Become A Resistance Bands Master

These stretchy bands could be your BFFs when it comes to getting stronger and faster.

Photos by Oliver Baker.

The Path Of Most Resistance

Resistance bands aren’t just something you turn to when there aren’t any “real” weights around. Used the smart way, they could actually stretch your running potential.

Often when you ask runners if they do strength training, they say, “‘Yeah, I do ab exercises, so I’m covered there,’” says Colleen Brough, D.P.T., director of the Columbia RunLab in New York City. But that leaves out some key muscles that could really get your running somewhere new—ones that can be very effectively trained with those versatile stretchy bands. “If healthy runners do these three exercises and add in the Running Homework [see below], the vast majority would show improvement in their performance,” she says. Here’s what resistance bands can do for you:

Keep You From Leaking Energy

How: They teach you to keep your pelvis stable. It’s not uncommon to see runners drop their pelvis to one side when they’re on one leg. They switch to the other leg, and the pelvis drops again. “The more you drop the pelvis when you’re on one leg, the more energy you lose from your run,” Brough says.

What to do: Lateral Jumps

These strengthen the gluteus medius and the lower abs, which keep you stable.

  1. Place the resistance band just above your knees. Stand with both feet on the floor, double shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees so you’re about halfway down into a squat. Now push off strongly with your left foot and left glute and do an explosive jump to the right. Do the same in the other direction. On days you’re not running, aim for 10 total jumps.
Photos by Oliver Baker.

Power You Forward

How: By strengthening your knee drive so you move forward more powerfully

What to do: Knee Lifts

  1. Tie one end of the band to your right thigh, just above the knee.
  2. Tie a big knot in the other end of the band. Place the knot on the outside of a door, and shut the door so the knot is outside, and you’re in. Alternatively, you can attach the band to a post or something stable.
  3. With your back facing the door, get in a lunge position with the left leg in front, right in back.
  4. Straighten your left leg while driving your right knee up and toward your chest. Keep your pelvis level the whole time. The band may want to move a bit, so you might need to work to keep it in place—don’t be tempted to place it below the knee; that puts too much stress on the knee. Return to a lunge position. Do 10 reps, then switch legs and repeat.
Photos by Oliver Baker.

Keep You Balanced While Moving

How: By building your ability to keep your body from sagging anywhere when it’s shifting through a variety of positions

What to do: Trace a Y

  1. Tie one end of the resistance band to your right thigh, just above the knee.
  2. As with the Knee Lifts, tie a big knot in the other end of the band. Place the knot on the outside of a door, and shut the door so the knot is outside, and you’re in, or attach to a post.
  3. Use your right foot to trace the shape of an upside-down Y on the floor. First, make the stem of the Y out infront of you. Reach your toes forward as far as you can while keeping everything aligned. Return to center.
  4. Now trace one arm of the Y by moving your toes on a diagonal behind you to the right (at 5 o’clock). Bring the foot in and trace the other arm of the Y to the left (about 7 o’clock). You can bend your standing knee while doing this—just make sure it doesn’t drift in toward your midline. Return to standing. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs.
Photos by Oliver Baker.

How Many To Do

  • On non-running days: Do no more than two sets of 8 to 10 reps (you should be tired by then) of each exercise.
  • On running days: Do two sets of 5 of each exercise before you go out; this will prime you to run using the right muscles.

Do Your Running Homework

“Now that you’ve done the band exercises, go out for a run and really think about the muscles you’ve worked,” Brough says. “Really think about pushing off and squeezing that glute muscle for a section of about 100 feet.” Cue your left glute every time your foot hits the ground. Then do it with your right. “This helps you incorporate the strength you just worked on—and it’s what really brings biomechanical changes to your running,” she says. In other words, it’s nice to be strong, but if you don’t use that newfound strength in your running, you don’t get its benefits.

Build Your Band IQ

In addition to their ability to make you a better runner, resistance bands are great because they’re portable and inexpensive. Use these tips to choose and use them better.

Decode The Rainbow

The various colors in a box of bands aren’t just to coordinate with your outfit; different colors have different stretchiness. The trouble: Each brand is a little different, so you can’t always assume that red means hard. Choose the band that allows you to do the exercise and maintain good alignment, says Brough. Too much resistance will pull you off-kilter.

Circle up (or not). Some bands are pre-made into a circle. These can be handy for lateral jumps. You might even want some of each so you don’t have to keep tying and untying them (it gets a little trickier once the powder on them wears off).

Make them more comfy. Bare skin plus resistance band can be pinch-o-rama sometimes. If you’re not wearing capris or long tights, fold up a towel and place it between the band and you in the hot spots.


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