What is better: weights or resistance bands? It depends on many factors, but the best solution is to use both. That’s right: bands actually complement weights, not replace them.
What if you can’t have both and really have to pick between resistance bands vs weights?
Short answer: can’t do more than a dozen pushups, or a single pullup? Looking for training equipment for your children? Get bands. Otherwise? Base your training around weights. And maybe add bands to complement weight training or build sport endurance.
For a long answer, read the rest of the article!
Resistance bands for beginners
Resistance bands are one of the most efficient ways to train for complete beginners. Bands are incredibly convenient. They are cheap. They let you train at home or on a trip. They can help you get your first pullup. And initially, they are more than enough.
Many gyms put beginners through a cookie-cutter machine routine. In part they do this to get rid of significant muscle imbalances that result from a sedentary lifestyle. Bands offer enough resistance to iron those imbalances out and prepare you for more intense work.
What’s more, bands can teach you how to do basic bodyweight exercises that in turn pave way for weight movements. If you can’t do pushups, do resistance band press. If you can’t do pullups, resistance band rows and resistance band-assisted pullups will help.
Of course, you can jump right in and start working with weights immediately. You can also save money and time by getting bands and training with them for a month or two. Initial strength gains will come fast and easy even without weight training.
And an added bonus, you are less likely to skip workouts since you can do them at home. And your bands will serve you even after you graduate to weights.
Which you must do, because after a while, resistance bands will not provide enough resistance (pun not intended).
Resistance bands for experienced athletes
Don’t mistake resistance bands for something that only novices use. Even advanced athletes can complement their training with resistant bands.
Bands help develop explosive strength for weight movements. When training with weights, maximum resistance comes just as your muscle starts to contract. This is where you begin to fight the inertia of your weights.
Weighted squat is a good example: you need to produce maximum force as you rise up from the bottom position. Once you overcome the initial inertia, resistance starts to diminish. The closer you are to finishing the movement, the less force you use.
Resistance bands are the exact opposite. Resistance increases as you stretch the band. The closer you are to finishing the movement, the more force you use.
As a result, combining bands with weights makes you apply more force after the initial push as the bands stretch and increase resistance. This forces you to lift more explosively, and increases lifting power.
According to this article by Josh Bryant, band tension should be 10-25% of your weight for this type of training.
You can use resistance bands during compound weight movements to fix both form issues and muscle imbalances at the same time.
Finally, bands offer a good way to develop sport-specific endurance. You can mimic movements such as rowing or martial arts throws with resistance bands to improve endurance in your sport.
Exercise caution, however. It’s easy to screw up your technique when training with bands improperly, Powerdojo warns.
Why you still need weights
According to a 2:39 marathoner and coach Jason Fitzgerald, even long-distance runners benefit from lifting weights. So no matter what your health and physical performance goals are, weights are a must.
Why weights, and not bands? Hypothetically, bands can be as good as weights. Just use more bands, right? In practice, you will run into many issues that will make it impossible to progress beyond beginner stage.
To progress, you have to gradually increase resistance.
- If you are using weights, you just add another plate, or pick up a heavier dumbbell. You always know how much resistance you go against. And you always have the same technique and range of motion.
- If you are using bands, your only option is to go by feel. One day, you do more reps, but with a smaller range of motion, without noticing. Another day, you do less reps, but with a proper range. In the beginner stage, it’s fine and you will progress regardless.
After a certain point, it gets impossible to improve in this manner. You will hit a wall at a certain level of strength if you keep using resistance bands.
At the same time, if you used weights, you’d be able to get even stronger with the same effort and time investment.
Resistance bands are effective in training beginners or children. They are also a great way to complement your weight routine. However, training with weights should be the core of your conditioning, be it for sports or overall fitness.