While it’s true that, say, weighted bent-over rows are a safer back-strengthening alternative to heavy-weighted deadlifts or thrusters, the risk of injury is still there. (Hate to break it to you, but even the most seemingly elementary moves can still do some major damage.) But that’s not to say that you should skip training your back muscles altogether — just switch out your weights for a set of resistance bands.
The back muscles are probably some of the most important to keep strong and injury-free. This muscle group is utilized when performing everyday activities (such as moving furniture and bending down to pick up a laundry basket), supports your spine, and helps you maintain good posture, explains Dannah Eve Bollig, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and the creator of The DE Method. Plus, establishing strong back muscles may help prevent strains and sprains that can occur while twisting and bending during those daily tasks, she adds.
But when certain back exercises, such as bent-over rows and reverse flys, are performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell, you might start jerking the weight — rather than lowering and raising it in a slow, controlled motion — as your muscles fatigue, says Bollig. “When you jerk a weight around, that can really strain and potentially pull or tear a muscle. Any time you’re performing a weighted exercise, you have to be really careful…and the heavier the weight used, the greater your risk of injury,” she explains.
So, swapping your free weights with resistance bands can give your back the muscle-building workout it needs without risking injury. How? “With a resistance band, you’re in full control of both the concentric (pushing) and eccentric (pulling) movements,” says Bollig. “A dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or any gym machine with a set weight stays constant throughout the entire movement, while a resistance band increases in tension and decreases in tension throughout the movement….so it’s really hard to jerk it around,” she explains.
This changing tension during a banded back workout also allows you to exercise your muscles differently than you would with a free weight. For example, if you’re performing a bent-over row with a dumbbell, your muscles will mostly be challenged during the concentric portion of the movement — when you’re rowing the weight to the top and the muscle shortens. When you use a resistance band, however, your muscles will have to push through the resistance during the concentric segment and fight the pull of the band during the eccentric portion of the movement — when you’re lowering your arms back down to your sides and the muscle lengthens, says Bollig.
All this means that not only will your muscles spend more time under tension, which leads to more muscle breakdown (and, thus, growth!), but the fluctuating resistance of the band will also challenge your stabilizer muscles, says Bollig. By training these muscles, you’ll get your larger dominant muscles ready to perform at their best when executing more demanding moves later on, Tara Laferrara, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of the TL Method, previously told Shape.
Another major perk of opting for a banded back workout: You won't have to constantly swap heavy plates or re-rack free weights as you would when exercising with a barbell or set of dumbbells. When you need to amp up the tension or make the move a little easier, all you have to do is grab a different compact band or adjust your grip placement on the band you're already using, says Bollig. Plus, they pack away easily — so you can tote them on the go while traveling and easily make room to store them in a small living space, unlike free weights. (
Ready to test out some resistance band exercises for yourself? Try this banded back workout, created by Bollig.
15-Minute Banded Back Workout
How it works: Do each move for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before moving on to the next move. Repeat the circuit a total of 3 times, with 1 minute of rest between rounds.
You’ll need: A large-loop resistance band (Buy It, $27, amazon.com)
Resistance Band Pull-Apart
Looking to fix those rounded shoulders and arched back? This resistance band back exercise strengthens the muscles in your upper back — including your deltoids, rhomboids, and traps — and can help improve posture, says Bollig.
A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart. Grip the resistance band at each end and hold it out in front of chest, keeping arms straight and palms facing the floor.
B. Squeeze shoulder blades together and pull the band apart as far as possible, keeping arms as straight as possible, chest high, and back flat. Be sure to relax the traps to drop shoulders away from ears.
C. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band back to start. Repeat.
Resistance Band Bent-Over Rows
Much like pull-aparts, this banded exercise works your rhomboids and traps, but it also strengthens the lats, which will further polish your posture and can help reduce neck and shoulder tension.
A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart. Secure the resistance band under both feet so there's a loop sticking out on each end. Grip each loop with palms facing inward.
B. With chest high and back flat, bend at the waist and lower upper body to a comfortable row position, about 45 degrees forward.
C. Pull each loop of the band up toward ribcage and squeeze shoulder blades together, as if trying to hold a pencil between them.
D. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band to return to start. Repeat.
Resistance Band Face Pull
During this part of your banded back workout, you'll need something sturdy to wrap the band around, such as a support beam in your home, the legs of your couch, a vertical stair railing, or a metal pole. But the benefits of the exercise are worth the hassle: You'll strengthen your rear deltoids and rhomboids with every rep, says Bollig.
A. Fix a long-loop resistance band around a secure object at waist height. Stand a few steps back from the object with feet shoulders-width apart, facing the object to which the band is attached. Grip the band in front of waist with hands 3 to 4 inches apart and palms facing downward.
B. Pull the band up toward face and squeeze shoulder blades together, keeping elbows high and back flat. Try to keep traps relaxed so shoulders don't shrug up toward ears.
C. Hold for a two-second count and slowly release the band to return to start. If it's too easy, take another step back from the object. Repeat.
Resistance Band Deadlift
You probably know deadlifts as a killer glute and leg exercise, but they can also do some serious work on your erector spinae — the deep muscles of the back that run down both sides of your spine, says Bollig. Just make sure to keep your back from rounding while doing the exercise in order to get the most benefit, she notes.
A. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders-width apart, knees slightly bent. Secure one side of the band under each foot. Hinge at hips to bend torso forward, pushing butt backward. Grip one or both sections of the band between feet (one is easier, two is harder), with arms extended and palms facing toward body.
B. Keeping back flat, chest high, and hips pushed back, squeeze glutes together and pull the band up until standing fully upright.
C. Slowly release the band to return to start. Repeat.
Resistance Band Good Morning
If you’re looking for a move that strengthens more than just your back, you need to try good mornings. The move strengthens your posterior chain, which is made up of the calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes, erector spine, and lats, says Bollig.
A. Stand with feet shoulders-width apart. Secure one side of the band under feet and the other end across the back of shoulders. Grip the band just outside shoulders, palms facing toward body.
B. Keeping back flat, chest high, and a slight bend in knees, hinge at hips to bend torso forward until a stretch is felt in hamstrings.
C. Engage lower back, hinge at hips, and slowly bring torso up to standing. Repeat.