5 surprising ways to use a resistance band to boost your health

From rehabbing a shoulder injury to improving circulation when you sit all day, here are some lesser-known uses for exercise bands.
Image: Resistance Band
Resistance bands can be a safer way to add strength training into your routine when rehabbing a shoulder injury.Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images/Cultura RF
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By Stephanie Mansour

Resistance bands are a popular exercise tool, and for good reason. Unlike dumbbells, these colorful, lightweight bands are easily transported (hotel room workout, anyone?) or stashed in a drawer to be whipped out for some at-home strength training. And they pack a serious punch when it comes to activating your muscles.

In fact, research shows that resistance bands activate many muscles as deeply, and sometimes even more so, than standard strength training with free weights.

We created a full-body workout routine that you can use with resistance bands here. But you may be surprised that there are other ways to utilize resistance bands beyond your standard workout – from rehabbing injuries to improving circulation.

Here are four ways to put fitness bands to good use:

1. Rehab a shoulder injury

The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body, and even a minor injury to it can linger for a long time. As many shoulder injuries are the result of overuse or poor motion, when you are rehabbing a shoulder injury you have to do so carefully to avoid re-injuring it.

Resistance bands can be very helpful and they offer a safer way to add strength training to shoulder injury rehab work than free weights. Here are two moves that almost anyone can try, but of course, make sure you check with your doctor before performing if you are currently rehabbing an injury.

External Rotation

Secure one end of your resistance band to something that is level with your chest. Wrap the other end of the band around your hand and grasp it securely. Using your free hand, place a rolled towel between your body and upper arm to limit its movement. Move your arm straight out to the side and bend the elbow at a 90-degree angle so it is pointing towards your anchor point. Step to the side to create resistance. Hold the pose for a count of ten and then return to the original position. Repeat with the other arm.

Lat Pull Down

Attach the center of a resistance band to a steady object above your head and hold the ends of the band firmly in your hands. Stand with your arms straight out in front of you, elbows straight and hands level with your chest. Making sure that you keep your arms straight, slowly lower them, pulling your arms down and back until they're down by your sides. Hold the pose for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat for 5-10 reps.

2. Stretch tight hips

Tight hips can lead to lower back pain, muscle soreness and walking imbalances. Because many of us sit at a desk for hours a day, this is a common problem. To keep your hip flexors open and healthy, try these simple resistance band exercises.

Beginner Hip Flexor Lunge

Anchor a resistance band around a sturdy object. A heavy table is a great choice. Wrap the other end of the resistance band around your upper thigh and then step that leg back into a kneeling lunge with the left knee bent to 90 degrees and the right resting on the floor. You'll feel the band trying to pull you forwards, and this is what will open up your hips. Maintain the pose for a few seconds, then return to your starting position. Repeat four more times and then switch the band to your other thigh and repeat the circuit.

Advanced Hip Flexor Lunge

Once you get used to completing the previous exercise with good form, you can make it a little more challenging. Instead of allowing one knee to remain on the floor, move into a more conventional lunge with your knee off the floor. It's more challenging, and you should perform this move slowly at first, but it's a great workout move for both the hips and the upper thigh.

3. Improve circulation and flexibility when sitting

Sitting all day can have a negative impact on our circulation (especially the circulation in our legs), while also causing our lower body muscles to tighten up, affecting our flexibility. Resistance bands can help with this. They offer a way to keep the blood flowing in your legs while sitting, in a way that is discreet enough to perform in the office or on an airplane. Give these two exercises a try:

Sitting Leg Presses

While sitting straight in your chair, wrap the middle of a resistance band around the bottom of your foot. Extend that leg straight out in front of you, flexing your foot (keep the other foot on the floor, knee bent at a 90-degree angle). Point your toe, pressing your foot downwards and extend your knee and hip. Hold for a few seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat five times and then switch legs.

Sitting Leg Abductors

Sitting straight with your legs slightly apart, wrap a resistance band around your mid thighs above your knees. Stretch the band by pushing your knees outwards to either side as wide as you comfortably can. Hold for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat five times.

4. Activate your core

Pilates offers an effective way to work your whole body, but it centers around the concept of strengthening your core. Adding a resistance band into the mix can make Pilates an even more effective core strengthener. Here are two moves you can try:

Simple Stretch

Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position on the floor. Sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back. Take the resistance band in both hands above your head and create tension by extending it slightly to both sides. This is your starting position. Then, visualize that you’re using your abdominal strength to open the band, and pull the band further apart as you engage your abs. Engage your lower and upper abs to brace your rib cage as you open the hands on an exhale to pull the band further apart. Hold the pose for five seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat for ten reps.

Banded Overhead Press

Remain in a seated position and switch the band in your hands so that your palms are facing slightly upward. Hold the band above your head with your shoulders dropped back and loose with your back straight. Then, as you pull on the band, bend your elbows slightly. Make sure that the band stays in the same plane: keep the band above you instead of reaching the band behind or in front of you. This will work the chest, shoulders and upper abs. Hold for a count of five and then release, Repeat for ten reps.

4. Increase lung capacity during yoga

Yoga is also an excellent full-body exercise option, but did you know that by adding a resistance band into the mix, you can work to increase your lung capacity? Here is a move to get you started that will strengthen the upper back muscles and open your chest cavity, allowing for full lung volume.

Bellows Breath with Resistance Band

The Bellows Breath is commonly used in yoga, but by adding a light resistance band you can make it more effective and give it an interesting twist. This will help open up your chest and lungs so that you can take a fuller, deeper breath. To start, take a resistance band and wrap it loosely around your hands. Raise your hands above your head with your fingers splayed and the band wide. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, quickly move your elbows out slightly to stretch the band. Bend the elbows and open the chest. You may bring the band and the hands back behind your head to open up the front of the body even more. You can also tilt your head up and look up to open up your throat. Return to the starting position with the arms straight up and holding the band wide apart. Inhale, then exhale quickly and open the arms and pull the band wide again. Repeat this breath in, breath out pattern and movement 10 times.

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