Are resistance bands effective for building muscle?


If you’re not using resistance bands in your workout, you could be missing out on one of the most underestimated training tools available. Looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to training with elastic rings. This unassuming piece of gear does not look nearly as”hardcore” as a loaded barbell or hefty pair of dumbbells.

Resistance bands are now used around the world by elite athletes in most sports (soccer players, UFC fighters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, you name it) to develop strength, power, speed and even muscle size. After all, both free weights and elastic resistance bands have a lot of things in common: they provide resistance, allow for a complete and free range of motion, allow for varying speed and movement, and permit progressive resistance. These properties are crucial for successful resistance training which causes building muscle.

Can you get ripped with resistance bands?

Studies have shown the peak load on muscles is similar to one another when comparing free weights and resistance bands. Research has also shown you can decrease body fat in a similar manner whether you’re using traditional weights or elastic bands. This quite literally means you can shed fat and get ripped since your muscle fibers don’t know the difference between the two forms of resistance, assuming the amount of resistance is roughly the same. This may be why some people have a misconception about the effectiveness of resistance bands. A lot of band kits cap out at 40 or 50 lbs of resistance, but remember you can combine bands to create more resistance. For instance, a 40 lb band can be combined with a 30 lb band to create 70 lbs of total resistance – which therefore gives you the resistance you’d get from a 70 lb weight.

Can resistance bands bulk you up?

Bands can be used for power training or muscle development. You can use them with a fast and explosive tempo to build power, which is possible because their resistance increases the further you stretch them. You can even use them fast at first to warm up the muscle, then in a slow and controlled manner, followed by a few repts at the end which are fast again to burn out the muscle. See for example, Dr. Jim Stoppani’s Band Workout Breakdown article, for more information on this.

Can resistance bands replace weights?

You can do a lot with resistance bands that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. A full set of weights can cost you nearly $1000 even from an online shop like Amazon. Maybe you can find a used set slightly cheaper on eBay, but when I recommitted myself to working out again roughly a decade ago, I opted for a pair of resistance bands that were between $50 and $100 instead of a full set of weights.

This was for several reasons. First, I was renting a house at the time and the thought of moving that much weight to another location when I inevitably moved again was unappealing. Second, I didn’t want to spend $1k on a set of dumbbells – at the time I didn’t even want a pair of adjustable dumbbells because that still costs $500 for a good set. $100 was my budget, and I figured that would be good enough to get me moving again. I ended up using those for several years because they let me know most everything I needed to do at the time, and more importantly, I was able to achieve my goal of getting back into really good shape – enough that I wasn’t disgusted with myself when I looked in the mirror into what I had become.

Third, I was traveling frequently across the country at the time because my wife was living in San Francisco and I was working in the midwest. It was super easy to pack those resistance bands into a suitcase so I could get a workout in at home during the day while she was finishing up with work.

You can do a number of exercises with bands, including:

  • Chest Presses
  • Lateral Slides
  • Deadlifts
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Curl
  • Quadruped Hip Extension
  • Seated Row
  • Shoulder Press
  • Biceps Curls
  • Triceps Extensions
  • Lateral Raises

You have to admit, that’s a lot of the same exercises you would typically do with free weights or a cable machine.

Are resistance bands worth it?

This really depends on your situation, but most people can benefit from a pair of resistance bands. The variation in resistance at as you stretch the bands more will provide you with resistance you just can’t get from free weights. Practically everyone can benefit from this because it engages the muscles differently.

If you’re more likely to work out more consistently at home versus going to a gym, then you can benefit from a set of bands. If you’re self-conscious about working out around other people then this might be a good option for you too. If you only have a little bit of time in the morning before your day starts to get in some exercise, but not enough time to travel to the gym and work out, then this might be better for you than doing nothing at all. If you’re just starting to work out (again) and need to feel like you’re in more control of the movements, consider it.

The only people who may not benefit as much are bodybuilders who are already ridiculously ripped. For this crowd, you probably have a routine you already swear by, and it may not incorporate resistance bands. Then again, you’re probably not reading this article…however, if you are – consider the cases where you’re traveling and you don’t have access to a gym. A pair of resistance bands will literally allow you to get a workout in while you’re in your hotel room.

Additionally, if you’re said bodybuilder who’s staying in some fancy hotel for the week because you’re paying for it with some of your prize money, and this hotel is on a tropical island where there’s no gym nearby – then you might want a pair as well 🙂

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