Beginners typically know that it is best to work all of the major muscles of the body each week by performing an array of exercises that target the various muscle groups. But how exactly should you go about doing those exercises?
What type of strength training equipment should you use: resistance bands or weights?
Are resistance bands better than weights, or is using dumbbells better than resistance bands?
While both resistance bands and dumbbells can be effective forms of resistance to increase muscular strength and endurance, there are pros and cons to each type of strength training tool, and depending on your fitness goals and needs, resistance bands may be better than weights and vice versa.
To help you decide whether to use weights or resistance bands in your own workouts, keep reading for a comprehensive comparison of resistance bands vs weights.
We will cover:
- What Are the Benefits of Using Resistance Bands?
- What Are the Benefits of Using Weights?
- 3 Advantages of Resistance Bands vs Weights
- 4 Advantages of Weights vs Resistance Bands
Let’s get started!
What Are the Benefits of Using Resistance Bands?
We will kick off our discussion of the pros and cons of resistance bands vs weights by looking at the benefits of using resistance bands.
There are two general types of resistance bands typically used in strength training workouts: long tube bands with a handle and small loop bands also called booty bands.
With either type of resistance band, the thickness and durometer of the elastic band determine the amount of resistance that the resistance band provides.
Most sets of resistance bands will have color-coded tubing, with different colors providing a different potential range of resistance depending on how far the band is stretched.
For example, the lightest band in the set might be yellow, and can provide the equivalent of 5 to 15 pounds of resistance, while the black band in the set might be the heaviest one, said to provide the equivalent of 50 to 60 pounds of resistance.
The primary benefits of resistance bands are that they are inexpensive, lightweight, compact in that they don’t take up very much room, are readily transportable from one place to another, and are versatile.
What Are the Benefits of Using Weights?
There are different forms of “weights” used in strength training, but the most common ones are dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells. For the purpose of our discussion, most of the pros and cons of any form of weight apply to the others, so we will mostly focus on dumbbells with the understanding that the other weighted implements will probably have similar qualities.
There are several benefits of using weights or dumbbells vs resistance bands in your workouts. For example, dumbbells come in a variety of specific weights, so you know exactly how much you are lifting. It is also easy to overload the muscles, which means that you can see improvement in muscular strength and size.
3 Advantages of Resistance Bands vs Weights
Now, to answer the questions, “Are resistance bands better than weights?” and “Are dumbbells better than resistance bands?”, let’s do a head-to-head comparison and look at the pros of resistance bands vs dumbbells and the pros of dumbbells vs resistance bands.
Resistance bands can offer a few advantages over weights:
#1: Resistance Bands Are More Portable than Weights
Whether you want to work out when you are traveling, hope to exercise outdoors in a park, or simply don’t have an endless amount of storage space at home for exercise equipment, it is often super helpful to have portable, light, strength training implements for your workouts.
Aside from just your own body weight, resistance bands take the cake in terms of being the strength training equipment that is the lightest, most portable, and most storable. Plus, resistance bands offer the benefit over bodyweight exercises of added resistance, which is necessary to increase strength and build muscle.
On the other hand, by nature, weights are heavy and bulky, so they are often not convenient or appropriate for traveling and can take up a fair amount of room at home unless you buy a single pair of adjustable dumbbells.
#2: Resistance Bands Are Cheaper than Weights
One of the primary benefits of choosing to buy resistance bands instead of dumbbells is the significant cost savings. Resistance bands are far cheaper than dumbbells.
A full set of dumbbells typically costs several hundred dollars, and even if you decide to go with a good pair of adjustable dumbbells, you’re going to be looking at a price tag of at least $100-200, if not significantly more.
In contrast, you can get a full set of 5-6 resistance bands and handles as well as booty bands for less than $40.
Although this benefit of resistance bands vs weights won’t apply to cases where you are just trying to decide which training tool to use at the gym, it certainly should be a factor to consider when buying the best strength training equipment for your home.
