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The Definitive Guide to Resistance Bands and Workout Bands

Resistance bands, also known as workout bands or exercise bands, are stretchable bands used for both physical therapy and general fitness.

Not matter where you are with your body and your fitness routine, there is a resistance band out there that is right for you. This article will discuss what resistance bands are, how they benefit the body, and their many functionalities in the athletic world.

The article will also describe the six main types of resistance bands and outline a series of popular exercises for resistance band users.

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 What is a resistance band?

The six types of resistance bands

The five colors of resistance bands

What are resistance bands used for?

The benefits of resistance bands

            Resistance bands vs weight

Exercises to do with your resistance band

Picking the right resistance band

            Which resistance band should you use for pull ups?

            Which resistance band should you use for P90x?

            Which resistance band should you use for T25?

What should you look for in a resistance band?

Safety and general tips for resistance bands

Purchasing a resistance band

 

What is a resistance band?

A resistance band is a lightweight elastic band used to induce muscular contraction. This contracting motion builds strength in the muscles as the user pulls against the band. Resistance bands have been around in some form or another since the early 20th century. At first, they were primarily used for rehabilitation. Those with damaged muscles would use the bands to recuperate their lost strength.

Today, resistance bands are used both by those undergoing physical therapy, and by anyone looking to strengthen their muscles. There are six primary types of resistance bands, and five standard colors for the bands that indicate how much resistance they provide.

What are the types of resistance bands?

Resistance bands vary not only in terms of color, but also in terms of size, shape, handles, and looped vs non-looped.

  1. Therapy band

A therapy band is almost always used for rehabilitation, as the name indicates. Therapy bands do not have handles and are gentle on the body. They have a flat surface rather than a tubular structure. Some work with therapy bands not only for physical rehabilitation, but also for mental rehabilitation. 

In a nutshell:

  1. Compact resistance band

Compact resistance bands consist of a longer-than-usual tube (around 4 feet) with two plastic handles on each end. They are sometimes referred to as “fit tube” resistance bands. They are varied in their use, and can be used to train the upper body, arms, and lower body.

In a nutshell:

  1. Fit loop band

Like the therapy band, the fit loop band has a flat, rather than tubular surface. It makes a continuous loop, as the title suggests. It is best used to strengthen the lower body, including the legs, hips, and buttocks.

In a nutshell:

  1. Figure 8 band

A figure 8 band consists of two plastic handles connected by a tube in a figure 8 shape. These bands tend to be on the shorter end. Their short length and double handles mean they are perfect for developing strength in the upper body, particularly in the arms.

In a nutshell:

  1. Ring resistance band

A ring resistance band consists of a small, single ring with two handles attached to either side of it. The handles are soft, rather than hard plastic. These types of bands are best for working the lower body, but they require different exercises than the fit loop band or the compact resistance band.

In a nutshell:

  1. Lateral resistance band

Rather than the typical handles, a lateral resistance band has velcro cuffs on either end. These cuffs are typically wrapped around each ankle, to help train the lower body, particularly the hips and the thighs.

In a nutshell:

Summary: Main types of resistance bands

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What do the resistance band colors mean?

Resistance bands come in different colors to indicate what level of resistance they provide. Some resistance bands feel much heavier than others. In general, the color code below applies to most resistance bands, regardless of the brand. However, some brands may have their own color code, especially for more unusual bands, such as therapy bands and fit loop bands.

  1. The yellow resistance band

This color of resistance band is the lightest and the stretchiest. It is perfect for those just starting to do resistance band training, but you’ll find that practitioners across the board still use it. That’s because the lightness of the band helps it target muscle groups that don’t need a lot of resistance to still be working. For example, you could use a yellow band to work your shin or shoulder muscles.

  1. The red resistance band

Red resistance bands are not quite as stretchy as the yellow bands, and overall, they provide a higher level of tension. This makes them a good middle-of-the-road choice, classified as “medium resistance”. You could use your red band after you feel you’ve graduated from your yellow band, or to target specific muscle groups that work great under medium resistance, like your triceps or biceps.

  1. The green resistance band

The medium-to-heavy green resistance band is the next level up from red. It should be used by those who have already built up a lot of muscle tone, or those looking to specifically focus on large muscle groups, rather than individual muscles. For example, you could use a green resistance band on your legs.

