How to build muscle with resistance bands, says an expert

Many people are not only looking to get stronger through strength training, but are also looking to build muscle mass to improve their physique and bulk up. Hypertrophy training, which is strength training geared toward increasing muscle size, is usually achieved through high-volume resistance training with heavy weights. Although many people assume that you can only build muscle by lifting dumbbells, a barbell, or other traditional equipment, it is possible to build muscle with resistance bands, too. Resistance bands provide a low-cost, portable, and convenient way to do strength training at home for those who cannot afford a gym membership or prefer the convenience, efficiency, and privacy of a home workout.


To learn more about how to effectively build muscle using resistance bands instead of weights, we spoke to Seamus Sullivan, a certified strength and conditioning coach and certified nutrition expert who has been training clients for more than seven years.


Keep reading to learn expert tips on how to build muscle with resistance bands and increase your gains even if you don’t have access to weights.

How does muscle growth happen?

Ultimately, building muscle is a hypertrophy process. Hypertrophy occurs in a two-step process where you first break down muscle fibers through high-intensity training (typically resistance training exercises). Then, as long as your body has an adequate supply of amino acids from dietary protein and an adequate intake of calories to support muscle repair, the process of muscle protein synthesis will help prepare and rebuild muscle fibers to be stronger and larger.

“The usual triggers for hypertrophy are mechanical stress, muscle damage, and metabolic stress,” says Sullivan. “Mechanical stress occurs when a load is placed on a muscle while the muscle is going through its full range of motion. This leads to muscle damage that will now allow the muscle to grow with rest. Finally, metabolic stress creates signals that have similar effects to mechanical stress to initiate hypertrophy.”

Sullivan also notes that to promote hypertrophy, resistance exercises should be performed in sets close to failure.

Can you build muscle with resistance bands?

Jake Lott doing push-ups with a resistance band at the gym.
Axial Athletics (Youtube)

Despite the prevailing theory that you have to lift weights or use machines to build muscle, Sullivan says, you can definitely build muscle with resistance bands.

“The resistance on the muscle can be done in many ways, and the bands are a great way to do that,” he says. “The difference between bands and free weights is the resistance curve. The free weight will stay the same amount of weight throughout the range of motion. However, with a band, it gets tough the more you stretch it,” he explains. “For example, biceps curls on free weights will have tension in the weight primarily in the middle range of motion. For the bar, the tension will still be in the middle, but then toward the upper range it will be more challenging, as the bar Now it’s more stretched. This can be beneficial for muscle and strength gains. Anything that brings the muscle close to failure will allow hypertrophy.”

Essentially, Sullivan says you don’t have to use dumbbells, a barbell, or weights to “train your muscles to failure.” You can support muscle growth with resistance band exercises as long as you are trying to repeat an equally challenging load that will tire your muscles properly and perform enough training volume to support muscle growth.

He suggests structuring your workouts by starting with exercises that target the larger muscle groups and then working your way up to the smaller muscle groups.

“For larger muscle groups, you can load with a heavier resistance, with three to four sets between six to eight reps. Then, move to smaller muscle groups in three to four sets of eight to 12, up to 12 to 15 reps,” he advises. “All of this can only work if someone takes their exercises close to failure. In terms of frequency, it is recommended to work out a muscle group twice a week for sufficient muscle growth.”

A sample of resistance exercises for muscle growth

Biceps resistance exercises.

Sullivan offers an example of an upper-body resistance band exercise to build muscle:

  • Resistance Band Chest Presses: Three sets of 4 to 6 repetitions at maximum effort
  • Resistance Band Seated Rows: Three sets of 8-12 reps with resistance that takes you to failure by the end of the set
  • Resistance Band Lateral Raise: Four sets of 12-15 reps
  • Resistance bicep curls: Three sets of 12-15 reps
  • Resistance Band Triceps Extensions: Three sets of 12-15 reps at resistance that brings you to failure by the end of the set

How to assess your workload using resistance bands

Man doing sit-ups using resistance bands at the gym

One of the challenges with using resistance bands is that it can be hard to know exactly how much you’re lifting. “Some bands have instructions . . . color code which bands are easiest [or] harder. “Some of these ranges or instructions indicate the load the band is trying to mimic,” says Sullivan. “It’s actually hard to know the exact weight, so you often have to go off the ‘feel’ and reps, and then note which band was used for the next rehearsal.”

For serious powerlifters looking for a more accurate and scientific approach, the good news is that there are now a few innovative smart resistance training systems that can actually tell you an effective lifting load. Some even allow you to set your desired resistance with the band for a more precise workout. My top two choices are the LIT AXIS™ and We Gym smart resistance bands. Both systems use smart technology with built-in sensors that allow you to track not only your reps and sets, but also the amount of resistance load you’re using and your time under pressure.

the LIT AXIS The system can even analyze every axis of motion, detecting and correcting muscle imbalances on the right and left sides of the body, and using that data to predict and prevent injuries. You can dial in the specific resistance loads you want to use up to 200 lbs, just like using traditional weights, yet still have the convenience, portability, and functionality of traditional resistance bands.

Similarly, with We are JimYou can set the exact resistance you want to use, from 10 – 110 lbs. You can also view your exercise metrics in real time, giving you just as much control and precision over your resistance exercises—if not more—than doing traditional weightlifting with clearly marked weights. The system allows you more control over your progress and training to better support your muscle gains and hypertrophy goals.

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