It depends on the fitness goals

If you’re strength training on the side, it doesn’t matter if you grab a resistance band or grab a few free weights during your workout. Both tools will help you build muscle so you feel stronger overall, and it can just come down to preference. You might want to use one over the other, and that’s fine. But if you have specific fitness goals in mind, there are some differences between weights and resistance bands that will be important.

Of course, for a quick overview, resistance bands are those stretchy, elastic bands that come in either loop, tube, or band forms. They’re also available in different “resistances,” says Dr. Dave Candy, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC, CMTPT, FAAOMPT, Physical Therapy Physician, Certified Athletic Coach and Owner of More 4 Life. They can go easy, medium, hard, or extra hard depending on how hard you want your workout to be.

There are also many options in the free weight category, with the most popular weights being barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, Candy says. Read below for everything you need to know about what sets weights and resistance bands apart so you know which one to choose for your next workout.

Benefits of Weights

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Free weights offer a lot more variety than resistance bands simply because there are so many different types. “Barbells allow for a heavier workout because each arm balances the other and you don’t have to use as many stabilizing muscles,” Candy tells Bustle.

“Conversely, dumbbells require you to use your smaller stabilizing muscles more, and these are especially helpful if you have a ‘weaker’ side or are recovering from an injury and don’t want the strong side to take over,” he says. Kettlebells, on the other hand, enable dynamic exercises that require swinging a weight. “They’re good for developing strength,” says Candy. “You can also use them like dumbbells, but they require more wrist stability to stabilize the weight of the ball.”

Unlike weight machines, any type of free weight requires you to work extra hard to keep it stable during an exercise. And while it sounds harsh, that’s actually a good thing. According to Candy, free weights work the “stabilizer” muscles, also known as the ones that keep you stable. “For exercises like squats and deadlifts, weights also use your core muscles to stabilize your body, not just your leg muscles like a leg press,” he adds.

This versatility also means you can switch it up depending on your workout needs. You can use a kettlebell to do swings and other full-body exercises that get your heart pumping. You can also focus on a specific muscle, like the biceps or triceps, by lifting dumbbells, or you can work multiple muscle groups at once by performing movements like deadlifts or bench presses with a barbell. It all depends on what type of training you are looking for.

disadvantage of weights

Free weights are clunky and loose, so they can be difficult to control, which increases the risk of injury. The weight could slip out of your hands, Candy says, and if you choose one that’s too heavy, you could accidentally put too much pressure on your joints.

Another downside, according to Kuudose trainer Joey Thurman, CES, CPT, FNS, is that you can’t just dive in and start training. At least you shouldn’t. “As with many exercises, if you’re not confident with the modalities and using proper form, you can injure yourself,” he tells Bustle. Because of this, you might want to watch a few YouTube videos or hire a trainer to make sure you’re using free wights correctly.

Benefits of Resistance Bands

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According to Ali Martinez, a certified personal trainer at WRKOUT, resistance bands can be used to take bodyweight training to a higher level. Think squats, shoulder presses, and thrusters with the added resistance of a band. “Resistance bands are much easier to control and offer variable resistance under tension so you can target smaller muscle groups,” she tells Bustle.

Bands come in handy when you’re injured or recovering from an injury because they’re low-impact, low-impact, and easy to use. “They also work in combination with Pilates and [other] Workouts where all you need is a little extra resistance to get a really good burn,” she says.

Using a ribbon can be a good choice when you want to shake things up. According to Candy, a band’s stretch allows for side-to-side exercises, such as shoulder rotations, standing horizontal rows, and standing chest presses. They’re also more portable and usually cheaper than weights, which can also be an advantage.

Disadvantage of resistance bands

The biggest problem with resistance bands is that it’s impossible to tell how much “resistance” you’re using. You need to train by “feel,” Candy says, or how hard it is to pull the band apart or how tired you get using it. While it’s not a big deal, it can be annoying when trying to make progress or track your fitness goals.

“While you can adjust the thickness of the band you use, the more the band stretches, the more resistance it becomes, so there’s less consistency from workout to workout,” he adds. “The other disadvantage of changing resistance is that as the band continues to stretch, it becomes more difficult to move, so there is less resistance at the beginning of the exercise and more resistance at the end of the exercise.”

As for the risk, Martinez points out that hinges can kick back unexpectedly, especially if you don’t properly attach them to a door frame or anchor point. “But that doesn’t happen often,” she says, “and as with anything, start slowly, become comfortable with use, and ask someone with experience for guidance on proper use.”

Weights vs Resistance Bands

Both weights and resistance bands are useful when it comes to strength training. Stand in the middle of a band and pull on the ends to do bicep curls, or perform the same movement while holding a dumbbell. “You can get a good strength workout with either and work a lot of the same movements and muscle groups,” says Candy. The biggest difference is that you don’t know how much you’re “lifting” with bands, he says, which might be something to keep in mind. Weights also allow you to advance in smaller increments. You can lift five pounds and then move up to eight, ten, twenty, and so on.

The movement pattern, or how you use each tool, is also different, Thurman explains. You do more pulling movements with bands than with weight lifting. And eventually, if you train hard, there will come a day when the bands aren’t enough, Candy says. They just aren’t “tough” enough to give you the kind of resistance you need to improve your strength training.

Referenced Studies:

Lopes, JSS. 2019. Effects of elastic resistance training versus conventional resistance on muscle strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. SAGE Open Med. doi: 10.1177/2050312119831116.

Sources:

dr Dave Candy, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC, CMTPT, FAAOMPT, Physical Therapy Physician and Certified Athletic Coach

Joey Thurman, CES, CPT, FNS, Certified Personal Trainer

Ali Martinez, Certified Personal Trainer on WRKOUT

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