  1. The blue resistance band

Blue resistance bands are stiff and unyielding. Like the green resistance bands, you should use these only with large muscle groups, or after you have practiced with stretchier bands.

  1. The black resistance band

 

Black resistance bands are the most difficult bands to use. They are very stiff and do not stretch easily. You should make sure you have built up your strength before you attempt to work with these bands. Because they are so hard to stretch out, black resistance bands are a great choice for doing partnered exercises, where both you and another are pulling against the band.

Summary: Main resistance band colors

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What are resistance bands used for?

There are two primary uses for resistance bands. 1.) For general fitness and 2.) for physical therapy. However many different types of athletes and practitioners fall under these two general branches.

Resistance bands for fitness

Sports-training

Many athletes use resistance bands to build the specific muscles they need to strengthen for their sport. For example, a martial artist might use a band to improve their grip and upper arm strength, making chokes and holds much easier to maintain. A skier might use a resistance band in the off-season to build muscle in the calves and thighs, letting them carve through the snow at the perfect angle, once the season begins.

Aesthetics

Resistance bands are one of the best ways to sculpt the body because they can target specific areas better than weights or weight machines can. If you are aiming for a certain look--toned arms, sculpted abs, etc. than a resistance band is one of the best ways to exercise.

Dance

Many dancers use resistance bands to both strengthen their calves, knees, and thighs, and to practice their balance. There are barre exercises for resistance bands that let ballerinas and other dancers work on building their leg muscles.

Intense fitness regimen

Many intense fitness regimens, such as P90x, require resistance bands as part of their training. This is not only because of the effectiveness of resistance bands, but also because their color-coding makes evaluation easy. Practitioners can move through the colors of bands with different exercises, and see hard evidence of the significant progress they’ve made. We will talk more about the best resistance bands for different types of fitness regimens below.

Resistance bands for physical therapy

Resistance bands are frequently used in physical therapy because of their specificity. Often, when a muscle is injured, other muscles will build up around it to make up for the loss. However, this can backfire, as the injured muscle is less likely to ever rebuild its full strength. Resistance bands help physical therapists ensure that the exact muscle is regaining strength, rather than just the muscles around it.

They also let physical therapists choose highly specific levels of resistance for their patients. Users can start at very gentle levels, so as not to strain any injured muscles.

Summary: resistance band uses

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The benefits of resistance bands

General benefits of resistance training

No workout routine is complete without some form of resistance training. Working your muscles against something else has numerous advantages for your body, and even some for your mind.

Resistance training helps improve weight loss

Even though resistance training won’t burn as many calories at once as aerobic exercise, it still has weight loss benefits. When you build muscle tone, your body’s metabolism receives a significant boost. This is because muscle tone at rest burns many more calories than fat at rest. So if your body has a lower fat percentage, it will burn a higher rate of resting calories.

Once you lose weight, several studies have shown that you’ll also have an easier time keeping it off if you practice resistance training two or three times a week.

Resistance training helps manage arthritis

Many physical therapists use resistance training to help treat arthritis. The additional muscle mass provides better control over your hands and reduces pain levels.

Resistance training helps prevent injury

Resistance training builds muscles and strengthens the overall density of the bone. This means that you are less likely to break or fracture something after a fall. Your bones will be stronger, and they will have more a protective cushion around them. You are also less likely to fall in the first place when you have stronger muscles.

Resistance training puts you in a better mood

When you work your muscles during resistance training, your brain releases more endorphins than usual. These endorphins not only cheer you up during your exercise, they have a lasting effect. With a regular resistance training regimen, you will sleep better and be less prone to depressive episodes. 

Resistance training prevents deterioration

Once the body is fully developed, it starts losing around 1% of its strength each year, a statistic which goes for both bones and muscles. The best way to prevent this loss is to continue building bone and muscle density on a consistent basis, to make up for what is naturally lost.

Resistance bands vs weights

The above list addresses the general benefits of resistance training, which can be done with weights, resistance bands, the body alone, or through other methods. The following list discusses the advantages of using resistance bands rather than weights.

