I get this question a lot as a bodybuilder (and well, one of the most informative fitness sites out there), and truthfully there are a ton of wrong answers.
So, are resistance bands as effective as weights?
Well, no. Resistance bands are NOT as effective as weights. However, when used in combination the resistance bands can boost your muscle growth and help develop a well-balanced physique. While resistance bands do not offer the same muscle stimulus that free weights do, they can work out a ton of smaller stabilizer muscles, boost the range of motion, and help boost your muscle growth. But, alone -resistance bands won’t do much.
So bottom line? No, don’t ignore the free weights when it comes to bodybuilding and putting on muscle, and don’t ignore the resistance bands either!
Why Aren’t Resistance Bands As Effective As Weights?
Resistance bands are tricky to understand, what you really need to know is this:
- Resistance bands cause constant tension on the muscle throughout the whole rep
- There is a bigger range of motion with resistance bands
- Many smaller muscles are activated with resistance bands such as stabilizer muscles.
- Resistance bands take away a lot of the cheating that many people do with ‘free-weights’ without knowing, offering more muscle growth.
- Lastly, resistance bands can be great for rehabilitation and relieving your muscle pain.
While these benefits are good, there is one problem.
Resistance bands overall just typically cannot offer the same muscle stimuli that free weights can. For instance, you can load 300 lbs onto a bench press, but you can’t really do that with resistance bands.
However, not everything in bodybuilding is all about just picking up the ‘heaviest weight’ and throwing it up and down constantly.
Resistance Bands Can Boost Muscle Growth in Combination with Free Weights- Here’s Why
Resistance bands can boost muscle growth in combination with free weights, here’s why.
When you use resistance bands alone, you can for sure get a little bit of muscle growth, but not much.
Generally, this can bring you from “normal” to “toned”- but anything more than that just won’t happen solo.
But what most bodybuilders don’t realize is that their free weight workouts aren’t perfect. And that’s not to say advanced bodybuilders aren’t the victim of that either. Arguably the best program in the world, Arnold’s Blueprint to Mass, has flaws as well.
There’s a Problem With Free Weight Workouts That Resistance Bands Fix
Every free weight workout has a fundamental flaw- there is a point of ‘cheating’ or ‘no-tension’ that most people don’t even realize.
For instance, when you’re bench pressing, when the bar is at the top of the range of motion (AKA, your elbows are locked and the bar is around 3 feet in the air at lock-out) you are ‘cheating’. There is virtually no tension on your chest muscles here.
The only real option is to well… not have the bench press at ‘lock-out’, but that’s not really a super easy option. Sure, it’s doable, but you’ll see far more advanced bodybuilders doing this.
Anyways, it’s not just there. Bicep curls? Huge problem when people have the barbell at the bottom or top of the rep, which is why most bodybuilders say ‘squeeze your biceps the whole rep’ to ensure you aren’t cheating.
Resistance Bands Do NOT Have a Cheating Point
This is something interesting about resistance bands. Virtually the entire rep/movement there is constant tension on your muscles. There’s no ‘lock-out’ point on the resistance bands unless you really just have no pull on them.
This means the entire rep your muscles are constantly being torn at/destroyed. This is what you want! The harder your muscles work, the more muscle you will put on!
But, there’s something a little more important..
Resistance Bands Activate Muscles Most Free Weights Won’t
If you ask a meathead bodybuilder, “why don’t you use machines?”- the answer will likely be about how free weights work far more muscles than machines.
And, they’re right. Machines in the gym don’t activate the same amount of muscles that free weights do, and that’s just how the machines are are.
You’ll typically hear something along the lines of, ‘they activate stabilizer muscles’ or ‘more muscles are activated for balance’.
Longer Range of Motion = More Muscles Activated/Broken Down
Well, the same can be said for resistance bands. With a longer range of motion, the resistance bands activate more muscles.
Furthermore, those muscles that are barely stimulated will now be massively stimulated.
One thing Rich Piana said that really stuck with me was this, “You don’t grow your chest by benching..you grow it by doing pectoral flyes”. I heard it when I was new to bodybuilding, so I decided to give it a shot.
My chest actually blew up by doing tons of pectoral flys where as Rich Piana instructed me too, I got a massive range of motion and held it as far as I could as long as I could.
This massively stimulated the muscles on the side of the chest and absolutely blew up my pecs.
The idea is, the bench press doesn’t really activate those muscles. The machine/resistance band pectoral flyes did. They had a much further range of motion that could not be achieved on the bench press.
But, Use Free Weights and Resistance Bands in Combination To Get Crazy Results
Using free weights and resistance bands in combination will provide crazy results.
You will get the large muscle stimulus from the heavy weights that will break down your muscles, and you will also find yourself activating and growing a ton of muscles you’ve never even knew existed!
The increased range of motion, constant tension, and other benefits of resistance bands will all increase the amount your muscle has to work. This adds to the ‘progressive overload’ idea and will make your body build more muscle to compensate for the increased workload of your muscles.
Remember, your muscles grow when your body decides that your muscles are not big enough for the daily tasks you’re doing. When you increase the overload over a long time, your body will compensate and grow that muscle for you!
Overall, Free Weights Reign Supreme For Muscle Building, But That’s NOT a Reason To Ignore Resistance Bands
Overall, however, even though resistance bands may activate more muscles and do more- free weights reign supreme for muscle building.
There’s just nothing that can replace it. So at the end of the day, no free weights are not as effective as weights.
But, that’s not a reason to ignore resistance bands. Using both in combination can provide incredible results.
Combining them leads to increased muscle overload, which leads to more muscle in the long run.
Think of it like just like machines. You can’t just use machines all day and expect to get a massive physique, but they sure can help when in combination with the free weights.
So get out there and supercharge your lifting, we’re all gonna make it.