance band workouts, the loop band is simple in construction and appealing in its versatility. They’re essentially just big rubber bands that you can fix to an anchor point, wrap around your arms and legs, or even attach to free weights to make standard strength training exercises more challenging.
Resistance loops are convenient for bodyweight exercises like push-ups where you can wrap them over your shoulders to add extra difficulty without having to add extra weight. IN the case of the push-up, adding weight any other way is pretty difficult.
Loop bands are the easiest to get into position for an exercise. If you need to create an anchor point, you can simply fold them in half around a vertical or horizontal bar and pull one end through to create a knot. With a large enough loop band, you can attach dumbbells and other weights to an anchor point or step on the opposite end of the band to create more tension.
These resistance bands look like loop bands except they’re a bit wider and generally much smaller. You wouldn’t use them to set up anchor points or add tension to weight training exercises like you would with loop bands, though. Rather, you would wrap them around your legs for most exercises or your wrists for a few others.
You might hear people call these booty bands because they’re often used for lower-body exercises that will give you killer glutes. Mini bands are wrapped around the legs above the knees or around the ankles to achieve this benefit.
Generally speaking, these exercise bands are less useful for targeting muscle groups in the upper body because they aren’t big enough to wrap around your shoulders. However, you can put mini bands around both wrists to add tension to bodyweight lat pulldowns. This is especially useful when you can’t create a door anchor or attach a longer band to a high anchor point as you need to do band pulldowns.
Another option is to wrap the mini band around one arm by bending your elbow and sliding the band up until it’s near your wrist and armpit at each end. This will add tension to bicep curls. You could also wrap mini bands around a bar to create an anchor point for triceps curls, although their small size makes them less convenient for this purpose than a large loop band would be.
Tube resistance bands are built with handles on one end and a small loop on the other for quick attachment at anchor points. The elastic bands are not as wide and are more round, more like ropes than flatter loop bands and mini bands.
Rather than wrapping them around both legs as you would with loop resistance bands, you would use tube bands to add tension to exercises that require you to move a body part away from a fixed external point. For example, a tube resistance band would be more helpful for lower body workouts like the standing lateral leg raise.
You can also use a tube resistance band to work out the muscle groups in your upper body. Setting up door anchors is fast and easy, plus it’s much easier to maintain a grip using the handles on tube resistance bands.
Tube bands with handles make exercises like the banded chest press easy to do with the proper form.
One particular kind of tube band is called the Figure 8 Band. It’s simply two loops with a bridge in the middle - imagine a loop band with a constrictor piece in the middle that creates two loops. There are handles on the outside of each loop, making them ideal for pull-apart exercises with the loops held by your hands or as ankle straps around your feet.
People with an injury history, undergoing physical therapy, or in need of extra light-impact resistance band training usually use therapy bands, which are like loop bands that aren’t connected at the ends. Although they’re harder to grip than loop or tube bands, when used for less intense exercises therapy bands are easier on the joints and hands.
Seniors and people seeing physical therapists are likely to use these bands, but many others also prefer therapy bands for their warm-ups and cool-down exercises once their main routine is finished. Using the light-resistance therapy band for the warm-up and higher-tension models for the main routine helps prevent lasting stiffness or soreness and also helps exhaust some of the slow-twitch muscles that are most resistant to fatigue.
Therapy bands can be tied together to mimic the benefits of standard loop bands, although all that tying and untying, as well as the chance of tying a knot you can’t untangle, could make them a less than ideal choice for some.
While most of the other bands on this list are used for all types of exercises, pull-up bands are uniquely tailored to support users’ body weights during pull-ups and chin-ups. Many people use them to reach that evasive first pull-up or overcome plateaus in their pull-up count. They’re essentially large, heavy-duty loop bands that can support most of a person’s body weight.
Resistance bands apply more pressure the more they’re stretched, which presents a strange problem for people who use pull-up bands as part of their workout. The band is meant to be used by attaching it to the horizontal pull-up bar and then stepping into it with one or both feet - the resistance band is what supports the bodyweight of the user.
But that also means that the band provides the most support for the user when they’re in the lowest position, i.e. the easiest part of the move. As you lift your body toward the pull-up bar, the band provides less help.