They are easy to travel with

Resistance bands are much easier to transport than weights. They are great for taking on vacations if you don’t want to miss your favorite workout routine. They are also much lighter -- tucking one into your suitcase won’t get you flagged at the airport for having too much weight.

They are inexpensive

Resistance bands are one of the most cost-effective ways to get a full workout. Many resistance bands are priced at less than 10 dollars. Even higher quality, more expensive bands are usually less than 30 dollars. You can get a full set of resistance bands for much less than you would pay for a weight machine, while still engaging in many of the same exercises.

They are easy to store

No matter how many resistance bands you end up purchasing, you need almost no storage space for them. Each band can simply be rolled up and tucked away for maximum convenience.

They introduce variety

If you already love the weights or machines you work with, you might feel a resistance band is unnecessary. However, adding variety is very helpful to your workout. Your muscles become accustomed to the same types of movements, and adapt accordingly, so adding elements of variety can help you make sure you’re still challenging them.

You can use them to do exercises you already know

One of the coolest things about resistance bands is how you can add them to exercises you’re already familiar with. You can combine resistance bands with leg lifts for more of a challenge, for example, or use resistance bands to make your daily pushups truly intense.

They are versatile

Not only can you use resistance bands in the place of weights, you can use them with weights. This adds additional challenges of balance and coordination, for a genuinely rigorous workout.

They are great to use on your own

It’s very difficult to use advanced weights without the help of a partner. If you need to practice strength training alone, resistance bands are a great choice. You can use them safely even when you advance to the higher levels, and you won’t need to constantly depend on your workout buddy.

They offer more specificity

As we discussed in our section about physical therapy, few other tools can help you isolate target muscles the way that resistance bands do. If you have a particular focus, combine contractions with the right movement and see those muscles grow in no time.

Summary: Benefits of resistance training

Summary: Advantages of resistance bands

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Exercises to do with resistance bands

There are many types of exercises you can do with your resistance band. Some are gentle and mild, helping to familiarize the muscles with a certain movement, whereas others are quite intense.

One of the advantages of resistance bands is you can use them to add weight to popular exercises you may already be doing. When you add this level of resistance, you will see faster progress in building muscle tone.

  1. Front Squat

To do a front squat with your resistance band, stand on top of the middle of your resistance band. You will want your feet to be about a shoulder length apart. Hold the handles of the band, one in each hand, and bring them to the top of your shoulders. Then, squat down, letting the band contract. When you lift up from your squat, the band will expand with your movement, and add resistance to it.

  1. Lateral walk

To do a lateral walk, use either a ring band or a lateral band. You want either your legs between the band at your ankles, or the cuffs attached at the ankles. At first, bring your feet about a shoulder width apart and come into a slight squat. Then, sidestep to your right, stretching the band and creating tension. Take several steps to the right this way. Repeat the process, this time stepping to your left instead.

  1. Bent-over rowing

Stand in the center of your band. Bend over slightly at your hips, but keep your knees bent so that your back remains flat. Grab the handles of your band on either side, and then contract your elbows so that your hands come all the way up to your waist. You should feel your shoulder blades coming together as you bend your elbows.

  1. Lying down pull

For this exercise, start in a lying down position with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Anchor your band at a position a short length away from you and above you, such as a bed frame leg. Take the band with a handle in each hand, and pull it slowly over your head and torso, so that the handles come close to your hips.

  1. Pushup

A resistance band push up is most easily done with a band that doesn’t have handles. Place the center area of the band on top of your shoulders. Then grab each of the ends of the band and tuck them under your palms. Come up into a pushup position, letting the band stretch upwards. As you come down into your pushup, it will contract again.

  1. Lateral raise

Bring your feet apart, with one in front of the other. Place the center of the band under your forward foot. Take one of the handles in each hand, keeping your palms facing inwards towards your body. Then, raise both handles at the same time, until your arms are spread out fully in both directions.

  1. Standing bicep curl

Stand in the center of your band, taking a handle in each hand. Wrap your fingers around each of the handles so that your palms are facing forward. Then, bring the handles up towards your chest in a curling motion. Your hands should come close to your shoulders each time.

