Are Resistance Bands as Good as Free Weights for Building Muscle?

Do resistance bands work?

There’s no doubt that resistance bands work – looking at the physics alone, it’s clear that any equipment which provides your muscles with added resistance during an exercise is going to help to tone and build that muscle. But while there are a lot of similarities in the effects, they do work in a slightly different way to weights.

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 3-Free weights can cause injuries if not handled with caution

There so many ways you can injure yourself with free weights. Weight training injuries have been on the rise since the 90s because of the increased popularity of weight training.

The most common free weights training injuries are:

  1. Straining the muscles by lifting heavy weights
  2. Improper weightlifting techniques
  3. Hitting yourself or someone working out next to you.
  4. Dropping the weights
  5. Improper handling of weights

Unfortunately, injuries and weight training come hand in hand. It’s important to take extra caution when handling free weights at home or at the gym or anywhere else.

8-If you are injured, resistance band training is the way to go

Resistance bands are great for sports injury rehabilitation.

As mentioned before that bands don’t put too much pressure on muscles and joints and incorporates multiple muscles in every exercise. That makes them very effective to gradually strengthen the injured muscle while not straining them or pulling them.

Advantages of Resistance Bands

The first advantage resistance bands have over free weight is that they are

inexpensive and portable. Their portability makes them perfect for people who prefer home workouts (here are the best resistance band exercises you can try at home) and for those that travel frequently. They’re also inexpensive, a set of resistance bands can cost you anywhere between $20-50 and they come with various resistance levels so you can train at your fitness level and then progress as needed. Opposed to weights like dumbbells, their prices vary on the weight and can range anywhere between $15-200+!

Another advantage of bands is that they can be used for rehab after an injury. They are a common tool used in physical therapy for those recovering from an injury because they put less pressure on your joints and can target stabilizer muscles more effectively, which is crucial for when recovering from a joint injury. 

In terms of training, resistance bands has a few advantages which include: 

  • Versatile in how you can create resistance – Resistance bands don’t rely on gravity to create resistance. Force is created in the direction you stretch the band. So they provide variable resistance in horizontal and vertical planes – pretty much at any direction and at any angle. For example, you have to lie on a bench when performing a chest press with dumbbells or a barbell. That’s because you have to use your muscles to press up as gravity forces the weight down, it won’t work your muscles if you’re just standing and performing a chest press. With resistance bands, you can perform a chest press lying on a bench or standing! Just place the elastic resistance band underneath your shoulders, hold the handles or the ends, then extend your arms forward pulling the band with them.
  • They provide constant tension – Bands provide tension throughout the entire exercise being performed. It doesn’t matter if you perform the exercise fast or slow, there will always be a constant tension, so you really can’t cheat using bands! The constant tension that they provide throughout the entire range of motion is important when it comes to building muscle. This is something free weights lack.
  • They provide progressive resistance – With bands, the resistance weight actually increases as you perform the exercise range of motion. Let’s use bicep curls as an example. As you curl your arm up toward your shoulder when performing a biceps curl with a resistance band, the resistance increases making it more difficult. Progressive resistance increases the number of muscle fibers that are being used as you go through the entire range of motion of the exercise being performed, this helps with building strength effectively. 
  • Great for all fitness levels – Resistance bands are used by beginners and experienced lifters! They are also less intimidating, which makes them a great starting point for those new to weight training. It’s a safe way to start building strength since the risk of injury is minimal. 

Resistance Bands Transformation

If your budget is smaller but you still want to incorporate strength training into your fitness routine, resistance bands are the perfect option.

They will allow you to increase your muscle size and strength, as noted in these awesome resistance band transformations below!

The below video shows an 8-week transformation from someone who only used resistance band training at home and followed a caloric deficit to lose body fat. His results are incredible! This shows you that you CAN build muscle at home with just resistance bands.

While resistance bands cannot target any areas of fat, this video below shows the transformation of a woman who used resistance bands to transform her back. She likely followed a nutrition plan to lose the layer of fat covering her back muscles and used resistance bands to train her back muscles.

Resistance Bands Are Cheap Portable

Even though adjustable dumbbells and machine weights provide the most room for growth, resistance bands are extremely affordable and portable.

A good set of resistance bands will cost between $30 and $60. In contrast, a quality set of adjustable dumbbells will be well over $100.

Essentially:

If you simply need a little resistance and don’t want to dedicate areas of your home to gym equipment, resistance bands are a great choice.

Additionally, since resistance bands are lightweight and can be folded easily, they’re an excellent option for quick workouts and even for working out while traveling.

If, however, you’re looking for the most cost-effective gym equipment and have some money to spare, purchasing adjustable dumbbells and perhaps, other gym equipment will be the best option.

Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which is Better

Both tools work great at strength training. Used correctly with progressive overload, you can build strength with resistance bands just as well as you can with dumbbells.

