5 Resistance Band Exercises to Increase Your Upper Body Strength

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Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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Whether you are new to working out, experienced at strength training, or recovering from an injury, you may want to consider adding resistance bands to your workout. Not only do they provide an effective alternative to dumbbells and other weights, but they also are easy to use and can add variety to your workouts. Plus, you can use them for both strengthening and stretching exercises. 

Here you will find tips for using resistance bands and the benefits of using them. You will even find a few sample exercises you could try.

What You Need to Know About Resistance Bands 

Resistance bands are elastic bands with handles on each side and offer resistance to your muscles similarly to other weights. They are easy to use at home and are relatively inexpensive.

According to Bree Branker Koegel, NASM certified personal trainer and a FitOn App trainer, you can use bands for both pushing and pulling types of strength exercises. Using bands also can help you locate where you are holding tension. If you pay attention, you should be able to tell if your form is wrong, she says. You also can use bands for stretching, too. 

While you can use resistance bands similarly to dumbbells or other weights, you also can anchor them to something else. When anchoring the band, make sure you use something sturdy such as a door frame or fence, Koegel says. And, always check your bands for tears and weak spots before using them. 

As for selecting the right bands for you, there are many variations of bands, and some will be better suited to your needs than others. If you want to replicate heavy weight, Koegel suggests considering bands in the 20- to 40-pound range. In addition, it may be helpful to get a band for each difficulty—light, medium, and heavy. 

Benefits of Using Resistance Bands for Upper Body Strength 

There are many benefits to using bands, besides lowering your risk of dropping a dumbbell on your toe. Here are some benefits of using resistance bands for strength training. 

Increased Flexibility and Balance

Increased flexibility and range of motion can help people perform better during sports, exercise, stretching, and daily activity. Using resistance bands in your workout can help you become more flexible not only when it comes to exercise and sports, but also with basic everyday functions as well.

Increased flexibility and range of motion can help you throw a ball, stretch, bend down to pick something up, keep your balance, or reach for something. Increased flexibility is also crucial to mature adults as well as those who have sustained injuries they are rehabilitating from.

For older adults, a significant concern is the likelihood of a fall. One concern for people who have sustained serious injuries is a resulting lack of mobility and independence.

Exercise and increased flexibility are considered critically important for both scenarios. Resistance bands can increase flexibility and mobility, helping to mitigate secondary complications and the risk of falling.

Improved Shoulder and Knee Performance

Shoulder function is essential to many daily tasks including reaching, stretching, throwing, and general arm movement. Using resistance bands can help to improve the performance of your shoulders.

Studies found that doing a full range of motion in the shoulder (abduction, elevation, and internal and external rotation) during resistance training improved both shoulder strength and performance. This is useful for both rehabilitation programs and strength or performance improvement.

Resistance training using elastic bands is also helpful to other joints as well. In fact, studies suggest that the improved strength and range of motion offered by resistance training are also beneficial for your knees.

Knee function is essential for everyone, especially mature adults and those with degenerative knee arthritis. Degenerative knee arthritis is a condition that causes cartilage and joint damage, pain, and a limitation in range of motion.

Increased Muscular Strength and Endurance

Strength and endurance are key factors in muscle performance. If you want to improve your muscles' performance, consider adding resistance bands to your workout.

In fact, the World Health Organization recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity per week, including both strength and endurance exercises. Doing exercises that improve strength and endurance also can improve overall athletic performance more than single-mode training.

Muscular strength also is vital for many daily functions such as lifting boxes, carrying groceries, using stairs, or opening containers. These tasks are important to day-to-day living but can be difficult for older or disabled individuals.

The use of resistance bands can help you gain muscular strength needed to perform everyday tasks. It also can further help improve functional capacity, endurance, and quality of life.

Improved Cardiovascular Fitness and Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, hypertension, and coronary heart disease. Exercising with resistance bands can help lower your overall blood pressure, reducing the risk of these cardiovascular diseases.

If you have high blood pressure, you may want to consider exercising using resistance bands. Resistance training using bands can help to improve your blood pressure, which is directly related to cardiovascular fitness and overall heart health.

If you exercise at maximum effort, your stroke volume, cardiac output, contractility, and oxygen uptake will increase. These factors are also essential to improving heart health and reducing cardiovascular mortality.