  1. Kneeling crunch

Anchor your band in a place high above you. Start in a kneeling position, facing away from the anchor. Take hold of each side of the band and bring your forearms in front of your chest. Then begin crunching your chest towards your hips. The band will stretch as you do so.

  1. Standing chest press

For this exercise, your band should be anchored at about chest height. Begin by standing with your back facing away from the band. Take a handle in each hand and bring your hands up to your shoulders with your elbows bent. Step one foot slightly in front of the other to maintain your balance. Then, thrust your hands straight out in front of you, letting your elbows straighten as well.

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Picking the right resistance band

Picking the right resistance band depends on your skill level, current muscle tone, and the types of exercises you would like to do. Remember, you don’t need to purchase just one resistance band. A whole set might be better for those who are committed to resistance training and want to try a variety of different exercises that can work the entire body.

Which resistance band should you use for pull ups?

The best type of resistance band for pull ups is actually a pull up assist band, which is not included in the main types of resistance bands. It is especially long and does not have handles. Users can stand on the band and tie or loop the opposite end on their pull up bar.

Which resistance band should you use for P90x?

The best type of resistance band for P90x is probably the compact resistance band, also known as the fit tube resistance band. You may want to purchase two resistance bands if you are doing P90x, rather than having to switch around during some exercises. You should also note that you can replace most of the exercises done with dumbbells with resistance bands.

Which resistance band should you use for Focus T25?

You can use several different types of resistance bands for Focus T25, but your best choice may be, again, a compact resistance band. This is because most resistance training in T25 requires either dumbbells or resistance bands. For the types of curling and pressing you are doing, you will want something with handles to grip, so you can mimic the right motions.

Summary:

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What you should look for in a resistance band

Beyond type and color, there are several other things that you can look for in a resistance band. All of these factors will help you pick the right resistance band for you and your workout.

Length:

Resistance bands come in varied lengths. Some are small and cannot even stretch past an arms length. Others, like pull up bands, are quite extensive. If you are unsure about which length to go with, lean towards longer options. You can usually tie, wrap, or even cut longer bands if necessary, whereas it is difficult to modify short bands in any way.

Materials:

Although most resistance bands are made of some kind of rubber-like tubing, the materials used can actually vary greatly. Depending on the material, a resistance band will be more likely to overstretch or tear. Sticking with a genuine rubber latex blend is usually a good call.

Handles:

Not only should you choose whether you want handles, you should also decide what kind of handles you prefer. If you are doing a lot of exercises that mimic dumbbells, then you will probably want handles in the first place. Then you should decide how a.) soft and b.) grippable those handles should be. If you haven’t worked with resistance bands before, go with softer handles, or you are likely to develop some serious callouses.

Summary: What to look for in a resistance band

What are pull up bands?

Pull up bands, also known as a pull up assist bands, are special types of resistance bands designed to aid those attempting pull ups. Getting started doing pull ups is difficult for many people. Even experienced athletes can have a lot of trouble with this exercise. If your body doesn’t have enough strength to do one pull up, then it’s difficult to build those muscle groups and progress to doing reps. 

With a pull up band, you can practice the motion of a pull up without straining your arms as much. It’s a great way to dive into an exercise that’s fantastic for your upper body. With band-assisted pull ups, you can strengthen your trapezius, biceps, rhomboids, and lats. You’ll see the pay off quickly with more muscle definition, and eventually you’ll be able to move to pull ups without a pull up band. 

How to use a pull up band

Using a pull up band can be a little confusing at first, so we’ll break it down into exact steps.

  1. Start off with a little cardio (under 10 minutes is fine) to get warmed up. Your muscles will be more ready to work and less likely to get injured.
  1. Choose a pull up band. Pull up bands are extra long resistance bands that are often made to be one continuous loop. Like regular resistance bands, pull up bands are color coded based on the level of a resistance.

However, this is where it gets tricky. For pull up band exercises, you want to use a higher level of resistance if you are a beginner. Because the band bears the weight of your body, the high resistance bands bear more weight and give you more of an assist. If you are just starting out, choose the blue or black band. Depending on your weight, you may also want a heavier band to support your body, so always check the specific guide for any band you purchase.

