Banded Back Exercises You Can Do Almost Anywhere
Pandemic isolation was a real test of our ability to adapt to a weird new workout situation. Maybe you’re still trying to figure out just how best to use the equipment you’ve got. Sari Terranova is a total supermom, CPT, and nutrition coach who introduces women and youth athletes to the power of functional strength training. She’s got 20 years of classroom teaching experience and a lifetime of love for college football.
In this post, she gives us six excellent back exercises using bands only. Get ideas for building a stronger back in your basement or garage gym, including a breakdown of the different types of bands and how to set them up for rows, lat pulldowns, deadlifts, and flys. Mix these into your training alongside your barbell lifts for that extra back pump.
Bringing sexy back, in the basement
At the risk of sounding exceptionally annoying, I got into the best shape of my life during quarantine. When the world shut down in the spring of 2020 and gyms were forced to shutter doors, many of us had to start finding new ways to build muscle or at least maintain it.
Like the masses I spent a week or so making banana bread, watching Tiger King, and doing IG push up challenges before reality set in. I wandered down to my basement, only to look around and realize I needed to get creative.
It was easy enough to hit the major muscle groups with a barbell, free weights, and my trusty trap bar, but I really missed cables. I rely on them for back workouts in the gym. The solution? I started mimicking my favorite cable machine back exercises using resistance bands. The more I experimented with these versatile, affordable loops of latex, I found there are countless ways to row, pull, and fly your way to a strong back.
Your back has some of the toughest muscle groups to train because it’s made up of around twenty different muscle “pairs” that mirror one another on either side of your spine. These pairs are categorized as superficial, intermediate, and intrinsic muscles.
When we think of back day workouts, we’re generally referring to the Big Three of the superficial muscles: lats, traps, and rhomboids. I’d also throw rear delts in there—though technically part of the shoulder, they’re essential to the strength and aesthetics of a solid back.
Another challenge to back training is that it’s hard to establish the mind-muscle connection to make sure you’re using the right muscle as the primary mover in an exercise. You have all these supporting muscles hidden beneath the superficial ones and you can’t really look in the mirror to see the fibers working.
Building a strong back with bands
The great thing about resistance bands is that they allow you to make almost endless adjustments to hit those less visible, but equally important deep muscles.
With bands, the constant tension and more fluid movement allows you to hone in on the muscles you want to contract, heightening that connection.
There are several different types of resistance bands on the market:
- Power/Loop Resistance Bands
- Tube Resistance Bands with Handles
- Rubber Mini-Bands
- Fabric Bands
- Light Therapy Bands
My bands of choice are power and mini-bands, though you can also use tube bands in many of the exercises below if that’s what is available to you.
You can purchase bands in sets with resistance levels ranging from five all the way up to 200 pounds. Keep in mind the amount of resistance for any band varies depending on a few factors like exercise selection, your individual strength level, grip, anchor position, and body position.
Keep your back looking lean and strong with these six banded back exercises to throw into your training rotation.
Mini-Band Single Arm Lat Pulldown
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and loop the mini band around your hands with your palms facing out, thumbs inside each end of the loop. Reach your arms straight overhead, keeping your core tight and chest proud.
Breathe in at the top, then exhale as you lower your right arm and bring your elbow to your side. Keep the left arm locked out overhead and your trunk straight. Pause at the bottom of the movement and squeeze before raising your arm back to the starting point. Make sure to keep tension in the band throughout the movement. Repeat for 10-12 reps, then switch to the left arm.
Banded wide grip lat pulldown
My favorite way to do a banded lat pulldown at home is to loop a medium/heavy resistance band from a high anchor point (like a pullup bar), then use a broom or pvc pipe slipped through the hanging loop to create a “lat bar”. Depending on the height of the anchor, you can sit, kneel, or half-kneel beneath the “bar” to find the right level of resistance.
Perform this exercise just as you would with a cable machine: keep your grip wide (outside of shoulder width), palms forward, trunk upright, and core engaged as you draw your elbows to your sides and bring the bar to your chest. Don’t lean back too far or this becomes more of a row than a pull-down. Pause at the bottom of the movement and raise the bar slowly, focusing on getting a full lat stretch at the top of the movement.