That said, there may be situations where one product is better than the other. Consider these situations for comparing resistance bands vs weights:

Dumbbells:

  • Ideal staple for a home gym
  • Ideal for performing compound movements with progressive overload (a must for improved body composition)
  • Great if you have more space for your gym equipment
  • Great for overall training purposes

Resistance Bands:

  • Great for travelers or small spaces
  • Great for beginners or elderly
  • Ideal for someone who feels uncomfortable moving heavier weights
  • Perfect for twisting movements, for example for abs
  • A must-have for certain exercises like glute work or leg accessory exercises
  • A very inexpensive option to have on hand when you don’t have normal access to a gym

Resistance is the Key to Muscle and Strength

Regardless of which method you end up choosing, using resistance, either through bands or free weights, is the key to building muscle and strength.

For your muscles to get bigger and stronger, you need to exercise in a way that encourages your muscles to do so.

Exercise is stressful, and as a result, your body adapts to the type of stress it’s exposed to (source).

For example:

If you run all of the time, your muscles adapt to help you run longer distances at a faster pace. That’s why, as you exercise more and more, it becomes easier and more manageable (study).

Well, the same sort of thing happens when you use resistance.

When you use resistance, this stress forces the body to adapt by getting bigger and stronger so that your body is better prepared the next time you workout.

Luckily for you and your goals, resistance bands, free weights, and machine weights can all provide you with the resistance you need to grow.

However…

The way each of these methods provide resistance differs, which can change how your muscles adapt.

These differences are why you need to answer those previous questions before you decide which method is best for you.

Can resistance bands build muscle?

Yes – resistance bands actually build muscle just as well as weights. Studies of athletes using both methods have shown that there is no observable difference in either muscle activity or peak load when training with bands rather than weights.

Once again, it’s basic physics. If it takes your body a certain amount of work to complete a movement (whether the resistance is provided by gravity, as with weights, or elasticity, as with resistance bands), then the effect on your muscles will be exactly the same.

The Bottom Line

After comparing resistance bands to weights, it is clear that using bands for building muscle and strength comes with its limitations, especially if you are a more advanced trainer.

However, using resistance bands can be highly effective and beneficial if you are just starting out as a beginner, or want an extra tool in your tool belt for additional stability. They can also be a great companion for performing light stretches before or after your workouts to prevent injury or increasing flexibility. 

If you don’t want to be limited to building strength and want to build muscle fast, then weights have and always will be the best way to go!

Resistance bands vs weights: Cost

Weights are valued by the pound (lb), so more weight costs more money. New, high-quality, iron-weight plates will cost between $1.50 – $2.50 per lb of weight – that’s about $100 for one pair of 25lb plates.

Meanwhile, a well-made, resilient barbell will cost around $200 (any less and there could be potential concerns over quality). Adjustable dumbbells are between $1.75 – $4 per lb, that’s $50 for a single pair of 10lb dumbbells. Kettlebells cost $1.25 – $3.25 per lb, $50 for a single 25lb kettlebell. 

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve started shopping for a range of free weights, they don’t come cheap, and you’ll need space to store them. 

(Image credit: Getty)

Resistance bands are much more affordable. A selection of four bands that range from 15lb to 65lb of resistance costs under $50 in total. That’s less than a single pair of 10lb dumbbells, and will give you far more weight options. That said, resistance bands do have a much lower weight limit, with even the heaviest bands topping out at around 200lb. 

When it comes to cost, resistance bands provide far more value for money within a given budget, and below a certain resistance threshold. 

Best resistance band exercises

According to Centr trainer, Luke Zocchi, resistance bands are one of, if not the most versatile piece of exercise equipment.

“[Resistance bands] can be used to add resistance to any bodyweight exercises, especially upper body workouts like bicep curls or lateral raises, and lower body/glute moves like squats, glute bridges, etc.,” Zocchi told Insider. “They’re also a great rehab tool for people coming back from an injury who need to focus on rebuilding strength.”

Resistance bands can be used to enhance cardio training, as well. Brianna Bernard recommends adding them to squat jumps, rear-delt jacks, or for boxing moves like jabs and crosses as a way to add weight to those already dynamic movements.

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Written by Chloe Twist

Fitness Content Manager, OriGym

Join Chloe on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Chloe graduated with a BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University and prior to OriGym worked at J&R Digital Marketing Agency on the Liverpool ‘Female Founders’ series. Since joining the company, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and advanced Sports Nutrition Specialist. Chloe’s professional interests intersect content-development and the world of online fitness, especially across social media and YouTube, and Chloe has herself contributed pieces on fitness and weight loss to sites including the Daily Star and The Express. Outside her day-to-day role, Chloe enjoys playing the guitar, gaming and kettlebell training. 

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