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Exercise & Fitness
Resistance bands: 3 great ways to build upper body strength
- By Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
Resistance bands are not impressive-looking exercise tools, but they definitely can pull their weight. During a recent gym training session, my workout routine began with several sets of bicep curls. But before I could reach for the dumbbell rack, my personal trainer dropped a resistance band at my feet.
Really? This thin, lightweight, flimsy-looking thing is going to help strengthen my arms?
I was skeptical, but after a few sets of speed curls where I did 20 reps as fast as possible, my arms burned and twitched like nothing I usually felt with traditional grip-and-curl dumbbells.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. But mixing it up with different equipment and challenging my muscles in a new way added a jolt to my sometimes-mundane exercise ritual.
By the session’s end, I was a resistance band groupie.
What types of resistance bands are available?
There are several types of resistance bands. The most common type is a single length of stretchy material. Another kind is a closed loop that resembles a giant rubber band. A third type is a thin rubber tube with handles.
One significant advantage of resistance bands compared with weights is that they provide variable levels of resistance. This is particularly helpful in instances when you’re stuck between weights that are either too light or too heavy. You increase resistance in different ways, depending on the type of band you’re using:
- When using lengths of stretchy material, you can change resistance by adjusting your hand position to shorten or increase the length. Colors also may be used to show different levels of resistance from easiest to hardest.
- The rubber band types are color coordinated based on the thickness and level of resistance they offer. Yellow is often the lightest and easiest to use, followed by red, green, blue, and black. (This may vary depending on the brand.)
- The tube with handles is often used for standing exercises. You adjust the resistance by how close or far apart you place your feet when standing on the tube. Tubes come in different thicknesses to provide less resistance or more resistance.
Bands provide many benefits
Bands are easy to store and use if you follow provided directions, watch videos of band workouts, or learn a band workout from a class or personal trainer.
They can prepare your muscles for the many types of movements you make throughout the day, such as when you stretch, bend, lift, or simply rise from a chair. In addition, training with bands improves muscle power, which helps you avoid falls and risk of injury.
Bands are especially helpful if you have trouble gripping or holding dumbbells, or need greater control when doing exercises, such as if you’re recovering from an injury or dealing with joint pain.
Three great resistance band moves for upper body strength
Ready to join the band? Here are three resistance band moves that can help build your chest, back, shoulders, and arms. For these, use the basic stretchy material band, which is readily found online.
Starting position: Place the exercise band around your back and under your armpits. Hold an end in each hand by your shoulders.
Movement: With control, punch your right arm out in front of you on a slight diagonal across your body. Repeat with left arm. That’s one rep.
Muscles worked: Chest
Reps: 8 to 12
Starting position: Hold a band over your head with your hands about 12 to 16 inches apart.
Movement: Bend your elbows and pull your hands down, stretching the band, to about chest level. Slowly raise your arms back overhead to the starting position.
Muscles worked: Back, shoulders
Reps: 8 to 12
Starting position: Place the middle of the band under one foot with the opposite foot slightly behind it to help you balance. Hold an end of the band in each hand with your arms down at your sides, palms facing forward.
Movement: Bend your elbows and raise your hands toward your shoulders. Keep your upper arms stationary and your elbows close to your body. Slowly lower to the starting position.
Muscles worked: Front of upper arms
Reps: 8 to 12
About the Author
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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