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Are Resistance Bands Better Than Weights?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

– by Emma Mattison, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, CNC, & SFC

Resistance bands are becoming more and more popular for strength training, and for good reason. They're easier to use than weights, portable, and can be used pretty much anywhere!

But what are the benefits of using resistance bands instead of weights? Are resistance bands really better than weights for strength training?

There's a lot of information out there that resistance bands "don't help you gain muscle," or at least aren't as effective as free weights. In this article, I'm going to review the resistance band as a certified personal trainer, compare resistance bands vs weights, and help you decide which is best for your needs.

Article Chapters (Click to Jump)

Below is a video summary of this article, if you're interested!

Versatility -- How do I grade this?

Straight forward answer: resistance bands are pretty versatile. Not only are they versatile because of their many applications, but also because they come in different forms.

For example, one specific type of resistance band, the "TheraBand," can be used for many different exercises – using all parts of the body. The TheraBand is just a long, flat strap of balloon-like material that varies in its own resistance. The versatility of this specific form of band is wonderful because you can fold them over multiple times and you can increase their intensity – you don't always have to buy multiple densities!

There's also "tubing" which can be attached to handles, hooks, and even anchor to a wall – making them perfect for at-home gyms.

One last example – resistance bands also come in "looped" forms. These "looped" forms are often referred to as mini bands, loop bands, or even "booty" bands, as they can be strapped around the thighs to perform exercises that target the gluteal complex. Loop bands come in that same balloon style, but even come in nylon elastic combos. This fabric variation is helpful because it doesn't roll off of the legs as much.

What else can you do with the loop forms? You can put them around your legs and you can use them in things such as side steps with a plank, or you can use them for standing exercises to add a little bit more resistance to standing side steps as well.

Overall, for versatility I give it resistance bands an A. They are great for an at-home gym, and that's a bonus.

Adherence: Are goals easier with resistance bands or weights?

As a personal trainer, one of the hardest endeavors is to get people to stick to a program. That's just in general: whether you're a personal trainer trying to work with a client, or you yourself are trying to commit to a goal.

Adherence is key to success. Research has shown that free weights, dumbbells, and big bulky equipment aren't necessarily going to lead to the best adherence.

But don't just take my word for it. Let's go ahead and read a research article citation.

In a systematic review article, covering the comparison between conventional training versus elastic resistance band training on strength results, it was found that – regarding weight machines and dumbbells:

"it is believed that on average 50% of people who adopt this type of training give up during the first year of practice. These data are justified by factors related to the financial cost, logistical difficulty, and lack of time which makes its use unfeasible in certain scenarios. " – Lopes et al. 2019

Therefore, comparing free weights, dumbbells, or bulkier equipment for an at-home gym to just elastic resistance bands we can definitely see that the resistance bands are going to be much more convenient... and therefore could have increased adherence.

One other research article found that resistance bands in specific athletic programs increase adherence for adolescents. Therefore, it's not just adults or the general, public that resistance bands can – kids and adolescents seem to like these resistance bands.

Let me explain further. In this research article by Lubans et al.:

This study demonstrated a lower dropout rate in exercises performed with elastic resistance bands or ERT in adolescence. The evidence presented suggests possible favoritisms for protocols consisting of ERT exercises. – Lubans et al. 2010

That's an A + for adherence.

MUSCLE HEALTH: Understanding Strength vs. Hypertrophy

"What about strength gains? How are resistance bands going to help me get stronger?"

To answer this question, I need to divide the word "strength" into 2 parts. I need to do this first because some people have a misconception that trying to grow muscle in size is the same as strength – which technically it’s not.

Growing your muscle size (AKA what people try to do for bodybuilding or what some athletes need to do to bulk and gain size) is called hypertrophy. It’s a different mechanism than trying to improve the overall strength of your muscles.

Strength, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily involve increased bulk in muscle.

If you're someone who's new to fitness, a beginner, or someone who has had a lot of time off, any type of improvement in your strength could improve or increase your muscle size in the early stages of training. However, when you are an already trained individual, it will become increasingly more difficult to increase in size (hypertrophy). This will begin to require a very different training program than for someone looking to improve strength goals specifically.

Now that we've clarified the difference between hypertrophy – which is bulking your muscle – let's review resistance bands for just true strength gains in general, or becoming stronger to improve your own functionality.

