How To Use Resistance Bands In Calisthenics Workouts


MAY, 2020

Calisthenics is a difficult sport and requires incredible strength and body control. As a beginner, this can be intimidating, and many exercises will seem too difficult at first. However, resistance bands can bridge the gap and make impossible skills achievable – even for someone with little strength.

Table of Contents
1. Long / Pull Up Resistance Bands
2. Short / Glute Resistance Bands
3. Resistance Bands with Handles, Ankle Straps, Door Anchors

Resistance Bands Overview

Resistance bands are fitness accessories made from latex. They can be tethered to various objects, and can be used for many purposes. In calisthenics, because the skills are already super difficult, resistance bands typically assist practitioners by providing support and reducing their effective bodyweight. They are also great for stretching, warming up, rehabilitation and can be used for resistance exercises.

Most high level athletes and beginners alike see them as an indispensable tool for their training. This article aims to underline their value and help you understand just how truly fantastic this training tool is.

There are many different types of resistance bands, each with a specific purpose. Bands can differ in thickness, length and accessories. These differences dictate the intended purpose of the band. Thicker resistance bands are able to generate more force and therefore can make resistance exercises harder, while making body-weight assisted exercises easier.

Long / Pull Up Resistance Bands

Long resistance bands are usually about 1.2m long without being stretched. They can be tethered to various poles and bars for a huge diversity of exercises. They are particularly good for assisting in body-weight exercises, but can also be used to perform resistance exercises and warm ups.

resistance band set sqr
pull up bands no promo (1)

Long Resistance Band Warm ups

Muscle activation is an integral part of any warm up routine. Calisthenics is an upper body dominant sport, and perhaps the most used joint, and also the most vulnerable, is the shoulder. The shoulder has a high degree of mobility which comes at the price of instability and high risk of injury.

Resistance bands provide a great way to warm up the shoulders. The shoulder is composed of the deltoid muscles but also the rotator cuff muscles that stabilise the shoulder – these muscles need proper activation if they are to properly fulfill their role. When they are warm, rotator cuff muscles are flexible and will move with the shoulder; but when they’re cold, these muscles are liable to tearing.

Here are our top 3 resistance band shoulder warm up exercises:

1. Dislocates – dislocates are a dynamic stretch where the band is held with both hands, such that the band is stretched from end to end in front of the body. The band is then pulled over and behind the body until it gets to hip level. The band is then brought back in front of the body, and this motion is repeated for reps. This will open up the shoulders and chest. If the resistance band is too long and is not providing sufficient resistance, wrap it once more around your wrist to shorten it or use a thicker resistance band.

2. Chest bounces – this exercise is done by holding a resistance band outstretched in front of the body and bouncing in a repetitive motion by bringing the arms out to the sides such that the band touches the chest. This is a great chest, back and shoulder warm up exercise.

3. Shoulder press – this can be used as a resistance exercise in its own right, but using a lighter band for warming up is perfect for getting the shoulders and core working. To complete this exercise stand on the band with both feet and bring the band up to your collarbone. From here press up and straighten the arms such that the band is pushed slightly in front of the body – this prevents an arch from developing in the lower back. The most important thing to note is that the core needs to be engaged.

tricep dips with coach on parallel bars

Long Resistance Band Resistance Exercises

Resistance bands can be used to complete resistance exercises that cannot easily be replicated using bodyweight alone. In this way they can compliment a bodyweight workout. Perhaps the most difficult part of the body to work with bodyweight exercises is the back. This is because in order to pull you need a resistance that moves. In the case of bodyweight exercise, this resistance is your own bodyweight.

The antagonist exercise to push ups are inverted rows, an exercise that is both difficult and requires the practitioner to be upside down. Resistance bands simplify back workouts with minimal equipment.

Resistance bands allow for the seated row, face pull and bent over row. In these exercises it is necessary to anchor the resistance band with the feet or tether it to another object. These exercises allow engagement of the rhomboids, mid and lower traps – muscles that are otherwise hard to hit with bodyweight exercises.

