When it comes to strength training, many people may wonder about the difference between resistance bands vs weights.
Both tools allow a person to practice strength training but in very different ways. Each product may be better in some situations and less ideal in others. Still, as we discuss below, each tool is vital for strength training if its own way.
In this article, we break down exactly resistance bands vs weights and which product is the best choice for you.
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Resistance Bands Vs Weights
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, if you’re just here for a quick answer, this is it:
In addition, they can be even more versatile than weights due to being so lightweight and great for travel, rehabilitation, and for people who may not feel comfortable moving around heavy weights.
Even for the serious lifter, resistance bands are a must for your fitness equipment library. Because they are so inexpensive, adding a set of each type of resistance band will greatly improve your training sessions and exercise options.
Check out the best options for both resistance bands vs weights in this table below before getting to more details later in this article.
Still, both items have their place in your strength training program, which we discuss below.
Resistance Bands for Strength Training
Weights and resistance bands are similar in that they force your muscles to use tension to move them.
However, there are several differences between resistance bands and weights:
- Resistance. With weights and dumbbells, the resistance is gravity. With bands, the resistance is the tension in the band. Our muscles do not know the difference, so both methods are effective for building strength.
- Movement Plane. Weights can only move up and down (as they are held down with gravity). With a resistance band, the ‘weight’ is actually the tension in the band and whichever way you stretch it determines the movement pattern.
- Momentum. Have you ever noticed you can cheat a bit on a bicep curl by swinging your body with the dumbbell? With resistance bands, there is no cheating.
Pros and Cons of Resistance Bands
Below is a list of the pros and cons of resistance bands.
Pros of Resistance Bands
- Easy for travel
- Very inexpensive
- Can allow you to work up to difficult bodyweight movements (chin-ups/pull-ups)
- Easy on your joints
- Great option for rehabilitation
- Perfect for all skill levels
- Help increase coordination and stabilization
Cons of Resistance Bands
- Can dry out or crack
- Can be difficult to stretch
- Not all exercises can be performed with resistance bands
- Different lengths are needed to perform different moves
- Progressive overload can be more difficult
Pros and Cons of Free Weights
Below is a list of the pros and cons of resistance bands.
Pros of Free Weights
- Allow progressive overload easily
- Allow a full range of motion
- Weight amount is unlimited
- Allow you to master good form
Cons of Free Weights
- Not travel-friendly
- May not be ideal for elderly or injured people
- Take up more space
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:
- 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
- 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 Flat Bands Vs Tube Bands
There are two main types of material that resistance bands come in:
These two bands allow you to strength train, but you can use each for different exercises.
Tube resistance bands typically have handles on either end and a great starting option for resistance bands. You can do virtually every upper body exercise with tube resistance bands that you can do with dumbbells.
Below is a great example of a set of resistance bands that are tubes. You can see that these bands come in progressively stronger resistance, as noted by the different colors.
Flat bands come in 3 different options:
- a long flat piece of material that is not connected that can be gripped on both ends (great for rehab)
- long thick bands that form a complete circle (great for assisted pull-ups)
- short thick bands (for around your knees usually)
Here are some great options for the three bands above
All About the Size, Color and Shapes of Resistance Bands
Wondering what all those different colors and lengths mean? We got you covered.
The different colors may seem daunting at first, but don’t let those scare you away.
Different Lengths of Resistance Bands
There are long and short resistance bands.
Long resistance bands are the most versatile because they can be used for many more workouts.
The short resistance bands are generally just used for glute exercises. While they are more of a one-type-of-use product, they are very important for your training regime. Our glutes are one of the largest muscles on our body and having strong glutes can prevent injuries.
Resistance Band Weight Equivalent
This chart can provide a general guideline for how much weight different levels of resistance can provide. This chart comes from Thera-Band which is one manufacturer of resistance bands, so it’s important to note that their color of resistance may not match other brands.
You can see from this chart that the resistance in a band is based on 2 factors: the strength of each band and how much you stretch it.
The lighter bands measure of resistance is between 1.1 and 5.8 pounds. The highest level of resistance bands for Thera-Band shows between a 7.9 to 40.1 pound equivalent weight.
Resistance Bands Weight By Color
Each manufacturer chooses the color of their bands. In general, the colors simply serve 2 purposes:
- Easily Distinguishable
Once you are more familiar with your resistance bands, you’ll be able to tell which band is of lighter resistance and which band is of heavier resistance just by the look and feel of each band.
