At first glance, mini resistance bands (often called "mini bands") are on par with sliders on the sissy scale. But start working them into your workouts, and you'll realize these simple workout tools are seriously underrated and unappreciated.
Put another way: Mini bands can seriously kick your ass.
The beauty of these wide, flat bands is in their versatility. They pack and travel easily. You can ramp up the intensity with varying resistance levels. You can take advantage of them in your home or at the gym. And they're easy to incorporate into myriad exercises, helping you utilize lateral movements (which can combat injury and overuse), stabilization work (necessary for proper posture, form, and bulletproofing your body), and instantly make a workout more effective.
Rather than give you an encyclopedia of every exercise you can do with a mini band, we hit up Joe Holder, a performance trainer at S10 gym in NYC, Nike trainer/run coach, and founder of The Ocho System to provide the exercises that give you the greatest bang for your buck. The following 15 will transform your entire body, top to bottom.
Prescription: Incorporate some of these as part of your warmup (glute bridges and glute walks), as a finisher (banded pushups on chest day and lateral raises on shoulder day), or as a quick workout on the road. Incorporate upper-body, lower-body, plyometric, and ab moves to round out your workout.
1. Banded Pushups
How to do it: Begin in a plank position with the band around your wrists. Your hands should be roughly shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself into a pushup while keeping constant outward pressure against the band. Continue until you're just about to hit failure. Rest 1-2 minutes. Then, reposition the band above your elbows. "Changing this band position will assist you on your concentric (aka 'pushing') portion of the exercise and allow you to get in more work," Holder says. Continue performing pushups until failure—"that means doing the last rep with good form, not just seeking to pump out reps for the sake of it," Holder adds.
2. Triceps Push-Backs
How to do it: Hold the band in both hands. Hinge forward at your hips so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Bring your left hand to the middle of your chest. Your left hand will anchor one end of the band. Extend your right arm, feeling the tension against your triceps. Continue for 30-60 seconds. Rest for 1 minute. Switch sides, then repeat for 3 rounds.
3. Lateral Raises
How to do it: Wrap the mini band once around your left thumb and hold it in your hand at your side. Hold the other end in your right hand, positioning it around your midline, Holder says. Your right hand will serve as an anchor. Lift your left arm up in a lateral raise. Perform for 30 seconds. Rest for 60-90 seconds. Switch sides, then repeat for 3 sets.
4. 4-Way Glute Band Walks
How to do it: "Place the mini band just above your knees and start in a quarter squat position, toes pointed slightly in," Holder says. Don't let your knees buckle as you perform controlled lateral steps for 30 seconds to the right, then step left to return to the starting position, he adds.
Next, perform "drop-back steps": In a controlled motion, place your right foot slightly behind you. "Don't let them meet, but return to having your feet about shoulder-width apart," he adds. Keep back-stepping, alternating feet for 30 seconds. Continue this cadence, stepping forward to return to the start position. Rest for 1 minute; complete 3 rounds.
5. Glute Bridge
How to do it: "Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees, with the mini band around your legs and positioned just above your knees. Keep your arms flat on the ground on either side of you. Engage your glutes and hamstrings as you perform a glute bridge for 60 seconds. Rest 60 seconds. Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
"To make this a bit more difficult, perform this action on a single leg, then switch at the halfway mark," Holder recommends.
6. Overhead Squat
How to do it: Stand with the band around your wrists. Keeping tension against the band, lift your hands above your head. "This will activate your core as you perform an overhead squat," Holder says. Complete 10-15 quality reps. Rest 60 seconds; perform for 3-5 rounds.
7. Alternating Crunches
How to do it: Place a mini band around your feet, right above each forefoot. Holder says. Lie on your back and put resistance on the band by pulling your feet slightly apart. (Think about flexing your big toes.) Perform alternating crunches, drawing your left elbow to your right knee and right elbow to left knee for 60 seconds. Rest 90 seconds. Repeat 3-5 rounds.
8. Armless Jumping Jack to Squat
How to do it: Place a mini band around your ankles and set your feet shoulder-width apart. "With a slight bend in your knees, do a jumping jack"—you don't need to move your arms for this—"and then go into a squat, making sure to keep pressure against the band," Holder says. Go as fast as possible for 30 seconds. Rest for 60 seconds. Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
9. Knee Drivers
How to do it: Place a mini band around the forefoot of both feet and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on a wall and step your feet back so your whole body is at a 45-degree angle to the wall. Drive your left knee up, then bring your foot back down to the floor. Do left knee drivers for 30 seconds, then right knee for 30 seconds, then rest 60 seconds. Complete 3-5 rounds.
10. Bear Crawl
How to do it: Place a mini band around your knees and begin in quadruped position (hands and feet on the floor, knees bent and butt low). Begin to bear crawl in a "box drill" pattern, moving forward, then strafing to the right, then moving backward, then strafing to the left. Repeat for 30 seconds in a clockwise motion, then repeat for 30 seconds in a counterclockwise motion. Rest for 60 seconds. Repeat for 5 rounds. "This is one of my favorite moves for core control when done properly," Holder says.
11. Plank Jacks
How to do it: Begin in a plank position with a mini band around your ankles. Holding the plank position (hands underneath your shoulders, hips even, butt low), jump your feet in and out for 30 seconds. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat 5 rounds.
12. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift to Row
How to do it: Place a mini band underneath your right foot. Hold the band in your left hand. Perform a single-leg Romanian deadlift, making sure to keep your hips square and constant tension on your hamstring. At the bottom of the exercise, perform a row with your left hand, driving your elbow back past your hip. Return to start and repeat. Perform 12 reps, then switch to the other side. Rest 30-60 seconds, then repeat for 5 rounds.
13. Hollow Body with Pulses
How to do it: Lying down on your back, place the band around your ankles. Contract your abs, straighten your arms, and extend your legs straight out. Keep your hands and toes pointed. Your back should be slightly rounded. Rock back and forth for 10 reps. After 10, hold your legs at the top position, putting pressure against the band. Perform 10 abductions. "Push out against the band and pulse between resistance and no resistance," Holder says. Repeat 5 times. Rest for 1 minute; repeat for 5 sets.
14. Single-Leg Forward Jumps
How to do it: Wrap the mini band around both legs, positioned above your knees. Stand on your right foot. Jump forward and land on your left foot. Pause, reload your hips, and repeat again. Go for 20 total jumps, alternating legs as you go. Rest for 60-90 seconds and repeat 3-5 rounds.
15. Star Jumps
How to do it: Wrap a mini band around your ankles. Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms close to your sides. Lower down to a half squat, then explode up, extending your arms and legs against the band. Think of this as an explosive jumping jack, only you're getting more air, making it more of a plyometric exercise, Holder says. Reset and repeat for 15 reps. Rest 90 seconds; complete 5 rounds.