Can you build muscle with resistance bands? Yes. Are resistance bands better than free weights for building muscle? No. Can you build three times as much muscle with resistance bands? Absolutely no! And as you’ll learn in this post, both science and observation back up these answers. But if this is true, then why do resistance bands seem so popular these days and why do you hear so many people claiming bands are better?

Man doing bicep curl with resistance band

The Rise Of Resistance Band Training During Covid

Resistance bands have been around for ages, but there was a surge in popularity in 2020. When the covid pandemic lead to gym closures, it changed the way most people worked out. If you were lucky, you had a small set of weights at home or some kind of resistance training machine, but most people didn’t. Free weights became scarce, and if you could find any for sale, the prices were exorbitant. Overnight, millions went from having a gym full of barbells, dumbbells and machines to having nothing to lift but their body weight.

Trainers took to their social media channels, encouraging followers to hang in there and do what they could with what they had. Fitness influencers flooded instagram and You Tube with videos of how to do bodyweight resistance exercises. They also also demonstrated band exercises and encouraged people to use this training tool while they were stuck at home in quarantine. A flood of home workout programs hit the market, which wasn’t a bad thing – it was helpful to everyone who was locked down.

I had been gifted with a set of tube bands with various handles and bar attachments years ago, but never used them. I pulled them out of the closet for the first time. I also purchased a set of loop bands, which unlike most home gym equipment, were still in stock. As luck had it, I ordered adjustable dumbbells (Powerblocks) when I caught wind of the first hint my gym would be shut down. I must have been one of the last people to get an order in before the dumbbell shortage.

While I waited for the dumbbells to arrive, there was a two-week period when I did nothing but body weight and resistance band training. Many people were stuck with only bands and body weight, and this is how they kept up their resistance training in the early days of the pandemic. At this time, bands were a great tool to have.

After my Powerblocks arrived, I continued using bands in conjunction with  the dumbbells for months until I was finally able to acquire a full home gym with barbells, a rack of dumbbells (5 to 90), a bench, squat rack, and a landmine. Then I went back to using free weights except for the occasional band exercise I still used as a warm up, accessory movement, or pump finisher. Most bodybuilders that I know, including ones who were using and teaching band exercises during the lockdown, did the same or they returned to the gym.

Resistance Band Training Continues To Thrive

Even as the pandemic’s end was finally in sight in 2021, resistance bands remained popular and band training gurus continued to capitalize on that and ramp up their businesses. Mostly this was a positive trend, but as band training grew, I started hearing more and more misinformation about what band training can and can’t do.

Some training experts on social media say things like, “Hey, bands are one more good tool to have in your training toolkit. They’re ideal for home and travel training and easy on the joints compared to heavy lifting.” That’s pretty accurate.  Other “influencers” go overboard, claiming that band training is the best way to gain muscle, or even warning that free weights should be avoided. That’s flat out wrong.

There’s one prominent trainer on You Tube who promotes and sells resistance bands and teaches viewers how to do band exercises. The free content on his channel is well produced and very helpful. He’s a former competitive bodybuilder who trained with free weights for years, then decided to stop lifting weights completely. Now he only does resistance band training and he is still pretty jacked.

His sales website does say, “Better than free weights,” but it appears he’s simply suggesting that resistance bands have certain advantages over free weights (convenience, etc). His online business exists to promote resistance bands, but he doesn’t say outright that bands build more muscle or make any outrageous claims. Mainly he’s just saying bands are another valid way to train that does build muscle and he felt it was the best choice for him as he got older.

By contrast, there’s another muscular guy with a large online presence who overtly says resistance bands are better than free weights. Specifically, he makes the bold claim that bands produce three times the muscle growth as free weights. He says free weights make you more prone to injury and that everyone should switch completely to bands. He also sells resistance band equipment – with a hefty price tag.

Resistance Band Training Works – But It Doesn’t Work Better Than Free Weights

The truth is, resistance band training can build muscle, but there’s no evidence that resistance band training alone is better than free weights for building muscle. The idea that bands build three times as much muscle as free weights not only has zero scientific basis, it’s a ridiculous, outlandish claim.

