Give the barbells and weight machines a day off and reach for some resistance bands instead. They might look flimsy, but those brightly colored cords are some of the most powerful pieces of equipment in the gym. And if you’re traveling this summer or have limited real estate at home, these bands take up no space at all. Keeping the bands taut while performing your go-to moves will give you comparable strength gains to using traditional weights, according to new research published in the European Journal of Sport Science.
We tapped Kaisa Keranen, a certified trainer and movement coach based in Seattle, for some of her favorite moves incorporating bands. Like the superhuman Keranen is, these resistance band exercises are full-body, high-energy, dynamic movements that are anything but ordinary. Bonus: All you need to try the moves are a pair of looped resistance bands and dumbbells, and two small towels or gliders. Choose a band with light to medium resistance and work your way up to a band with heavier resistance. Give her amped-up moves a go, and you’ll get your heart pumping and fire up muscles from head to toe.
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5 Total-Body Resistance Band Exercises from Kaisa Keranen
1. Forward Squat Jump to Press
This move packs the power of a jump squat to an overhead press without added stress on your joints from holding the weights overhead. “The bands are a great alternative to dumbbells because they are easier on your knees when you land,” Keranen says.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a band looped under your feet. Grab the top of the band with both hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart, using an underhand grip (a). Sit into a deep squat, and then press your hands up overhead as you jump forward (b). Do eight reps.
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2. Banded Knee Tuck Jump
The resistance bands add extra pump-up power to the jumping action of this move. “There is a lot more power needed when you are trying to pull the bands up with you,” Keranen says. Plus, resisting the force of the bands and working against gravity helps you keep your core super engaged, she adds.
How to: Wrap a resistance band around two dumbbells (or other fixed objects close to the floor) several feet apart on the floor so the band is taut (a). Place your feet in between the two dumbbells hip-width apart with the band a few inches above your feet (b). Sit into a squat and swing your arms behind you (c). Then, swing your arms forward and jump up, tucking your knees up toward your chest. Your feet should catch on the band as you jump (d). Do eight reps.
3. Banded Battle Ropes
Battle ropes work your legs and glutes as hard as your arms, since you’re always in a squatting position. Your core is also getting some TLC to help stabilize you. “The amount of effort it takes to slam the ropes with the added resistance of the bands made this exercise 10 times harder than normal,” she says.
How to: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart with your toes turned out and knees tracking over toes. Loop a resistance band under each foot and stretch them up to hip height to wrap them around each hand (a). Hold a battle rope in each hand and squat low until your thighs are parallel to floor (b). In a squat position, wave the ropes, alternating your hands up and down (c). Continue for 30 seconds.
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4. Banded Plank Crawl
Adding bands to this movement guarantees some serious shoulder burn. “Wrapping the bands around your wrists adds extra resistance to the forward walk, making your shoulders work extra hard to pull you forward,” Keranen says.
How to: Get into a high-plank position with one resistance band wrapped around both feet and both hands. Your shoulders should be directly under your hands, and your toes resting on two small folded hand towels or gliders (a). Maintaining proper plank position, pull in your abs to your spine and slowly walk your hands forward across the floor (b). Continue for 30 seconds.
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5. Banded Dumbbell Bench Press
“I add bands to my bench press to work on acceleration and range of motion strength,” Keranen explains. “The bands keep the press relatively the same weight as the dumbbells you are pressing, but at the top of the motion, they add extra resistance.”
How to: Wrap a resistance band around your upper back and loop each end to a dumbbell in each hand (a). Lie face up on a bench to get into bench press position and extend your arms directly above your shoulders (b). Bend your elbows and lower hands to your chest, and then press your hands up until your arms are fully extended (c). Do eight reps.
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