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The best resistance band workouts to build muscle

Resistance bands are a great way to improve the quality of your strength training routine. They can be incorporated into numerous exercises, adding extra force so that your muscles have to work harder to perform each task.

Do resistance bands work?

Although small, lightweight and budget-friendly, many people still shy away from incorporating resistance bands into their fitness regimes. Part of the problem may be that their versatility - all the many ways resistance bands can be used on different parts of the body - make people unsure of where to start. Scepticism over how well resistance bands can build muscle is also another factor, but, as you'll read later in this article, they can be just as effective as using traditional free weights or weights machines.

How do resistance bands work?

As the name suggests, these flat, stretchy elastic bands wrap around parts of your body (such as both your legs or arms) to add extra resistance while you hold or move these body parts away from each other: "Resistance bands are great for making your muscles work harder to stabilise and perform each exercise," explains Penny Weston, owner of the wellness centre MADE.

"They are also quick and simple to use. Storing them takes up no space which makes them easy to use at home, or on the move as you can just tuck them into your bag."

Exercises that incorporate resistance bands can be used for:

  • Strength building - as resistance bands place a force on your muscles when stretched tight.
  • Improving balance and mobility - they can help people of all ages improve balance and flexibility in their joints.
  • Improving your form - this comes from getting better at maintaining tension in the resistance band.
  • Weight lifting - wrapping resistance bands around the ends of a weight bar can increase bar velocity and power.
  • Injury rehabilitation - resistance bands can aid recovery for injuries that affect areas such as the knees, shoulders and hips.

Do resistance bands build muscle?

"Resistance band exercises are a great way to build muscle and strength," says Weston. "You can target almost every body part."

The effectiveness of building muscle with resistance bands has been demonstrated in many studies, including as part of a variable resistance training programme for athletes to increase power and strength.

Performing a strength workout with resistance bands - with the band exerting extra force on targeted muscles (such as your leg muscles) - can significantly improve the quality of each repetition (rep). This makes your workout routine more effective.

"Speed and tension play a role in the effectiveness of your exercises too," adds fitness expert Laura Williams. "A resistance band provides tension throughout the whole exercise. The slower you complete your rep, the more your muscles are having to work.

"Bands come in different levels of resistance, enabling you to add or decrease intensity easily. Varying from high intensity to low by using different strengths of band, for different exercises, will help you get the most out of an exercise."

The best muscle-building resistance band workouts

Williams says:

You can make a muscle-building resistance band workout effective by including a good variety of exercises. "This could include both compound moves (those that target multiple muscle groups) and isolation exercises (those that target single muscle groups)."

Weston says:

"I would recommend doing each strength workout with resistance bands for 45 seconds and then resting for 15 seconds. Try and complete four sets of each exercise too. These are my favourites."

Bicep curls

"This resistance band workout is a great way to build strength in those muscles that people often overdo with typical weights."

  1. Sit on a chair or a step, tuck the band underneath your right knee, and hold it with your right hand.
  2. Pull your hand up towards your shoulder against the resistance of the band. Keep your upper arm still as you pull on the band and keep your elbow underneath your shoulder and close to your body.
  3. Do around 10 repetitions on the right and then switch to the left side.

Russian twist

"This is a brilliant exercise to work those obliques more effectively than with a medicine ball."

  1. Sitting down, wrap the band around your feet. The band needs to stay taught the whole time.
  2. Hold each side of the band with each hand and pull it up, lifting your legs off the ground - the higher you lift, the harder the exercise.
  3. Your back must be at a 45-degree angle to the floor and your knees slightly bent.
  4. Move your hands to one side and touch the floor and then twist to the other side.

Lateral raise

"The lateral raise can be hard at first but is a good one to work the muscles in your upper back. It can enhance muscle growth but also increase your range of motion."

  1. Stand in the middle of the band with your knees slightly bent, feet staggered with the right foot forward and flat on the floor.
  2. Put your left foot back so that the resistance band sits underneath the arch of the right foot.
  3. Hold the band with both hands and then raise your arms outwards until they are parallel to the floor.
  4. Return slowly to your starting position. You can work this exercise up slowly.

Bicycle crunch

"Using a resistance band takes this exercise to the next level and is brilliant for toning your midsection and slimming your waist."

  1. Lie flat on your back with the resistance band wrapped around your feet.
  2. Put your hands on the floor at your side and keep your lower back on the floor.
  3. Pull your left knee in towards your chest at the same time as extending your right leg (while keeping it off the ground) as if you are cycling.
  4. Reverse the position and keep pedalling.

Push-ups

"This exercise will help develop the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles all together. Using a resistance band will make your push-ups harder, and is much safer than trying to add traditional weights."

  1. Start with the resistance band looped around your back and grip it in front with both hands.
  2. Do your usual push-up but focus on driving your hands into the ground and then pressing your body upwards with as much energy as you can.

How often should you work out with resistance bands?

"Resistance bands won't be a quick fix to build muscle and you do need to do the exercises regularly," Weston warns.

There is no hard and fast rule - the frequency that you perform a muscle-building resistance band workout in your week can depend on your starting fitness level and fitness goals. This said, aim for at least 2-3 days a week in order to see long-term improvements.

Remember, it's perfectly natural to feel a little wobbly when you first start a muscle-building resistance band workout routine. It could take a little bit of time to get used to stretching the resistance band tight and to build up enough muscle to support this without shaking. However, with regular training, over time you will feel your strength grow and your form improve.

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