Resistance Bands vs Weights


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, gyms were forced to close for the majority of 2020. As we near the end of the year, gyms have reopened, but for many, they have become a less appealing place to workout. The risk of infection is higher, paying for a membership each month, sharing equipment with god-knows-who… you get the idea. So what’s the alternative? Home workouts.

Here at GymGiant Gear, we’ve got all the gym gear you need to have a killer workout from the comfort of your own home. But if you’re new to the world of fitness or home workouts, you may be wondering which equipment is worth getting to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck. In this article we’re going to take a look at the difference between two of our best sellers: resistance bands vs free weights, to help you make an informed decision before you purchase.

Let’s get started.

What are resistance bands?

Resistance bands are elastic or fabric bands that are used in strength training. They are also commonly used in physical therapy to help rehab injuries. Resistance bands have been around for years - centuries - in fact. That’s right, the first documented use of a resistance band was in 1896 in the US by a Swiss national Gustav Gossweiler who actually patented a chest expander resistance band system.

Resistance bands really fell into the mainstream when they were popularized in powerlifting. Powerlifters, who were characterized by lifting the heaviest weights possible, were now using elastic bands that quickly caught the interest of other fitness groups like bodybuilders and aerobics. Today, resistance bands are categorized as variable resistance training, including elastic-resistance training (ERT) and chain-resistance training (CRT). 

So now you know the history, you might be wondering what actually are resistance bands? Resistance bands can be short, long, thick, thin, made of rubber or fabric. The size and elasticity of a resistance band are reflective of their varying degrees of difficulty. As an example of the number of different types of resistance bands, check out our 11 piece resistance band set that offers a variety of intensities.

The way they work in strength training is by providing external resistance during an exercise, the same type of resistance that weights provide. The thicker and stronger the resistance band, the more resistance it is providing.

How do resistance bands work?

To give an example of how resistance bands work - if you stand upright with your hands by your side and laterally move your hands upwards and outwards like you are performing a lateral raise - you are working against the resistance of gravity, however this is so minor that it is not enough to really activate your muscles properly, unless you performed hundreds of reps.

If you try the exercise again but this time you are standing on a long resistance band and loop the top of it over your hands and try to again, perform a lateral raise. The resistance band is providing resistance, making it harder to complete the movement pattern, and so recruiting your muscles to work. Check out our large resistance bands that are used in this example, that provide up to 30kg of resistance!

This external resistance also increases mechanical tension. Mechanical tension refers to the amount of time under tension your muscles are receiving during an exercise and the subsequent amount of force they need to generate to complete the movement. Your muscles do not know the size of weights you use, they only know how much tension is being created. That’s essentially the basis of how our BodyBoss 2.0 System works, check this link out to learn more.

Both heavy and lighter loads produce mechanical tension, because both produce force causing the muscle to stretch, one of the key aspects of creating mechanical tension. To produce the maximum amount of force in an exercise, you don’t have to necessarily lift as heavy as possible. Force generation is maximized when a movement is highly controlled and performed slowly (increasing time under tension), because this recruits a high level of motor units and muscle fibers, which means you are maximizing mechanical tension.

As you may have guessed, this is where resistance bands come in. They increase mechanical tension without relying on increasing the weights.

When a resistance band is used in an exercise, it causes a variation (hence the name variation resistance training as mentioned above) in the load being lifted throughout the range of motion. A resistance band provides resistance throughout the entire range of motion - in both the concentric and eccentric part of an exercise, maximizing mechanical tension.

So that’s how resistance bands work. Now let’s compare resistance bands vs free weights.

What are free weights?

Dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells are all examples of free weights. Free weights refer to any free moving object - an object that can be picked up and moved through space freely, unattached to anything.

As an example of this, you can pick up a set of dumbbells and do a standing overhead press, stabilized by your core and lower body, with your upper body activated to lift the weight over your head. To contrast free weights, we can give the example of machines. Machines are stationary, so your movement pattern is controlled. For example, instead of doing a free weight standing overhead press, you would use a seated shoulder press machine.

How do free weights work?

Free weights provide an external resistance similar to resistance bands. The resistance forces your body to work against it to complete an exercise. Free weights require total-body stabilization, so to continue with the previous example of the overhead press, your core and lower body are activated to control the load being moved throughout the path of the movement. This helps to build functional strength.

However, free weights do have some issues - they don’t allow for consistent mechanical tension to be created during an exercise. So for example, with a dumbbell bicep curl, you are working against the resistance of the dumbbell and the resistance of gravity as your load vector.

When you move the dumbbell upwards until you have reached a 90 degree angle at the elbow (the concentric phase), you have reached maximum mechanical tension as you have worked against resistance to get there. However, when you lower the weight (the eccentric phase), you are working with gravity and your dumbbell is helping you get there, so mechanical tension is limited.

Free weights vs resistance bands

Here’s the summary of the key differences between resistance bands vs free weights.

  1. Mechanical tension

Resistance bands create more mechanical tension because they provide resistance throughout the range of movement, whereas free weights only provide resistance when working against gravity.

Mechanical tension is one of the three mechanisms that needs to exist for muscle and strength building, so working with resistance bands that increase this to the maximum will help you reach your fitness goals more efficiently.

  1. Movement planes

Resistance bands provide their own resistance, not resistance against gravity. What this means is that you can perform exercises that include horizontal planes of movement, for example performing a resistance band upright row - this exercise could not be performed with free weights as it is not working against gravity. This speaks to the versatility of resistance bands. Check out our stick bar resistance bands that are great for working across movement planes.

Having the option of working through multiple movement planes means that you can work your entire body with resistance bands, you are not limited by the up/down gravity-dictated movement plane.

  1. Sports-specific training

If your main form of physical activity is sports-specific, you may be interested in the difference between resistance bands and weights in terms of how it relates to performance in your sport. Studies have shown that resistance bands are highly effective at strengthening movement patterns relating to sports, because they are able to provide resistance across any plane of movement (as mentioned above).

A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine asked a group of college tennis players to practice serves with resistance bands vs a group who did the same, without resistance bands. The resistance band group significantly increased the speed of their serve and their shoulder strength compared to the other group.

Check out our pull rope resistance bands that are popular for sport-specific training.

  1. Targeted activation

Want to grow your glutes without growing your legs? One of the best ways to do this is to use resistance bands, because they can specifically target one muscle group. Plus, if you struggle to ‘switch on’ a specific dormant muscle like your glutes, using resistance bands can help to activate your muscles so you can better connect to them during an exercise. Check out our GymGiant Gear soft cloth glute bands, specifically designed to activate and target your glutes during lower body training.

  1. Light and portable

Perhaps one of the best benefits of resistance bands vs free weights is how light and portable they are. If you travel often or don’t have much room to store multiple different free weights, resistance bands are easy to store, extremely portable and light.

One of our most popular resistance bands sets is our BodyBoss 2.0 System that includes a number of different resistance bands, a collapsible workout bar, handles and more to give you a full body workout system from the comfort of your home. 

We hope this article has helped give you some insight into the benefits of resistance bands vs free weights. Check out GymGiant Gear store today to get yours!