You don't always need barbells, dumbbells or weight machines for an effective chest workout. There are plenty of chest exercises with resistance bands that will build your chest muscles in exactly the same way. And the main advantage of resistance band exercises is that you don't need to be at the gym to train. As long as you have your lightweight band with you, you can work out anywhere you have space.
Resistance band chest workout
Here's a program of four of the most widely used chest exercises for you to try out individually or in combination as part of your chest workout routine:
Band chest fly
To set up for this exercise, you'll need two resistance bands of equal resistance, plus a secure point to anchor each of them, around chest height and 4 or 5 feet apart. We'd recommend using a weight rack or squat rack, and simply tying the bands around the vertical supports, although if you're not at the gym you could use a wall bracket or sturdy fence posts - basically anything that's not going to shift or break when you apply a significant amount of pressure on the bands.
Once you're set-up, take the unanchored end of the bands, one in each hand, and step forward until the bands are taut, but not tense, with your elbows slightly behind you so your arms are at about a 20 or 30-degree angle behind the horizontal. Place your non-dominant foot behind you, with the ball of your foot on the floor. Your front foot should be planted with your knee slightly bent. This is your starting position.
Now, simply bring your arms forward, maintaining the same position in the horizontal plane, to meet in front of your chest, in a clasping motion. Then relax back to the starting position. That's one rep. We'd recommend starting with 100 reps across 5 sets, but as you develop, try to reduce the number of total sets you need to get to 100 reps until you can do the whole hundred without stopping.
Banded chest press
Set up for this exercise is simpler than the chest fly, all you need is your resistance band and some space to stand. This makes it an ideal exercise for when you're traveling or away from the gym for an extended period. There are a couple of different versions of this exercise for you to try.
For the basic version, loop the band around each of your hands, then put your hands back over your head, so the band is stretched behind you and lying across your palms. The band should be in contact with your back, sitting just below your shoulder blades, and should curl around your triceps. This is your starting position. Gripping the band in your fists at either end, press outward, extending your arms as you exhale until your fists meet, level with your sternum. Relax back, inhaling, and that's a single rep completed. Try to match the guidance for the number of reps as above.
The more advanced version is the criss-cross press. Follow the same steps as for the basic version, but this time, as you fully extend your arms, instead of your fists meeting, extend one arm over the other, forming a cross shape at your wrists. This increases the range of motion and works the chest muscles and triceps harder than the basic exercise.
Banded incline chest press
For this exercise, you'll need a resistance band and an anchor point, either a door anchor or a heavy piece of gym equipment. Anchor one end of your band about 12 inches above the floor. Position yourself inside the loop facing away from the anchor point, arms about shoulder-width apart, gripping the band with both hands, palms away from you. Lift your arms away from your body, with your elbow at right angles, so your upper and lower arms are horizontal, parallel to the floor. Step forward to take up the slack in the band, until it is taut but not stretched. This is your starting position.
Now, push forward and up with both arms together, at roughly a 30-degree angle to the floor until your arms are fully extended, but not locked. You should position your non dominant foot behind you to ensure a stable position, and have your leading leg bent slightly at the knee. Relax smoothly back to the starting position, don't jerk or allow the band to snap your arms back. That's one completed rep. You should repeat for a similar number of sets and reps as above, reducing the number of sets and increasing the number of reps as you improve.
Bench press with bands
Once again, as with the chest press, this exercise only requires a resistance band, and space to work out. Although for comfort you may want to use a gym mat, as this is a floor based exercise. To get into the starting position, lie on your back on the floor or mat, with your band passing under your chest just below your armpits. Your feet should be planted flat, with your knees bent. Hook each end of the band around your hands, between the thumb and index finger. Position your arms on line with the top of your back, with your elbows resting on the floor and forearms vertical. Now smoothly extend your arms up and in, without locking your elbows, until your hands meet in the middle above your sternum. That's one rep. Try and keep the same rep count as with previous exercises.
To add difficulty to the press, you can change your grip style. Instead of hooking the band between your thumb and fingers, grip the ends (without looping them) in your fist, just as you would grip a bar or a dumbell. You'll find this more challenging, but it has the added benefit of working on your forearm muscles and building grip strength.
How do chest resistance bands work?
Rather than using weights, which basically means working out against the force of gravity, doing a chest press or bench press with resistance bands means you're working against the tension of the band. In many ways, this is safer than using a barbell or dumbells as there's a far lower risk of injuring yourself by dropping or fumbling the weights, especially if you're training to failure. In fact, when using resistance bands for your chest workout you don't need a spotter, which is great for individual training.
Bands are available in different lengths and different resistances. Less elastic resistance means that the band requires more effort to stretch, so it's the equivalent to adding more plates to your bar. Most people who use resistance bands in their workouts will opt for something like a pull up band set, which incorporates several bands of differing resistance which can be used individually or combined in pairs or threes to increase the resistance beyond that of the highest level band.
Resistance bands are incredibly versatile and can be used in various configurations to create exercises targeting different muscle groups. They can also be anchored to the floor or a pillar for additional methods of training.
Can resistance bands build chest muscle?
Yes. There's a common misconception among some gym goers that resistance band training is somehow inferior to weight training using bars and plates, or weight machines, that it's less effective at building muscle, or that it's only for beginners. Nothing could be further from the truth. From a scientific point of view, the only thing that matters in weight training is the amount of work your muscles are doing. If you do one rep of a chest press lifting 200lbs, that's exactly the same amount of exertion as doing a chest press with a resistance band rated at 200lbs.
Your muscles don't know the difference! Where there is a difference is in the ability to better isolate muscle groups when using resistance bands, and the wider range of exercises available, which means you can really target specific areas that you want to improve.