In fact, we can make a solid case with both science and observation that for building muscle, free weights are better than bands alone, maybe substantially better. Those who argue that bands are superior are hyping up bands to boost their business or they’re simply pushing their personal ideology (or both). Bands may be someone’s favorite training method, and it’s great when you find a training style that fits your lifestyle and you enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean bands are better for muscle gains.

So if resistance bands are not better than free weights for building muscle, how do you explain the muscular development displayed by some of these guys who train only with bands?

Well, aside from the fact that some people have great genetics and many are using “extra strength protein powder,” we also know that some of them trained with free weights for years before switching to bands and that’s how they initially built their physique. Others use bands and free weights, not bands alone. If you stop lifting and switch to bands only, it’s probably possible for you to maintain most of the muscle size you previously built with free weights (maybe all of it).

But it’s more than a stretch to say resistance bands are better than free weights, especially when it comes to building up maximum muscle from scratch and up close to the genetic limit, which is what bodybuilding is about. If you have more casual fitness goals, and or if you train at home without free weights, then band training only or band training combined with bodyweight training is a perfectly valid option that can produce nice results if you train hard and train progressively.

How does resistance band training work, based on science? 

You can build muscle with resistance band training – even new muscle. Bands aren’t just for rehabilitation or maintaining what you built after you stop going to the gym. Growth happens through resistance training when tension is placed on a muscle. Mechanical tension is the key mechanism driving muscle growth. Elastic bands can provide that tension just like free weights.

To keep muscle and strength gains coming as the body adapts to a certain level of stress, the goal of resistance training is to gradually increase the amount of tension. This is known as progressive overload. Bands are a form of resistance just like free weights. You can overload with bands just like you can with weights.

Your body weight can be a form of resistance as well. Exercises like push-ups, dips and pull-ups can be extremely effective at building muscle. In, fact, bags of cat littler or hardback books in a backpack are resistance. Weight machines with cams or pulleys with cables and weight stacks are a form of resistance too. Your muscles don’t know the difference between the types of resistance, they only know tension.

Doing exercises with any form of resistance can build muscle, and muscle growth can continue with any type of resistance as long as you can apply progressive overload over time.

In addition to tension, secondary mechanisms of muscle growth may include muscle damage and metabolic stress. A 2011 study found that compared to weight machines, elastic resistance was able to provide a moderate to high intensity stimulus sufficient to cause muscle damage (micro-trauma to muscle fibers) and other post-training responses that indicate a hard, growth-stimulating workout. They said,

“Both modes of training provide a similar global training stress” and, “Elastic training is a viable mode of resistance exercise that can provide a training stimulus that is significantly greater than that employed in rehabilitation settings.”

Band training also lends itself well to high rep and continuous tension training, the kind of sets that give you a great pump and burn. The pump itself is not a requirement to build muscle, nor is it the main driver of muscle growth. But the metabolic stress produced from this kind of training may be a contributing factor for muscle growth.

Benefits And Advantages Of Elastic Resistance Band Training

When you’re thinking about using resistance bands – either alone or in combination with other types of resistance training (bodyweight, free weights, or machines),  it’s important to look at the cons of bands as well as the pros, so that’s what we’re going to do.  It’s also worth noting that many of the pros of bands are practical ones, not necessarily better muscle-building benefits.

Maybe the biggest advantage of bands is they’re portable and convenient. You can toss them in a gym bag or backpack or pack them in your suitcase. Even a whole set of bands is still compact and lightweight. That makes bands fantastic for training while traveling. Even if training with free weights is your primary type of workout, and even if you feel you get the best results from free weights, you may be able to maintain your gains with band training while you’re on the road.

[Side bar re travel training: For whatever it’s worth, as a lifelong fan of bodybuilding-style weight training, when I travel and stay in a hotel, I just go downstairs to the hotel’s weight room… or better yet, book the hotel next door to Gold’s Gym. Just saying. And when I did backpacking trips hiking thousands of miles, I still went to the gym to lift. Just saying].

