What are the benefits of resistance bands vs free weights? Are one better than the other?
Although both are excellent types of exercise equipment, they both come with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Read on and discover which of them are best for YOU!
Benefits of Resistance Bands vs Free Weights: Are Resistance Bands or Free Weights Better?
This is a tough question to answer because we have many variables to consider. Let’s look at some of them:
1. Potential for overload
Progressive overload is a crucial element of any decent resistance training program. We have to keep ourselves challenged continually to force our muscles to grow and strengthen over time (1).
Free weights and bands offer excellent potential for overload. With free weights, all you have to do is lift more over time. This is simple and straightforward.
In contrast, overloading with bands is a bit more complex but still entirely doable. For instance, if you’re doing an exercise with a given band and it no longer feels challenging enough, your best option would be to pick a band with greater resistance and continue the progression.
2. Simplicity of progression
Weight training is attractive for many people precisely because of its simplicity and intuitiveness. Once a given weight feels easier, you can increase it by a fraction and keep going.
For example, if bicep curling ten pounds gets to be too easy, start lifting 15-pound ones.
Things are a bit different with resistance bands. Sure, you can pick a thicker band and keep going. But that sometimes doesn’t work because the resistance might become too great. In that case, you might have to resort to other tactics like:
- Pairing two or more light bands to adjust the resistance
- Stretching the band more to use its maximum tension
It takes more time and experience to progress effectively with resistance bands, where weights tend to be more straightforward.
A huge reason why resistance bands are so fantastic is their linear variable resistance (LVR). In other words, the more you stretch the band, the more tension it offers, and this is entirely independent of gravity.
This translates to constant tension throughout each repetition and a strong contraction on the top position. For example, if you step over a band, grab it with one hand and curl it, the resistance becomes progressively larger and peaks on top position, giving your bicep a good stimulus.
In contrast, dumbbells offer less reliable tension, and it’s not uncommon for people to skip the peak contraction by resting their forearms on their biceps.
In general, research finds that resistance bands and free weights offer similar strength improvements (2).
So far, it would be difficult to say how your results might differ if you only trained with resistance bands instead of weights for an extended period. But, so long as you follow the fundamental training principles, your results shouldn’t differ much. These include:
- Adequate volume and frequency (3, 4)
- Good intensity and enough effort (5)
- Solid exercise selection (6)
We know that weights are versatile. We can use them for many exercises and training styles to achieve a wide range of fitness goals. But what about bands?
Bands are also incredibly versatile. You can perform a wide range of movements, including many you would typically do on a cable station or with dumbbells and machines, all with a single set of bands.
The best part is, you gain this benefit without having to invest much money or worry about where to store your equipment when you’re not using it.
So, Bands Or Weights?
While many people are looking for a single answer, the either-or, things aren’t as straightforward. In truth, bands and free weights offer their unique benefits, and it would be best if you can take advantage of both.
Equipment like barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells offer immense value, and so do resistance bands.
For instance, if you want to build whole-body strength and athleticism, few activities can do better than traditional barbell training (7). Kettlebells are also fantastic in traditional weight training and offer the ability to perform metabolic conditioning workouts.
On the other hand, bands offer their unique benefits, such as linear variable resistance, affordability, and simplicity of storage.
So, it comes down to you, your situation, and your budget. It would be best to have several types of equipment. This will help vary the kind of stress you cause and keep your workouts more engaging. If, on the other hand, you’re on a tight budget and are looking for the single most efficient piece of equipment, go for resistance bands.
- Best Resistance Band Reviews and Top Picks
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Final Words: Free Weights and Resistance Bands, an Excellent Combo!
Resistance bands and free weights are both great for muscle, strength, and athleticism. Both offer their unique benefits, and it would be best if you could take advantage of each in your training. Even if we look at things purely anecdotally, plenty of people have gotten stronger and more muscular from either type of equipment.
So long as you adhere to the fundamental principles of effective training, stay consistent, and pay good attention to your nutrition, you will achieve fantastic results in the long run.
Oh, remember to visit my home strength-building archive – LOADED with science, workouts, and actionable fitness tips!
See you there.
Other Helpful Resources
- I Love Resistance Band Workouts: The Definite Guide to Resistance Band Training
- Start Doing Resistance Band Chest Exercises at Home for MASSIVE Results!
- Can You Use Resistance Bands Everyday? 4 Critical Questions to Consider
- The Beginners ABC to Getting Ripped With Resistance Bands
- 11 Resistance Band Exercises for Back and Shoulders (That Actually Work)
- Lorenz DS, Reiman MP, Walker JC. Periodization: current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports Health. 2010;2(6):509-518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910
- Lopes, Jaqueline Santos Silva et al. “Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” SAGE open medicine vol. 7 2050312119831116. 19 Feb. 2019, doi:10.1177/2050312119831116
- Schoenfeld, Brad J et al. “Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 51,1 (2019): 94-103. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001764
- Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172.
- Jiang, Chang-Hao et al. “The level of effort, rather than muscle exercise intensity determines strength gain following a six-week training.” Life sciences vol. 178 (2017): 30-34. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2017.04.003
- Baz-Valle, Eneko et al. “The effects of exercise variation in muscle thickness, maximal strength and motivation in resistance trained men.” PloS one vol. 14,12 e0226989. 27 Dec. 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0226989
- Wirth K, Keiner M, Hartmann H, Sander A, Mickel C. Effect of 8 weeks of free-weight and machine-based strength training on strength and power performance. J Hum Kinet. 2016;53:201-210. Published 2016 Oct 15. doi:10.1515/hukin-2016-0023