Your pecs deserve more than some half-hearted dumbbell presses once a month. Add these resistance band chest exercises to your routine to give them the strength training they deserve.

By Megan Falk
September 29, 2020
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With all the pop culture emphasis on building a peach-like booty and a core as solid as a rock, you might have amped up your squat routine and tried all the best ab workouts on the internet. And as a result, strength training your upper body — and more specifically, your chest — has probably become low priority. 

But to Hayden Steele, C.S.C.S., certified personal trainer and the creator of the Shock Training app, exercising the chest shouldn’t be viewed as optional. “If you’ve got to push yourself out of a chair or push a door open during the day, your chest has to be involved in your training regimen,” he says. “People tend to fixate on aesthetics, and they’re not thinking about the rationale of everyday life. A pushing motion is just as important as any other motion that you're going to do.”

Reminder: Pushing a filled-to-the-brim grocery cart or heavy lawn mower both require major effort from your chest muscles, as does throwing a softball or swinging a tennis racket. So creating a strong butt may make you look and feel your best, but considering how frequently you use your pecs throughout the day, you shouldn’t let them fall by the wayside in favor of other muscle groups — even if training them doesn’t have a clearly visible, IG-worthy benefit. 

Luckily, you don’t need a bulky, expensive set of dumbbells — or a fully-stocked home gym — to get a killer chest workout. Resistance bands can be used to perform classic chest exercises, including presses and punches, and even offer some perks free weights just can’t provide, says Steele. For one, they have more planes of resistance than dumbbells or kettlebells, so you can actually perform a greater variety of exercises, he says. “Because free weights rely on gravity, they can only provide resistance in a vertical plane — the direction of gravity,” he explains. “Unlike free weights, bands don’t rely on gravity for resistance. This increases their potential for use in more functional movement patterns that mimic everyday life, as well as sport-specific activities.” 

Let's say you were going to do a standing chest press with dumbbells, for example. As you extend your arms out in front of you, gravity will be pushing the weights down toward the floor. Even though you’re moving in the path of motion that would *typically* work your chest muscles, you end up working your deltoid muscles in the shoulder, says Steele. On the other hand, if you perform it with a resistance band, "the band directly resists the plane of motion, so it's actually going to provide the chest resistance during that movement,” he says. You'll still get some deltoid work with a band, plus some additional triceps training, but your pecs are going to be putting in most of the effort, adds Steele. So the next time you’re performing horizontal-plane exercises such as standing presses and punches, ditch your dumbbell and use a resistance band so you can be sure you're training the muscles you actually want to target.

What’s more, resistance bands create a matching resistance profile, meaning that when your muscles are at the weakest point of range (think: the bottom of a floor chest press), there’s more elasticity in the band and less resistance, so the band is at its weakest point too. And when you’re the strongest (think: your arms are fully extended in the press), so is the band, says Steele. If you were to do this move with dumbbells, the weight is just as heavy at the bottom of the range (when your muscles are weak) as it is at the top, which can put you at greater risk of injury at that bottom point, he adds.

To get all the perks of resistance training *while* keeping your upper body injury-free, try Steele’s go-to resistance band chest exercises that are sure to set your pecs on fire. 

12-Minute Resistance Band Chest Workout 

How it works: Do each move for 30 to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before moving onto the next move. Repeat the circuit a total of 2 times.

You'll need: a TheraBand (Buy It, $13, amazon.com) or a tube resistance band with handles (Buy It, $20, amazon.com)

Standing Resistance Band Chest Press

This resistance band chest exercise will give you the same benefits as a standing press you’d do on the cable crossover machine, but you won’t need to take up your living room with equipment. 

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Wrap the resistance band around back, beneath shoulder blades, and bring the two ends under armpits out in front of body. 

B. With elbows bent at 90-degree angles at chest-height, hold the handles of the band, or the spot where the hands meet the band, with an overhand grip (palms facing down). Step right foot back into a split squat stance. Lean torso slightly forward at the hips to start.

C. Exhale and extend elbows, pushing hands away from chest until arms are fully extended.

D. Inhale and reverse movement, bending elbows to return to start and stopping once hands are in line with chest. Maintain tension in the band throughout the movement. If there isn’t tension, re-position hands further down the band.

