Resistance Bands vs Dumbbells and other Weights
Like anything, at the very beginning, there are a lot of questions around exercise.
Which exercises should you do?
How should you do them?
Should you go to a gym or work out at home?
The question I’m going to be focusing on here is whether resistance bands are better than weights, including dumbbells.
That question is interesting, as, like with most exercise-related things, it doesn’t have one definitive answer.
Rather, you will find that one might work better for you personally. I’m going to try and make it as easy for you to figure out which one you might prefer, by analyzing the pros and cons of each.
Resistance bands. What are they?
If you’ve never seen one before, resistance bands are usually brightly colored stretchy bands, almost like large bungee cables.
They will usually have rubber handles at either end, and they allow you to perform virtually all the same exercises that you can perform with dumbbells.
A big bonus with resistance bands is their size – they can easily be folded up and packed away, which makes it that much easier to work out while away from the gym.
They are also highly versatile, as they come in a variety of different levels of resistance, going as low as 5 pounds and as high as 300.
Resistance bands can be used in tandem with traditional weights, to make an exercise more difficult, and can also be stacked up.
If you only have a few bands each with 10 pounds of resistance, all you have to do is use them all at the same time, multiplying your level of resistance.
The bands are also much safer than traditional weights, in more ways than one. One of the bigger safety concerns about traditional weights is joint pressure.
Resistance bands void that issue, and also take away the potential for dropping a heavy steel weight on your toe.
Resistance bands also have the benefit of price; you can get them pretty cheap on Amazon: the Tribe Resistance Band Set includes 5 bands, ranging from 5 pounds resistance to 35 pounds resistance, and includes a variety of handles and mounts.
Black Mountain Products also make a Resistance Band set that’s on Amazon, and includes 5 bands, ranging in resistance from 2.5 pounds to 30, with instructions on how to increase total resistance weight.
With that, it is important to make sure you’re buying good’ resistance bands, made of a tough, stretchy material. You don’t want them to snap while you’re using them.
Resistance bands come with a training aspect that might be a turn off for some people. They require highly directional training, meaning that if you shift your form slightly while working out, you will lose the resistance.
This is both good and bad. The good side is that it forces you to maintain a strict form, which targets the muscle group better.
The bad part is that it doesn’t allow for fluidity within the form, and might not be a little uncomfortable.
Besides that, the only other drawback is that resistance bands will not enable you to get particularly bulked up.
You can definitely get strong, but you won’t gain as much weight as you could by using traditional weights.
What About Dumbbells?
You can accomplish full workouts that nail every muscle group with just a set of dumbbells. Which is one of their biggest strengths – versatility.
They don’t take up a lot of space, and they come in a variety of weights. You can find dumbbells that increase in increments of 5 pounds, ranging from 5 to 100 pounds.
For the hardcore bodybuilders, 100 pounds might not be heavy enough, but for the average gym rats among us, that weight range is perfect.
A great aspect of the dumbbell is that it allows you to target specific muscle groups.
There are a multitude of workouts that target your biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, and back.
On top of that, dumbbells can be used as added weight for exercises such as lunges and squats.
They’re an easy weight addition as all you have to do is hold them in your hands while performing the squatting or lunging motion, and you get the added benefit of more weight.
And because of their range in weight, you can either lift really heavy to gain muscle weight, or you can lift lighter dumbbells at higher repetitions to tone and strengthen.
And while performing any exercise you might be performing, you get the added benefit of stronger fingers and forearms, simply by gripping the dumbbells.
The cons of dumbbells are in two areas: one, higher chances of injury as they place more pressure on your joints, and two, expense.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a good set of dumbbells for under $200 unless you decide to shell out the monthly expense of a gym membership.
On the flip side of that, dumbbells are long lasting. So your $300 Amazon bill will not be wasted.
The Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells are really your best option, and can be found on Amazon.
They adjust from 5 to 52 pounds, without sacrificing the traditional look or feel of your average dumbbell.
If adjustable dumbbells aren’t really your thing, the more traditional dumbbells are always an option. AmazonBasics makes a Rubber Encased Hex Dumbbell, ranging in weight from 10 to 50 pounds.
The only issue with these is that you have to buy two of each weight you want – it can get very expensive very quickly.
Another option is the CAP Barbell on Amazon, which is a 150 pound set that comes with its own weight rack.
Here, you get solid rubber encased hex weights ranging from 10 to 25 pounds, and a rack to store them.
If you don’t love the idea of steel dumbbells, you can always look into the neoprene ones.
Fitness Alley sells a set of neoprene dumbbells on Amazon. This set includes the rack, and pairs of dumbbells that range from 2 to 10 pounds.
Neoprene dumbbells are generally a little cheaper than steel dumbbells, but their big drawback is that you can’t really find a set of neoprene dumbbells above 20 pounds.
Which One Is For Me?
Resistance bands and dumbbells each have their own specific strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, it comes down to preference.
The person on a lower budget looking to strengthen and tone in the safest way possible should look into resistance bands.
The person with a higher budget and the goal of gaining weight should look into dumbbells.
And the person who doesn’t really know yet should look into a gym membership, where they can give both options a trial before committing.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.