5 Resistance Band Exercises That Physical Therapists Swear By
Curious about resistance bands? Learn about the benefits of resistance bands and why PTs love them. Get simple at-home resistance band exercises to try.
Want an exercise routine that you can do anytime, anywhere? Look no further than resistance band exercises. These are lightweight rubber, elastic bands that can put a little extra snap into your resistance training routine. “You can use them regardless of your fitness level and get a great workout,” says Heather Broach, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
Even better, you can take them anywhere, which means you can do a few exercises at your desk at work, on a plane, on vacation, or wherever else the urge hits you. Read on for the inside scoop from PTs on how these can enhance your workout.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Dr. Heather Broach, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
What Do Resistance Bands Do?
Resistance bands add tension to an exercise to make it more difficult and engage more muscles. Specifically, they help engage stabilizer muscles, which support your larger muscles and joints (like knees and hips) when you move. This is good because it can help reduce your risk of injury and prevent future pain flares in joints.
Using resistance bands is different from weight lifting because bands provide a progressive amount of resistance as you tense the band, explains Dr. Broach. So there’s more challenge at the end of each move than at the beginning. “If you’re doing a bicep curl with dumbbells, for example, the exact same force is placed on your muscles through each phase of the exercise,” she says. “But if you do it with a resistance band, the resistance increases as you bring your hands to the top, and decreases as you bring your hands back down. It just strengthens your muscles a little bit differently.”
While resistance bands may not look like much, they carry a big muscle-strengthening punch. A 2019 study published in the journal SAGE Open Medicine found that resistance band workouts were just as effective as weight training with weight machines and dumbbells.
Benefits of Resistance Bands
“Physical therapists love resistance bands,” says Dr. Broach. “We can show our patients exercises to do in our clinics and send them home with their bands to continue those workouts at home.” Here are some of the main benefits of doing exercises with resistance bands:
They’re great for stretching. “Resistance bands help you deepen your stretch so you really increase your flexibility,” notes Dr. Broach. You may want to use a lighter band for stretching, as a very heavy (or inflexible) one may not provide enough “give” for a stretch.
They help with injury recovery. If you’ve had a recent injury or pain flare, bands are a good way to ease back into resistance training. “A lot of our patients are hesitant about getting back to activity after being away from it for a while, so the idea of using a machine at the gym can be overwhelming. Instead, we can use resistance bands to do simple exercises like pull-ups or seated marches.” A 2019 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that resistance band exercises were as effective as supervised training in a physical therapy clinic.
They’re adaptable. “I love resistance bands because they allow you to modify your movements as you need to if you’re in pain,” explains Dr. Broach. “If it hurts too much to pull the band all the way, you don’t have to. It’s a great way for people to gain awareness of their body and not to push themselves past their limit.” As you gain strength, you’ll be able to increase resistance with your band.
They’re accessible. A set of resistance bands typically includes light, medium, and heavy options, which refers to how difficult the bands are to stretch. They usually cost about $25 — much less than investing in free weights for your home, or a gym membership. “Most of our patients already have bands at home, and if they don’t, they are easy enough to get,” explains Dr. Broach.
Types of Resistance Bands
There are several different types of resistance bands available. Here’s a quick overview:
Therapy bands. These are mainly used in physical therapy. “They’re about four feet long, and they’re in a flat ribbon style so that you can tighten or loosen them as needed,” explains Dr. Broach. “These can be really useful to have at home because they’re very versatile.”
Loop bands. These are made of the same material as therapy bands, but they’re closed loops. “They’re smaller, and they’re meant to be put around your feet, ankles, knees, or arms,” says Dr. Broach. These are popular for resistance training.
Figure 8 bands. These bands are shorter than the other two. They often have soft foam handles at each end and they’re pinched in the middle (making the band look like the number eight). “The design stops the bands from riding up and down your legs,” says Dr. Broach, “but that makes their usability more limited — they’re mainly used for lower body exercises.”
Exercises with Resistance Band
Not sure where to start? Here’s how Hinge Health physical therapists suggest using resistance bands for a full-body workout.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
PT Tip: Go by Color
Buying resistance bands can be confusing. How do you know what level of resistance you need? “Resistance bands are usually color-coded, which you can use to your advantage,” says Dr. Broach. Often, green indicates the lightest band, or the one with the least resistance, and red indicates a harder band. “And usually there’s greater tension as band colors darken,” says Dr. Broach.
But since it’s not universal — companies don’t all follow the same color scheme — it’s also a good idea to go with a set of bands that offers a good amount of variety. Keep in mind that the more strength an exercise requires, the more resistance you’ll need, Dr. Broach adds. “For instance, you’ll probably use a different color for a leg lunge than you will for a bicep curl.” So what you decide to purchase also depends on what types of exercise you want to use the bands for.
Learn More About Hinge Health for Pain Relief
We’ve got a full team of clinical experts to help you move past your pain and use resistance bands to stretch and strengthen all your muscle groups. Click here to see if you’re eligible to join our free digital clinic for back and joint pain.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Get a Hinge Health care plan designed for you
Lopes, J. S. S., Machado, A. F., Micheletti, J. K., de Almeida, A. C., Cavina, A. P., & Pastre, C. M. (2019). Effects of Training with Elastic Resistance versus Conventional Resistance on Muscular strength: a Systematic Review and meta-analysis. SAGE Open Medicine, 7, 205031211983111. doi:10.1177/2050312119831116
Liu, X., Gao, Y., Lu, J., Ma, Q., Shi, Y., Liu, J., Xin, S., & Su, H. (2022). Effects of Different Resistance Exercise Forms on Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Overweight and/or Obese Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Physiology, 12. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.791999
Picha, K. J., Almaddah, M. R., Barker, J., Ciochetty, T., Black, W. S., & Uhl, T. L. (2019). Elastic Resistance Effectiveness on Increasing Strength of Shoulders and Hips. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(4), 931–943. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002216