  1. Loop the band around the top of your pull up bar. Make sure it is secure. If your pull up band is not a continuous loop, you will need to tie it to the top of the bar.
  1. Step into the center at the bottom band. You can step in with both feet, or step in with one foot and cross the other foot behind it.
  1. Using an overhand grip, hold the pull up bar tightly. Your hands should be a little farther apart than the width of your shoulders. If you are having trouble reaching the bar, you can stand on a chair.
  1. Keep your whole body stiff and in place. In particular, you want to keep the center of your body rigid: focus on tightening your abs, pelvis, and glutes. Keep the center of your body in this tight position during the whole exercise.
  1. Keeping your elbows pointed towards the floor, pull your chin towards the bar. The goal is to get your chin slightly above the bar.
  1. Lower your body slowly until your arms straighten. Once they do, begin your next rep right away. The band will help you bounce back into it. Do around 5-8 reps before resting.

Safety and general tips for resistance bands

Although resistance bands are typically less dangerous to use than weights, you should still practice caution, as you should with any form of exercise. When you are careful with your bands, you are much less prone to injury, and you can progress much faster in your fitness goals.

  1. Keep your body in alignment

Some resistance exercises may including crouching, but you should never be hunched over in an unsustainable position, even if it lends your body more strength. Instead, maintain a healthy degree of alignment. Keep your knees slightly bent when you work, rather than locking them. Keep your shoulders and your hips lined up with each other, and let your spine keep its natural curve.

  1. Try exercising without the band

If you are engaging in an exercise that you haven’t tried before, practice it first without using the band. This will allow you to get a feel for the proper movement without putting stress on your muscles. Once you are comfortable with the exercise and confident in what you are doing, start adding resistance.

  1. Don’t forget to breathe

Often in any kind of resistance/strength training, there is a temptation to hold your breath asyou tense your muscles. Resist this urge and breathe easily and steadily. When the levels of resistance become more challenging, exhale rather than inhaling or holding the breath in.

  1. Do not lock your joints

If you find that your joints are locking when the band expands, then you are probably using too much resistance. You should always have a slight bend in your joints, even when the resistance band itself is fully extended. Otherwise, you resist over-extending your muscles and injuring them.

  1. Take your time

Do not progress too quickly to more difficult bands. Instead, take your time and make sure you have mastered a band color completely before you decide to tackle the next level. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to do around 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of an exercise before you decide to try it with a different band.

  1. Don’t release a tense/extended resistance band

When you let go of a resistance band that is already extended, it will snap back towards you. This has the potential to injure you, and at the very least, it’s not any fun getting smacked in the face with a handle. Always wait until you have released the tension on your band to let it go.

  1. Don’t stretch the band too far

Stretching a band beyond its capacity greatly increases the likelihood it will tear or break. Try to never extend a band more than 2 ½ times its own length.

  1. Inspect your band before you use it

Each time before you begin your workout, give your band a thorough inspection. Check it for any tears or frays that may lead to greater damage during your workout. You never want your band to break unexpectedly while you are putting tension on it.

  1. Don’t store your band in sunny or humid areas

You should clean the handles of your band off when you use it. Beyond that, you should avoid storing it in areas where the rubber is more prone to expanding or growing bacteria. Storing your band in a cool, dry place will ensure it lasts a long time.

Summary: Safety and General tips

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Purchasing a resistance band

Purchasing a resistance band is a great choice for anyone looking to build muscle tone for almost any reason. It is a low-risk investment, since resistance bands are inexpensive and can be used anywhere.

If you are unsure which resistance band to purchase, we recommend either purchasing a full set so that you can progress with the band, or starting out with a yellow or red resistance band with handles. The handles will help you mimic exercises you may have already done with dumbbells or other weights, but you will be able to more precisely target specific muscle groups.

About our resistance bands

At WODfitters, we offer a variety of resistance bands made from top quality materials. Our exercise resistance bands have soft, grippable handles and are made from a durable rubber latex blend. Our therapy bands are smooth and sleek and great for anyone looking to rebuild lost muscle.

We also manufacturer looped bands if you want to work your upper body specifically, or extra-long pull up bands if you are looking to add some extra “oomph” to your pull up game. Whatever band you are looking for, WODfitters can promise a finished product that’s well-designed, highly reliable, and customized for your needs.

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