Bands are also a great tool for people who want to train at home and don’t want to join a gym. To save driving time, to have solitude instead of crowds, or to save on gym membership dues are some of the many valid reasons people train at home. Training at home is convenient.

My idea of a nice home gym is not a set of bands and nothing else. An ideal home gym to me includes dumbbells, barbells, an adjustable bench, and a power rack (or squat stands). That’s a terrific basic setup.  But even if you do have free weights, bands are a useful training tool to have as well. You don’t have to train with one or the other. With a combination of free weights,  bands and body weight resistance, you have an amazing number of options.

Outfitting a home gym can get expensive though, especially if you buy a full rack of dumbbells like I did (you should have seen the shipping cost!), so economy is another advantage of bands.  A single high-quality band usually runs only around $20 to $50 depending on the size.  A full set, including the heavier bands, could run you $100 to $150. But compared to machines and free weights, resistance bands are inexpensive.

Versatility is another benefit of resistance bands. This is especially true when you compare bands to weight machines because many exercise machines at the gym only allow you to perform one exercise. There’s a huge number of exercises you can do with a single set of bands. There are so many, it’s almost limited only by your imagination. However, dumbbells and barbells are also versatile, so I wouldn’t say variety is a unique advantage of bands over free weights. There are hundreds, even thousands of exercises you can do with dumbbells and barbells.

Bands are also beneficial and unique in the way they offer resistance through various angles and planes of motion that can’t be duplicated by free weights. That’s because the bands don’t depend on gravity to provide the resistance. Gravity only pulls one way – down. If you want to train your chest with a bench press, you have to lie on your back. You do have decline, flat and different incline angles for free weight benching, but with a band, you can do pushing (and pulling) exercises through countless angles. You can band “bench press” standing up. You can even make micro adjustments to the angle until you feel the most tension and greatest muscle contraction with the least discomfort.

Bands can be used for warm-up, stretching or mobility work, and there are sports training and rehabilitative applications for elastic resistance as well.

Many studies on band training were performed with older people as subjects. When you look at the results of this research you see they were able to gain muscle and strength just like younger people. But also, the ease of use and safety of bands made them a good choice for that demographic, even people with osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia.

Keep in mind though, that free weights and weight machines have also been used to safely build muscle and strength in elderly men and women when they were instructed or supervised to ensure good form and proper weight selection. Lifting too heavy too often or lifting with poor form can lead to joint pain at any age, and many people do find themselves needing to back off heavy lifting as they get older, but training with free weights is not inherently injury-causing.

Bands are generally considered safe, but they can break, resulting in an accident as minor (but painful) as a giant rubber band snap, or as serious as losing an eyeball. The quality of bands can vary and some may be more susceptible to breakage than others. If you overstretch a lighter band, when instead you should have moved up to a heavier band, that also increases the risk.

In addition, if a band is not properly secured to an anchor, it can snap back and strike you even though it didn’t break. This can also happen when you’re standing on a band to anchor it and it slips out from underneath your feet. Bands are considered a joint-friendly and lower risk form of training compared to very heavy weight lifting, but as you can see, injuries can arrive in other forms than heavy barbell-induced joint pain.


Why Resistance Bands Are Not Better Than Free Weights For Building Muscle

There’s no question bands are are an effective and convenient training tool. The problem is when fitness personalities or equipment companies make controversial claims like saying resistance bands are better than free weights for building muscle. This is why we need to acknowledge the cons of band training not just the pros, and also look at what the science says rather than taking one person’s word for it simply because he flexes bulked-up biceps on social media.

The subject of band training has been scientifically studied, though we need more research because the studies done so far had very little standardization. The workout programs, exercises used, and demographics of the subjects have varied so much it’s hard to make comparisons or draw conclusions. In addition, while some studies show similar muscle activation between free weight and resistance band exercises (according to EMG), there’s very little research that actually measured muscle hypertrophy over time. EMG study results are often used to predict muscle growth, but you have to remember, they don’t actually measure it.

