9 types of resistance bands & when to use each of them

As you look around your gym, you may notice a lot of huge rubber band-looking things going unused.

Little do most people know that those bands could be your key to better fitness!

You can use resistance bands on their own, or you can loop them around a stand or rack. Once you get used to them, you’re bound to notice a plethora of benefits to your overall health, including:

  • Better form
  • Improved focus
  • Enhanced strength
  • Increased mobility

Resistance bands are also recommended for anyone going through physical rehabilitation thanks to how easy they are on the body. But with so many different resistance bands out there, it helps to know which one is best for you.

There are tons of different variations to choose from, and they all do different things. But the main types of resistance bands are:

  1. Therapy bands
  2. Compact resistance bands
  3. Fit loop resistance bands
  4. Figure 8 resistance bands
  5. Ring resistance bands
  6. Lateral resistance bands
  7. Pull up bands
  8. Flat resistance bands
  9. Tube bands

That’s a lot of bands! Don’t be too overwhelmed — most of these bands do similar things. They provide light to heavy elastic resistance for a variety of rehab and exercises. Choosing the right one comes down to whether you prefer loop-style bands or bands with different kinds of handles or attachments.

Which one is right for you? Let’s break each of them down along with photos so you can identify each band type.

1. Therapy band

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As you can guess from the name, therapy bands are commonly found in rehabilitative settings.

Allan Misner, a personal trainer from 40+ Fitness, defines them:

“These are straight thin elastic bands that provide mild resistance. These are useful for rehabbing an injury as you work to begin rebuilding some basic strength and stability.”

They tend to be lighter than other bands. After you sustain an injury, your doctor may recommend using one to gradually work out your muscles.

One popular exercise to use with this band is the external rotation. It goes as follows.

  • Attach one end of the band to a firm object
  • Grab the other end using your right hand in an overhand grip
  • Bring your right elbow to make your upper arm in line with your shoulder
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, making your forearm parallel with the ground
  • Start the exercise by rotating your forearm back, making your arm perpendicular to the ceiling
  • Reverse the movement to go back into your beginning position

Therapy bands are often, but not always, loops that can be wrapped around an object or anchor.

2. Compact resistance band

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Also known as tubular bands, compact bands consist of a set of cord-like bands available in varying colors and resistance levels.

(They look a bit like a bungie cord.)

They usually come with handles or clips and occasionally ankle or wrist cuffs. There should also be an anchor system that lets you attach it to your home’s door.

The tube tends to be longer than what you find with other bands. It’s generally around four feet in length.

With plastic handles on either side, this band is recommended for training your arms, lower body, and upper body.

They have some of the most varied use out of any resistance band out there. So if you want a versatile band to keep at home, this is typically the way to go.

3. Fit loop resistance band or mini bands

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Whether you call it a fit loop or mini resistance band, it does the same thing.

They’re relatively small bands, usually about nine inches in length, that secure comfortably to your knees, calves, thighs, or ankles.

As such, they’re great for training your glutes, hips, and lips. They’re a wonderful therapeutic device, especially if you want to do a lot of floor-based, lower body-conditioning workouts.

For Monica Straight, a personal trainer with AlgaeCal, mini bands are where it’s at. She told me, “Mini Bands are my current favorite! They’re great for lateral workouts maintaining form, and intensifying common exercises like squats.”

If you’re interested in doing a lot of squats during your workouts, then you may want a mini band for more reasons than one.

Straight went on to say, “Knees often cave in while doing squats, typically due to weak glutes and abductors. By having the resistance band in place, you’ll be able to feel if your knees are caving in and correct your form.”

4. Figure 8 resistance band

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You’ll know a figure 8 band when you see it.

It looks like the number “8” with grips on both sides you can hold onto.

These are popular bands to utilize because they assist you with numerous functional exercises. It isolates certain muscle groups to help you with strength conditioning. You can also find ways to incorporate the band into physical therapy or pilates.

One lesser-known routine to do with a figure 8 band helps strengthen your abs. It goes as follows.

  • Get in the supine crunch position
  • Place the band over one shoe while gripping the other handle in your opposite hand
  • Pull your hand while pressing your foot away from you

Figure 8 bands are small and compact enough to bring with you everywhere you go — they’re great for traveling or squeezing in quick workouts at home.

5. Ring resistance band

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A ring resistance band looks like several links of a chain put together.

The idea here is that you can easily alter your grip width (thus tightening or loosening the resistance) and have access to a handle no matter where you grab the band.

It’s extremely versatile, allowing you to target your hands, arms, neck, shoulders, stomach, joints, feet, and legs depending on your grip and which exercise you choose.

6. Lateral resistance band

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When not attached to anything, lateral bands look a long band with two cuffs on opposing ends.

One popular use is to wrap these cuffs around your ankles to perform lateral walk strength training.

A walking exercise with a resistance band helps target your glutes and hip abdicators.

It’s a great warmup routine before you get in tougher cardiovascular exercises. It helps improve knee joint stabilization and ankle stability before you work out more in earnest.

Here’s how to go about performing the lateral walk exercise.

  • Wrap the band around both legs just over each ankle
  • Position your feet to be shoulder-width apart
  • Move into a half-squat position by bending your knees slightly
  • Shift your weight over one leg while taking a step sideways with your other leg, maintaining a half-squat position the whole way through
  • Switch legs and shift your weight

7. Pull up band

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A pull up band helps you, not surprisingly, do pull ups!

It’s used as an assistance device if you can’t perform bodyweight pull ups yet or want to perform higher reps.

Think of it like a spotter whose there to help give you that extra boost to get your chin over the bar. They’re usually long so they can reach from your feet all the way to the top of the pull up bar.

To get the most out of this kind of band, you want to make sure you get it in the right resistance. After all, if there’s not enough, then it can become a crutch where you don’t get the same benefits out of your pull ups.

Follow the guidelines set by Zarina Briggs.

She says, “These bands are great for assisted pull ups and are also a great addition to any lower body workout. When determining resistance, the thicker the band, the greater the resistance. They are also usually color-coded to make identifying band resistance easier.”

8. Flat resistance band

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Flat resistance bands are precisely what the name implies.

They’re like a regular band except the material has been flattened.

This makes them a popular option for people going through physical therapy.

But these bands work for anyone who wants to tone or tighten any number of muscle groups. Some of the exercises you can perform with this band include:

  • Chest press
  • Lunge
  • Lateral raise
  • Standing high row
  • Standing hammer curl

Flat bands and therapy bands, as mentioned above, have some overlap in their design and functionality.

9. Tube band

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At first glance, a tube band may look like a really short jump rope.

The band is circular and there are usually handles at either end.

They’re recommended for when you want to perform pushing and pulling movements, like a band overhead press or row.

Tube bands pretty much act like a cable pulley and dumbbell all in one. They’re some of the most versatile and useful bands out there.

If you can only buy one type of resistance band to workout at home, go for a set with handles in varying resistance levels!

Wrapping up

You can do a lot of the same exercises with almost any type of band.

Buying one really comes down to what style you like best (loops or open-ended with handles) and whether there’s a certain area of the body you want to focus on.

All these bands come with an array of resistance levels. These levels include light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.

It’s good to have a few different resistance levels within your arsenal so that you can gradually work your way up throughout an exercise regimen. They also come in various colors so you can easily identify which band offers which amount of tension.

For more beginner equipment guides, check out the different types of rowing machines and the different types of weight benches you’ll find at the gym.

Hope this helps!