Weights vs Resistance Bands: An In-Depth Comparison

Building a home gym is one of the most effective ways of optimizing our fitness routines and promoting a healthier lifestyle. It makes exercising more accessible, affordable, and convenient for everyone, thereby removing common barriers to fitness and enabling individuals to maintain a consistent workout regimen in the comfort of their own space.

But setting up a home workout space to replace the well-stacked commercial gyms is not an easy task. The most important step is choosing the right kind of equipment.

In most cases, people have to choose between investing in free weights or resistance bands for their home gyms as they are the most easily available and affordable options.

So, which is better when it comes to the age-old weights vs resistance bands debate?

Ultimately, it all boils down to your personal preferences and training goals. While they both support resistance training, they have different functionalities and applications.

Weights vs Resistance Bands: Head-to-Head Comparison

Weights vs Resistance Bands

When you compare resistance bands to free weights, you would think that the latter would be the clear winner for supporting strength training.

But that’s not what science says.

According to a 2016 meta-study, using elastic resistance provides similar muscle activation as using traditional iso-inertial resistance equipment where a constant inertia is maintained.

Similarly, another 2019 study noted that using an elastic band for training can prompt similar strength gains as resistance training in specific populations, like senior citizens and people with conditions like osteoarthritis. 

With scientific research backing up the efficacy of resistance bands, more and more fitness enthusiasts are exploring the benefits they offer compared to free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells.

Here’s an in-depth comparison between the two types of training equipment:

Basis of Comparison


Resistance Bands

Resistance Force

Gravitational force

Elastic force

Type of Resistance

Constant resistance throughout the range of motion

Variable resistance throughout the range of motion

Resistance Adjustment

Requires changing weights

Can adjust the tension by changing the bands


Bulky and heavy, difficult to carry around

Lightweight and space-efficient, very easy to carry around


The initial cost of purchasing the equipment is high

More affordable in terms of the overall price

Muscle Activation

Good for isolating specific muscles effectively

Engages ancillary muscles to a greater degree as it requires more stabilization

Eccentric Resistance

Often requires additional equipment for eccentric training

Eccentric resistance is provided naturally.

Joint Impact

It can be stressful for joints

Low impact on the joint, highly suitable for rehabilitation exercises

Skill Level Required

Suitable for all skill levels

Suitable for most skill levels. Good for beginners but not as effective for experienced bodybuilders


Requires various equipment for different exercises

It can be used alone or combined with other equipment for most exercises


More durable than resistance bands

Less durable than free weights

Both resistance bands and free weights offer unique advantages and limitations. While both of them can help you build muscle by adjusting training frequencies, one might be more suitable to meet specific goals than the other.

By evaluating these differences, fitness enthusiasts can easily pick the better option for themselves.

What are Free Weights?

What are Free Weights

Free weights refer to a specialized category of exercise equipment made for strength and resistance exercise. Unlike machines, free weights do not have a fixed path or a specific range of motion.

Similarly, they differ from resistance bands in that they are not attached anywhere, use gravitational force for resistance, and provide a constant resistance weight during the full range of motion.

Free weights are designed to mimic real-life movements and engage core muscles by requiring users to stabilize the weights themselves. As such, they are excellent for functional strength development.

Types of Free Weights

There are many types of free weights:

  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Weight Plates
  • Medicine Balls
  • Kettlebells
  • Fixed Weight Barbells
  • Sandbags
  • Clubbells
  • Weighted Vests
  • Sandbells
  • Weighted Chains

While all of them use the concept of gravitation-based resistance, different types of free weights provide distinct functionalities.

To optimize your equipment selection, it’s imperative you understand the benefits and limitations of different types of free weights.

Pros of Free Weights

  • More durable and longer-lasting.
  • Allow easy progressive overloading.
  • There is no limit on the weight amount.
  • Provide constant resistance throughout the range of motion instead of variable resistance.
  • Comparatively better for building strength and power.

Cons of Free Weights

  • Requires a high initial investment to get different weighted equipment.
  • Free weights are generally less portable than resistance bands.
  • Using free weights increases the risk of injury compared to using bands.

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What are Resistance Bands?

What are Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are elastic exercise tools made from materials like stretchable rubber or latex. They provide resistance as a result of the elastic force generated when they are stretched.

These bands provide variable resistance, where the weight increases as you move through the range of motion.

Resistance bands are highly versatile and can be used to target specific muscle groups in strength training, flexibility exercises, and rehabilitation training. They are generally joint-friendly, inexpensive, portable, and easy to store.

Types of Resistance Bands

There are two primary types of bands available on the market:

  1. Flat Resistance Bands: These are straight and flat pieces of elastic material that come without handles. You can purchase flat bands with varying lengths and resistance levels. They are primarily used for exercises that require a looped band or anchoring the band to another object.
  2. Tube Resistance Bands: Tube resistance bands are also known as exercise tubes. They contain a tube made of rubber or latex with handles on both ends. Most of them generally come with adjustable handles to change the intensity level or the grip of the bands.

