Resistance bands might not be the first piece of equipment you reach for when you’re in the mood for a tough upper body workout, but you shouldn’t ignore them. They offer the same benefits as barbells and dumbbells, and they feature difficulty adjustment that’s as easy as sliding your hands up or down.
The following workout is a great starting point for beginners to resistance bands. And, of course, it works just as well for experienced users, provided you use bands with a tough enough tension.
This workout features two exercise pairs. Pairing exercises is a great way to break up the monotony of doing the same exercise over and over. Plus, if it’s structured intelligently (don’t worry, it is), it allows you to take shorter rest breaks between sets. It might seem a little on the short side, but it’s more than enough if you hit each exercise as hard as you can.
Do exercise one, then take a 30-60 second rest. Do exercise two, then take another 30-60 second rest. Repeat the process until you’re done with all three sets of the first pair, then move on to the next pair and do the same.
Pair 1: Floor Press, 3 sets of 10 reps
Think of this as a super stabilized version of the chest press you’d normally do on a bench. It uses a shorter range of motion (your arms don’t move as far), but it still hammers your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Pull the band around your body like a hula hoop, then lay down on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Slide the bottom side of the band up so that it’s positioned just below your shoulder blades. Now, grab one side of the band with each hand – you’ll have to adjust your hands to find the right tension.
Press your hands straight up into the air as far as you can, then lower your arms back to the floor. Make sure to keep your wrists as straight as you can. You’re probably going to notice some rubbing on your arms from the band, but that’s an unfortunate side effect of this exercise. Feel free to adjust with each rep until you find the best position.
Pair 1: Bent Row, 3 sets of 10 reps
This horizontal rowing variation is a go-to upper back and upper arm exercise. Although it’s typically done with a barbell, resistance bands are a fantastic alternative.
Start by placing both feet over one end of the band, then move them out so they’re about shoulder-width apart. Grab the other end of the band with both hands, again about shoulder-width apart.
Get into an athletic stance by bending your knees slightly, then hinge your hips back to lower your torso towards the floor. Check out this video to learn more about the hip hinge. Once you’re in position, you’ll have to adjust your hands to find the right tension.
From here, pull the band straight up to the outsides of your chest, then straighten your arms to lower it back down. Focus on keeping your elbows close to your sides, and remember to let your shoulder blades move as your arms do.
Pair 2: Punch, 3 sets of 8 reps per side
The punch is like a single arm shoulder press, but it uses a different angle. Instead of pressing directly overhead, you press out at a 45-degree angle. This change not only makes the movement feel more natural, but it also makes it easier for people who have problems with overhead motion.
The setup for this one is tricky, so you’re probably going to have to rely on the video. Step on one end of the band with your right foot, then grab the other end with your right hand. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, then stagger them by taking a step back with your right foot.
That’s the confusing part of the setup. Now, set your right hand next to your right shoulder. Punch out at a 45-degree angle – your fist should finish a short distance above your head, depending on the length of your arm – then pull your hand back to your shoulder.
You should feel the work in your shoulders and triceps, but you get bonus points if you notice your core working extra hard. The punch adds an element of anti-rotation, meaning that with each rep the muscles of your core fight to resist torso rotation.
Pair 2: Lat Pull, 3 sets of 10 reps
You already knocked out a horizontal row, so it’s only fair to balance it out with a vertical row. The lat pull is usually done on a cable machine, but as with the bent row, resistance bands are a great substitute.
For this exercise, you’re going to need an anchor point for the band that’s between chest and head height. Low tree limbs work well, but you’ll have to experiment if you don’t have a tree available. Just make sure that whatever you choose is stable enough to support a big pull.
Wrap one end of the band around your chosen anchor, then grab the other end with both hands and sit down on the ground. Set your hands about shoulder-width apart and kick your legs out and into a comfortable position.
Extend your arms up towards the anchor, then adjust your grip to hit the right tension. Now, just like you did with the bent row, pull your hands straight down to the outsides of your chest, then extend them back to the start. Remember to keep your elbows tight to your sides throughout the pull.
Did you love any of these exercises? Do you have a newfound respect for resistance bands? Let us know in the comments!