Forget weights — this 4-move workout builds upper-body muscle with just a set of resistance bands

Man performing biceps curls with resistance bands
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Working out with a set of the best adjustable dumbbells can be a great way to strengthen your muscles, but it’s not the only way. If you’re tight on time, traveling, or looking for a weight-free way to train, this short resistance band routine builds upper body strength without a dumbbell or kettlebell in sight.

All you need is a bit of space and a set of the best resistance bands to get started. These portable bands come in sets of varying strengths, and they’re easy to store or carry with you while away from home too, so you can train whenever you have a moment.

This four-move routine comes from personal trainer Rhiannon Bailey and is designed to work your arms, chest, and back. You’ll need a band that’ll challenge your muscles but won’t affect your form to get the most from the session, and you can gradually increase the load as you get stronger.

According to Bailey, the aim is to do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise and repeat the four-move circuit five times for an effective upper-body workout in just 25 minutes. Although she doesn’t specify a rest period, aim to train for 40 seconds, take a 20-second rest, and then start the next move.

The routine includes resistance band variations of some classic strength training exercises like bent-over rows, biceps curls, and chest flyes. If you’re new to these or could use a refresher, be sure to watch Bailey’s demonstrations to practice your technique and perfect your form before you begin.

Watch Rhiannon Bailey’s four-move upper-body workout

It’s an effective muscle-building session since it mixes single-muscle isolation moves, like biceps curls, with compound exercises (bent-over rows) that engage several muscles simultaneously, to work your whole upper body in just four moves.

Even if you prefer working out at the gym with all the equipment, you can use this session to perfect your technique before picking up heavier weights. It’ll also help strengthen your core (mid-body muscles that connect your upper and lower body), which will boost your performance and make it easier to do each move with good form.

And while you might be more used to resistance training with weights at home or the gym, switching to resistance bands doesn’t mean you’re going easy. When comparing resistance bands vs weights, it’s also important to consider how you like to train and the best way to make it a regular practice.

If you’re working on a budget, new to strength training, or can’t make it to a gym regularly, then bands are a great option to increase the load on your muscles. However, once you start to find the exercises too easy with bands, it’s worth picking up some adjustable dumbbells to continue your progress.

In the meantime, you can continue building muscle with full-body moves like resistance band squats and deadlifts with resistance bands. You’ll feel the effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) the next day, so be sure to give your muscles time to recover between sessions.

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James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is Tom's Guide's Fitness Editor, covering strength training workouts, cardio exercise, and accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. His interest in fitness started after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and he began focusing on strengthening his core, taking regular walks around the city, and practicing meditation to manage the symptoms. He also invested in fitness trackers, home workout equipment, and yoga mats to find accessible ways to train without the gym. Before joining the team at Tom’s Guide, James was the Fitness Editor at Fit&Well, where he covered beginner-friendly exercise routines, affordable ways to boost your wellbeing, and reviewed weights, rowing machines, and workout headphones. He believes that exercise should be something you enjoy doing, so appreciates the challenge of finding ways to incorporate it into everyday life through short muscle-building sessions, regular meditation, and early morning walks.