Alternatives: If you don’t have an anchor point, you can do this like the mini-band single-arm exercise described above. Instead of one arm at a time, lower both arms simultaneously until the band hits your chest. To make your grip wider, close your fist around a long loop band as if you’re gripping a bar, then pull the band out and down.
Banded single arm row
Anchor one end of your resistance band so it’s about mid-trunk height when you’re seated. Grip the free end of the loop palm down, and sit back far enough so you have tension in the band with your arm fully extended.
Keep your back erect and core tight, then breathe in and then exhale as you rotate your wrist to neutral grip and focus on pulling your elbow slightly behind your torso (your hand should come to rest at your side in line with your belly button). Squeeze your back for a count and then slowly return to starting position, rotating your hand back to palm-down position. Repeat 10-12 reps, then switch arms.
Alternatives: You can repeat this same pulling movement with a high or low anchor point to hit your traps, rhomboids, and lats from different angles. For a high anchor point, I recommend a half-kneeling stance or chest-supported on an incline bench. With a low pulley, hinge at the hips about 45 degrees, and rotate your wrist as you would in the seated version.
You can also do this movement with a mini-band as a bent over row. Step one foot into an end of the loop, gripping the other end of the loop with your palm facing your body. Hinge at the hips, then draw your elbow up as you squeeze your shoulder blade at the top of the movement.
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Banded bent over rear delt fly
Stand with a light to medium resistance long band under your feet, grabbing the loop on your right side with your left hand and vice versa, so the bands cross in front of you. Hinge at the hips at about a 45-degree angle, keeping your back straight and your head in line with your spine.
Start with your arms hanging down, palms facing one another. Raise your arms out to the sides and squeeze your shoulder blades together, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Hold the squeeze at the top for a count, then lower to the starting position. Repeat 10-12 reps.
Alternatives: You can also use two separate bands of the same resistance looped around two low anchor points (like squat rack posts). Or you can attach them mid-rack and perform the movement standing, using a neutral or pronated grip to challenge the rear delts differently.
Start standing on the long band so that it bisects your feet (basically, where the barbell would be if it were over your feet) with your stance shoulder width apart and toes pointed forward. Choke up your grip on the ends of the loop bands with your palms facing your body.
Hinge forward at your hips, keeping your arms and back straight with a soft bend in the knees. Keep your hips high as you hinge forward and feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Pull your body back to an upright position by squeezing your glutes and lats (not by pulling with your arms). Repeat for 10-12 reps.
Coach’s Tip: Aim for using the heavier bands with this one.
Banded straight arm lat pushdown
This is another movement where I like to create my own lat bar as described in the Wide Grip Lat Pulldown. However, in the absence of a “bar”, anchor a loop band high and grip the free end with palms facing down, hands shoulder width apart. Back up so that there is tension in the band when your arms are extended and your hips hinged at about a 45 degree angle.
You should feel a little stretch in your lats at the starting position. Keep your back and arms straight as you focus on contracting your lats to pull your hands toward your hips. Pause at the bottom of the movement and slowly return to starting position. Make sure you get that lat stretch at the top for full range of motion. Repeat for 10-12 reps.
Alternative: You can also hold the band with a neutral grip for increased range of motion, as you would if using a rope cable attachment.
Some might deny the possibility of making serious gains using “rubber bands”, but if used correctly, mindfully, and progressively, you can achieve moderate muscle growth gains and even increased mobility with resistance bands.
Programs planned with purposefully increasing tension levels are designed to challenge your muscles in different ways by varying grip, tempo, and stance. That being said, I suggest using banded exercises as you would cables, alongside big compound movements with free weights and barbells—deadlifts, pull ups, and all of the other proven back exercises you’d normally crush.
No one is saying throw out the weights (well, except for Tom Brady, but we’re talking about the rest of us mere mortals here), but bands can certainly help you out well beyond the pandemic sitch. There’s a “get the band back together” pun in here somewhere, but I’m going to leave you with that. Now get back at it!
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