When it comes to training with resistance bands vs free weights, there always seem to be some misunderstandings. 

I’ve encountered bodybuilders who believe resistance bands are their enemy for building muscle. And people who just want to gain some fitness often believe that free weights are totally unnecessary for their fitness exercises. 

As you’ll find out shortly, both of these groups are often wrong with regards to resistance bands vs traditional free weights usage.

What Are Resistance Bands?

resistance band thumb

Resistance bands or band weights are a set of elastic rubber bands with grips at each end.

The bands come in different colors, lengths, and sizes, with the combination of these three attributes defining their strength of the resistance bands when pulled. 

Resistance bands are often a very cost-effective way to do resistance training, as they may achieve quite a wide range of resistance by combining different color bands.

This could take quite a lot of free weights to achieve. One reason bodybuilders don’t tend to exercise with resistance bands as much is that they provide variable resistance throughout the full range of motion of many exercises.

Thus, comparing resistance bands vs free weights, resistance bands aren't able to provide maximum resistance throughout the body's range of motion.


What Are FREE WEIGHTS?

Free weights are defined as any training load that is not connected to other gym apparatus. An example of a commonly used free weight is a dumbbell.

When it comes to the resistance bands vs free weights debate, free weights evenly distributes the weight to provide better balance. They usually come in pairs to allow exercises with one free weight for each hand. 

The top reason free weights are such a popular exercise tool is that they put a full strain on your muscles from the moment you start the movement. 

dumbell thumb

However, there are very good reasons to introduce free weights and resistance bands together into your resistance and strength training. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of resistance bands vs free weights.


Advantages Of Using Resistance Bands

There are five key benefits that you can get if you use a resistance band vs weights.  

1 - Gradual Tension Increase

You’ll often find weight bands used in rehabilitation training. The reason for this is that with many injuries, you may want to have a gradual increase in tension, which can be effectively provided by resistance bands [1]. 

Through this kind of weights resistance training, the body has better control over the amount of strain produced on muscles and joints.

For resistance and strength training in the gym, they can also be ideal for isometric exercise routines [2].

2 - Portability And Storage

The majority of resistance bands come in a small pouch as the bands may be easily rolled up. Even a set of 6 resistance bands could be smaller than a handbag, which makes them much easier to store or bring with you when you travel. This way you can exercise your muscles wherever you're going.

3 - Price

Typical resistance bands would probably cost you less than $20 for 5 or 6 bands. Even with such a small set, you should be able to get a weight equivalent range from 8 pounds all the way up to 50 pounds. 

That’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a full set of weights.

4 - Safety

Some people may be afraid of resistance bands snapping and causing damage. I’ve yet to see that happen, and to be honest, when it comes to resistance bands vs weights and free weights, I’ve seen a lot more injuries when free weights or weights are used.

5 - Ideal For Compound Exercises

As a personal trainer, the reason I get my clients to take advantage of resistance bands on a regular basis is that you could plan some really good compound exercises. These target groups of muscles and they have been shown to be quite effective for building muscle [3].

However, with resistance bands, your movements may be a bit compromised by a limited range of motion. 

Now, let’s see what free weights have to offer. 

These small, yet powerful tools are perfect for targeting small and large muscle groups and working with compound exercises. Plus, they're super easy to store at home or pack in a bag and take wherever you travel.
- Mallory Creveling, Fitness Writer


Advantages Of FREE WEIGHTS

man using dumbell

These are the five key advantages of using free weights. 

1 - Highly Targeted Muscle Training

Once you have managed to get your body into a reasonably good shape, you may want to start building muscle in a more targeted way. When you're training with free weights, such as a dumbbell, you get to learn specific moves that only trigger a specific muscle [4]. 

Add to that a large range of motion, and you could be in a much better position to shape your body the way you want it to look. 

2 - Provides Consistent Resistance

You’ll notice when it comes to resistance bands vs free weights is that free weights are much better suitable to give you constant resistance throughout the workout you're performing. 

With resistance bands, on the other hand, the resistance increases gradually, and you’ll only feel the full tension towards the end of a movement. 

A bench press with a bar can cause serious injury or even death. For this reason, always use a spotter when lifting free weights.
- Richard Weil, Exercise Physiologist

3 - Better Focus On Endurance

Because of the consistent resistance, you might also gain better endurance as you may be able to stretch yourself more to the limit. This means you may have a better momentum while performing your workouts with free weights. 