#3: Resistance Bands Are Better Than Dumbbells for Certain Exercises
In most cases, the long tube resistance bands with handles are not more versatile than dumbbells; if anything, they can be limiting for certain common exercises.
However, booty bands, the small loop resistance bands, offer some great advantages over dumbbells in that they can provide resistance for certain exercises and may help improve technique and form.
For example, you can do banded squats, wherein you place the resistance band around your thighs just above your knees. By requiring you to push outward using the muscles in your hips and thighs, you not only activate more muscle groups but may also prevent your knees from collapsing inward, a common form technique issue with a squat.
You can also perform push-ups with the loop band between your wrists to activate your core and shoulders. There are also all sorts of hip exercises that you can perform with these bands, such as clam shells and side steps.
4 Advantages of Weights vs Resistance Bands
Using weights or dumbbells offers some advantages over resistance bands, including the following:
#1: Dumbbells Have Distinct Weights, Whereas Resistance Bands Do Not
Arguably, the primary reason to use weights instead of resistance bands is that it is easier to know how much resistance you are using when working out with weights. When you pick up a dumbbell or load weight plates onto a barbell, there is a clear indication as to how much that dumbbell or weight plate weighs.
For example, if you want to curl 20-pound dumbbells, you simply pick up a 20-pound dumbbell in each hand and perform your exercise.
This allows you to be precise and specific in your workout programming. Additionally, it becomes clearer to know how to appropriately progress your workouts from week to week by scaling up the amount of weight that you lift for each exercise.
On the other hand, resistance bands provide a different amount of resistance based on the degree of stretch in the band.
Even though premium sets of resistance bands are color-coded and labeled to provide a designated range of equivalent resistance, it’s not possible to actually know how much “weight“ you are actually lifting.
You might stand slightly closer or further away from the attachment point between sets, altering the degree of stretch over the full range of motion. This will alter the effective load that you are lifting.
Where this really comes into play is in deciding how to incrementally increase the difficulty of your workouts from week to week. Unless you are marking spots on the floor where you are standing as you perform a move, it will be impossible to know exactly how much resistance you are using.
Therefore, if you want to be able to measure your progress with better precision and specificity and have a better sense of the overall training volume for your workout, dumbbells are better than resistance bands.
It should be noted that there are some really cool developments with smart resistance bands, such as WeGym, which do display the resistance. These products can present the best of both worlds but do cost more money.
#2: Dumbbells Are More Durable Than Resistance Bands
In terms of a long-term investment, dumbbells are much more durable than resistance bands, which will wear out and will need to be replaced periodically. As resistance bands get used over time, the bands will stretch out and can develop tiny cracks, reducing the amount of resistance that they provide and opening the doors to potentially snap if not replaced.
Dumbbells or any form of iron weight should last a lifetime as long as you keep moisture off of them so that the metal does not corrode.
#3: Dumbbells Are Better Than Resistance Bands for Certain Exercises
Although the booty band resistance bands can be used for unique exercises that can’t readily be replicated with dumbbells, in general, when comparing dumbbells to resistance bands with the handles, there are several key exercises that are much easier to perform using dumbbells rather than resistance bands.
For example, using a resistance band to load a step-up, walking lunge, or farmer’s carry can be challenging to configure.
#4: Dumbbells Can Be Better Than Resistance Bands for Building Muscle
If you want to build muscle, you need to overload your muscles. This induces structural damage to the muscle fibers, which triggers muscle protein synthesis, the process that ultimately repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue, leading to hypertrophy, or muscle growth.
Although you can pull against a high resistance with bands, it is typically easier to effectively overload your muscles using weights.
Therefore, if your goal is really to build muscle rather than just increase strength, using dumbbells is better than resistance bands in most cases.
Although there are certain situations in which it might always be better for you to use resistance bands vs weights or vice versa, it’s often best to incorporate some exercises in your workout plan using each tool.
Mixing things up will provide a slightly different stimulus to your muscles, keeping your body from getting too accustomed to your workout routine, which ultimately will lead to greater adaptations in your fitness.
If you would like to get started using resistance bands, we have a complete resistance band workout here.