Are Resistance Bands Better Than Weights?

Resistance band training and weights both offer viable strength training options. The better of the two is somewhat subjective because both free weights and resistance bands are capable of building muscle.

Resistance bands are inexpensive, portable pieces of strength training equipment. Credit: Maria Fuchs/Cultura/GettyImages

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Resistance bands are inexpensive, portable pieces of exercise equipment that offer a viable strength training alternative to conventional weights.

Advantages of Resistance Band Training

Training with resistance bands comes with numerous advantages. The bands are inexpensive, lightweight and portable. When properly maintained, they also can last for a very long time.

Avoid direct exposure to sunlight and do not clean the bands with any harsh chemicals like bleach. The durability of well-maintained resistance bands is one of their greatest advantages.

Resistance bands workouts for beginners and advanced weight lifters can help build overall strength. A whole-body workout that uses these accessories, as described by the American Council on Exercise, engages many of the same motions found in a full body weight training routine.

Squats, lateral raises, bench press, triceps extensions, bicep curls and crunches are all common exercises. You can use these accessories for most movements that you'd perform with free weights.

Performing a full-body routine with weights, however, requires access to a well-stocked gym or a serious home gym. The space and financial commitment are far greater for weights than resistance bands.

The bands can stow away in a bag, drawer or closet. They pack easily for travel and you can use them anywhere. For this reason, resistance band training offers a major advantage over free weights. Resistance band workouts for beginners are also prevalent and easy to execute.

Lifting weights also comes with higher injury risk. Bands use tight motions, and maintaining form is easier than with weights. Lifting with good form is essential to prevent injuries. Form is also critical with bands, but overextending the joints is more difficult because the elastic naturally limits your range of motion.

Read more: 10 Resistance Bands Exercises to Tone and Tighten

When Weights Are Superior

Resistance bands come in different styles with varying degrees of elasticity. The elasticity ultimately determines the resistance. To add more resistance, the user can also shorten the length of the band being used during the exercise. A shorter length requires more energy to stretch the band.

In the argument of resistance bands vs. free weights, however, controlling the exact resistance is not possible with the bands.

Dumbbells and barbells allow the addition or subtraction of weight. You can add large amounts or increase the weight in gradual, small increments, all while knowing exactly how much is being added. For the simple sake of tracking progress, the measurements are useful and advanced. Competitive weight lifters usually track the exact amount of weight being used.

Weight lifters with specific goals may benefit more from lifting weights than using resistance bands. Very specific lifts like the Olympic-style clean and jerk also require a weights system. These lifts are highly specialized, however, and are not used by every person on a weight training regimen. For the average person looking to gain strength, the bands offer a viable alternative.

Resistance bands can still play a role in stretching and general exercise between weight lifting sessions. They are also common in physical therapy and rehab programs for weight lifters recovering from injuries. Cross-training with both bands and weights is an effective approach to a well-rounded strength training program.

Read more: 13 Benefits of Weight Lifting that No One Tells You About

Comparing the Results

The big debate comes down to the actual ability to build strength. Are bands or weights more effective at building muscle? The answer to this is not simple, and numerous studies have been conducted to compare the two forms of resistance training. Personal preference is also an element that factors into the final decision for individuals engaged in a strength training program.

A March 2018 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics compared weights and resistance bands while focusing specifically on flyes and reverse flyes in a small group of 29 individuals. The study shows elastic bands deliver similar results to weights and demonstrates that bands are a reasonable alternative to weight training.

The weights were more effective at working the primary muscle groups, but the bands actually worked more of the surrounding muscle groups. Researchers attributed these findings to the less stable nature of bands versus weights. Regardless, it showed that bands are capable of delivering strength gains in a manner similar to weights for flyes specifically.

The study was small, though, so it's difficult to determine its accuracy. However, resistance bands seem like a good choice for maintaining overall strength and conditioning in the absence of gym equipment.

Examining Multiple Studies

Numerous studies have analyzed the results between weights and resistance bands, but they all utilize different exercises and relatively small sample sizes. The results frequently show that resistance band exercises for legs, arms and other major muscle groups have results similar to weight training.

One particular review compiled all of the smaller studies to show a bigger picture analysis of resistance bands vs. free weights and general weightlifting. Published in February 2019 in the journal SAGE Open Medicine, the review combined data from eight different studies and used the pooled information to draw conclusions based on a large data set. Results for both upper and lower limb strength gains were compared as well.

The study found that resistance bands show similar results to weights in both the upper and lower body exercises. This essentially means that both types of gym equipment can build strength without a major deviation in the gains shown between the two options. Resistance bands are not necessarily better than weights, but they provide similar advantages for strength training specifically.

Choosing the Better Option

Knowing that both weights and bands can deliver similar results, choosing one over another becomes a matter of personal preference and purpose. The types of exercises used also have some bearing on the results delivered. The Olympic clean and jerk with weights builds the fast-twitch muscle fibers required for speed and explosiveness, while simple deadlift builds general strength and muscle.

The same applies to explosive motions used with resistance band training. The explosive exercise will build athletic speed and power, while a static bicep curl builds the specific muscle for general strength and size. Both bands and weights offer great options for strength training, and both are adaptable to specific training programs.

Using both options is a good choice for many individuals. The bands offer a low cost, portable option that opens up strength training opportunities to more individuals. Living in areas without a gym or a dedicated set of weights makes them a better option. Having access to both options is ideal, though.

Resistance bands also offer a lower impact form of strength training. For this reason, they are highly valued for beginning strength training routines as well as for building strength after an injury.

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