4 - Gain More Flexibility With The Types Of Moves

Most people also tend to use free weights at the gym because they introduce many types of workouts and moves. The effect of the added range of motion means that reps in every set increase the results you can achieve for a particular body part. 

5 - More Accurate Equipment

Keeping track of how well you are performing during a workout routine is a great idea for people of all fitness levels. What traditional weight equipment is great for, is keeping exact track of how much you are actually lifting. With a resistance band, quantifying the weight progress may not be as objective.

Seeing the progress on paper with precise weights for your bench press or bicep curl allows you to better predict your results. For example, if you're new at lifting, you may only be able to lift a small amount of weight on your first day. However, after two months with a lot of strength training, it's possible to lift more weights. And you get to see all these results in the paper.

But all this doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to choose one over the other.


Taking Advantage Of Both Types

You really shouldn’t be looking at your workouts and feel like it’s a decision of resistance bands vs weights. Both of them have very specific advantages, and you may be able to take advantage of the difference in uses. 

For example, a bodybuilder could take advantage of resistance bands through specific isometric moves where maximum tension is held at the end of each rep. They might also help during a warmup and stretching routine to get your blood flowing to your muscles. 

For someone looking to lose those unwanted pounds, traditional gym weights could be a great tool to tone up muscles and burn away some fat. You don’t have to go for something heavy to achieve some great results. 

Essentially, whether you’re aiming for weight loss, fitness improvement, or bodybuilding, free weights, and resistance bands should become part of your workout equipment. 


man using resistance band

Sample Resistance Band Exercises

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll likely need to switch around resistance band colors for progressive resistance and strength training. This will greatly help with fitness improvement. So, have them all laid out and ready, and as you complete some of these moves, write down the color combination that worked best.

  •  Chest Fly: For this, you’ll need to attach the band to a door frame. Hold the handles in each hand next to your shoulders and then move your arms in a wing-like motion to meet or join in front of you. This exercise does not involve your triceps but will help build chest strength. 
  • Pull-Ups: Again, attach the band to a door frame and from a kneeling position, pull the handles towards your chest. This exercise is a great way to practice the pull-up motion without straining your arms. It will also help increase the strength of your biceps, trapezius, and lats. 
  • Squats: Stand on the band with both feet and hold the handles about shoulder high. Then go through a set of standard squats. This is best for core strength benefits.
  • Overhead Press: Start in a similar position as the squats. From here, extend your arm in the upward direction until fully stretched. This will help increase the strength of your shoulder muscle.
  • Triceps Kickback: Lean forward in a runner pose and create a loop with the band under your foot. Angle your arms with your upper arm parallel to your torso. Extend both arms and hold for some isometric tension.

Sample free weights Exercises

With free weights, it’s all about letting gravity work it’s magic. The following are some of the more common sample moves that use a dumbbell, and you’ll see this often at the gym. 

  • Bicep Curl: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Pull each weight in the upward direction in a slow and steady move. This exercise increases the strength of your arms, and also defining them. 
  • Tricep Extension: Stand straight and hold the weight over your shoulder with your elbow pointing straight up. Slowly extend your arm in the upward direction fully stretching it out, and make sure you don’t start with something too heavy.
  • Upright Rowers: Standing upright, hold a free weight in each hand about hip-high. Then pull them upwards to just below your chin, and then slowly let gravity pull them down again. You might want to pick something heavy for this one. You get to burn more calories doing this move due to two or more muscles working together. 
  • Lawnmowers: Lean forward with one leg stretched out behind you. Support your weight by leaning on your knee with one arm. Use the other arm to pull up a free weight as if you’re trying to start a lawnmower. Be careful, though, as your back must remain perfectly straight.
  • Shoulder Press: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at about shoulder height. Alternately push one weight up while fully stretching your arm. This workout targets the muscles on your shoulders, triceps, trapezius, and core, thereby increasing your fitness strength. 

FAQ

Are resistance bands as good as dumbbells?

Can you build muscle with resistance bands?

Can you use resistance bands every day?

Do resistance bands burn fat?


Which Equipment Achieves the Maximum Benefit?

Whether you’re aiming to lose weight, tone up or build maximum muscle mass, you shouldn’t strictly go at this decision as resistance bands vs weights. 

But, as you’ve learned, there are some factors that might influence you. You can also ask a personal trainer for some advice regarding which equipment is best for you.

If you just need some cheap gear to work out at home, then you’ll do very well with some bands.

References:

  1. https://www.painscience.com/articles/strength-training.php
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/isometric-exercises/faq-20058186
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820232/
  4. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0226989
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