If you’re interested in adding resistance bands to your toolbox, you’re on a good path. They’re a versatile tool that most fitness enthusiasts stand to benefit from. Unfortunately, I don’t see nearly enough people using them.
You’re reading this guide, so I’m going to assume you have at least a passing interest in them. But just in case you’re not quite sure if they’re for you, we’ll touch on what makes them a must-have piece of equipment.
Top Benefits of Resistance Bands
Bands are portable. Have you ever tried dropping a dumbbell into your backpack? I sure hope not. A band – or even a set of resistance bands, depending on the type – easily fits into a single pocket of a backpack. That’s serious portability.
Bands allow for easy resistance adjustment. Because bands offer a range of resistances rather than a single resistance, you don’t have to worry about constant weight swapping. It’s one of those quality of life points that doesn’t sound substantial at first, but that you quickly fall in love with.
Bands are affordable. In fact, compared to other types of resistance, they’re ridiculously affordable. A single 20-pound kettlebell, on the other hand, costs more than its weight, and isn’t adjustable.
With all that out of the way, there’s something else you need to learn about bands: not all are created equal. You might think you can just hop over to Amazon, tap out resistance bands on your keyboard and order the first one that pops up with good reviews, but I’d recommend against that course of action.
Resistance bands provide resistance just like barbells and dumbbells do, but they aren’t quite so homogenous. There are three primary types of resistance bands and they’re not all perfect for everyone. Though they all offer the universal benefits we covered earlier – portability, affordability, and ease of use – they also carry their own unique advantages and disadvantages.
Also known as mini-bands, therapy bands are the smallest and thinnest type of band. They won their name through years of work in the physical therapy field and they’re commonly used to rehabilitate injuries. They’re found in two main forms: as one long strip of material or as a loop.
One of the biggest benefits of therapy bands is the price. Along with being the smallest and thinnest type of band, they’re also the cheapest. You can expect to pay around $10 for a full set of four. They’re much easier to snap than other types of resistance bands, but don’t let that stop you – they’re still plenty durable.
Another benefit is common to all resistance bands, but it’s especially applicable to therapy bands: they’re ridiculously portable. They take up a fraction of the space that the other two types of bands do, and that’s saying something considering that bands in general don’t take up much space.
If you’re thinking about buying mini-bands, you’re most likely to use them for injury rehab. Given the low levels of resistance they provide, they’re perfect for this. While they can help with upper body injuries, they’re most commonly used to rehab knee and ankle injuries.
Despite their name, however, therapy bands aren’t just for therapy. You can use them to get stronger. While they’re not long enough to use a primary exercise tool, they win big-time when it comes to modifying exercises.
You can wrap them around your wrists during a pushup to increase demand on your shoulder complex, or you can place them on your knees during a glute bridge to hit your glutes even harder. It’s a small touch that can make a huge difference in exercise difficulty and results.
You should buy therapy or mini-bands if: you need to rehabilitate an injury or you want an easy method for increasing exercise difficulty.
You should look for: a full set, which typically includes four bands, that uses professional-grade materials that promise to maintain elasticity.
Handled Tube Bands
This type of band brings you into strength training territory, and it’s a great introduction to that side of resistance band training. It comes in the shape of a narrow tube and conveniently features a set of handles that will make your life a little easier. Unlike therapy bands, tube bands are full-length and can be used to move through the full range of motion of most major exercises.
Considering that they’re full-length, they are less portable than therapy bands, but it’s still easy enough to stuff them into most bags. They’re more expensive than mini-bands, and you should expect to pay $20-40 for a full set of four to six bands with handles. Of course, along with the increased price, you get more durability and higher levels of resistance.
Band resistance varies between brands, but handled tube bands usually start around five pounds and range up to 25 or 30 pounds. That’s enough resistance for beginner men and beginner to intermediate women to work with, but that’s about it (with the exception of some core exercises). It’s important to note that some tube band sets do stack, meaning you can use multiple bands together to attain more resistance, but this isn’t the case for all of them.
You shouldn’t expect them to carry you to high levels of strength, but handled tube bands can help you create a strong foundation that you can work from. Use them to learn the basics of exercises like the chest press, squat, deadlift, and row. You can use the last type of band for that as well, but the handles are easier for beginners to manage than a thick loop of rubber. Oh, and don’t write handled tube bands off for injury rehabilitation either – the lower tension bands work just as well as mini-bands.
You should buy handled tube bands if: you’re a beginner who wants a good introductory type of resistance band that can be used for strength training.
You should look for: bands with comfortable handles, high quality rubber, and that come packaged with an ankle strap and door anchor.
Pull Up Assist Bands
Gigantic rubber band is perhaps the most apt name for this last type of band, but we’ll roll with pull up assist bands instead. I mentioned that some therapy bands are loops too, but this pull up band is full-length and much thicker. Loop bands are also known as pull up assist bands and they don’t feature any bells or whistles like handles, ankle attachments, or anchor straps.
Despite that, however, they’re probably the most versatile type of band. I won’t argue that the lack of handles makes them less beginner-friendly and less approachable in general, but that’s a small point compared to the benefits they offer.
Unlike therapy bands and handled tube bands, these bands offer drastically higher levels of resistance, often over 100 pounds at the top end of the range. If you’re not there yet, don’t let that scare you away – they offer low levels of resistance too, usually starting at five to ten pounds.
Gigantic rubber bands are the most expensive type of resistance band, but that shouldn’t be surprising considering what you’ve read so far. They use a thicker and more durable material that will last years if treated well, so consider it a long-term investment. Expect to pay between $10 and $30 per band, or $50 to $100 for a full set.
Like handled tube bands, you can use this type of band to build strength and endurance in all the major muscle groups. Your progress won’t be capped at the beginner level, though, since loop bands offer more tension options.
I briefly mentioned this earlier, but you can also use loop bands to help you ease into pull ups. All you have to do is attach the band to a pull up bar and place your feet on the other end. That stretches the band out, which gives you extra assistance as you pull yourself up to the bar.
You should buy loop bands if: you’re looking for a well-rounded resistance band that should last you a long time or you’re interested in getting better at pull ups.
You should look for: a set that offers a wide range of resistances and that mentions use as a pull up assistance tool
Congrats – you now know everything you need to be able to buy your first set of resistance bands.
I know there’s a lot of information here, but don’t let that scare you away. Resistance bands aren’t complicated to use, and they shouldn’t be complicated to purchase, so I’ll break it down one more time for you.
Buy therapy bands if you need to rehabilitate an injury or want to add a tiny twist to your training.
Snag handled tube bands if you’re a beginner to strength training and want a comfortable on-the-go exercise tool.
Pick up loop bands if you intend to use resistance bands for the long haul to increase fitness and/or to get better at pull ups.