Rubber Bands vs Free Weights?

I wanted to make this article for quite a while! I really did and am happy I finally got onto it for I get to explain about rubberbands very often. People are curious about resistance bands because bands are still a fitness product that is unfamiliar to a lot of fitness enthusiasts(at least in my […]

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Rubber Bands vs Free Weights?

I wanted to make this article for quite a while! I really did and am happy I finally got onto it for I get to explain about rubberbands very often. People are curious about resistance bands because bands are still a fitness product that is unfamiliar to a lot of fitness enthusiasts(at least in my country). The commercial product that has been promoted for decades by the industry has been the free weights. On every fitness poster you see a guy holding a dumbbell or curling a barbell, even big documentaries related to the fitness world are centered around the free weights(ex. Pumping Iron). Resistance bands are not even mentioned for the most part.

Just before I bought my first set of  resistance bands I remember I asked the fitness instructor in my local gym about them. Being a competitive bodybuilder and possessing a certificate for a fitness instructor made me believe he could give me an idea what I can use the elastic bands for, what are the differences between them and free weights, what the good brands on the market are and so on. Well surprisingly he gave me an amazed look, he was shocked I showed interest into something like elastic bands. He said he has no idea how you can train with them since he never used them and they reminded him of the commercial chest muscle expander springs so they must work similarly but he is not quite sure. Anyways he asked why would I be interested into something like this if I had so many weights and machines in the gym. Well I will answer this question below providing a comparison between the rubber bands and the free weights.

1. Free weights

There is no other feeling when working out like holding a heavy dumbbell or a barbell. The heavier, the better. It always provided me with such a rewarding feeling of satisfaction. I love the weights and the workouts with them, they come so natural to the mind. Lifting things. It’s an activity every person on the planet has to perform on a daily basis regardless of his location, ethnicity or belongings to a social class. That’s why everybody can relate to lifting weights and see where the benefits from doing so can apply.

But what are the benefits of using free weights over rubberbands?

  • No adjustment time needed. Lifting and pushing are natural activities and you will feel comfortable with most exercises that involve free weights right away. Ruberbands however provide a different range of resistance throughout the lifting/pushing/pulling/etc. processes and might give you a feeling of confusion at the very beginning. In other words you might need a week or so to adapt to the bands.
  • Definite amount of resistance. Unlike resistance bands, free weights weigh the same throughout each exercise, hence will provide you with a constant amount of resistance. This makes it easy to measure your progress and to structure your workout accordingly.
  • Building a whole workout around free weights. If you depend on resistance bands alone you will progressively start losing strength and muscle size. They do not stimulate the muscles as much as weights do. However if you are to go through some of my tutorials you will see that I only suggest elastic bands as secondary(assisting) exercises. That is for a reason. The leading(direct) exercises in my workouts are based on body weight resistance. Which stimulates my muscles enough to continue with elastic bands later. With free weights you will not need an additional form of stimulation for your body. You can fully build your workouts around them.
  • Buy once and use forever. Free weights are a one time investment, once you buy them you don’t have to replace or maintain them. Rubberbands on the other hand will last a limited amount of time. I have been using mine almost everyday for my workouts and those of my clients in the gym. After 3 years they are like new, you can barely see any marks of usage. Yet the bands are made of rubber so they will need to be replaced one day!
  • Exercising in different weather won’t affect the weights’ condition. Again since the bands are made of rubber, cold and heat will have their toll on them. That’s why if I exercise outdoors in the summer I make sure to cover my bands during the breaks in between my sets. This saves them from the sun. Might get annoying after a while though.

2. Rubber bands

Rubber Bands vs Free Weights?

Exercising with bands is much more flexible than using free weights. As the name implies, exercising with weights is possible because they weigh. And they only weigh because there is gravity. This means you can only lift the weights up and this is an instant limitation of how you can use them(gym machines are not free weights so I am excluding mentioning them). So in order to bring more variety to your workouts you will have to change the position of your body rather than that of the weights. Which leads to absurd and crazy ideas sometimes. For example I remember seeing a photo of someone hanging upside down from a pull-up bar holding dumbbells in his hands trying to imitate an iron cross. How dangerous is that? You can much more easily replicate the exercise using rubber bands instead. But this is just one of the traits that make rubber bands stand out compared to free weights. Let’s list the others as well.