In the EMG studies, muscle activity is generally lower using bands compared to free weights in the early concentric phase when the band is more on slack. Then toward the end, when the band is stretched, you see similar muscle activity as with conventional equipment, provided the resistance is matched. Not all studies find equal muscle activation, however.

In a 2018 study, two upper body exercises – the pec fly and reverse fly – were analyzed using EMG. The resistance bands produced slightly lower muscle activity in the pecs and rear delts, respectively, than the dumbbell or weight machine equivalent. The resistance bands did increase the muscle activation in some of the stabilizing muscles, which makes sense since bands are a more unstable type of resistance. So in the end, while bands weren’t better, the researchers concluded:

“Overall, elastic resistance bands can be considered a feasible alternative to dumbbells in flyes and reverse flyes.”

A 2010 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the resistance band squat and the barbell squat. The abstract of the study said that in the band squat, vastus lateralis (quadricep) muscle activity was significantly greater during the first portion of the eccentric phase and latter portion of the concentric phase as, exactly as you would expect. They also found that elastic bands seemed to increase power.

Companies selling bands have cited this study and similar research to claim that bands build more muscle. However, not only did the authors conclude that this doesn’t prove band squats would improve athletic performance more than free weight squats, what’s more important to note is that an increase in muscular power is not the same thing as an increase in muscle growth. Muscle growth wasn’t even measured.

While resistance band training has been studied in young athletes, in one case a resistance band company cited a geriatric study to support the false claim that bands build more muscle than free weights. The study didn’t show that at all. What it found was that sedentary, elderly women were able to increase their muscle and strength with resistance bands in a similar amount that was produced from weight machines, despite their age.

In 2019, the first systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on band training was published in Sage Open Medicine. A total of 23 studies were analyzed. What this research found was that band training can produce similar results in muscle size and strength and provide similar benefits for maintaining muscle as well, at least in the populations that were studied. The authors concluded:

“Evidence from this study suggests that resistance training with elastic devices provides similar strength gains when compared to resistance training performed from conventional devices. These findings allow coaches, physiotherapists, and even patients to opt to use devices with low costs, ease of handling, and which can be used in different places, for maintenance and gain in muscular strength.”

This research review acknowledged many of the band benefits I mentioned above, in addition to suggesting that results in muscle growth could be similar with what you’d achieve using free weights. But it also explicitly pointed out that band training was not superior to free weights.

While we need to see more well-controlled research on muscle growth in trained individuals, and I hope we do, there is currently no scientific evidence showing that bands are superior.

I doubt that any new studies will ever demonstrate that resistance band training is better than free weights. If we consider the fact that top bodybuilders never train exclusively with bands, and if we look at some of the downsides and problems with bands, it’s more logical to conclude that free weights build more muscle than bands alone.

The Progressive Overload Problem

One of the major downsides of elastic resistance is that it’s more difficult to apply progressive overload with any kind of precision. You can apply progressive overload with band training – you just move up to a heavier band, or put more stretch on the same band (choke up or step back from the anchor) – but it’s harder to quantify. It’s much easier to measure your progress and see the load increases with free weight training. You can track it right down to the pound.

With weight training, you can use a 200 pound barbell week one, then 205 week two, 210 week three and so on, or choose whatever is the exact amount of resistance you need. Multiply that weight in pounds by the sets and reps and you have your total volume load. Compare it to previous workouts and you can confirm if it went up or not. That number – volume load – is also sometimes referred to as “tonnage.”

There are bands that provide different levels of resistance, and bands are almost always advertised with a poundage number, but this still doesn’t provide the precision of free weights. Plus, the more a band is stretched, the more resistance it provides, so one band does not equate to one specific number of pounds – it offers a range of resistance.

