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Strength Band Fitness Challenge

The gauntlet has been thrown: Take a break from the iron and train exclusively with resistance bands for four weeks. You’ll be bigger and stronger for it.

Strength Band Fitness Challenge

Barbell, dumbbells, cables and other machines are – and always will be – great training tools. But there’s one category of equipment that remains totally underutilized, despite loads of scientific and anecdotal data proving its effectiveness at building muscle size, strength, power and shedding body fat: elastic bands. Consider this a call to action to start training with bands right here, right now.

Don’t believe that a set of rubber tubing can make you bigger, stronger and more shredded? Follow this program for a month and your doubts will disappear -- I promise.

Those who have followed my training advice over the years know that I’ve been a huge advocate for training with resistance bands all along. Whether in the form of adding bands to free-weight exercises, replacing barbell and dumbbells exercises with strength-band versions or using bands as a means of HIIT or cardioacceleration, the benefits are numerous.

One of the major reasons bands are so effective is due to the unique type of resistance they provide: linear variable resistance. Simply put, bands provide greater resistance the further they’re pulled through the range of motion of an exercise. (For more on the science behind training with bands, read my Banded Benefits article.) This increased resistance causes you to use more muscle fibers and contract those fibers harder as you reach the end of each rep. Such unique resistance is perfect for boosting increases in muscle size and strength, and you’ll clearly notice that difference in the way the muscles feel both during and after the workout.

Guaranteed Gains

I’m so confident that band training will boost your training progress and results that I’m issuing you a four-week challenge: For one month, you’ll train only with bands, with the exception of the first exercise of every muscle group (excluding abs), which combines bands and a barbell.

I originally issued this band challenge back in 2010 when I was senior science editor at Muscle & Fitness magazine – long before I developed my brand new , on sale now at Amazon.com. Watch the three videos below to see my before-and-after results from doing the exact same program I’m offering you here in the JYM Strength Band Challenge. In only a month, I gained over five pounds of lean muscle, no body fat and added a half-inch to my arms – all with elastic bands.

4-Week Band Challenge video: Part 1

4-Week Band Challenge video: Part 2

4-Week Band Challenge video: Part 3

Natural Selection

As I mentioned above, I selected one combo free-weight/band exercise for each muscle group (except abs). This exercise is done at the start of the workout when the target muscle group is fresh and rested, which will allow you to maximize power and strength production on the lift. After the free-weight/band exercise, you’ll move to band-only exercises. (If you don’t have access to free weights, just do the first exercise for each major muscle group with bands alone.)

For example, in the chest workout (Workout 1), you’ll start with barbell bench press with bands, then follow up with three band-only exercises: band standing incline chest press, standing low band flye and standing band flye. Again, if you don’t have a barbell handy, just do standard band chest presses.

When you do the combo free-weight/band exercises, move the weight as fast as possible on the positive portion of each rep while lowering it in a slow, controlled manner on the negative. When doing the band-only exercises, focus on the peak contraction at the top of the movement, squeezing the target muscle as hard as you can for one second before returning to the start position. (Demonstrations of all exercises are included in the above “Part 2” video.)

Lift Linear

My four-week JYM Strength Band Challenge program follows a linear periodized scheme that starts with reps in the 15-20 range during week one, drops down to 12-15 reps per set in week two, then 8-12 reps in week three and finally down to 5-8 reps per set in week four. Here’s the rep scheme in a simple chart format:

JYM Strength Band Challenge Rep Ranges

Week Rep Range
1 15-20
2 12-15
3 8-12
4 5-8

Each week, you’ll increase the resistance from the bands to put you in the prescribed rep range for that week. The free weight used for the first exercise, however, will remain the same for all four weeks. Using the bench press, as an example, if you use 135 pounds of free weight (one 45-pound plate on each side of the bar) in week one, you’ll stick with 135 for the next three weeks as well. But of course, you’ll be applying more band resistance from week to week, so the overall weight will keep getting heavier. Don’t let “135 pounds” fool you -- it won’t feel light at all with the bands attached!

I suggest you use about 50% of your 10-rep max weight for each exercise. For example, if you can bench press 220 pounds for 10 reps, put 110 pounds on the bar -- the rest of the resistance will come from the bands. It will take some trial and error to find the proper band set-up to put you in the prescribed rep range, so be prepared to make changes on the fly, especially in the first week when you’re still getting used to this new style of training.  

Band Split

The JYM Strength Band Challenge uses a four-day split that trains each muscle group once a week. Workout 1 focuses on chest, triceps and calves. In Workout 2, you’ll train back and biceps. Workout 3 hits shoulders, traps and abs again. Workout 4 rounds out the training to focus on the lower body, with legs and calves.

Workout Muscle Groups Trained
1 Chest, triceps, abs
2 Back, biceps
3 Shoulders, traps, abs
4 Legs, calves

Most people schedule a four-day split like this by doing Workout 1 on Monday, Workout 2 on Tuesday, Workout 3 on Thursday, finishing with Workout 4 on Friday and resting on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, as shown below. But feel free to train on any four days of the week that you prefer, even if that’s Monday through Thursday.

Sample Weekly Schedule

Day Workout
Monday Workout 1
Tuesday Workout 2
Wednesday Rest
Thursday Workout 3
Friday Workout 4
Saturday Rest
Sunday Rest

If you prefer to train each muscle group more than once a week, simply change Saturdays and Sundays from rest days to training days and do Workout 1 of the following week on Saturday. If you prefer to train seven days a week, you’ll finish Workout 4 of week 1 on Thursday and then pick up with Workout 1 of week 2 on Friday and continue at that pace.

Band Follower

After you’ve completed the four-week program, follow it with one of my programs that doesn’t rely heavily on bands – there are many to choose from in the Featured Workouts section of this site. However, you can repeat the JYM Strength Band Challenge program for up to two more rounds (12 weeks total) before switching programs. This is especially true for those who use bands as their major form of resistance training.

Cardio Challenge

Feel free to add cardioacceleration or HIIT intervals to this program to maximize fat-burning. For information on how to do so, check out these articles:



Your nutrition and supplement plan will depend on your individual goal for the program. If you want to maximize muscle growth and strength gains while also getting leaner, follow my Muscle-Building Nutrition Rules and accompanying meal plans. If your main goal is to maximize fat loss while also increasing muscle size and strength, stick to my Dieting 101 guidelines and diet.

JYM Strength Band Challenge Workouts

Click here to view and download all four weeks of the program.

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