Color of Resistance Bands

Contrary to popular belief, the color of your resistance band is not just for its appearance. Instead, the color determines how heavy the band would feel while exercising.

Here is a brief rundown of the color-coding system used by manufacturers for resistance bands:

  1. Light (Yellow or Tan): Yellow and tan-colored bands provide the lowest level of tension and are suitable only for beginners, rehabilitation exercises, or mobility training.
  2. Medium (Red, Green, or Blue): Bands that come in red, green, or blue colors provides a moderate level of tension in increasing order (from red to blue). These are pretty useful for people looking to build and tone their muscles.
  3. Heavy (Black): While blue often falls in this category, black provides the highest level of tension found in standard resistance bands. This category is meant for experienced lifters looking to overcome plateaus.
  4. Extra Heavy (Gold or Silver): Gold and silver resistance bands are rare and expensive. They are specialized to provide more tension than any other bands and are used by professional athletes engaging in strength training.

Pros of Resistance Bands:

  • Generally more affordable and convenient compared to free weights.
  • Better portability, lightweight, and very space-efficient.
  • Does not allow any shortcuts for completing the range of motion.
  • Used for assisting beginners in difficult movements like chin-ups.
  • Does not cause significant stress on joints.
  • Great for rehabilitation and mobility training.
  • Helps in improving stabilization and coordination.

Cons of Resistance Bands:

  • Not as durable as free weights.
  • Prone to breaking when stretched beyond a point.
  • Achieving progressive overload can be more difficult.
  • Not suitable for all kinds of exercises.

Which is Better: Weights or Resistance Bands?

Which is Better Weights or Resistance Bands

Both resistance bands and free weights are popularly used in strength-based exercises. But they provide different results because of their distinct functionalities.

For example, resistance bands are mostly used by beginners to get comfortable with exercising using heavier weights. It’s also great for achieving toned muscles by performing slow repetitions to muscle exhaustion.

Resistance bands are also good for rehabilitation and mobility training, especially if you are recovering from an injury.

Free weights, on the other hand, should be prioritized if gaining muscle strength is the ultimate goal. While heavier resistance bands have come up on the market, they are very expensive and inefficient. Therefore, progressive overloading is difficult with resistance bands compared to free weights.

Based on these insights, we can conclude the following:

  • Resistance bands are useful tools for building a simple home gym or for keeping up with exercise routines while travelling. Since they are joint-friendly and require better stabilization, resistance bands can also be useful in rehabilitating injuries. While they can help in muscle-building for beginners, professional bodybuilders won’t find much use for them as they are not as good as free weights for progressive overloading.
  • Free weights are better for conventional workout routines where strength and power are priorities. They allow easier progressive overloading and are more durable. While they are not compact or lightweight, they are highly accessible and can be found at any gym anywhere in the world. However, they are not suitable for people with injuries or joint issues.

Are Resistance Bands as Effective as Weights?

No, resistance bands are not as effective as weights because they are designed to fulfil distinct applications. But they can be more or less effective compared to free weights in certain situations.

For example, they are better than free weights for beginners who need to perfect their forms before moving on to progressive overloading. That’s because resistance bands require users to maintain proper posture and eliminate the possibility of using ‘shortcuts’ to achieve a full range of motion.

On the other hand, they are certainly not as effective as free weights when it comes to performing different kinds of strength-based exercises to the optimal level.

Do Resistance Bands Build More Muscle Than Weights?

No, resistance bands do not build more muscle than weights. While they are effective for strength training up to a certain degree, they lag behind traditional free weights on multiple fronts.

For example, resistance bands rely on variable resistance, with the tension increasing only as the band is stretched.  This limits the amount of muscle activation and overload achieved in comparison to using free weights to perform the same exercises.

Free weights promote the ability to lift heavier and heavier weights to support more muscle hypertrophy over time compared to bands.

Can Resistance Bands Replace Weights?

No, resistance bands should not be used to replace free weights entirely as they are designed to serve different functions.

While they can serve as a good substitute for when you are travelling or recovering from an injury, traditional weightlifting equipment is more effective for achieving overall strength and muscle hypertrophy.

Do I Need Resistance Bands If I Have Weights?

Yes, you might need resistance bands for specific applications, even if you have weights. For example, if you suffer an injury and need exercise equipment that is easy on your joints, so exercising with bands might help.

Similarly, resistance bands are often used to assist individuals with certain difficult exercises and movements before they move on to free weights.

So, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. When incorporated together, they can be even more effective for your overall workout regime.

For example, some people actually use resistance bands on their barbells to make the lifting movements even more difficult.

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Final Words

Free weights and resistance bands are some of the most accessible gym equipment anywhere in the world.

While they are both used for strength-based exercises, they have highly distinct target audiences and use cases. Both offer tons of advantages and limitations when compared to each other.