Try this complete upper-body workout using a resistance band to create strength, shape, and definition in your torso.
I am an enthusiastic fan of the resistance band, especially when training the major muscle groups of the upper body.
The genius of a resistance band is that – unlike free weights – it creates peak resistance at the point of muscular contraction.
For example, if you’re doing a bicep curl exercise with a resistance band when you curl your arm up so that your fist almost touches your shoulder, that is also the point when the resistance band is stretched the farthest.
It’s the most strenuous moment during the rep, which coincides with the moment your bicep muscle is shortened and flexed. (Try the same bicep curl with a dumbbell instead of a resistance band, and you’ll discover that the most challenging point in the movement does not coincide with the peak bicep flex at the top.)
Improve Your Upper Body Musculature By Adding Variation
Another benefit to the resistance band is the intensity it provides during the eccentric part of the rep.
For example, during that same banded bicep curl, after you curl your arm and flex your bicep at the top, it’s time to lower your arm back down into the starting position.
Play with Tempo While Using Resistance Bands (and Watch Your Body Transform)
This process of playing with tempo during a rep – so that the return trip is slower going down than it was going up – is especially effective when using a resistance band for your upper body.
Gravity wants you to take the free ride back, but you can be the boss of the movement.
During each upper body exercise, you can dramatically increase your strength – and improve the shape, texture, and definition of your torso muscles – when you focus on the eccentric portion of your reps.
With dumbbells, it’s more tempting to take that free ride back on your reps. However, resistance bands can readily create tension as the muscle lengthens again.
Take Your Upper Body to the Next Level by Incorporating Resistance Bands
There is nothing wrong with using dumbbells to sculpt and strengthen the upper body. And there is also nothing wrong with emphasizing the concentric portion of a repetition.
But here’s the thing.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the human body over the last 57 years of my life, it’s that it adapts to movement patterns quickly and then stops developing muscle as readily for overly familiar patterns.
Variation is key!
Trick your body into responding again by using resistance bands in your training. Let your body know that it still needs to develop muscle to meet the unique and varied movements and loads with which you challenge it.
Complete List of Upper Body Exercises Using Resistance Bands, including Video
What follows is a complete, 15-exercise upper body workout using resistance bands. See the video lower within this article to understand how each move looks in action.
To get unquestionable results from this workout – and I’m talking about an improvement in lean muscle so apparent that you’ll be able to see the difference when you look in the mirror – remember to be extremely mindful of your tempo.
The tempo for each repetition is:
- fast and explosive on the way up;
- pause at the top and use your mind to squeeze the fibers intentionally;
- and then return to the starting position slowly.
I like to workout outdoors often, which means I don’t have a mirror in which to observe myself. Since I can’t see the muscle I’m targeting during each exercise, I make an extra effort to visualize in my mind’s eye the muscle group that I’m shaping and strengthening. I really try to feel the contraction from the inside-out and viscerally imagine it improving.
Beginners can run through this workout once, taking short breaks only as needed.
Intermediate-level athletes can complete this entire circuit twice–taking a 2-minute break between the first and second circuits.
Advanced-level athletes can do this entire circuit three times in a row.
1. Kneeling Crunches with Resistance Band
In the video, you’ll see that this workout begins with a warm-up exercise. Secure a band above you, then – kneeling on a mat – grab the handles above your shoulders and curl yourself down into a crunch.
The trick with this exercise is to initiate the movement from the contraction of your abdominal muscles. Resist the temptation to pull with your arms.
For the above Kneeling Crunches exercise, play with your positioning until you feel like you can isolate those core muscles. In my case, I find that I feel it more if I try to keep my elbows far out in front of me when I curl down (instead of curling them down to my pelvis).
Do 16 repetitions.
2. Oblique Rotations
This is another warm-up exercise. Secure the band off to your side. With feet firmly planted and knees slightly soft, grab the handles and rotate your spine.
Initiate the movement from your side-waist oblique muscle. Resist the temptation to pull from your arms.
Try to keep your hips somewhat stationary. It’s your spine that rotates, not your hips.
16 reps each side.
3. Knee-Up Upper Body Row (Single-Arm)
Your final warm-up exercise. Secure the band in front of you and slightly above. Stand balanced on one leg as you pull the other arm in and lift the knee on the rowing side (see video).
During the movement, try to use your arms and legs less and your core muscles more.
16 reps each side.
4. Single-Arm Shoulder Press While Planking
Bet you’ve never done this exercise before! It’s a shoulder press done while in a one-arm plank position. The band should be positioned low and behind you.
- Beginners: 6 reps each side.
- Intermediates: 9 reps.
- Advanced Athletes: 12 reps.
5. Single-Arm Fly for Upper Chest, While Planking
Similar to the above (same rep structure, too), except it’s a single-arm chest fly instead of a press.
TIP: protect your lower back by keeping your glutes active (tighten your buttocks), and your navel pulled up and in tightly. Keep those hips at shoulder level or slightly higher.
TIP: when doing the fly movement, imagine pulling the band using your pectoral muscles (instead of your arm and shoulder muscles).
6. Bicep Curls
Good, old-fashioned curls – only with a resistance band instead of a barbell. Remember to engage that specific, eccentric tempo described at the beginning of this article.
7. Shoulder Press with Resistance Band
Anytime you do a shoulder press, proceed slowly and with caution – particularly if:
- you’re over the age of 50
- or, if you spend more than an hour a day on your phone or in your car
- or, if your job involves sitting at a desk.
The rotator cuff and anterior deltoid can get sticky, so I like to gradually increase the shoulder girdle’s mobility by doing my reps more slowly and starting out with a band that offers a slightly lighter resistance than I think I could handle.
TIP: don’t hold your breath during shoulder presses, and keep your facial expression relaxed.
8. Single-Arm Kneeling Row
To create a V-taper in your torso that makes your waist appear narrower, you must develop your lat muscles along the sides (“wings”) of your back. This rowing exercise focuses on one lat at a time.
14 reps each side.
9. High Rear-Delt Row with Resistance Band
This exercise is astoundingly helpful for maintaining good posture (or improving poor posture).
Unlike the popular Face Pull exercise, this time, your hands are at the level of your lower neck.
10. Standing Pullovers
Keep your knees bent, glutes active, and navel pulled in tightly. During the movement, try to pull from your back and chest muscles (instead of just using your arms and shoulders).
11. Tricep Kickbacks with Resistance Band
Keep those elbows hiked-up high behind you as you lean forward and extend your forearms. Use that same mindful, strategic tempo you used for your bicep curls.
12. Upright Row
This exercise is to sculpt the front of your shoulders – your anterior deltoids – while also creating a bit of definition in that area.
This is another one to proceed with cautiously. No need to go extra heavy.
13. Upper Body Lateral Raise with Resistance Band
People tend to want to use momentum on this one. Avoid swinging, and keep your hands by your sides at the bottom of the rep (not in front of your torso).
Exhale as you raise your arms, and inhale on the way down.
14. Front Arm Raises
10 reps. Keep your ribcage compressed and your abdominal muscles active, preventing swinging and lower-back strain.
15. Standing Rear-Delt Fly with Resistance Band
- How did you feel after this workout?
- Were you sore the day after?
- Are you doing this workout once a week?