Increased Muscle Mass

Everyone experiences muscle loss as they age unless they take steps to prevent it from occurring. One easy and convenient way to address muscle loss is through the use of resistance bands. In fact, one study involving people with muscle loss discovered that resistance band training improves muscle mass, muscle quality, and overall physical function.

Even if you are not at risk for muscle loss right now, you may still want to increase your muscle mass. Resistance bands can be one way of accomplishing that goal. You could try moderate intensity resistance workouts using three to six sets of six to 12 repetitions with 60-second rest intervals in between.

Upper Body Exercises with Resistance Bands 

Using new equipment like resistance bands can be intimidating, especially if you are unsure what to do. Here are some upper body exercises you can try using resistance bands.

Shoulder Press with Resistance Band

In a shoulder press, you will engage your shoulder and arm muscles by raising your arms above your head with opposing resistance. Here's how to do the shoulder press with a resistance band according to certified personal trainer and performance coach Keith Hodges, founder of Mind In Muscle Coaching.

  1. Stand with both feet on the resistance band with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Engage the core by keeping the hips in line with the ribs
  3. Raise the band until elbows are bent at 90 degrees
  4. Press arms above your head, exhaling as you press
  5. Inhale as you return the arms to the 90-degree position
  6. Repeat for two to four sets of 10 to 20 slow and controlled reps

Bent Over Row with Resistance Bands

Bent over rows are intended to engage the upper back, specifically the triceps and traps. Hodges recommends the following steps for the bent over row with resistance bands.

  1. Stand on the band with both feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Hinge (bend) at the hip until your chest and belly button are parallel to the ground
  3. Make sure your core is engaged by keeping the hips in line with the ribs
  4. Pinch the shoulder blade and exhale while pulling the band up until the arms next to the ribs
  5. Inhale while returning the arms to the starting position
  6. Repeat for two to four sets of 10 to 20 slow and controlled reps

Biceps Curl With Resistance Band

A bicep curl will engage your biceps and help you tone the muscle and build strength. Here is how Hodges recommends doing a bicep curl with a resistance band.

  1. Stand with both feet on the resistance band with feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Engage the core by keeping the hips in line with the ribs
  3. Keeping your elbows by your side, exhale while slowly curling the band until your hands are shoulder height
  4. Inhale as you return your arms to the starting position
  5. Repeat two to four sets of 10 to 20 slow and controlled reps

Resistance Band Crossover

A resistance band crossover should engage your abs and help strengthen your core. Here is how you perform the exercise.

  1. Place a resistance band around a stationary post.
  2. Face away from the post, grab the handles or ends, and step forward until you feel tension in the band.
  3. Keep your arms parallel to the floor and perpendicular to your torso.
  4. Engage your abs and stand straight with your shoulders back.
  5. Focus on keeping your arms straight as you bring them across your chest in a semicircular motion.
  6. Exhale as you bring them to the front and hold the contraction for a second. (One hand will be above the other.)
  7. Switch up the top hand with each rep.
  8. Repeat for two to four sets of 10 to 20 slow and controlled reps.

Standing Row with Resistance Band

A standing row will engage the deltoids, lats, traps, and biceps and is an excellent exercise for building upper body strength. According to the NASM, here is how you do a standing row.

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, facing the attachment. 
  2. Grip the handles with thumbs facing the ceiling and hold at chest height. 
  3. Slightly bend your knees.
  4. Pull into your armpits. 
  5. Bring arms back to starting position and repeat.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking to add strength training to your workout, consider using resistance bands. Resistance band exercises for the upper body will not only improve your physical health, but can boost your mood, too.

What's more, resistance bands provide an alternative to weights and can help you mix up your workout routine. If you are new to exercise, it is important to consult a healthcare provider before starting a new workout. They can advise you about safety and other considerations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you boost arm muscle with resistance bands?

    Using resistance bands can improve arm strength and endurance. Training with resistance bands can also increase muscle mass in the areas you are working out. These areas are essential for overall muscle function and performance.

  • Are resistance bands better than weights?

    Resistance bands are a feasible alternative to weights, though neither is better than the other. Resistance bands have a different effect when used in place of weights. It may be beneficial to use both together if you are concerned about maximizing your workout.

  • Can I use resistance bands every day?

    The Department of Health and Human Services recommends doing strength training activities two or more days a week. That said, you can exercise more often if you would like, but you should alternate which muscles you are working out rather than working the same muscles every day.

12 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.