For example, the black (medium) loop bands I own are advertised on the company website as providing 20 to 85 pounds of resistance. That’s a pretty wide range. If I want add 5 pounds to a dumbbell press to overload, I can move up from the 60s to the 65s and I know exactly how much I added. But how do I know for sure I’m getting 60 pounds of resistance on the medium band and then moving up to 65 pounds the next workout with the same band?

Progressive overload training is the key that unlocks the door to muscle gains

Strength Curve – Resistance Pattern Problems

Another drawback of bands is that you begin the exercise with low resistance because the band is less stretched and you end the range of motion with high resistance because the band is more stretched. This is known as variable resistance.

Interesting enough, promoters of band training often spin variable resistance as an advantage, and it might be in some cases. If a free weight exercise has less resistance at the top (a “dead spot”), doing it with a band provides tension and even a peak contraction that was missing in the free weight variation. But the variable resistance pattern of bands doesn’t match the strength curve of every exercise. Strength curves vary on different exercises, yet the resistance offered by elastic bands is always the same – easy at the bottom, hard at the top.

Consider the free weight squat versus the band squat. If you’ve ever barbell squatted, you know that you’re stronger at the top. It’s easier to lockout than it is to stand up out of the hole. That’s why you can quarter squat a lot more than you can full squat. So on the surface, it seems to make sense to squat with a band because if you’re stronger at the top (it feels easier), why not use a type of resistance to make it feel harder at the top? This is exactly why some powerlifters use the accommodating resistance of a band or chain. However, that’s different than band training alone – that’s attaching a band to a barbell.

If you squat with only a resistance band, it gets harder at the top when the band is stretched, but at the bottom, there’s very little resistance. This is not an optimal resistance pattern because while you really are working hard at the top, you’re not stimulating your muscles enough at the bottom. We know muscle growth in the lower body is optimal if you use the full range of motion (full squats or at least squat to parallel). Therefore, we could draw the analogy that squats with only a band are kind of like only doing a partial squat because the bottom range of motion is simply not loaded sufficiently.

If you’re training legs at home without any free weights, I’m tempted to argue that you’d be better off doing a nice deep Bulgarian split squat with some added weight in a backpack or a one-legged pistol squat with a full range of motion, or at least combine these body weight moves with band squats.

When it comes to back training with pulling exercises, bands can be super useful for home gym training because most people don’t have a cable pulley machine (lat pulldown, cable crossover or functional trainer) in their garage (I don’t).  There are some band rowing exercises that work really well. But we still see the same shortcoming of bands. During a band row, there’s less resistance at the bottom of the rep where we’re stronger and the most resistance at the top where we’re weaker, so again the resistance pattern doesn’t match the exercise and the back muscles are not optimally stimulated in the bottom position with a band alone.

Now think about the push-up. This is a pretty tough exercise with a resistance band – you can make it feel really hard at the top with a band. But it’s still much easier at the bottom. If you want maximum chest muscle development, you’d want to make sure there’s optimal tension in the bottom stretched position not just the top, but with the banded pushup, it’s the opposite. The triceps may get nicely overloaded  to lock out at the top, so it’s good for that, but it’s hard to argue that banded push ups are better than barbell or dumbbell bench presses for chest hypertrophy.

You could argue that bicep curls are a good choice of exercise for a resistance band because in a standing free weight curl, the weight moves in a circular motion where it’s easy at the bottom, hard in the middle (sticking point) and then easier again at the top. During a band curl you still have the least resistance at the bottom, but it increases the higher your curl the weight, and you have the most resistance at the top. You get a great peak contraction with the band that you don’t get with the barbell or dumbbell.  Bands aren’t the only match to that strength curve though –  you can achieve the same thing with certain cable exercises, with some machines that use cams or with free weight exercises like the spider curl.

Because different exercises have different strength curves, this is one of the reasons most successful bodybuilders rotate their exercises on a regular basis. It’s possible that including band-only exercises in combination with free weights, or even attaching bands to the dumbbells or barbells to create a complimentary form of resistance might be slightly better than free weights alone, at least for certain exercises.

