I love barbells and dumbbells—but I also love resistance band exercises for arms.
They totally change every movement and they’re relatively cheap. Bands don’t take up any space at all, so they’re perfect for workouts at home or on the road.
They’re also great for toning up with high reps. I prefer barbells and dumbbells when I go heavy and train my arms with sets of 5-8, but I love bands when I’m working with sets of about 10-12. They bring the burn!
Bands also emphasize a completely different part of the movement. You know how biceps curls are generally tougher at the bottom of the rep? Bands are just the opposite: Each rep is hard at the end because the band stretches and provides more resistance. That makes them perfect for shaking up training and kicking your muscles out of a rut.
You can use bands for leg training, too, but you might need thicker bands because leg muscles are very strong.
Here, I’ll give you my top 11 resistance band exercises for arms—and they’re great for the shoulders, back and chest, too.
What You’ll Need
You need bands! You can find these at most fitness shops or online. Some have handles, and some are continuous loops. The main goal: Find a band that will offer enough resistance that your muscles are working very hard between 10 and 12 reps.
I prefer bands without handles because I can choke up on the band to alter the resistance when I need to. Sometimes I even do this in the middle of a set to make a few reps harder or easier.
My go-to bands come from Rogue Fitness (Canada): the Monster Bands. We use these at CrossFit 204 for all kinds of things—assisted pull-ups, powerlifting, resisted sprints. They’re amazingly versatile. (You can find identical versions of these bands in many fitness stores, including at Fitness Experience in Winnipeg. Update: the bands at this store are coloured differently, but they’re much cheaper! We picked up several sets at the beginning of April.)
Unless you are unbelievably strong, you will not need the very thick black, purple, red and grey resistance bands for arm training. You’re likely to need the #0 (orange) #1 (red), #2 (blue) or #3 (green) bands. They cost about $40-$50 for a pair—often less locally—and you can get combo packs as well. I use the red #1 and green #3 resistance bands more than any others for arm training. In some cases, you might need thinner TheraBands.
For some exercises, you’ll also need something sturdy you can loop the bands around. It’s nice to have something vertical—a tree, a post—as well as something overhead—a tree branch, a pull-up bar, a ring set in a floor joist. Whatever you use, make sure it’s very stable, and always make sure your bands aren’t frayed and likely to snap.
Finally, it helps in some cases if you have a short, sturdy dowel you can slide through the band for some exercises. That will allow you to grip with two hands and change the angle just a touch.
Resistance Bands: Sets, Reps, Rest and Tempo
Here’s my favourite prescription for resistance band exercises for arms: 3-4 sets of 10 reps—but you don’t have to stick to that. You can certainly do fewer sets, but I’d always do at least 2 of them. I’d also recommend you switch things up regularly: don’t always do sets of 10. Maybe try 8 in one workout and 10 or 12 in another.
I recommend you rest about 60-90 seconds between sets. It’s not a lot of time, and the sets definitely get tougher. Don’t worry about “going to failure” in the first sets. Just make sure the last rep always feels like “hard work.”
Sometimes I “super-set” 2 movements—do them back to back before a rest break. For example, I might do a set of 10 seated band rows (see below) and then a set of push-ups before I rest. This can get really tough!
You can—and should—vary the tempo of your reps. Here’s a tempo I love: stretch the band quickly and explosively, pause for 1 second, take three seconds to return to the starting position, then do the next rep right away, That plan is sometimes written as 30X1. You can certainly change it. Here’s another option: 2020. That would mean the concentric and eccentric portions each take 2 seconds, and you don’t pause at the top or bottom of the rep.
You can do band training every second day or so. I wouldn’t perform the same movements on two consecutive days. Give your muscles have time to recover. You can train your arms one day, then your legs the next. That’s not a hard and fast rule, and we don’t split things up like that in CrossFit training. So just make sure you aren’t doing the same workouts two days in a row. If you’re very sore all over, take a rest day and go for a light jog or bike ride.
I’d also recommend you do about 4 of the exercises below in one session, then try a different combination in your next session. That will keep it interesting and ensure your muscles are always working in slightly different ways.
To add even more variety, you can perform almost all of these movements with both arms (bilateral training) or one arm (unilateral training). Switch it up from time to time!
Resistance Band Exercises for Arms
Back and Arms
Set-up: Loop the band around something stable, sit down and place your foot or feet against the anchor. Grab the band with both hands using an overhand or underhand grip. Retract your shoulder blades.