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Alternating Punches

If you want to add a bit of cardio to your workout, perform a quick round of alternating punches to get your heart rate up. The set-up for this resistance band chest exercise is just like the standing chest press (above), but you’ll alternate the arms pressing rather than extending both at the same time.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Wrap the resistance band around back, beneath shoulder blades, and bring the two ends under armpits out in front of body. 

B. With elbows bent 90-degree angles, hold the handles of the band, or the spot where the hands meet the band, with an overhand grip, palms facing down. Step right foot back into a split squat stance.

C. Extend arms directly in front of chest, keeping hands shoulder-width apart to start.

D. On an inhale, quickly bend left elbow outward to bring hand to chest, maintaining tension in the band throughout the movement. Stop once hand is in line with chest. (If there isn’t tension, re-position hands further down the band.)

E. On an exhale, quickly extend elbow and push hand away from chest until fully extended. Repeat, alternating sides, maintaining speed throughout the exercise.

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Floor Press with Glute Bridge

This resistance band chest exercise works your body just like a chest press using a dumbbell or barbell. To take the move to the next level, consider lifting your hips up into a glute bridge and holding that position throughout the entire round.

A. Start laying face-up on the floor with a resistance band around the back and beneath shoulder blades. Bring the two ends under armpits and out in front of body. Bend knees and plant feet firmly on the floor hip-width apart.

B. With elbows bent at 90-degree angles at your sides, hold the handles of the band, or the spot where the hands meet the band. Lift hips off ground into a glute bridge, creating a straight line between knees, hips, and shoulders. Begin with elbows pointed outward, wrists straight, and core engaged.

C. Slowly exhale, press arms and extend elbows toward ceiling, lengthening the band as the arms straighten.

D. Slowly inhale and lower arms until upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor. 

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

Modified Resistance Band Push-up

Push-ups probably aren't your favorite move, but they are sure to set your pecs on fire, especially when you add a band. This resistance band chest exercise is also a perfect demonstration of the band’s matching resistance profile — when you lower toward the floor, the band gains more slack, and when you push up, there’s more tension, says Steele. (BTW, if you think you’re ready to do a full push-up, follow these tips to perfect your form.)

A. Start in a modified plank position with the band looped around the back beneath shoulder blades, the ends of the band underneath hands, hands directly under shoulders, and knees on the floor. Lift feet off the ground and hold them there.

B. Engage core by tucking the tailbone and drawing the navel in toward the spine. Lock in the lats by drawing the shoulders down and away from the ears.

C. Bend elbows so the arms form a 45-degree angle to the body. Slowly lower body, and stop 3 inches above the floor, keeping core engaged throughout the movement and ensuring body forms a straight line from head to knees.

D. Push away from the floor to return to start.

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Bench Press

If you’re taking a resistance band workout to the gym — or are lucky enough to have your own bench at home — this resistance band chest exercise is a must. In addition to your pecs, this bench press will strengthen your shoulders, triceps, lats, traps, and rhomboids. (If you don't have access to a workout bench, try performing this move on a smaller, sturdy coffee table, a piano or dining room table bench, an aerobic step platform, or even a park bench.)

A. Wrap a resistance band underneath a bench and start laying face-up on the bench. Shoulders should be in line with the resistance band. Plant feet on floor, with knees at a 90-degree angle, and slightly arch lower back to maintain proper spinal alignment. 

B. Hold the handles of the band, or the spot where the hands meet the band, at sides. Begin with elbows pointed outward, wrists straight, and core engaged.

C. Exhale and slowly press arms and extend elbows toward ceiling, lengthening the band as the arms straighten.

D. Inhale and slowly lower arms until upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor. 

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

Resistance Band Chest Press on a Foam Roller

Turns out, foam rollers aren’t just for recovery. Adding a foam roller to your floor chest press turn this into a core exercise, too, says Steele.

A. Wrap the resistance band around back, beneath shoulder blades, and bring the two ends under armpits out in front of body. Hold the handles of the band, or the spot where the hands meet the band, with an overhand grip, palms facing down. Place feet flat on the floor and carefully lay face-up on the foam roller (parallel with torso). Start with elbows bent at 90 degree angles, wrists straight, and core engaged.

B.  Exhale and slowly extend elbows to press hands toward the ceiling, lengthening the band as the arms straighten.

C. Inhale and slowly lower arms until upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor. 

Repeat for 30 to 45 seconds; rest for 15 seconds.

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