When I added a landmine to my home gym, I tried the one arm landmine shoulder press and thought it was great new variation for training deltoids when I was getting stale on dumbbell presses. The only problem is, due to the angle of the barbell, there is much less resistance at the top. I added a band to the bar (accommodating resistance) and that turned it into one of the toughest shoulder exercises I had ever done. It got harder at the top instead of easier, and the peak contraction was insane!

landmine press with resistance band

With that said, we don’t have enough research on this type of training yet to say if it’s better than free weights alone for hypertrophy. Plus, this still doesn’t mean that bands alone are better – we are speculating now about the combination of bands and weights.

You can choke up on the band during many exercises, so there’s already substantial tension at the bottom, and this way you even out the resistance curve a lot more. On a handful of good band exercises, the tension almost feels like it’s constant. But if you start with the band too heavily stretched at the bottom, it’s nearly impossible to finish the rep if the top is the harder part of the exercise. Using bands for maximum advantage can be tricker than you think. Using free weights is more straightforward.

There are some resistance band exercises  that feel really good and work very well because of their strength curve and range of motion, but the resistance provided on a lot of other band exercises can feel pretty funky and doesn’t match what’s optimal. There are certain band exercises I would go as far as calling downright awkward.

The Muscle Tension At Long Lengths Problem

The fact that you’ll always have more resistance and tension at the top and less at the bottom is a major limitation of doing band training exclusively. That leaves the bottom range of motion where the muscles are at longer lengths not as well-trained when using bands. Here’s why this may translate into less muscle development:

When you apply more resistance and tension when the muscle is at a longer length (the stretch part of the exercise), this stimulates more muscle growth, according to research on hypertrophy. The reason for the greater muscle growth with free weights is because free weights provide constant resistance, so they can produce more mechanical tension when the muscle is at longer lengths, and mechanical tension is the primary driver of muscle hypertrophy.

It’s not that you can’t use a full range of motion with bands – you can move your joints through the complete range. But in that bottom range, there’s less tension, and the way a lot of people use bands incorrectly, there’s no tension. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people, including certified trainers, demonstrating a band exercise on video where the band actually goes completely on slack at the bottom. (#facepalm).

With bands, we only get the maximum tension when we stretch the band, which is in the top range of motion. So basically, missing out on maximum tension at the bottom of the exercise is kind of a big deal.

When using bands correctly (stepping back from the anchor point or choking up on the band to make sure there is an ideal amount of tension on the band at the bottom when you start the rep), you get the most benefit. But it’s impossible to fully load the muscle at the bottom using bands alone compared to free weights. This might be the strongest argument that bands are less effective than free weights for maximizing hypertrophy and maybe substantially so depending on the specific exercises we are comparing.

What Real World Results Tell Us

In science, anecdote and testimony are considered the types of evidence that carry the least weight, but sometimes simple observations lead to common sense conclusions that are hard to ignore. If we look at how the best physique athletes in the world train, it brings us to the almost undeniable conclusion that band training alone isn’t as effective increasing muscle size as free weights.

If resistance band training were really better than free weights for building muscle – even marginally better – all the top competitive bodybuilders would have already switched over. But we don’t see that.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a bodybuilding champion created from scratch exclusively with band training. Maybe someone has done it. If not, and someone does in the future, I’ll be the first to congratulate them – I’ve got nothing against bands – I simply don’t see scientific or real world evidence that bands are better for bodybuilding. I know some nice physiques have been built with bands alone, just as fine physiques have been built with bodyweight exercise alone. But I’ve personally never met or seen a bodybuilder at the competitive level who used only bands.

There is some research backing this up as well. A 2013 study looking at the methods of high-level competitive bodybuilders found that 100% of the subjects reported training with a variety of free weight and machine exercises on body part split routines. 0% of them trained with resistance bands alone.

