Resistance bands are a godsend for injury-prone exercisers. They don’t stress joints like a weighted dumbbell or kettlebell can. Plus, they target smaller muscles that help to stabilize the body, and this can aid you in your overall form if you decide to do bodyweight or weighted workouts.
Another plus: “Unlike cables or weights that provide a steady and unchanging amount of resistance, the resistance from a band changes throughout a movement, making the exercise hardest at the furthest point in the movement. This increases the variability within each exercise movement to provide a greater challenge to the body,” says Alison McGinnis, physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City.
On top of this windfall of perks, pretty much anyone can use resistance bands, no matter their fitness level. However, determining what type of resistance band to use can be daunting. There are three kinds of bands, and each works differently. Here, McGinnis breaks down how each type functions — and how you can use them to your benefit.
Not All Resistance Bands Are Created Equally
Loop, therapy, tube: Which is right for you? First, go into your resistance band purchase with knowledge of the goals you want to achieve. Then, look at this primer:
Much like a rubber band, these are thin, flat bands that create a circle. If you want to work both arms or both legs together, loop bands fit the bill. “Since these bands are connected, moving one limb will effect both limbs at the same time as one side stabilizes to move the other side,” McGinnis explains, adding they work wonders for side-step motions or shoulder exercises. If you need mobility exercises or functional training for everyday activities, she suggests thick, long looped bands. “They can be used to help pull you a bit deeper into an active stretch while improving tensegrity across a joint,” McGinnis says. Be forewarned: She recommends seeking professional instruction before using looped bands for more effective, safe results.
TFL recommends: Rogue Fitness Monster Bands
Rather than form a circle, these thin, flat bands are open ended and typically several feet long. McGinnis says they make a perfect starter band because they provide the most variability. “They can be held in both hands or tied to a sturdy object, or the ends can be tied together to create a looped band,” she says, adding, “They can be used to add resistance to pretty much any movement if you get creative.”
TFL recommends: TheraBand Professional Non-Latex Resistance Bands
These long, skinny tubes typically have handles at their ends and function best with arm exercises. “They can be looped or tied around a sturdy object to use with either one hand or two, or you can step on the band in the middle to secure it from below,” McGinnis says.
TFL recommends: ProsourceFit Resistance Band Set
The thicker the band, the harder it will be to stretch — and the more your muscles have to work to stretch it. If you’re not sure how much band pliability you need, don’t fret: McGinnis notes that some band manufacturers give equivalents to weights (like 15 pounds of resistance), so you can pick based on what you historically feel comfortable lifting. Other band companies provide ranges from “light” to “heavy,” and these can admittedly be more challenging to select.
The good news: Many resistance bands come in packs that contain varying thicknesses, and you should be able to find your match within the pack through trial and error. Packs also have the benefit of more options. “You can pick the perfect resistance for each exercise you do, as certain muscles are more powerful than others,” McGinnis says. Whether you opt for a pack or individual bands, McGinnis recommends focusing on two band strengths for your resistance bands workouts: a lighter one for arm exercises and a heavier one for leg exercises.
Take Care of Your Bands
Anecdotes of a band snapping, breaking, and “taking an eye out” pepper online comments sections — and though McGinnis admits that bands do break after a substantial length of time and use, she’s never witnessed an injury from it.
To stave off band breakage, store them away from pets with a penchant for chewing objects and in a moderate climate. “Too hot or too cold will affect the extensibility of the band and can make it brittle and more prone to breakage,” McGinnis says. Before each use, inspect your bands for small tears. If you see any, replace them. As for snapping: “Since the bands are being stretched, they tend to snap away from the center point — and therefore away from you,” she says. In other words: Snapping an eye out averted!