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Compared to grunt-inducing barbell bench presses and fully loaded cable flies, bodyweight push-ups might appear to be a chill upper-body exercise that will barely tire out your muscles. But as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
“A full push-up from a plank position, up on your toes, is really tough to do,” says Kelly Froelich, a certified personal trainer and the co-founder of the digital fitness platform Balanced. “You need to have a lot of core strength and upper-body strength in order to do that.”
Recently, however, some TikTok users have taken to the platform to spotlight resistance band push-ups, a unique modification that involves performing push-ups with a circle band around your arms just above your elbows. TikTokers say this method makes the exercise easier, allows you to practice proper form — even if you don’t have that superhero-level strength just yet — and ultimately helps you progress to a regular push-up. Even Cassey Ho of Blogilates is a proponent of the trick, and her video demonstrating it has racked up more than 16,700 likes and nearly 190,000 views. And according to experts, using a resistance band to help you work on your push-up form à la TikTokers is actually beneficial.
Ahead, certified personal trainers break down why modified resistance band push-ups are a worthy addition to your workout routine and share tips that will ensure they’re actually effective. Plus, they provide safety pointers to keep in mind while trying this TikTok-approved trick.
What is a modified resistance band push-up?
Although it’s a modification, a resistance band push-up looks pretty darn similar to a regular push-up. To do the traditional move, you’ll start in a high plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, your elbows pointed out to the sides so your arms form a 45-degree angle to your body, and your core engaged. FYI, this elbow positioning is an important component of the correct form for a traditional push-up, but some TikToks on the hack demonstrate a tricep push-up (where elbows are tucked in close to your sides) instead. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels. Then, you’ll slowly bend your elbows to lower your body, stopping about three inches above the floor. Finally, you’ll push away from the floor to straighten your arms and return to a high plank.
Unlike the classic exercise, however, the modified resistance band push-up brings equipment into play. Before you settle into a high plank, you’ll loop both of your arms through a circle resistance band, placing it just above your elbows. Once in the starting position, the band will sit directly below your chest, and you’ll power through your push-ups as usual.
Do modified resistance band push-ups work?
Using a resistance band during a round of push-ups is meant to help “push your chest back up” to the starting position when you reach the bottom of the movement, Ho explains in her TikTok. Over time, this modification allows you to “slowly build strength with good form,” notes Ho.
And she’s not mistaken: Once your chest presses against the resistance band, its elasticity will help lift your body back up to the high plank position, says Froelich. That means you won’t need as much upper-body and core strength to finish your rep as you would for a traditional push-up. “This is an awesome option to use to practice building your push-up form and building the strength to lift your full body from the floor if you haven’t fully developed it yet,” she adds.
What’s more, the point at which your chest and the band meet is generally where folks who are lacking upper-body and core strength fail their rep, adds Tina Tang, an NCSF-certified personal trainer and strength coach. The resistance band not only ensures you’re working through the exercise’s full range of motion but also boosts your confidence in your body’s abilities. “It’s something that makes people feel mentally safer,” says Tang. “You know you’re going to go down, you’re going to hit that limiting band, and then you’re going to come back up.”
Thanks to these perks, Froelich generally recommends individuals looking to modify their push-ups use this resistance band hack rather than drop down to their knees — the traditional way of scaling back the exercise. “A push-up from your knees really changes the angle of your body — instead of going from your head to your toes, you’re going from your head to your knees,” which may affect the efficacy of the move, she explains. “It also cuts off a lot of your body weight, so you’re not learning how to lift up your entire body. But with the help of the resistance band, you’re still pushing up all of your body weight from your toes.”
Still, there are a few pointers to keep in mind to ensure your resistance band push-ups are actually effective. First, remember to keep your core engaged, as failing to do so can make the move more difficult to complete and potentially lead to injury, says Tang. To keep your core on point, think about sucking your belly button in toward your spine and simultaneously squeezing your glutes throughout the entire movement, suggests Froelich.
The resistance of the band you use also matters. If the band is too slack, it won’t help you push back up to the high plank position. If it’s too tight, you’ll fight against the band to lower down to the floor, so you won’t be able to work through your full range of motion, says Froelich. Plus, a band with too much resistance can make it difficult to properly position your wrists underneath your shoulders and angle your elbows so your arms are 45 degrees away from your sides, she adds. (BTW, you can see this form issue in action in some of the TikTok videos.) That’s why Froelich suggests choosing a circle band with a medium resistance. If that band still feels too strong, and it’s preventing you from lowering down to the floor or maintaining that 45-degree angle between your arms and your sides, consider dropping down to a lighter one.
Are modified resistance band push-ups safe?
Good news: Modified resistance band push-ups are generally safe, according to the experts. Even if you use a too-heavy resistance band, which may force you to narrow your hand placement and keep your elbows tucked close to your sides, there isn’t a risk of injury, says Tang. Instead, your push-ups will more heavily target the triceps, which will make the exercise even more challenging, adds Froelich. Essentially, “you may not be able to perform your regular push-ups as optimally as you want,” says Tang.
That said, you could up your risk of injury if you dive into resistance band push-ups without any prep work ahead of time. If you’re a total push-up newbie, you’ll first want to perform the exercise standing up with your hands placed against a wall and your feet one or two steps back, says Froelich. As you build strength and learn the proper push-up form, you can move onto elevated push-ups, during which your hands are resting on a chair or box and your feet are on the floor, then transition to resistance band push-ups on the floor, she says. Once you feel strong enough and confident in your form, you can ditch the band and give traditional push-ups a shot.
“Push-ups are very technical, and they involve a lot of upper body and core strength,” explains Froelich. “If your elbows are going out to 90 degrees, not 45 degrees, shoulder impingement [when the top outer edge of the shoulder blade rubs against the rotator cuff, leading to pain and irritation] is always a risk. There’s always a risk of lower-back pain and injury if you’re not bracing your core. Those are inherent risks if you drop straight down to the floor and do a push-up after not having progressed through that form [process].”
Modified resistance band push-ups help you learn proper form and build strength: True or false?
Resistance band push-ups are a safe, effective exercise variation that helps you build essential upper-body and core strength, master the correct push-up form, and ultimately progress to a full-fledged push-up, according to the experts. That said, total beginners should start their push-up journey with other modifications, such as wall and elevated push-ups, to practice the movement and reduce the risk of injury when they progress to resistance band push-ups. Regardless of the variation you’re using, remember to keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
Even if you consider yourself to be a push-up pro, it’s worth keeping this hack in your back pocket, says Froelich. “I highly, highly recommend it not just for beginner athletes but really athletes of all kinds,” she says. “It’s a great way to work on your form, gain that upper-body strength to do a full-range push-up, and even get some more reps in.”