If you have a busy schedule and struggle to find time to get to the gym, then you may want to consider using resistance bands to cross-train.
They provide an excellent muscle workout or dynamic stretching routine. They are lightweight, easy to take with you, and you can use them almost anywhere.
Here’s why you should consider using them as part of your regular training, as well as 8 mini band workouts for runners that can help to improve your running performance.
What are mini resistance bands?
Resistance bands are bands that are made either from synthetic rubber or latex, designed to create resistance. This resistance is used to activate and work the muscles to develop strength.
This first resistance band was created out of surgical tubing in the 1900s and was used for muscular rehabilitation. They regained their popularity with physiotherapists in the 1990s.
But resistance bands also started gaining popularity with athletes and gym-goers who were looking for an inexpensive tool to strengthen, tone, and develop muscle.
Resistance bands come in a variety of different shapes like loops, flat bands, figure-8 bands, and tubular bands with handles. They’ll also have different resistance levels, which you’ll be able to tell by either the thickness or color of the band.
The resistance levels of loop bands can vary between 5 pounds and 175 pounds, while tubular bands will provide between 10 and 50 pounds of resistance. The tubular resistance bands will have a small loop on one end with a handle on the other end. The loop at the one end can easily be anchored to a pole, bar, or under a closed door.
However, mini resistance bands offer different levels of resistance, which are usually stated on the band as:
These bands are also color-coded to the amount of resistance. As an example:
- Green could reflect an extremely light resistance
- Blue could be used for a light resistance level
- Yellow for medium resistance
- Red for heavy resistance
- Black may indicate the heaviest—most difficult—resistance
What does a resistance band do?
As you stretch the band, you’re creating resistance. The further the stretch, the greater the resistance. Through your range of motion against the resistance, the muscles will contract to stabilize and control the movement.
Resistance bands don’t work with gravity and the resistance remains the same throughout the movement. This allows for the recruitment of full muscle fibers and will help to increase bone density and develop muscular strength.
Why should you use them?
Resistance bands are versatile and the majority of exercises that can be done using free weights can also be done with the resistance bands.
When using the resistance bands, you’ll find that you become unstable when trying to balance and maintain the position; but this will activate and strengthen your core.
Having a strong core can improve your running form—poor form can lead to injuries—reduce the risk of injuries and prevent neck and back pain. Resistance bands can be used for both the upper and lower body, which can help to address any muscle imbalances.
As we get older, we’re also more susceptible to muscle decline—sarcopenia—and by using resistance bands as a form of strength training, you can reduce the decline in muscle mass. This will also help to reduce the risk of injury.
Resistance bands let you train the entire area around your joints. This not only helps reduce injuries, but it can help you recover from overuse injuries as well as strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Aside from strengthening the muscles, resistance bands can be used for stretching after running, which will help the muscles to relax. By using the resistance bands for stretching, you’ll be improving your flexibility and mobility, which will increase your range of motion.
Resistance bands are low-impact and if you’re recovering from an injury, then doing rehabilitation exercises with the resistance bands will not only help speed up recovery; but they’ll help strengthen the muscles and improve the range of motion.
By incorporating leg exercises using the resistance bands into your training program, you’ll find that you increase the power in your glutes, quads, and calves. You’ll also find that your endurance increases and that you run more efficiently.
One of the biggest advantages of resistance bands is that they’re lightweight, take up minimal space and you can use them anywhere. If you’re going to run straight after work, you can stop at the park and use the resistance bands to warm up and stretch afterward.
There are a variety of exercises that you can do at home that will work out the whole body or target specific muscle groups.
Most mini resistance bands are relatively cheap and will come with 5 resistance bands—of varying resistance. They’ll also come with a handy carry bag that’s small for easy storage.
If you want to start incorporating mini resistance bands into your training, these are our favorite products:
- Sumyoung Resistance Loop Bands set of 5 bands
- Limm Resistance Loop set of 5 bands
- Whatafit Mini Resistance Loop Bands set of 5 bands
- Perform Better XL Mini Band Resistance
How to start resistance band training
Before you grab a resistance band and start working out, make sure that you select the right resistance for you. You can start with the lightest resistance band and do a few reps. If you find the movement to be too easy, move on to the next level of resistance.
Once you’ve found the band that provides the optimal resistance that provides a challenge but where you can complete 12 to 15 reps while maintaining proper form, then use that band until it becomes too easy. This will let you work your way up safely to a more difficult resistance.
You can get several resistance bands of different thicknesses. This will allow you to make your workouts more challenging as you can switch between the various resistance levels.
1. Ankle plantar flexion
This exercise strengthens the calf muscle and strong calves can prevent your ankles from rolling—which will prevent sprains—and will lessen the amount of stress on your legs and feet when your foot comes into contact with the ground.
Begin this exercise by sitting on the floor—you can sit on a yoga mat for added comfort—then extend both legs in front of you. Take one end of the resistance band and wrap it around the ball—forefoot— of your right foot. As you keep your toes flexed, grab the other end of the resistance band and pull it towards your waist—there should be no slack in the band.
Then push your foot forward—down towards the ground—against the resistance of the band.
