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Should you strength train with resistance bands or dumbbells?

Aug. 19, 2022

If you suffer from back pain, want to challenge your core or don't have much room for exercise equipment at home, resistance bands are for you.


If you’ve paid even a little attention to the boom in at-home workouts during quarantine, you’ve likely seen resistance bands popping up everywhere. Resistance band exercises are popular for good reason: compared to other fitness equipment, they’re inexpensive, easy to store and simple to use at home (or anywhere for that matter).

But do resistance band workouts really work? Who should be using them? And what is the best way to work out with a resistance band? 

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What's the difference between resistance bands and weights?

First, what’s the difference in strength training with resistance bands versus weights? If I grab a 15-pound dumbbell, the resistance of that 15 pounds stays consistent throughout the entire contraction, that’s known as an isotonic contraction. And then there's isokinetic, which is what we get from the resistance bands, and that's where the resistance changes as I move. [When] I grab that resistance band to do a bicep curl towards me, that resistance is going to get harder on the top and easier as I bring my hand back down. The more we are going through the motion, the resistance actually changes. So it just strengthens the muscles a little bit differently.

Various bands come in different levels of resistance. Each brand is going to have their own pretty rainbow color scheme. And it’s pretty standard that lighter colors are typically lighter resistance, and as it gets darker it gets harder. When you can consistently maintain your form through a full range of motion with a band, you can begin to work your way up to the next one, she said.


How do I start working out with resistance bands?

All you need is a set of bands and something stable to fasten them to. Emphasis on stable: if you try to anchor them to a table leg. Unless it’s like an oak table that seats 12 you’re going to pull the table over. Think a banister or post, or if you actually have a home gym, a squat rack.

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What's the benefit to using resistance bands?

Because it is isokinetic and it gets harder as you move through, we start to activate our stabilizer muscles a lot more. So the more I'm pulling on that band, the more my core muscles have to engage, the more I'm raising my arms up overhead, the more my stabilizer muscles around my shoulder blades have to engage. So in physical therapy we love resistance band isokinetic stuff because it really trains that core stability.

They can also help you improve your other workouts, including those using dumbbells. After working with resistance bands, when I go back to those big foundational moves like the bench press or the squat or the deadlift, I am stronger because I have those accessory muscles now engaging more. Even if you’re not hitting the weight room, they're just great for overall functional strength that I need to have throughout my day.


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