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Published Feb 11, 2022 9:44 AM

If your gym bag isn’t equipped with a set of resistance bands, you should probably fix that sooner than later. The stretchy fitness accessory seems too simple and inexpensive to make a difference, but looks can be deceiving.

In early 2020, I was lucky enough to work out at one of the best gyms I’ve ever seen. It had rows of squat racks, two monolifts, about a dozen deadlift platforms, endless dumbbells, and strongman equipment most people have never even heard of. There were separate rooms full of strength training and cardio equipment. And the speakers played heavy metal nonstop. Then lockdowns hit.

I found myself working out at home with dumbbells up to 25 pounds, a few resistance bands, and an endlessly patient wife who let me fireman-carry her on leg day. That period of time made me a big believer in resistance bands. A few glorified rubber bands allowed me to train every muscle group and stay in shape until the gyms reopened. Now, they’ve earned a spot in my active recovery routine and travel with me when I need to stay fit on the road.

Understanding resistance bands is easy, but there are some key basics you need to know. That’s why we did the leg work for you, and the result is a shortlist of recommendations that can have an oversized impact on your fitness.

If you’ve ever been in a physical therapist’s office or athletic training room, you’ve probably seen these resistance bands from TheraBand. They’re probably responsible for the rise of resistance band popularity in the fitness community, and you’d be smart to add a few to your own gym bag.

TheraBand uses high-quality latex that maintains its strength and elasticity over years of use. Smaller bands are great for stretching and active recovery, while larger ones can be used to augment your gym session or work out at home. These can be bought individually, but we recommend going all-in with a set of four rated at 15, 25, 35, and 50 pounds of maximum resistance.

As good as these bands are, we’d like to see a few more options available. Maxing out at 50 pounds is respectable, but we’d like to see more challenging options made available. TheraBand is also a fairly expensive brand, but you get what you pay for and we have no qualms about investing in this kind of quality.

Product Specs
  • Number of bands: individual, set of four
  • Material: latex
  • Resistance: 15, 25, 35, 50 pounds
PROS

Build quality trusted by professionals

Large enough for full-body movements

Stretch indicators help avoid over-stressing bands

Tough enough to last years

CONS

Only four resistance levels available

This kind of quality isn’t cheap

Highest level of resistance is 50 pounds

Gymshark is known for high-priced workout clothing, but it’s getting in on the fitness equipment game with accessories like this resistance band. If you like the rest of the brand’s lineup, this should be an easy buy for you.

Like other premium manufacturers, Gymshark builds its resistance bands out of 100 percent latex that holds its shape, whether it’s your first workout or your hundredth. This band’s 41-inch length is on par with offerings from Theraband and Rogue, making it perfect for compound movements like the squat, deadlift, and various presses. If you want more or less resistance, other bands are available.

We wish Gymshark would take a page out of the competition’s book and offer its resistance bands as sets designed for various types of workouts. It’s also worth pointing out that this is a fantastic bargain on sale, but the MSRP might price people out if the sale ends. Better get them while they’re hot.

Product Specs
  • Number of bands: individual
  • Material: latex
  • Resistance: 51 to 119 pounds
PROS

Quality construction suggests long-term durability

Gymshark training app offers workout ideas and tips

Incredible bargain on sale

Available in several sizes and resistance levels

CONS

Fewer size options than the competition offers

Paying full price is a lot to ask

Not available as a packaged set

Editor’s Choice

Rogue Monster Bands are a gym rat’s dream come true. They’re built to take a beating from chalked hands and knurled barbells, and come in a range of resistance levels other manufacturers can’t come close to.

Prices start at less than $20 for a pair of the 15-pound orange bands and go up to $67 for a single silver 200-pound band. You can buy bands individually (or in pairs for the smaller sizes) or pick up one of two packages designed for helping people work up to unassisted pull-ups. The build quality of these 41-inch latex bands is top-notch, and shorter lengths are available to mix up your routine.

As you’d expect from a premium brand like Rogue, these bands aren’t cheap. We’ve seen a few cases of bands breaking, but in limited numbers and only on the very smallest bands. It’s possible those cases can be chalked up to user error, too. If you ask us, the biggest danger is having the Rogue website and your wallet open at the same time.