Also, most manufacturers will list the strength of each band right on the side of the band. Most sets of bands will come in a resistance level pattern similar to this:
- extra light
- extra heavy
- extra extra heavy
The above list is just an example, but most resistance bands follow this general naming pattern for their bands.
Dumbbell and Resistance Bands Workout
We got you covered with this great full body resistance band workout.
Full Body Resistance Band Workout
Complete each exercise for the specified number of sets and reps before moving on to the next exercise. Supersets are noted as A1/A2, for example.
|D1||Knee-Banded Hip Thurst||2||30|
|D2||Knee-Banded Glute Bridge||2||30|
This workout and over 20 more free resistance band workouts are listed here.
Or, you can download a copy of over 50 free strength training workouts by entering your email below. Many of these workouts incorporate resistance bands or resistance bands with dumbbells and bodyweight.
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Frequently Asked Questions about Resistance Bands
Can resistance bands bulk you up?
Because resistance bands increase muscle size and strength, they technically have the potential to help you bulk.
However, as we’ve discussed in other articles, it is very difficult for women to ‘bulk’.
For men, resistance bands can have the same effect as dumbbells or weights as far as bulking.
However, resistance bands will eventually max out in their ‘weight’ or tension. It will be difficult to find a resistance band that is equivalent to a 100-pound dumbbell.
Are resistance bands effective for building muscle?
In this March 2018 study, the researchers found that not only were resistance bands comparable in muscle activation levels but that resistance bands showed substantially muscle activation in assisting muscle fibers, possibly due to the unstable nature of the bands.
Are resistance bands Safe?
Yes, strong, well-made resistance bands are safe.
However, over time your resistance bands may dry out. Stop using a band if it shows any signs of cracking or drying as these bands could snap back during use.
Remember, with any exercise you should gradually build up in weight and start slow. Progressing to heavier resistances too fast could cause injuries.
Resistance bands may be more suitable for elderly people, as well. This study showed that elderly people who used resistance bands 3 times per week for just 10-15 minutes effectively prevented symptoms of functional decline.
Can resistance bands build glutes?
Yes! Resistance bands are excellent for glute work. They can even be used in combination with dumbbells and barbells for extra glute emphasis.
In addition, I found that resistance bands were the best way to work my glutes during my pregnancies because I did not feel comfortable performing glute bridges and hip thrusts with a heavy barbell on my pelvis. With resistance bands, I was still able to perform glute work during my pregnancy and postpartum seasons!
The below 2 options for short resistance bands will be ideal for glute work.
What kind of resistance bands should you buy?
When looking at resistance bands, consider these qualities:
- handles or no handles
- flat or tubes
- amount of resistance
Consider these options for these types of exercises:
- glute/leg work: short bands for around your knees or long bands for across your hips
- pull-ups/chin-up: long bands without handles
- upper body work: handles may be preferred, but long bands without handles work as well
- physical therapy: long, flat, thin bands may be better options
How long will it take to see results from resistance bands?
You’ll see results from resistance bands in the same amount of time as you would any strength training program.
It’s worth repeating over and over again that you cannot ‘spot train’ a certain area with resistance training.
You’ll need to enter a calorie deficit (eat at a level below your maintenance calories) for an extended period of time to shed the layer of body fat covering your muscles.
However — and this is important — while you’re in a calorie deficit, you’ll want to maintain your lean muscle mass so you don’t lose muscle mass in addition to fat during your diet! If you do not continue resistance training (with weights or bands) during a diet, you’ll quickly gain weight again once you start eating normally again.
By resistance training during your diet, you keep your metabolism fired up and maintain your muscle mass. When you are finished with your diet — for example, you have reached a level of leanness that you are satisfied with — you will minimize rebound weight gain if you had practiced weight training during your diet.
If you have a large amount of body fat to shed, it will take a number of months before you start to see ‘results’ or muscle tone from resistance band training.
As I’ve noted, it’s vital to keep up with strength training, but you’ll see the best, long-lasting results if you get your diet in check.
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 Vs Weights: The Bottom Line
Resistance bands are an extremely effective tool for strength training. Weights and dumbbells are effective as well.
When comparing resistance bands vs weights, you can see that each product has its own pros and cons.
Still, owning a set of resistance bands is a smart choice for anyone serious about their fitness. When you don’t have access to a gym, when you don’t have time for a long workout, or when you’re recovering from an injury, resistance bands will allow you to get in a solid lifting session.
Dumbbells and weights are still the cornerstones of strength training, but resistance bands are an extremely travel-friendly, lightweight, budget-friendly option that most people should fit into their workout program.