Pull up resistance bands can also be effectively used for training the shoulders and chest, especially for beginners that have not yet developed the strength for bodyweight chest and shoulder exercises.

Here are 3 Pull Up Resistance Band resistance exercises:

Bent Over Rows are a fantastic horizontal pull exercises that engages the back, especially the middle and lower trapezius and rhomboids. It’s great for building a strong back and fixing posture. The row can be done by tethering the resistance band to a vertical post or by standing on it, flexing the back to 90 degrees and pulling vertically up.

Front Press is a great exercise for the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder) and biceps. To perform the front press step on the band with both feet and raise the band to chest height with straight arms.

Chest Press is a great way to work the chest and triceps. Tether the band to a vertical post and turn your body directly away from the anchor point. Push the band forward with one arm at a time.

resistance band asisted pull up

Assisted Body-weight Exercises

Concentric exercises are exercises where the muscle length changes and are typically done for reps. Resistance bands can make these exercises easier by reducing the effective bodyweight when the band is pulling in the same direction as the concentric phase of the exercise.

This is great for beginners that in some cases struggle to do more than a few reps of a given exercise. Often this is insufficient to progress as the famous training principle of progressive overload dictates that progress should be achieved at a maximum increment of 10%. If you’re only able to do 4 pull ups, getting to 5 would increase the overload by 25% – too high for sustainable improvement.

Moreover, having an overload of more than 10% can lead to injury as working at such an intensity will likely result in bad form and the recruitment of muscles that shouldn’t be involved in a given exercise – commonly upper traps and neck muscles.

When people think of resistance band assisted exercises they typically think of pull ups, however pull ups aren’t the only bodyweight exercise that can benefit from resistance band support. Many beginners can also greatly benefit from using resistance bands to assist with push ups and dips.

Resistance band sets are particularly great for assisting with bodyweight exercises as the different band thicknesses can be used to progress in a systematic way. It’s typically recommended to stick to the range of 8-12 for hypertrophy, and even beyond this if you want to achieve endurance (12-20+). Depending on what you want to achieve, when you hit the optimal maximum of your particular range, then you should start again at the optimum minimum with a thinner band. This will ensure you are constantly progressing.

Pull ups are one of the hardest body-weight exercises for beginners. Resistance bands can assist in making the exercise accessible to all. To make the pull up easier, tether the band to a bar. Pull it down and place both feet inside while holding on to the bar.
The restoring force on the band will effectively decrease your bodyweight. The thicker the band, the easier the pull up will be.

Push ups can also be made easier using resistance bands. Again, you will need to tether the band to a bar. Pull the band down and slide through the band so that the band sits under your waist. Again the band’s natural tendency to snap back into place will make the push ups easier.

Dips are another exercise that can be made easier by resistance bands is the dip. For this exercise you will need to find some parallel bars. Clamp the band under each hand, or thread it over the ends of the parallel bars, and place your knees onto the band. The band will assist you on the upward phase of the dip.

personal trainer melbourne pull up resistance band

Long Resistance Bands For Assisting Isometric Exercises

 In addition to their ability to assist with concentric exercises, resistance bands are especially good for training static holds. Static holds are isometric holds in calisthenics where the body is held in one place against gravity. These are considerably harder than concentric movements due to the increased time under tension and beginners would benefit greatly from making these exercises easier. Resistance bands can help reduce the amount of work needed to complete front levers, planche and L-sits and can speed up their progress and reduce risk of injury.

For front levers, planche and L-sits, the band needs to be tethered to a bar above. Make sure the band is directly underneath the part of your body that it is supporting, otherwise you will create an undesirable directional force as well as an upward force. The band should then be looped either at the feet (easy) or at the hips (difficult). Each exercise should be held for at least 10 seconds, so use a band with a thickness that allows for this!

