Upper Body Resistance Band Workouts

Tamsen Butler
Contributor Rachel Hanson
Women using resistance bands at outdoor fitness class

Resistance bands can offer a challenging strength workout without the need for hand weights, making it possible to get a workout in anywhere - at home, while traveling, or even outdoors. Varying bands offer varying resistance, which provides a versatile workout experience.

Beginner Exercises

When starting out with resistance bands for the first time - especially if you are new to exercising - your primary goal should be getting accustomed to the movements and building endurance. Choose bands with the least resistance (typically the lighter color bands, though this varies by manufacturer). Aim to do one or two sets of 8-10 reps a couple times a week. You should complement this with some cardio workouts during the week for a complete fitness regimen.

Side Bend

Targeting the obliques, this exercise is fairly simple yet challenging.

  1. Standing on the resistance bands, grasp the handles of the bands.
  2. Step out laterally until you feel some resistance from the bands through the handles; this is your foot positioning for the exercise.
  3. Stand tall and relax your shoulders and neck.
  4. Bend to one side, dropping your upper body in that direction. This will add more resistance to the hand on the other side.
  5. Repeat on the other side - doing each side once equals one rep.

Seated Row

This simple exercise helps strengthen the latissimus dorsi, a large posterior muscle in the upper body.

  1. Sit tall on the ground with relaxed shoulders and a neutral spine. Your legs should be straight out in front of you.
  2. Loop the band along the bottom of your feet. Your toes should point up.
  3. Once the band is secure (and not liable to slip off your feet), grab the handles with your hands.
  4. With your palms in, squeeze your shoulders together while pulling the handles of the bands.
  5. Pull your elbows back, grazing your ribs as you pull back. This should take three counts.
  6. Hold for one count and then release the bands back to the starting position for three counts.
Senior Adult Couple Working Out

Standing Bicep Curl

Biceps show growth faster than other muscles, making them a rewarding muscle to work in the beginning stages of following a fitness schedule.

  1. Stand with the resistance band underneath your feet, with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Holding one end of the band in each hand, bend your arms at the elbows in order to curl your arms for a count of three.
  3. Hold and squeeze your biceps for one count.
  4. Lower your hands back to the original position, resisting the descent, for three counts.
    Bicep Curls with Resistance Bands

Intermediate Exercises

Using bands with greater resistance is one way to make resistance band exercises more challenging, but if you want to add more complex moves, these are a good option. Increase your number of sets to 2-3 and your number of reps to 12.

Lateral Arm Lifts

This exercise works the deltoids, but it also recruits the trapezius and the supraspinatus. This exercise takes a great deal of control and good form in order to be effective, making it suitable for people who have been working with resistance bands for a while.

  1. Stand with the resistance band underneath your feet. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart (or further apart to add difficulty).
  2. If necessary, for more stability, place the band under one foot and plant your other foot behind you as a "kickstand."
  3. Grasp the handles of the band with your palms facing the front of your body.
  4. For a count of three, lift the bands laterally to shoulder height, keeping your arms as straight as possible.
  5. Hold at shoulder height for one count.
  6. Release back to the starting position for three counts, resisting the decline.
Young woman using a resistance band in gym exercises

Tricep Extension

You will need to anchor the band on something sturdy behind you for this exercise, which targets the triceps (the back of your arms). Do both arms at the same time, or alternate from left to right hand.

  1. With the band securely anchored behind you, pull your arms overhead to grasp the band behind you.
  2. Assume a stance similar to a lunge, with one foot ahead of you and one foot behind.
  3. With palms facing upward, pull your elbows toward one another while you push your palms forward, past your head, for three counts.
  4. Extend the arms until they are straight, then hold for one count.
  5. Release back to your starting position for three counts, taking care to not allow your elbows to point outward during any point of this exercise.
Young woman in sports wear training with elastic band on a wall outdoors

Lying Upright Row

The upright row can be done lying down or standing; lying down helps give the lower body a rest. The biceps, trapezius, and deltoids are all at work in an upright row.

  1. Lie on your back with straight legs with the band anchored along the bottom of your shoes or on a sturdy anchor point.
  2. Grasp the handles or band with palms down.
  3. Keeping your hands in front of your body, draw your elbows out up to shoulder height for three counts. Keep your hands close to your body throughout the movement.
  4. Hold at shoulder height for one count.
  5. Release the band back to your starting position for three counts.

Advanced Exercises

When you feel ready for more, try increasing the resistance of the bands and add some of these more advanced moves to your workout.

Overhead Press

If done correctly, the overhead press works the anterior deltoids. If done incorrectly, injury of the rotator cuff is possible - making this inappropriate for beginners.

  1. While standing, place the band underneath your feet, or one foot if you prefer.
  2. Grasp the handles and pull them up to where they are just over your shoulders with your elbows outstretched laterally.
  3. For a count of three, draw your hands upward by straightening your arms.
  4. Hold at the top for one count, then slowly return to your starting position for three counts.

Tricep Kickbacks

The bent-over position of this exercise makes it inappropriate for beginners; if the core isn't held tight, lower back pain might occur.

  1. Stand on the resistance band and grasp the handles with palms facing inward.
  2. Hinging at the hips and keeping a flat back, bend over. Do not crane your neck up but instead strive for a neutral spine position.
  3. With your arms at your side, bend your elbows to where your arms are at a 90-degree angle with elbows pointing behind you.
  4. For a count of three, pull the handles behind you by straightening your arms.
  5. Hold in that extended position for one count.
  6. Return to the original position for three counts, taking care to not take the move into a curl but instead stopping at your side.
Triceps Kickbacks

Band Boxing

Boxing workouts require a strong core along with endurance. Resistance bands will increase the intensity of the workout and give the upper body a challenging workout. There are a couple different ways to box with bands:

  • Anchor the bands securely behind you. Facing away from the anchor, place the handles in your hands. Bracing your core, lean forward slightly and go through some jab-cross-hook-uppercut combinations.
  • Using two bands, make loops to put your shoulders through (one on each side) and anchor the bands behind you. Push against the resistance of the bands while you punch a bag or spar with a partner or coach, or shadow box.
Practicing punches with rubber band

An Effective Workout

Resistance bands aren't only convenient - they can be quite challenging and provide a good strength workout. Always inspect bands prior to use to ensure there are no rips or tears. A damaged band can snap mid-workout and cause real injuries.

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Upper Body Resistance Band Workouts