When it comes to strengthening our upper body, we tend to think that using weights or machines are the only way to go. But this upper-body circuit workout proves that you can work your way to stronger arms, shoulders, back, and chest with just a resistance band.
The beauty of using a resistance band is that it allows you to create constant tension throughout the entire exercise—and more time under tension means more strength and muscle gains, NASM-certified personal trainer Tatiana Scott, C.P.T., founder of Fit With Curves, tells SELF.
“When using resistance bands, you not only have resistance when you’re contracting the muscle, but you also have resistance as you’re lengthening the muscle,” says Scott. “So in other words, you have resistance during the full range of motion.” This means your muscles are working hard in both the concentric and eccentric portions of the move.
This upper-body circuit workout created by Scott targets the front and back deltoids (shoulders), biceps, triceps, pectorals (chest), and trapezius (upper back) muscles through a combination of compound and isolation exercises. For example, the standing chest press in this workout recruits your pectorals and triceps, as well as your erector spinae, rotator cuff, and transverse abdominis (your deep core muscles), says Scott, while the triceps extension isolates those back-of-arm triceps muscles.
This resistance band workout is programmed as a circuit, meaning you’re moving from one exercise to the next with minimal rest between sets, which makes it ideal if you want to get a lot of work done in not so much time, says Scott. It’s especially smart programming for this workout, since it uses push-pull movements that work opposing muscle groups. That means you avoid overtaxing one muscle group while still working.
“It’s also important to incorporate both vertical and horizontal movement patterns to work the upper body in different directions,” says Scott. That’s because moving your body in only one movement pattern creates poor range of motion, which can cause muscle imbalances, pain and injury, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).
For this workout, you’ll aim to do 15-20 reps per exercise, so you’ll want to choose a resistance band that’s challenging enough to do the moves with proper form. “It should be difficult to get to the last rep,” says Scott.
The high-rep range in this circuit workout is ideal for promoting muscle endurance. Because your muscles are working against resistance for a longer period of time, it trains them to become more aerobically efficient, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Building muscle endurance is important whether you want to run a marathon or carry heavy groceries over flights of stairs.
As for choosing the right resistance band? Generally speaking, thinner bands have less resistance, while thicker bands have more resistance. To see which level of resistance works best for you, you may want to try out a variety of bands to find one that’s moderately challenging—you want to make sure you’re really working hard during the last two reps.
What you’ll need: You’ll need a resistance band with handles or a large looped band. You may want different resistances for certain moves—for instance, lighter resistance for the isolation moves and heavier resistance for the compound exercises.
- Bent-over row
- Overhead press
- Overhead triceps extension
- Standing chest press
- Biceps curl
- Seated row
- Perform 15-20 reps for each exercise. Try not to rest between exercises. (Of course, if you feel your form faltering, take some time as needed to reset.) Rest for at least 30 seconds after all six exercises are done.
- Complete the circuit four times total.
Demoing the moves below are Rosimer Suarez (GIFs 1 and 5), a special education teacher from New York City; Hejira Nitoto (GIFs 2-3, 6) a mom of six and a certified personal trainer and fitness apparel line owner based in Los Angeles; and Saneeta Harris (GIF 4), a blogger, SFG Level 1 certified kettlebell trainer, and the founder of @NaturalHairGirlsWhoLift