What are the benefits of using rubber bands over free weights?

  • MUCH more flexible workouts. Unlike the free weights you don’t have to go with the necessity for gravity in order to use your bands. You can provide yourself with resistance regardless of the point of attachment of your bands. That means you can attach them below, in front, above or behind you! Not to mention all the angles in between that can help you emphasize on a certain muscle group in case you need to.
  • Fluctuating resistance. It’s hard to measure the resistance resistance bands will provide you with due to their elastic nature. In other words the more you stretch the bands the more resistance they will provide you with. Thus the range of resistance changes throughout the whole movement and unless you isometrically hold them for time you can’t compare them to the force of free weights. This will put more stress on the muscles since they will have to deal and control fluctuating resistance.
  • Reduced risk of injuries. As I mentioned above, weights weigh the same throughout one exercise. Thus for as long as you hold a dumbbell, barbell or a weight plate there will be a constant load on your spine and joints. If you are working with 20lbs. dumbbells that’s not a problem but think of how it reflects on your spine once the weight goes over 200lbs., 300lbs.? Rubber bands however work differently. Much safer, preserving your health. Once you go back to the beginning phase of a repetition the bands are no longer stretched and all resistance is being released. Which reduces the time fragment during which your spine and joints will have to cope with the pressure being exerted on them.
  • No need for a spotter. It is often when you lift heavy weights that you will need somebody to spot you benching or squatting. With the rubber bands you will never experience this problem.
  • A lot cheaper than free weights. Buying a set of 202lbs. from the best rubber bands brand costs $78. Buying 202lbs. of weights in my country costs around $200. This is just for plates, excluding the barbells, benches, dumbbells etc. The rubber bands’ set has the alternatives of all these included in its price.
  • No gym membership required. You can exercise at home which will save you money from a gym membership. It will save you money from the travelling expenses to the gym. It will save you the time to go to the gym and the time to wait for other people to finish using the machine or dumbbell that you need.
  • You can exercise on the go. Unlike free weights you can bring your bands everywhere with you to assure you don’t skip a workout. Just a 5lbs. set of rubber bands will provide you with over 200lbs. of resistance!
  • No stiffness or flexibility problems. Weights will make you stiff and make you lose flexibility and mobility. You will have to emphasize on flexibility and mobility exercises to counter that. Rubber bands will never give you these problems.

3. Conclusion

So whether you will go for weights or bands is up to you. In the years when I was benching a lot my shoulders would both crack often. After I transitioned to rubber bands the cracking stopped, I felt more agile and lighter too. All signs of my lower back injury disappeared as well! As a whole my health condition has improved a lot after I switched from weights to rubber bands.

Something interesting that I had noticed later was that weights provide the muscle with more size. I did biceps with free weights several times after I stopped using weights(mainly because friends asked me to workout with them) and noticed that the muscles would recover getting thicker but less defined. I am not saying weights kill all the definition of the muscle but it makes it look bulkier compared to the muscle you will maintain with body weight exercising and rubber bands. Suits my taste fine though for I don’t want to be big. Also obviously I lost some of the strength that I had maintained weight-lifting but gained strength in different areas that I was aiming at because of gymnastics.

The biggest con of the rubber bands will remain the fact that one can’t build a proper workout on them alone. But however even when I was using weights I was still depending on them for secondary exercises only. Thus this can’t be a problem unless you are a bodybuilder or a strength athlete(of the power lifting type) whose goals are different from mine.

In conclusion you can see that I really love my rubber bands. This doesn’t mean that one day I won’t switch back to using weights instead. Who knows. For now though I am happy with the bands and encourage you to try them too. For those who have used both resistance bands and weights I welcome you to leave a comment and share your experience with me and the rest of the readers.