When comparing resistance bands vs free weights, resistance bands are superior to free weights , especially for home gyms and bodyweight training.
Although using either free weights or elastic bands for resistance training can provide adjustable progressive resistance as required for building strength and muscle mass, resistance bands surpass conventional free weights in eight ways: safety, resistance curve, exercise assistance, gravitational independence, versatility, footprint, portability, and cost.
In a safety comparison of resistance bands vs free weights, resistance bands clearly win. The most commonly reported cause of injury while weight-training is weights dropping on a person, accounting for 65.5% of total injuries. Of these, 90.4% resulted from use of inherently unstable free weights, and 23.6% resulted in fractures and dislocations.1 You can lower your risk of injury by using bodyweight training and replacing external weights with elastic resistance bands.
If you drop an elastic band on your self, you won’t be injured. You can’t get trapped under or pinned or crushed by an elastic band. In addition, as explained below, elastic bands reduce the risk of injury during exercise because they provide reduced resistance in the range of motion where you are most vulnerable to injury.
When comparing the resistance curve resistance bands vs free weights, resistance bands win again. Elastic bands provide variable resistance that matches human strength curves, whereas weights (including bodyweight) do not.
Due to the function of body levers (bones and joints) your strength or ability varies throughout the range of motion of all exercises. You are up to 10 times stronger where your muscles have a mechanical advantage – such as the top of a squat or press – than you are in the most mechanically disadvantaged range of motion.
If you were to choose a weight (barbell) that would match your strength in the strongest upper range of motion of the squat, it would be too heavy for you to handle in the range of motion where you are weaker due to leverage disadvantage (deep position). On the other hand, if you choose a resistance that allows you to squat deeply, you will experience relatively little challenge in the upper range of motion.
Whereas a conventional free weight provides a fixed load, as you stretch an elastic resistance band, it provides increasing resistance. Research indicates that elastic resistance bands provide a resistance curve that more closely matches that of your body.2 You get more resistance where you are strong, and less where you are weak.
Several studies have provided evidence that training properly with elastic resistance bands elicits greater muscle torque3 and may produce greater strength gains than training exclusively with isoinertial resistance (body weight or conventional weights). 4, 5 Some research also indicates that training with variable resistance elicits greater positive hormonal changes than conventional resistance.6
In addition, as noted above, resistance bands provide less resistance in the range of motion where you have a mechanical disadvantage and are weakest, such as the bottom of a deadlift, squat, press or pull up. This reduces the risk of injury because you are more likely to injure yourself in the mechanically disadvantaged range than in the advantaged, strong range.
A third reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is that elastic bands can be used to provide exercise assistance as well as resistance. With conventional weights you can only add load to your exercises, not remove load. In contrast, you can use resistance bands to assist you in performance of pull ups, push ups, dips, planche, and front lever, to name a few.
A fourth reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is that resistance bands provide resistance independent of the direction of gravity. Weights provide resistance in only one direction: perpendicular to the ground, the direction of gravitational force. Hence, if you want to add loading to a chest press movement with weights, you need to lie on the ground or a bench, so that you can press the weight upwards against the force of gravity.
In contrast, elastic resistance bands can be set up to provide resistance in any direction. For example, you can stand up, wrap a band around your shoulders, and perform a chest press perpendicular to your torso without need for a bench.
A fifth reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is the versatility of resistance bands. You can use band to safely add resistance to almost any bodyweight exercise. It is possible but awkward and a bit hazardous to use weights to add resistance to push ups, and the amount of resistance you can add by piling plates on your back is limited. In contrast, you can easily and very safely add an almost unlimited amount of resistance to push ups with resistance bands.
Given a suitable anchor point or platform, and a hip belt or bar, you can safely add resistance to squats, single-leg squats, split squats, deadlifts, rise-on-toes, pull ups, dips, overhead presses, push ups, even handstand push ups.
A sixth reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is that resistance bands have a smaller footprint. A set of bands that can supply more than 500 pounds of resistance, along with a few accessories (handles, bar, platform, anchors, hip belt) will fit in a backpack or drawer. You can store your bands and accessories in a drawer or closet when not in use. In contrast 500 pounds of weights, bars, benches and racks will take up an entire small room. That room will have to be dedicated to the equipment because you can’t easily pack it up and put it in a drawer or closet. Thus weights simply take up more real estate than bands.
A seventh reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is portability. You can take your backpack full of bands and accessories and train anywhere. You can’t take your weights to the park or on vacation or a business trip.
