Free weights are the first thing everyone will point you to when you want to build muscle. But what about resistance bands. Are they just as effective as free weights? Here’s what you want to know.
Resistance bands and free weights can both be used effectively for building muscle and strength. As long as the resistance level, sets and reps are high enough it doesn’t matter which one is used. However, for heavy compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, free weights are more practical.
Resistance bands and free weights aren’t exactly the same and working out what them is slightly different. Read more below and also how you can get the benefits of both.
Resistance Bands vs. Free Weights For Muscle Building
Both resistance bands and free weights can be used with great success to build muscle. Your muscles grow when they are moved under enough tension for long enough. Both free weights and resistance bands can be used for this.
What you have to do to build muscle is move the muscle through its full range of motion with enough tension to make it challenging. This tension creates micro-tears in the muscle fibers. The body then repairs that damage thicker and stronger which is what grows muscle.
That tension is created by resistance and that can be created by either resistance bands or free weights and even by bodyweight. You have to know which exercises to do to train the muscles you want but that’s the same for free weights and resistance bands.
There are some differences between the two, let’s look into them below.
Are Free Weights More Effective Than Resistance Bands?
Obviously, there are differences in how they look, how to use them, how much space they take up and how much they cost. But that’s not the biggest difference.
The biggest difference is the resistance curve.
Free weights feel the heaviest in the lowest position of a movement. Their actual weight doesn’t change but because of biomechanics, the top part will feel a bit easier. Think about a squat. What’s heavier? The part where your bum is the closest to the floor or the last bit to lock out? The lowest position is going to feel the heaviest and most exercises are similar.
Resistance bands increase in resistance the further you stretch them. That means you invert the strength curve. When using them. It’s lighter at the bottom and gets heavier near the top. That’s means your muscle gets loaded in a different way.
Resistance bands are not necessarily better or worse, just different. As long as the intensity is similar, you’ll get similar muscle growth results. However, training to build up a muscle with free weights doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to lift the same weight with resistance bands and vice versa.
However, at some point, to get bigger muscles, you need to lift heavier weights. Especially for compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, you need a lot of resistance. That is just easier to do with a barbell than 5 very heavy resistance bands.
If you’re not sure about building muscle and working out, a set of resistance bands is very cheap while a free weights setup costs quite a bit of money and takes up a lot of space. So to try out muscle building, a set of resistance bands is much more approachable.
If you combine the two though, you might just get the best of both worlds.
Combine Resistance Band And Free Weights For More Muscle
You can combine resistance bands and free weights (dumbbells but especially barbells) and you will get the best of both worlds. You can overload your muscles at the bottom of a lift AND at the top. This is going to overload your muscle more and therefore has the potential to cause more strength and muscle growth.
There are actually two ways to do this;
- At the same time
Use Bands And Weights Separately
The first way to combine free weights and bands for extra muscle growth is to use them at different times. You do a workout with free weights and after that you do similar exercises with resistance bands.
You could do it in the same workout or even on a completely different day. As long as you do both in equal amount and at similar intensity levels, you will get a good combination of benefits.
It also allows you to perform more repetitions throughout the week for the same body part. That in itself is good for muscle growth.
Alternatively you can do a heavy free weights workout (Heavy resistance, low repetitions) and a band workout that’s the other way around (Lower resistance, high repetitions). Notice is wrote ‘lower resistance’ not, ‘low resistance. It should still be challenging.
This will improve muscle growth in two ways;
- Training the different strength curves and so targeting your muscle in two different ways.
- Increasing the total amount of sets and repetitions you work out that muscle.
This approach will definitely give you better results than using either bands or free weights separately.
Using this approach is very suitable for beginners. Not only for the reasons mentioned above but also because it’s a bit simpler than the next approach.
Combine at the same time
Instead of doing a similar workout with two different types of equipment, you can also use them at the same time.
For example, let’s say you’re squatting. You loop one side of a resistance band around the barbell. The other side that hangs down you connect to the power cage. (many cages have pegs to attach bands). Of course you want to do this on both sides of the barbell.
You want to set up the band in such a way that there is no to very little tension on the band in the lowest position of the exercise. Then when you’re slightly past the heaviest (feeling) point, the resistance band starts building tension. This way you keep the resistance more even throughout the range of motion.
Of course you can experiment with different resistances.
This is a technique that’s not really suitable for beginners and is best done by people that have some more experience and built up more strength and control. Good exercise form is crucial when doing this. Also, because it will feel a lot heavier to lock out the movement, start at a lot lower weight than you would without the bands.
Even though you want to set up the bands in such a way there is no tension on them at the bottom of the exercise, the extra resistance up top might be more than you expect.