Execution: Without moving at the hips, pull your elbows back until your hands touch your torso at sternum height.
Muscles worked: Latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), rhomboids, erector spinae (erectors), rear deltoids (delts), biceps, forearm flexors.
Standing Straight-Arm Lat Pull-Downs
Set-up: Loop a band around a stable anchor overhead and slide a dowel through the band. Standing tall, grip the dowel at shoulder width or wider. Engage your core. The only movement comes at the shoulder joint.
Execution: Use your lats to pull the dowel down and toward you until it touches your torso/hips.
Muscles worked: Lats, teres major, triceps, erectors.
Set-up: Loop a band around a stable anchor overhead and slide a dowel through the band. Sitting, grip the dowel at shoulder width. Engage your core. The only movement comes at the shoulder and elbow joints.
Execution: Using an underhand or overhand grip, pull the dowel to your sternum.
Muscles worked: Traps, rhomboids, rear delts, infraspinatus, teres major, subscapularis, biceps, erectors.
Chest and Arms
Standing Chest Press
Set-up: Loop two bands around an anchor behind you at shoulder height. In some cases, you might be able to use one band if it’s long enough to allow full range of motion. Brace your core so the movement comes only at the shoulders and elbows.
Execution: With a loop of band in each hand, use your chest to push your hands away from you until the elbow is locked.
Muscles worked: Pectorals (pecs), triceps, front deltoids, abdominals.
Horizontal Chest Flys
Set-up: Loop two bands around an anchor behind you at shoulder height. Send your arms out to the sides with only a slight bend in the elbows, Brace your core so the movement comes only at the shoulders.
Execution: With a loop of band in each hand, use your chest to bring your hands together in front of you.
Muscles worked: Pecs, front deltoids.
Shoulders and Arms
Single-Arm Bent-Over Rear Delt Raises
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an anchor near your knees or feet. Face 90 degrees away from the anchor. With a neutral spine, bend at the hips to bring your torso as close to parallel to the floor as you can. Use your core to ensure your back doesn’t round. Grip the band with the hand farthest from the anchor. The band will run underneath your torso.
Execution: Pull the band until your arm is parallel to the floor. Ensure the arm is perpendicular to your torso throughout the movement.
Muscles worked: Posterior deltoids.
Single-Arm Front Delt Raises
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an anchor near your feet. Facing away from the anchor, grip the band in one hand. Engage your core and ensure you are not arching your back. The only movement is at the shoulder.
Execution: With a slight bend in your elbow, raise your hand up until your arm is parallel to the floor. Resist the urge to shrug your shoulder into your ear. Keep the shoulder blade depressed.
Muscles worked: Anterior delts.
Single-Arm Side Delt Raises
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an anchor near your knees or feet. Face 90 degrees away from the anchor, and grip the band with the hand farthest from the anchor. The band will run across your body. Engage your core and ensure you are not arching sideways. The only movement is at the shoulder.
Execution: With a slight bend in your elbow, raise your arm until it is parallel to the floor. Avoid shrugging the shoulder into the ear. Keep the shoulder locked down.
Muscles worked: Lateral deltoid, anterior deltoid, supraspinatus, trapezius.
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an anchor near your feet or stand on the band to use your weight as an anchor. Stand tall and engage your core. Avoid leaning back: The movement comes only at the elbow.
Execution: Flex your elbow to bring your fist toward your shoulder.
Muscles worked: Biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis.
Standing Triceps Extension
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an overhead anchor. Standing tall, face the band and grip it with both hands, or slide a dowel through the loop and hold it at shoulder width with both hands. Brace your core and ensure your upper arms are locked in place. Ensure the only movement is at the elbow.
Execution: Pull down on the band with your hands or the dowel to bring your hands toward your hips.
Muscles worked: Triceps.
Set-up: Loop a resistance band around an anchor near the floor. Lie on your back with your upper arms perpendicular to the floor, and strive to keep them there throughout the movement. Grip the band with both hands or slide a dowel through the band and grip it at shoulder width with both hands.
Execution: Extend your elbows to move your hands toward the ceiling until your elbows are straight.
Muscles worked: Triceps.
Free Training Plan!
These are my favourite resistance band exercises for arms, and if you’d like to see how they can be put together in fun, challenging workouts, I’ve created a training plan for you.
Sign up for our mailing list below and I’ll send you my free ebook “204 Lifestyle Resistance Band Training: Arms.” A link will appear in your email account. Enjoy!