Product Specs
  • Number of bands: individual, set of three, set of five
  • Material: latex
  • Resistance: 15, 30, 50, 65, 100, 140, 175, 200 pounds
PROS

Available in seven resistance levels and several sets

Library of workout videos to learn from

Heavy-duty enough to use alone or with barbells

Available in mini lengths as well

CONS

Buying individually adds up quickly

Smaller bands may show wear more quickly

Opens the door to binge-buying Rogue gear

Best Resistance Bands with Handles

If you prefer the familiar feel of a solid handle, get a grip with these resistance tubes from Rogue. They offer a similar experience to resistance bands with a more traditional handle that will feel similar to a dumbbell or cable machine.

Tube Bands are built to the same standards as the rest of Rogue’s products. Buy them individually in resistance levels ranging from 10 to 60 pounds or pick up one of three sets: light, heavy, or complete. The unladen length of 49 inches is adequate for exercises like curls, rows, and overhead presses.

These are a great addition to your workout routine, but we recommend adding them after you already have a set of traditional resistance bands. These just aren’t versatile enough to give them an edge in our opinion. The handle is another potential weak point, although there isn’t enough consumer data to give us serious concern about that.

Product Specs
  • Number of bands: pairs, two sets of three, set of six
  • Material: latex-based elastic
  • Resistance: 10, 15, 30, 40, 50, 60 pounds
PROS

Handles are easy to grip

More conventional application than loop-style bands

High-quality construction compared to most resistance tubes

Minimal learning curve involved

CONS

Less versatile than loop-style resistance bands

Even the best handles create a failure point

Fewer resistance options to choose from

Best Bodyweight Resistance Bands

Marketing people love to throw the word “tactical” around, and it usually doesn’t mean anything. The subdued color of this TRX system might not do much for you compared to the usual black and yellow scheme, but the performance advantage is very real.

This system uses your own bodyweight to create a home gym just about anywhere. Its portability and effectiveness have earned popularity among deployed service members who liked it enough to continue their TRX workouts stateside. There are more than enough workouts and tips available online and in the TRX app to keep you engaged and growing.

One thing to be aware of is the fact that this type of band requires a solid anchor to function. Pull-up bars and door frames are great places to start. The price is also several times higher than what you’d spend on elastic resistance bands. Then again, it’s also a fraction of other home gym equipment.

Product Specs
  • Number of bands: one system
  • Material: textile straps, rubber handles, aluminum hardware
  • Resistance: bodyweight
PROS

Extremely rugged construction

Expansive library of exercise tutorials and programs

Large community of users to learn from

Active and prior military get 20 percent off

CONS

Requires a sturdy anchor point

Slightly more limited application than elastic resistance bands

Steeper learning curve than traditional bands

Why you should trust us

The Task & Purpose staff is loaded with fitness freaks including speed demons, endurance athletes, and gym rats. We’ve tapped into that knowledge (and countless hours of research) to bring you the best information on weight benches, barbells, rowing machines, ellipticals, and treadmills. We’ve used our share of resistance bands, too. Hell, they got me through physical therapy more than once and came in handy during my lockdown workouts (alongside fireman-carry squats with my endlessly patient wife). Add in some consumer research, and you end up in the fast lane to the best resistance bands out there. Now, go get some.

Types of resistance bands

Exercise resistance bands

Resistance bands built for strength training are essentially giant rubber bands. They’re long and elastic enough to provide resistance during full-body movements. There are endless exercises and workouts designed for resistance bands, so you’ll have no shortage of material once you buy some of your own. They can be bought individually, but we recommend picking up a few different sizes so you have more options at your disposal.

Physical therapists and athletic trainers often use thinner bands for acute recovery. These come in a roll so they can be cut and tied to specific lengths. These are useful and inexpensive enough that you could certainly keep some on hand, but we doubt you’d use them near as much as their larger counterparts.

Resistance tubes

Resistance tubes use the same principles as traditional resistance bands. Elastic tension is still the name of the game, but tubes have handles attached at either end. Some people prefer to have a rigid handle that mimics a dumbbell handle and provides extra support.

Resistance tubes are less versatile than a looped band by the nature of their design. The point where the handles attach to the elastic tube can also be a point of failure if too much force is applied. These drawbacks make us think a traditional resistance band might be a better initial investment that can be supplemented by a set of resistance tubes.

Bodyweight systems

Bodyweight exercise systems work very differently compared to elastic resistance bands, but they’re another fantastic option for people who need affordable workout equipment that can fit inside a seabag and be used just about anywhere.

Systems like the ones from TRX attach to a sturdy mounting point and let you use your bodyweight to attack your muscle groups with nothing more than gravity. They’ve been a deployment mainstay for years and have earned a loyal following as a result. If you want a home gym that you can take on deployment or vacation, suspension bodyweight systems like this are tough to beat.

