October 6, 2020

4 leg strengthening exercises using resistance bands

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Resistance bands make home workouts more challenging as your strength grows, and they take up no space.

Physical therapists, like Rebecca Dickinson, PT, DPT, COMT, at Vanderbilt Orthopaedics, have been using resistance bands for years to help patients gain strength and improve function.

“Bands are a great way to add resistance to body weight exercises,” Dickinson said. Adding resistance as your body adapts to familiar exercises helps you continuously improve strength. “They are cheap and easy to take along wherever you go.”

You can benefit from incorporating bands into your exercise routine. They are helpful whether you are a beginner who wants to get more muscle tone, or a serious athlete looking to prevent injury by building strength. Most resistance band sets include several bands, each with a different degree of resistance. They can cost as little as $10. They are great for home or hotel-based workouts and take up virtually no space in your travel or gym bag.

Beginner exercisers can start with as few as one set of eight to 12 repetitions, with a very light resistance band. Build up from there. People at a higher fitness level can complete two to three sets, each with eight to 12 repetitions, using a moderate to high-resistance band. Focus on making your movements slow and controlled, to keep proper form. As you get stronger, build up the level of resistance of the band you use.

If you are just starting an exercise program, talk with a healthcare provider first, for guidance on what type of workout is safest for you.

Four beginner-friendly exercises that are effective for strengthening the legs:

The abductor

Abductor exercise with green resistance band

In fitness terms, “abduction” refers to moving the leg away from the torso or midline of the body. Not only can hip abductor exercises help you get a tighter and more toned backside, they can also help prevent or treat pain in the hips and knees.

  • Loop the resistance band above the ankles, around mid-calf.
  • Lie down on your side, using your arm for support, while keeping your legs and hips stacked, right leg and hip resting on top of the left ones.
  • Lift the top leg as far as you can.
  • Hold briefly, then slowly lower almost all of the way to the resting position, before beginning again.

The bridge

Bridge strength training exercise using green resistance band

The Bridge is one of the most effective exercises to strengthen glutes (rear end), hamstrings, core, hip muscles and lower back muscles.

  • Lie on your back on a firm surface. Loop the resistance band above the knees.
  • Bend your knees, keep your feet flat on the floor, and place your arms by your side.
  • Without allowing the knees to bow in or the back to arch, use your glute muscles to lift your hips up as high as you can, while keeping hands and feet firmly on the floor.
  • Hold briefly, then slowly lower almost to the ground before beginning another repetition.

The side step


Side-stepping with added resistance can improve strength in the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.

  • Place the resistance band around your legs, above the ankles.
  • With feet hip-width apart, squat down, keeping your gaze looking forward.
  • While maintaining the squat position, begin side stepping in one direction, keeping the tension on the band. Then switch to the other direction. Be sure to keep feet and knees in alignment throughout the entire movement.

The clamshell

Clamshell leg strengthening exercise with green resistance band

Clamshells are great for strengthening the glutes and hip abductor muscles. The resistance band is an excellent tool for keeping the lower body in alignment while completing this exercise.

  • Lie on your side and place the resistance band around both legs, above the knees.
  • Bend your knees and stack your hips, knees and ankles.
  • While keeping your core muscles contracted, and your feet pressed together, lift your top knee away from the lower knee, similar to the way a clamshell hinges open.
  • Hold briefly, then slowly lower the top knee back down. Aim to keep the resistance on the band, never lowering all the way to the resting position.

Stacey Kendrick, MS, is a health educator with more than 20 years of experience in wellness and population health. She is a mother to two adult daughters. In her free time, she teaches healthy cooking classes, runs, gardens and enjoys backyard bonfires.