The Beginner’s Guide to Exercise Bands

By Abby Lerner |

Find out why every older adult should own this fitness tool. Plus, get tips for choosing a band and five exercises to get started.

Exercise or resistance bands are an amazing fitness tool. They’re inexpensive, portable, and incredibly versatile, but the real reason why fitness expert David Jack loves them so much is that they operate on a principle called “mitigated variability.”

In other words, when you extend an exercise band in any movement pattern, it’s not a perfect line, it’s never the exact same amount of tension, and it’s pulling you in a slightly different direction every time you do a rep. So, even though it’s generally a safe way to train, it also keeps your muscles and brain engaged since you’re constantly making little adaptations to what the band is doing.

Another reason to love exercise bands: They’re great for both standing and seated exercises so you can easily modify moves to fit your needs. For example, if standing biceps curls don’t work for you, you can do them while sitting down in a chair. Or if you typically do seated exercises but are ready for a challenge, you can progress to standing up.

Ready to give it a try? Use the tips here to find a band, then try adding two or three of the exercises below to your weekly routine. As always, safety is key. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Find Your Band

The first step is to get your hands on an exercise band. Most gyms offer a variety of sizes, strengths, and types, including tube bands with handles, loop bands (a.k.a. giant rubber bands), and therapy bands. All have their merits, but a fitness professional can help determine which one is best for you, depending on your fitness level and specific workout plan. If you’re taking an exercise class, ask the instructor for guidance.

Working out at home? As always, it’s best to start light so you can master good form first. As you get stronger, you can add resistance. Here’s a rule of thumb: The thicker the band, the greater the resistance. Think about:

  • Range of motion: Thinner or lighter bands work better for movements that require you to cover more distance (more than a foot). Thicker or heavier bands work better for smaller movements (less than a foot).
  • Muscle group: Thinner or lighter bands work better for smaller muscle groups (like your arms). Thicker or heavier bands work better for larger muscle groups (like your legs).

If you like using the exercise bands in SilverSneakers classes, you can find similar bands at the SilverSneakers Store.

Exercise #1: Lat Pulldown

Grab an exercise band in both hands. Stand with your arms straight overhead and shoulder-width apart with palms facing forward, making sure there’s tension in the band. Lower your right arm, and pull the band apart until your right hand is in line with your shoulder (or as far as you can comfortably go). Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side. That’s one rep. Aim for 10 to 12 reps total.

Exercise #2: Seated Row

Sit with your legs extended, and place the center of the band behind the soles of your feet. If you’re using a long exercise band, you may need to loop it around your feet once or twice. Grab the ends of the band with both hands, arms extended and palms facing each other. Sitting nice and tall, bend at the elbows and pull the band toward your core, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to starting position, and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

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Exercise #3: Band Side Step

Loop an exercise band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.

Too hard? Try band abductions in a chair. With the exercise band tied just below your knees, sit tall with feet about shoulder-width apart. Push your knees outward against the band, pause, and then release. Aim for 10 to 15 reps total.

Exercise #4: Clamshell

Loop or tie an exercise band just above your knees and lie on one side with your legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your hips steady and your top foot down, lift only your top knee as high as you can. Lower your top knee back to the starting position. Repeat for eight reps, then switch sides.

Exercise #5: Side Leg Lift

Lie on your left side with an exercise band just above your ankles. Rest your head on your left arm, and place your right hand on the floor in front of your chest for balance. Your legs should be straight with your right leg on top of your left leg. Without moving any other part of your body, slowly raise your right leg as high as you can, pushing against the band’s resistance. Pause, then return to the starting position and repeat. Do eight to 12 reps, then switch legs.

Love Bands? Try These 10 Awesome Exercises

Watch this video to learn more great moves you can do with bands, including band pull apart for your chest, standing or seated kickbacks for your arms, and seated hip openers for your lower body.

Get More Beginner’s Guides!

Check these out to get started with popular gym equipment:

SilverSneakers Group Exercise Classes