Benefits and features of resistance bands 

They cost peanuts

What do dumbbells, free weights, treadmills, and exercise machines all have in common? They almost always have a comma in the price tag. That’s fine if you want to turn your garage into an all-out fitness dungeon, but it’s a lot to ask when the base gym is free.

Even the most expensive option on this list costs only $500. The others can be scooped up for less than $100. That’s a hell of a bargain considering they can give you a legitimate workout anywhere in the world. How legitimate, you ask? We know of one Marine who prepared for MARSOC by exclusively training with resistance bands. Consider us convinced.

Take your workout with you

Resistance bands are basically giant rubber bands, so they’re extremely easy to travel with. They can be folded up and thrown into your gym bag, suitcase, or assault pack very easily. Use them in the gym as part of your warm-up wor workout, or take them with you when you travel to stay in shape on the road.

Anyone who travels knows hotel gyms are woefully under-equipped and day passes at local gyms can be pricey. Resistance bands can be used on their own or added to bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats to get a better workout. It’s also easy to mix and match several bands or adjust your grip to create varying loads. 

Increase or decrease resistance

The most obvious way to exercise with resistance bands is to simply stretch them with your hands (think rear-delt flye). They can also be wrapped around your body to make push-ups or squats more challenging. 

If you have access to weights, resistance bands can increase the level of difficulty of common lifts like the squat, bench press, and deadlift by hooking them to the rack and looping the top over the bar. This is especially helpful when training to improve lockout or overcome a sticking point. Powerlifting Technique has a great breakdown of how and why you should integrate bands into your weight training.

Bands can also be attached above the bar to decrease resistance at the bottom of a lift. This can make it easier to come out of the hole and decrease assistance as you approach the top of the lift.  

Speed up recovery

Rest days are important, but there’s more to recovery than sleeping in and binge-eating (or drinking) simple carbs. Mobility work needs to be just as high of a priority as crushing sets and reps in the gym or racking up miles of running.

Exercising with resistance bands is self-paced and low-impact, which is great for keeping muscles active after a strenuous workout. Use them to do light, active recovery or stretching to stay limber and ready to dominate your next workout. The National Academy of Sports Medicine has a great article backed by several peer-reviewed studies that explain the concept of proper active recovery. 

Resistance band pricing 

Because resistance bands are so simple, there isn’t a lot of variation in pricing. At the low end of the spectrum (around $10), you’ll find strips of latex that can be cut and tied to create a length that works for you. These are good for recovery and physical therapy but don’t have the ability to add very much resistance to a workout.

Most resistance bands that people use for exercise are large loops that can be used alone or with weights to increase or decrease the amount of load put on your body. These vary in thickness to create different amounts of maximum resistance. Resistance tubes perform many of the same functions, they just go about it in a different way. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $70 for a single band, or save money by purchasing a set.

Bodyweight systems like the ones from TRX are similar enough in many ways that we thought they’d be worth including. They take up a similar amount of space and are just as useful in situations where gym space is limited or unavailable. Building these systems is a little more involved, so prices can fall anywhere between $100 and $500.

How we chose our top picks

There are more companies selling resistance bands than we can count. Because the concept is so simple, it’s pretty difficult to mess up the recipe. Still, we’re protective of your spending money and work hard to avoid products that can’t stand the test of time. That’s why we stuck to proven products from the most reputable brands. TheraBand resistance bands are popular among physical therapists and athletic trainers. Rogue and Gymshark products can be spotted in nearly every gym we’ve been to. TRX bodyweight systems are a must-have for deployment. Within those brands, we sought to find something to suit a range of goals from building muscle to recovering from injury.

FAQs on resistance bands

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. Are resistance bands really effective?

A. Resistance bands are a great way to build strength and recover from strenuous workouts. That doesn’t mean they can (or should) replace other forms of exercise; it just means they might be a valuable addition to your fitness routine.

Q. Are resistance bands better than weights?

A. Resistance bands, free weights, and weight machines all have advantages and disadvantages. Resistance bands are better at some things, like being portable and inexpensive. They’ll never replace an Olympic bar or set of dumbbells, but they have their place.

Q. Which is better, resistance bands or tubes?

A. Resistance bands and resistance tubes work very similarly; that’s why we included both in this gear guide. They both use elastic material to apply load to your muscles. The difference is in the various ways they can be used, and you may want to own both.

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Scott Murdock is a Task & Purpose commerce writer and Marine Corps veteran. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.

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