Still, they are useful for helping you preserve some strength so you can use them to complete a pull-up. It’s kind of like batting with a doughnut in that you can build strength to help you get through more bandless pull-ups.
So, of all these different types of resistance bands, which one is the best for building toned muscles and functional strength?
If you’re looking for versatility, loop bands are the best choice. Tube bands may have handles that make them easier to grip, but standard loop bands will help build grip strength and eventually will become easy enough to hold onto. You can also tie loop bands to create anchor points as readily as you could attach the loop end of a tube band to an anchor.
Loop bands enable you to add tension to more types of exercise. For instance, you could use them around your legs or wrap them around your arms. They can be gripped for pull-aparts or attached to an anchor point for pulldowns, or you could even wrap them around barbells and free weights to add some resistance training to your strength training routine.
There are a few scenarios where you might opt for one of the other types of resistance bands. You certainly need a pull-up band to perform band-assisted pull-ups. You also might want smaller mini bands if you’re doing isometrics. Pilates and therapy bands are a classic combination.
For most situations, loop bands do the trick, which is why they’re the best all-around type of resistance band. But the others can come in handy sometimes as well, which is why it’s best to invest in a resistance band set that has a variety of styles. They’re inexpensive, especially compared to heavy-duty strength training equipment, so buying a whole set shouldn’t set you back too much.
Navigating the different levels of resistance available on these bands isn’t as simple as it sounds. Some of the rules are intuitive - light resistance when you first start and progressively higher levels of resistance as you get stronger, for example.
You can also use different levels of resistance within one workout routine to push targeted muscle groups toward exhaustion.
Employing a less resistant band for bicep curls to fully deplete your biceps after a full-body workout with high-level resistance bands will help you increase hypertrophy.
Overdoing it on the resistance band could negate some of the greatest advantages of using resistance bands in the first place. The bands usually help users perform exercises with much better form than they would naturally, particularly when they’re learning new moves.
But select a band that gives you more resistance than you need and it could actively prevent you from performing exercises with the proper form. That’s another good reason why you should invest in a set of various types of resistance bands.
Keeping different styles and strengths with you ensures you won’t cheat yourself out of a workout - you can always switch to a different style or alter the level of resistance to suit your needs at a given moment. Most manufacturers color code their resistance bands so that you know what level of resistance you have.
It’s helpful for quickly grabbing the band you need, so as long as you choose a set that has all the colors you need, you’ll be prepared for workouts of varying difficulty and pretty much any banded exercise you can think to add in.
The most important factor in selecting the right level of resistance is to test them out and listen to your body as you begin using your new workout equipment. If your muscles are fatiguing too quickly or you aren’t seeing the results you want, reexamine the bands you’re using.
If you’re still in the beginning stages of incorporating resistance bands into your workouts, tube bands with handles might be the best choice until you get the hang of all the moves and build up enough grip strength to use loop bands. For some exercises, you may never want to switch from the tube band to a loop band or other variety.
Integrating resistance bands into bodyweight exercise routines is a bit less complicated than doing the same with strength training routines.
If the convenience of bands is what appeals to you most, you might want to look into replacing the equipment-dependent exercises with their resistance band counterparts so that you can get the same great workout without having to invest in a home gym with lots of gear and equipment.
Start bringing in resistance band exercises into your workouts by including them in your warm-up routine. This will also help you build strength for more complicated exercises and nail the form so you can give your muscles the best and most targeted workout possible.
Learning how to use resistance bands safely is also important for avoiding things like slapbacks, which hurt pretty severely and could cause injuries that will take you out of your fitness regimen for weeks or longer if they’re serious enough.
Resistance bands are a great way to make your workout more difficult and push your muscles to their limits. The tension they apply to your muscles not only makes them work harder but also enables you to target them from different angles that aren’t possible with weights alone.
The bands come in various styles and levels of resistance so you can tailor your routine to achieve your fitness goals. Progressive overload and other methods for hypertrophy are very much possible with resistance bands alone, or you can pair them with weights to make strength training exercises more of a challenge.
Loop bands are by far the best style because of their versatility, but the other styles come in handy in certain situations.
Invest in a set of resistance bands that contains various styles and strengths and you’ll be able to meet your strength gains and fitness goals in no time.