How do we reconcile this with the research I cited earlier that said equal results can be achieved with either modality? Well, there’s little if any research on band training in experienced physique athletes who are looking to maximize gains. It wouldn’t surprise me if more studies showed that beginners or sedentary elderly people got similar gains with band training as free weight training, but I doubt we’ll ever see greater gains in experienced lifters, bodybuilders or people wanting to maximize strength.

Speaking of strength, one argument used by band training advocates is that resistance bands are used by some of the strongest powerlifters. In fact, advertisements for one of the popular elastic resistance devices on the market today cited a study about this to “prove” their point that bands are superior. However, the study didn’t support the claim. This was a study about powerlifters attaching bands onto the barbells. The lifters didn’t do band exercises alone.

So it doesn’t appear that either top physique athletes or strength athletes are succeeding by using resistance band training alone. What we do see, and more often now because of the modern social media landscape and especially in the covid and post-covid era, is recreational bodybuilders are sometimes including band training in combination with their weight lifting. We’re also seeing busy non-athletes training at home with nothing but bands or bands plus bodyweight and building very fit-looking physiques that way.

And yes, it’s true, every so often you see a former lifter or bodybuilder who stopped using free weights completely and now only does band exercises while remaining swole. Just remember, they built the muscle with weights and now they are maintaining with bands.

Concluding Thoughts And Recommendations

In wrapping up, I want to emphasize that I didn’t write this post to knock band training and I hope no one takes it that way. Resistance band training can be a great tool.  I was happy to have them during the lockdown and I used them for many months along with my dumbbells. I often still use bands for warm up. There are some band exercises I really like and will keep doing as accessories after my primary weight lifting exercises or as pump finishers.

I’m also not suggesting you can’t build muscle with resistance bands. Let me repeat one more time: You can build muscle with resistance bands! My goal in this blog post was to answer the question, are resistance bands better than free weights for building muscle, a claim that has been made numerous times by people promoting band training products and programs.  The combined weight of both scientific and anecdotal evidence says the answer is no, resistance bands are not better than free weights.

Be cautious about judging the effectiveness of bands based only on advertising claims or only on one person’s physique.  Instead look at scientific research and look collectively at a whole group or population of successful people and see what the majority of them are doing. A single person who looks muscular and says band training alone created that look may not be a reliable example.  He may have built his physique entirely on heavy free weight lifting and only then switched to bands. It’s not as hard to maintain what you already have (or rebuild what you used to have) than it is to build in the first place. Furthermore, he may be a genetic outlier and also may be using performance-enhancements.

If you train at home, bands are a great tool to have. Bands can be useful to almost everyone for occasional exercise variety or convenience. If you travel a lot, bands are awesome.  If you’re in the older demographic and are intimidated by free weights or suffering from osteoarthritis, you may find bands are an excellent tool to work around pain that’s aggravated by heavy lifting. If you’re working around joint pain or injuries, some band exercises may feel better than their free weight equivalents.

If your goal is general fitness and an athletically-muscular physique, there’s little doubt you can achieve that with bands alone, or bands combined with bodyweight. And if you’re a retired physique athlete, or an older lifter with joint pain, it may be possible to maintain most or even all of your muscle with bands alone.

On the other hand, if your goal is to build the absolute most muscle and strength you can, or to look like a competitive bodybuilder, then I don’t believe using elastic resistance exclusively instead of conventional free weights is going to get you there. There’s no evidence that band training alone can build more muscle than free weights, and the claim that bands build three times more muscle needs to be called out for what it is – a big pile of steaming B.S.

-Tom Venuto, author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle – The Bible Of Fat Loss
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle

PS. Have you trained with resistance bands before? If so, what has your experience been like specifically with regards to muscle size gains? Positive? Negative? Meh? Post in the comments below or join the conversation on the Burn the Fat Facebook page here.

tomvenuto-blogAbout Tom Venuto, The No-BS Fat Loss Coach
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details

Scientific References:

Anderson C et al, The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in athletes, J Strength Cond Res, 22(2):567-74. 2008

Aniansson, A. P., et al. Effect of a training programme for pensioners on condition and muscular strength. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics 3:229-241, 1984.

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