8 Resistance Band Exercises for a Total-Body Workout

These are the top banded strength training exercises recommended by running coaches.

Despite the general consensus that strength training makes runners faster, more efficient, and less prone to injury, many still skip the weight room or half-heartedly crank out a few reps of biceps curls and call it a day. The reasons vary; gyms can feel crowded or intimidating, some of us prefer to stay outside, and at-home weight sets are expensive and space-consuming.

Resistance bands snap back against all these excuses. They’re relatively cheap—you can buy a complete set for the price of one lightweight dumbbell. They take up minimal space, which makes them easy to store at home, tuck into a travel bag, or bring to the park. And, most importantly, they’re incredibly versatile. Constructed from flexible latex that’s colour-coded according to its thickness, bands are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Smaller bands are typically looped around the limbs and used to add resistance or feedback to bodyweight moves, while larger bands can be used in place of weights or anchored for pulling, pushing, and isometric movements. When it comes to training with resistance bands, progression and regression is pretty simple: Beginners should start with a lighter band that offers less resistance and level up as their strength increases. Advanced athletes should challenge themselves with a thicker, heavier band.

There are hundreds of exercises runners can do with a just a few different bands, but, to get you started, we asked three running coaches to share their favorites. Here are their top eight recommendations.

How to use this list: Review the exercises below as demonstrated by Bradford Shreve, certified personal trainer at Life Time Athletic at Sky in New York. Perform each move according to the reps and sets instructed for a killer total-body workout or perform the Lateral Banded Walk, Banded Squat With Leg Lift, Plank Row, and Star Jacks as a pre-run warmup.

1 – Lateral Banded Walk

“Many runners (myself included) are prone to feeling like their butt is ‘dead’ during a run,” says Pam Moore, running coach and occupational therapist in Boulder, Colorado. “I would describe it as a dull ache and tightness that makes you feel like punching yourself in the butt.” To prevent the dreaded “dead butt” sensation, Moore suggests using lateral banded walks to activate the hip and glute muscles before hitting the road.

Loop a resistance band around your ankles. Starting with the feet shoulder-width apart and the knees slightly bent, take 15 steps to the right, then 15 steps to the left. That’s 1 set. Move slowly, stepping wide enough to feel the band’s resistance, and think about pushing the knees out (rather than allowing them to collapse inward). Complete 2 to 3 sets; you should feel warmed up, not fatigued.

2 – Banded Squat With Leg Lift

“Road runners do a lot of front and back movement. That often leads to under-developed abductor muscles (muscles that move the limbs away from the body’s midline), which can lead to injuries,” says Kelly Gerard, running coach and co-founder of the Kukimbe app. To get runners moving in more than just one plane of motion, she adds a lateral leg lift to a basic, banded squat.

With a small resistance band positioned around the thighs, stand with the feet hip-width apart. Hinge the hips and lower down into a deep squat. As you return to a standing position, use the hip and glute muscles to lift the right leg out to the side. Place the right foot on the ground and repeat the entire movement for a total of 20 reps. Repeat on left leg.

3 – Banded Star Jacks

“This is a great, explosive move that really gets your heart rate up!” says Gerard. The added resistance around the ankles turns this gym class staple into an endurance challenge that also strengthens the glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings. Use banded star jacks in a dynamic warmup or during high-intensity interval training.

Place a small resistance band around the ankles and stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Jump the feet apart as you raise both hands overhead (so body forms a star with head, hands, and feet as the points). Jump the feet together as you bring the arms back down to sides. Continue at a moderate pace for intervals of 30 to 60 seconds.

4 – Banded Plank

Running speed starts with running efficiency, which starts with a solid core. You’ll feel this spicy plank variation all throughout your middle as the subtle yet effective leg movements fire up the glutes, hips, and hamstrings.

With a resistance band looped around your ankles, get into a forearm plank position with shoulders over elbows and core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to heels. Lift the right foot straight up about 12 inches, then return it to the starting position. Repeat for a total of 10 reps before switching sides.

5 – Pallof Press

If Mary Johnson, USATF Level 1 certified running coach and founder of Lift.Run.Perform, could recommend just one resistance band exercise that targets the core, she’d pick the paloff press. “It’s an anti-rotation exercise, which means it’s forcing the core to resist the force of the band from pulling it in the opposite direction,” she explains. You’ll feel this one all throughout the trunk, especially in the obliques.

At about chest height, loop one end of a large resistance band around a pole, squat rack, or rig. With the left side of your body facing the pole, come to a tall kneeling position and grasp the other end of the band with both hands at chest height (make sure you’re far enough away from the pole so that there’s resistance on the band). Tighten the core and push the band directly in front of the chest. Use your core to resist the pull of the band to rotate your torso. Hold for 45 seconds, then return the hands to the chest. Complete three reps before repeating with the right side of the body facing the pole.

6 – Deadbug With Band

Johnsons’s second favourite core exercise using a band? The deadbug. “It’s another anti-rotation exercise, which runners need plenty of,” she says. “The biggest challenge with this is keeping the back flat against the ground, and not allowing the pelvis to shift.”

Loop one end of a resistance band around the lower part of a pole, squat rack, or rig to anchor. Loop or hold the other end with right hand. Lie faceup and your feet closest to the anchor. Extend arms straight up (there should be tension on the band). Keeping the lower back pressed into the floor, lift the legs so that shins are parallel to floor and knees have a 90-degree bend. Slowly straighten left leg and allow left foot to hover just above the floor, as you reach right arm overhead at the same time. Bring left leg and right arm back to the starting position. Complete 6 reps. Then repeat with right leg and left arm for 1 set. Perform 3 sets.

7 – Isometric Lunge and Row

The “iso” or isometric lunge and row challenges balance, stability, and core strength while also engaging the upper body. “This one is a total body movement,” says Johnson.

At hip height, loop one end of a large resistance band around a pole, squat rack, or rig. Facing the pole, drop into a lunge with left leg forward, right knee hovering above the floor. Hold the band with the right hand (there should be some tension) and pull hand toward right ribs. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps before switching legs and arms. Complete 3 sets on each side.

8 – Plank Row With Band

The “pulling” motion used in this move is hard to replicate with bodyweight exercises, which is why the band is essential here. Upper body work isn’t on every runner’s radar, but it’s still very important because you need a strong arm swing to power you up hills and through sprints. “So many of my athletes are asking how they can get a stronger upper body,” Johnson says. “Since many runners do have a weaker upper body, the use of the band allows the athlete to do the movement correctly.”

Loop one end of a resistance band around the lower part of a pole, squat rack, or rig to anchor. With your head facing the anchor, start in a high plank position with wrists under shoulders and core engaged so that body forms a straight line from head to heels. Grab the other end of the resistance band with right hand (there should be some tension). Pull hand to right ribs, but be sure to keep hips square. Complete 6 reps then repeat on left side for 1 set. Do 3 sets.

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