Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 10, 2021

Resistance bands may look like large rubber bands. But they are a great way to work out your upper body.

What Are Resistance Bands?

Resistance bands are elastic bands. They work by adding external resistance but without having to add weights. There are a few different types of resistance bands, including: 

  • A stretchy long band
  • A closed loop that looks like a big rubber band
  • A thin rubber tube with handles — this type is usually used for standing exercises

Resistance bands often come in different colors based on the level of resistance. Usually lighter colors are easier, and darker colors are harder. The resistance can be increased or decreased by moving to a different band or by adjusting your hand position to make it longer or shorter.

Resistance training makes your muscles work against a force or weight. When you train consistently and repeatedly, your muscles get stronger.

Some of the benefits of resistance training include:

  • Improving your muscle tone and strength
  • Improving your balance and flexibility
  • Lowering your risk of injury
  • Improving your stamina
  • Increasing bone density and lowering your risk of osteoporosis
  • Improving your posture
  • Helping with weight management
  • Improving your ability to carry out everyday activities

Benefits of Resistance Bands

Inexpensive. You can easily find resistance bands online or at many stores. A decent set of bands costs about $25. Kettlebells and dumbbells can easily cost $100 or more.

Adaptable. Regardless of your fitness level, you can find a resistance band workout for you. You can easily increase or decrease the resistance.

Exercise different muscle groups. Resistance bands are not just for your upper body. You can also try exercises for different types of workouts and muscles, like your:

  • Back
  • Thighs
  • Hips
  • Calves

Easy to hold. Resistance bands may be helpful if you have problems gripping dumbbells, or if you’re recovering from an injury.

Travel-friendly. Unlike most gym equipment, resistance bands take up very little space. You can easily bring them with you on a trip because they easily fit into your bag or suitcase. It’s a good way to keep up with your exercise routine when you’re away from home.

Upper Body Resistance Band Workouts

Here are some great resistance band workouts for your upper body:

Bicep curl.

  1. Stand with one foot on the middle of the band. 
  2. Your other foot should be slightly behind to help you balance.
  3. Grab each end of the resistance band in each hand. Keep your arms down at your sides, palms forward.
  4. Bend your elbows to lift your hands to your shoulders.
  5. Keep your upper arms still and elbows close to your body.
  6. Lower to the starting position.  
  7. Repeat.

Chest press.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the ends of the band in both hands. Place the band behind your back and under your armpits.
  3. Bend and raise your elbows to about chest level. Keep your wrists firm and palms parallel with the floor.
  4. Extend your arms out in front of your body.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat.

Overhead triceps extension.

  1. Stand with one foot in front of the other. The band should be under your back foot.
  2. Hold the other end of the band over your back. Your arm should be bent and your elbow facing forward. Support your elbow with your other hand to isolate the muscle.
  3. Keeping your back flat, extend your right arm above your head. Your palm should face away from you.
  4. Lower slowly to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Lateral raise.

  1. Stand with one foot in front of the other. The middle of the band should be under your front foot.
  2. Hold the ends with palms facing your body.
  3. Lift your arms out straight to shoulder height. Your palms should face downward and your elbows should be slightly bent.
  4. Lower slowly. 
  5. Repeat.

When doing resistance workouts, it’s important to control your movements and maintain good form and alignment. 

If you’re a beginner, experts recommend two or three resistance training days a week. You should rest each muscle group for at least 48 hours, so don’t have these training sessions back to back.

How to Exercise Safely With Resistance Bands

When working out with resistance bands, here are some safety tips:

  • Check your bands for any wear and tear or defects before using.
  • Don’t store them in direct sunlight or cold. 
  • Choose a band that’s suitable for your fitness level.
  • Make sure to securely hold the bands in your hands or under your feet before beginning any exercises.
  • Control the movement of the resistance band. Move slowly when you stretch and relax the band. 
  • Don’t overstretch the band. This may cause it to snap.
  • Maintain good posture and form when exercising with a resistance band.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Better Health Channel: “Resistance training – health benefits.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Should You Try Resistance Bands for Strength Training?”

Cornell Recreation Services: “CFC Ready-Made Workouts - Upper Body Workout With Resistance Bands.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Resistance bands: 3 great ways to build upper body strength.”

UC Berkeley University Health Services: "RESISTANCE BAND AND BODY WEIGHT EXERCISES IN SMALL SPACES."‌

University of Minnesota Extension: “Healthy and fit on the go: resistance bands.”

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