Resistance bands vs. weights, which are better?
If you’re looking to work out from home or supplement your routine in the gym, both resistance bands and weights are useful pieces of equipment to build muscles and stay limber.
However, there are many differences between the two. Resistance bands are great for rehab, high-volume routines and stretching routines. On the other hand, wights are best used to build muscle or strength. Which you choose should come down to your fitness goals, routine and abilities. Our top pick is the GoFit ProGym Extreme Workout Kit because it offers the closest thing you’ll get to the best of both worlds with different weight bands and accessories.
What to know before you buy resistance bands or weights
Both resistance bands and free weights can help you stay mobile and build strength, but each is better suited for specific exercises. Factor in where you’ll be working out and your comfort level with fitness equipment to narrow down which is better suited to help achieve your fitness goals.
Figure out how much weight you need
Resistance bands and free weights can be purchased in a variety of different weight increments.
Resistance bands: Because bands are elastic, their weight is actually a range, since they provide more resistance as you stretch them. Resistance bands can be purchased as light as 1 pound all the way up to 120 pounds of max resistance.
Free weights: These are a little more variable, and their availability at heavyweights is dependent on manufacturing cost and shipment costs. Most dumbbells and kettlebells max out at around 55 pounds for this reason. Expect to see these items sold in 2.5-5 pound increments. Barbells use weight plates that also max out at 45 or 55 pounds but can be stacked on a bar to lift heavier. You can also buy plates in micro sizes between .25-2.5 pounds or standard plates that weigh in at either 5, 10, 25, 35 or 45 pounds.
Establish your fitness goal
Choosing between resistance bands and weights ultimately comes down to your exercise regime. Fitness bands are best for calisthenics, assisting with or increasing the difficulty of such movements as pull-ups and chin-ups. Because they’re lightweight and their resistance can be adjusted by where you hold them, fitness bands also make great rehabilitation or low-mobility exercise equipment. Gently working through a movement to engage a recovering muscle at a low weight can help to rebuild strength and gain back muscular function. Be sure, however, to consult your doctor before returning to exercise after an injury.
Free weights make more sense if you’re looking to build strength or muscle. Dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells are often integrated into strength training and hypertrophy regimes. They enable users to add more weight or more volume during each session and progressively overload their muscles. In particular, kettlebells are often used for dynamic movements and aerobic weight lifting. However, dumbbells are best for volume-heavy workouts and isolation exercises. And finally, barbells are best for strength training, as these can get the heaviest and require multiple muscle groups to complete compound movements.
Resistance bands: Because they’re so lightweight and portable, resistance bands are best for home gyms that don’t have a lot of space. These can also be used on the go or easily stowed in a gym bag.
Dumbbells and kettlebells: Dumbbells and kettlebells are best for limited space. You can often purchase a rack with these weights for storage.
Barbells: Barbells require extra equipment to be used effectively and safely. You’ll want mats to avoid damaging floors, a rack to store everything and an adjustable bench. Only get these if you have the space like a garage or a basement.
What to look for in quality resistance bands and weights
Resistance band type
Resistance bands come in two different types, tube and flat. Tubes often also have plastic handles at the end. This makes them easier to use for certain exercises but also introduces another point of failure. Flat bands can be a little awkward but are usually more durable.
Dumbells vs. kettlebells vs. barbells
Dumbbells and kettlebells come in a variety of materials, from rubberized coatings to prevent damage to pure cast-iron weights, which are often cheapest.
Barbells, similar to dumbbells, also use iron or rubberized weights. Like dumbbells, these can be round or hex-shaped. Hex-shaped weights are less likely to roll away, which some users will prefer, but they can also be annoying for certain exercises like deadlifts.
How much you can expect to spend on resistance bands and weights
Resistance bands are comparatively cheap to weights. Expect to pay $5-$15 for a single band or $20-$40 for a set.
Weights are more variable, and their cost is tied to material and how heavy they are. Expect to pay approximately $1-$3 per pound. A quality dumbbell set could cost as much as $100-$300. A barbell and rack could set you back $1,500.
Resistance bands and weights FAQ
Are resistance bands safe to use?
A. Resistance bands can lose their strength and snap over time. Things to look out for are small tears or damage to the band. If you spot one, retire the band and replace it. Putting a resistance band under excessive load can also quicken their failure, so be sure to move up in weight if an exercise becomes too easy or you need more resistance.
Can I use resistance bands instead of weights?
A. Many exercises can be boiled down to a set movement that increases in difficulty as you add weight. For this reason, what kind of weight you use doesn’t necessarily matter. And oftentimes, that movement can be adjusted to accommodate a new kind of weight. While a resistance band won’t activate as many muscle groups as a barbell when squatting, you can still perform a squat and increase the difficulty with bands to strengthen your legs.
What are the best resistance bands and weights to buy?
Top resistance bands
What you need to know: This resistance band set comes with four bands in 10-pound increments and attachment accessories to diversify your workout.
What you’ll love: With four tubes rated at 20, 30, 40 and 50 pounds each, you can mix, match and combine for up to 140 pounds of resistance. The clips make these easy to pair with items like a fitness bar, and door anchors allow you to use these anywhere. The GoFit bands come with a convenient carrying bag and a laminated exercise manual.
What you should consider: Starting at 20 pounds, these aren’t suited for users looking to rehab or exercise in a low-impact manner.
What you need to know: The Fitness Gear Olympic Weight Set from Dick’s is a comprehensive solution for those who want to strength train or power lift from home.
What you’ll love: This set includes two plates, each of the following weights: 45, 35, 25, 10 and 2.5 pounds as well as four 5-pound weights for a total of 300 pounds. The rounded plates have handles, making them easy to take on and off and store. The 45-pound chrome bar has a rough grip, including in the center, and comes with two clips to keep the weights on.
What you should consider: At this price point, you’ll want to be committed to your routine as barbells are a heavy investment.
Where to buy: Sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods
Top weights for the money
What you need to know: An all-in-one solution to multiple dumbbells, this adjustable set saves space but allows you to lift heavy.
What you’ll love: Adjustable dumbbell sets are great for the home gym user who doesn’t want to trip over their collection of dumbbells. With a convenient nesting feature, users can add or remove weight for up to 55 pounds on each dumbbell. These come in 15 weight increments and can be adjusted by 2.5 or 5 pounds at a time for an effective set of 30 dumbbells.
What you should consider: Adjustable dumbbells, while convenient, can get bulky as you tack on weight, making some exercises like overhead presses difficult as they clang together.
Worth checking out
What you need to know: With a moderate weight range, this kettlebell set is ideal for a wide variety of users looking to add dynamism to their calisthenic or strength training routine.
What you’ll love: Featuring six cast-iron kettlebells with a sleek, black enamel finish, this set suits beginner and intermediate users alike. They come in 5-pound increments: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 pounds. Their handles use reinforced steel for extra durability.
What you should consider: Enamel can chip, but more importantly, without rubber coating, you’ll want to make sure you use these in a place where you aren’t worried about damaging the floors (or where you have carpeting).
Where to buy: Sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods
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Karl Daum writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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