Resistance Bands Are Fantastic For Intense Stretching

Stretching is an integral part of training and helps remove muscle tension and increase range of motion. Resistance bands can help you increase the intensity of your stretching by adding an additional force in the direction of the stretch. This is akin to partner stretching, as the resistance band can easily be positioned to hit various muscle groups. Here are some stretches that can be done more effectively using resistance bands.

Shoulder stretch

Tether the resistance band to a bar behind you and slightly above your hand if outstretched vertically upward. Lunge and face away from the band’s tether point. Bring your arm up vertically upward while holding the band and allow the band to pull your shoulder backwards. You will need to play around with the distance from the anchor point to find the optimum stretch.

Pancake (hamstrings)

Tether the band to an object in front of you and sit down on the ground. Separate your legs as far as you can. Grip the band with both hands and allow it to pull you forward. Again, you will need to find the right distance away from the tether point based on the strength of the pull you require.


Long resistance bands can also be used for shoulder rehabilitation. There are many useful exercises that can strengthen the rotator cuff and help reduce inflammation in the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles stabilise the shoulder joint, and so therefore it’s important to keep them strong and healthy.

Internal rotation can be achieved by tethering the resistance band to a vertical pole. Stand side on to the pole and take the resistance band in the hand closest to the pole. Proceed rotate towards your body while keeping the elbow touching your hip.

External rotation is the opposite of internal rotation. Again, have the band tethered to a pole, except this time take it with the hand furthest from the pole. Stand far enough away so that you feel slight tension in the band. Rotate the hand away from the body while keeping the elbow touching your hip.

resistance band asisted pull up

Short /Glute Resistance Bands

Glute resistance bands are much shorter, about 20cm unstretched. They are generally used for working and activating the glutes. They can also be used for strengthening the rotator cuffs and wrists to a lesser capacity.

Warming Up The Glutes

There are several glute band exercises that can help activate the glutes before training. These are quite important, as our sedentary lifestyles keep our glutes in an indefinite relaxed state.

Crab walks are a great tool for warming up the legs and glutes. The glute resistance band needs to go just below the knees. While in a half squat, move sideways and focus on rotating the knees externally to maximise glute activation.

Monster walks are quite similar to crab walks. The band position and half squat are the same, except now you will need to walk forward.

Side to sides or tick tocks are a pendulum-like exercise is a great addition to a glute warm up. Place the band around your ankles and bring one leg up as high as you can to the side while maintaining straight legs and minimising momentum.

glute bands no p
glute bands sqr no p

Resistance Band Exercises For The Glutes

Glute Bridges are a great way to work the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Lie down on the ground and loop the glute band just below your knees. Raise your hips as high as you can while externally rotating the knees. Hold this position for 3 seconds and repeat for reps.

Clam shells are another great glute exercise. Lie on your side and loop the glute resistance band just above the knees. Separate your knees as much as you can. Hold the maximum separation for 3 seconds and repeat for reps.

Resistance Bands with Accessories

Bands with handles make it easier to perform cable machine-like exercises. Sometimes these have a special anchor that can allow them to be secured by a door. This type of band is more advantageous for resistance exercise as you will have a more comfortable grip, but is less suitable for bodyweight assisted exercises as the extra accessories will only get in the way.

bands with handles no p
bands with handles no promo

Resistance Exercises Using Bands with Handles

Bicep curls are a fantastic exercise for building bicep strength and size. Resistance bands can provide a convenient light-weight substitution to dumbells for this popular exercise. Ideally you will need a door, which will be used as an anchor point for the resistance band. Once secured underneathe the door, curl the band as you would a dumbell. 

Donkey kick is an exercise that can help strengthen the glutes. For this exercise you will need the door anchor and ankle strap attachment. Thread the door anchor underneathe your door and attach the strap to your ankle. Face the door and kick back as high as you can.

In summary:

Resistance bands are a fantastic addition to any bodyweight training regiment. They can assist with a variety of different exercises including warm up exercises, resistance exercises, stretching, as well as assisting with bodyweight exercises.

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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