Hold the position for 5 seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. You can do 8 to 12 reps for 3 to 5 sets on each foot.
2. Lateral banded walk
This exercise will engage your hip abductors and glutes, but it will also strengthen the muscles in your hips and thighs. It will also increase your flexibility and stability, which can reduce the risk of running injuries.
In a standing position, loop the resistance band around both ankles. Then move into a quarter-squat position, make sure that your feet are shoulder-width apart, keep your core tight and bend your knees slightly. You can place your hands on your hips or keep them up in front of your chest.
Start with your right leg and take a step sideways to the right, stepping wide enough that you feel the resistance of the band—your feet will be wider than shoulder-width apart. Then bring your left foot towards the right so that your feet are shoulder-width apart again.
You’ll want to take 15 steps to the right and then take 15 steps to the left. This will be one full set. Do 3 to 5 sets and make sure to keep constant tension on the resistance band as you complete your sets.
3. Banded squat with side leg lift
When you do this exercise, you’ll be working the glute max, abductors, hip flexors, and quads. This motion will help to correct any muscle imbalances that are created from the repetitive forward and backward motion of running.
You’ll begin in a standing position and loop the resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. Then stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, you can place your hands on hips or keep them up in front of your chest.
Tighten your core, keep your chest up and then push your hips back, lowering into the squat. Push up through the whole of your foot and then lift your right leg out to the right side. Make sure that you keep your knee straight.
Then return to the starting position and repeat the squat on your left leg. This will count as one rep, continue to squat, and alternate your legs for 10 to 12 reps for 3 to 5 sets.
4. Banded plank
This exercise will help strengthen your core, as well as work the glutes, hips, and hamstrings. This will help you maintain proper running form on very long runs and will help you with your running efficiency.
Get your yoga mat out for some padding to keep you comfortable and find a spot where you can extend your entire body length. Loop the resistance band around your ankles.
Then get down on all fours, face down and extend your arms forward until your forearms are parallel to the ground, but be sure to keep your elbows directly under your shoulders.
Then extend both your legs backward keeping your toes on the floor and engage your core—abdominal muscles. Imagine that you’re pulling your belly button—navel—towards your spine.
Keep your body rigid and in a straight line—no hunching at the shoulders and don’t drop your hips—and make sure your shoulders shouldn’t come up towards your ear. Then lift your right foot off of the ground—about 12 inches—then bring your foot back down and then go back to the starting position.
Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 10 to 12 times. Gradually increase the amount of time that you can hold this position for. You can work up to 30 seconds, then 45 and then 60 seconds.
5. Standing leg extension
If you find that you spend many hours sitting behind a desk or if you want to strengthen your hip flexors, then this is the exercise for you.
Find something to anchor the resistance band to, like the lower end of a pole, table leg or rig to an anchor. Then step into the loop and move the resistance band onto your shin, facing away from the anchor point.
Then “kick” your leg forward until the leg is fully extended and hold that position for 5 seconds. Bring your leg back down in a slow, controlled motion.
6. Isometric lunge and row
This exercise is a total body movement and you’ll find that this will develop your core strength, stability, and balance.
You’ll need to anchor the resistance band to a pole or a rig at hip height. Then hold one end of the resistance band in your right hand and take a step back so that there’s a little bit of slack.
Drop into the lunge position with your left leg forward and your right knee slightly above the ground. Then pull the resistance band towards your ribcage on the right side and hold the position for 5 seconds.
Then return to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps and then switch to the left arm and leg. You can do 3 to 5 sets on both the right and left sides.
7. Deadbug with the band
This exercise is great for strengthening the abs without compromising your back, as it’s an anti-rotation exercise. Even your top trainers find this exercise to be challenging, as you need to make sure you keep your back flat on the ground and prevent your pelvis from shifting.
You’ll need to anchor the resistance band either to a table leg, pole or rig and hold the other end with one of your hands—make sure that there’s constant resistance. Lie down on your back on your yoga mat—padding for comfort.
Extend your arms straight up—with tension on the band— and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and then lift them so that they’re parallel to the floor—you should now look like a dead bug.
As you slowly start to extend your left leg—it shouldn’t touch the ground—pull the resistance band with your right hand towards your left foot. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then return to the starting point. You’ll then alternate, straightening your right leg, while pulling the resistance band with your left hand towards your right foot.
If you find this exercise a little too difficult to do, then keep your arms still but still with constant resistance and only extend one leg at a time and hold the position for 5 seconds.
Do 10 to 12 reps on both the left and right side for 3 to 5 reps.
8. Glute bridge
This is a great exercise that targets multiple muscles. You’ll feel your hamstrings, lower back, abs, and glutes activate in this range of motion. The biggest benefit is that this exercise doesn’t place any pressure on the lower back.
Lie on your back—face up—and move the resistance band up so that it’s wrapped around your thighs. Then bend your knees, making sure that your feet are hip-width apart. Pull your belly button—navel—towards your spine as you engage your core and press your back against the floor.
Then push through your feet, lifting your hips until they’re aligned with your knees. You should then squeeze your glutes as you get to the top.
Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds before lowering your hips back to the floor to the start position. You can do 10 to 12 reps for 3 to 5 sets.