Don't overlook resistance bands as a valuable workout tool. They might be simple, but they offer several benefits that traditional free-weights don't, claims strength coach Bret Contreras, author of "Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening." Band exercises place extra stress on your core muscles as well as the musculature of your hips and thighs and provide constant tension throughout the whole range of an exercise. Use bands for a strength-building, calorie-burning workout that will sculpt you in all the right places.
Lower Body Exercises
You can add bands to standard leg exercises such as squats and lunges by standing on the ends and looping the band over your shoulders to increase the difficulty. Both of these exercises focus on your quadriceps at the front of your thighs. For the hamstrings at the back, try hip extensions. Kneel on the floor with the band wrapped around your foot and kick your leg back while squeezing your hamstrings hard. An unconventional but highly effective exercise is the X-band walk. Stand on the band and with the ends crossed over in your hands, to form an X-shape. Take 10 steps to the right then 10 to the left. X-band walks activate the muscles around your hips and aid injury prevention.
Upper Body Exercises
To work your back and biceps, loop a band around an upright such as a vertical pole or the side of a power rack and pull the bands toward you. Pulling them to your hips will work your lats and rhomboids while a higher pull hits your trapezius and rear shoulder muscles. Band-resisted pushups are an excellent way to increase the difficulty of regular pushups and hammer your chest, shoulders and triceps, writes coach Eric Cressey in his book "Maximum Strength." Secure the ends of a band under your hands and loop the rest of it over your back then perform pushups as normal. If you struggle with regular pushups then do band assisted ones with one end of the band looped over a chin-up bar or power rack and the other end under your chest. This will give you a boost and make pushups easier.
All band exercises will hit your core muscles to a degree as your abdominals are used for balance and stabilization but to work them further try doing situps and crunches with one end of a band held on your chest and a partner securing the other end. Another option is Pallof presses, which works the anti-rotation function of your mid-section, notes Tony Gentilcore, strength coach at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts. Loop a band around an upright and stand side on to it with the band in both your hands. Push the band out in front of you and hold it there for two seconds while keeping your core tight before slowly bringing your hands back in.
Perform two to three full-body resistance band workouts each week. Do two lower body, two or three upper body and one core exercise each session. Each week aim to do a little more on each exercise, either by adding more repetitions, doing an extra set, reducing your rest time or using a heavier band. Start with three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each exercise and adjust accordingly. You may need different weighted bands for different exercises, so it's a good idea to purchase a range of tensions.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.