The last reason to prefer resistance bands vs free weights is economy. You can replace an entire room of free weights and machines with a bag full of resistance bands costing between $100 and $600.
Bodylastics makes the best stackable elastic tubing resistance band systems on the market. A set providing about 250 pounds of resistance costs about $90. If you get a Brute Belt and make an inexpensive wooden training platform you will even be able to train legs intensely with this set. (Click on affiliate image to learn more about the product.)
A Bodylastics set providing 404 pounds of resistance costs $125. Unfortunately Bodylastics does not provide equipment that would make it possible for you to safely perform high-effort squats or deadlifts with this level of resistance. (Click on affiliate image to learn more about the product.)
A set of Serious Strength loop bands potentially providing up to 500 pounds of resistance will cost you only about $120 at regular retail. Unfortunately it is difficult to perform basic hip and thigh exercises such as squats and deadlifts without some type of bar or platform. (Click on image to learn more.)
An X3 Pro Bar is the premier resistance band training device. It will enable you to safely perform squats, deadlifts, rise on toes, chest press, rows, overhead press, tricep extensions, and bicep curls. The X3 system consists of a precision engineered Olympic-style bar, heavy duty platform, and bands that can supply as little as 10 pounds of resistance, and more than 500 pounds of resistance. It all fits in a drawer, backpack or suitcase so you can take it to the park, on vacation or business trips, so you can train like a pro anywhere and anytime. (Click on image to learn more.)
At $529 (regular price) an X3 Pro Bar costs you $1.45 per day for the first year of ownership. Are you spending $1.45 daily or most days on something you don’t absolutely need, like a gourmet coffee from a coffee shop? Over 2 years the cost drops to less than $0.75 per day for the highest quality portable resistance bands training device that will enable you to get as strong as possible training as little as 30 minutes thrice weekly. Over 5 years of use the cost drops to $0.29 per day! Think long term and you will avoid being dependent on paying someone else for training equipment.
In contrast, a decent 500 pound barbell set will cost at least $500 new, about $300 used. To use that barbell effectively you need a squat rack and a flat bench at a minimum. Those will set you back another $300 to $500. So you are talking $600 to $1000 to set up a home gym consisting of barbells.
Then you need a bit of real estate on which you can put the barbell and rack. You have to dedicate a room to that equipment. In contrast, the elastic band sets take up very little space.
Some people will say, why not just join a low cost gym, such as YouFit or Planet Fitness, which in my neighborhood charges only $10 per month for a membership?
First, consider that $10 monthly only provides one membership. If you have just one other family member who trains, now you are spending $20 per month or $240 per year at YouFit or Planet Fitness. In contrast all members of your family can use your resistance band home gym at no additional cost.
Second, the cost of a gym membership also rightly includes the cost of commuting to it – both time cost (what is your time worth to you?) and cost of fuel and wear and tear on your vehicle. Another cost is time waiting to use equipment that others are using when you are at the gym.
Moreover, as discussed above, elastic resistance bands provide a safer and more effective training stimulus than provided by the free weights and most of the machines at any commercial gym . You can use your elastic resistance bands anywhere and anytime, and actually get a superior training session due to the variable resistance provided by elastic resistance bands.
In summary, elastic resistance bands surpass weights in safety, resistance curve, exercise assistance, gravitational independence, versatility, footprint, portability, and cost. Elastic resistance bands are the premiere tool for resistance training and home gyms. By using elastic bands for resistance training you can build strength and muscle mass safely and economically.
1. Fisher J, et al. Primum non nocere: A commentary on avoidable injuries and safe resistance training techniques. Journal of Trainology 2014;3:31-34.
2. Aboodarda SJ, et al. Muscle activation comparisons between elastic and isoinertial resistance: A meta-analysis. Clin Biomech 2016;39:52-61.
3. Aboodarda SJ, et al. Resultant muscle torque and electromyographic activity during high intensity elastic resistance and free weight exercises. Eur J Sport Sci 2011:1-6, iFirst article.
4. Anderson CE, Sforzo GA, Sigg JA. The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Mar;22(2):567-74. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181634d1e. PubMed PMID: 18550975.
5. Riviere M, et al. Variable resistance training promotes greater strength and power adaptations than traditional resistance training in elite youth rugby league players. J Strength Cond Res 2017; 31(4):947-955.
6. HÄ,, & KKINEN, K. (2011). Neuromuscular and Hormonal Responses to Constant and Variable Resistance Loadings. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(1), 26-33.