Strength Gains and Resistance Bands (with research)

Regarding resistance bands’ effectiveness for strength, let's go back to that same systemic review article that I touched on in the beginning of this article. Keep in mind this systemic review was in 2019, which is relatively recent as of this blog article's 2022 publishing date. The research study was comprised of a total of 224 individuals, aged between 15 and 88 years old – which is a wide age range.

However, all studies were composed of subjects who had a systematic habit of performing strength training. This ensures that the individuals taking part in the study were committed to working out, and that the people are adequate subjects to be tested.

Regarding health, the sample varied from physically active individuals and athletes, to individuals with coronary heart disease and moderate COPD. We have a variety of health conditions for these individuals! For all subjects, the review analyzes the differences between conventional strength training (which is with weights), and elastic resistance bands.

The results of this study found that:

"...for the upper and lower limbs, respectively, there is no super superiority between training performed with elastic resistance and training with weight machines and/or free weights on strength gain." – Lopes et al. 2019

The research alone shows that there is no difference or superiority in strength gains between resistance bands and free weights or conventional methods.

Hypertrophy & Elastic Resistance Bands

Let's say right now, we're going to try to do a bicep curl with a resistance band. You holding it and resist the tension as the other end of the band is restrained. When the arm is at the starting point of the exercise, the bicep is elongated.

You won't feel much tension at the beginning of the exercise when you are holding this resistance band with your arm in the outstretched position. However, when you start to curl the bicep, and move your fist closer towards your head, it's working a lot harder. As you release the arm back to the starting position, the bicep is working less and less. When the bicep returns to its elongated state, you may not feel any tension at the point of the exercise.

Bicep Curl With Weights

Do that same bicep curl with a dumbbell or a free weight, and the effort changes! With a free weight, you can feel the tension as your outstretched arm holds the weight. Next, when you curl your arm, and the bicep shortens, you still feel the tension.

You can FEEL the work the entire time if you use free weights or dumbbells when compared to resistance band tension. You're getting some type of emphasis – or lack of emphasis – in the elongated state, depending on which one you're using.

Does this mean you should not use resistance bands?

The answer is no. But what it does mean is that for "hypertrophy," in theory, your muscles might not get as big because they're not getting as much damage. Muscle growth needs muscle damage. When working out and emphasizing the tension when the muscle is contracting in its elongated state, you theoretically get more muscular damage. In the case of the resistance band, you're getting minimal resistance on your muscles in the elongated.

That's the theory that people have as to why they don't recommend it for people that are trying to just grow their muscles, and not improve their strength.

MUSCLE HEALTH : Strength vs. Hypertrophy

Sometimes, people get confused by the term "strength," and they misinterpret strength as their muscles, "...growing in size."

I give resistance bands, and all forms of them, an A or A+ for strength. But for hypertrophy, I give resistance bands a B. If you are a really trained individual and you don't have enough stimulus, you won't be growing your muscle in size, if you're trying to only use a resistance band. It's important to be training all 3 phases of muscle contractions (more on that later). I do not give it a C because, as stated earlier, you may still notice hypertrophy if you are just starting out on your fitness journey.

Next, let's talk about how I rate resistance bands for strength goals for people that are part of specific populations. Specifically, overweight individuals, the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions.

Do bands help Overweight/Obese individuals?

Let's reference another systematic review article and meta-analysis for the effects on strength for overweight or obese individuals. This review included 15 studies and 18 different trials for a total of 669 total participants.

The results showed that resistance bands improved body fat in overweight or obese people better than other resistance training types. – Liu et al., 2022

Specifically, the most important finding of this was that, for overweight and obese people:

"...resistance bands and resistance exercise can be taken for fat loss, and resistance exercise for own body weight for further muscle gain and maintenance of muscle mass, so as to achieve the purpose of improving body composition." – Liu et al., 2022

For muscle strength increase, although resistance exercise was shown to improve muscle strength, there was no significant difference between the 3 exercise forms compared. For overweight and obese individuals, resistance bands are A+.

How do Seniors benefit from resistance bands?

For the seniors out there, one really important endeavor is to make sure that you're preventing "sarcopenia," or trying to reverse the effects of sarcopenia – which is naturally occurring, age-related muscle loss.

There is another systematic review article specifically for the effects of resistance band exercise for frail older adults.

Frailty is defined as decreased functionality and mobility, related but not exclusively linked to decreased muscular mass related to sarcopenia. But the key finding was that,

"...resistance band exercises have positive effects on improving frailty after 24 weeks and decreased depression symptoms at all analyzed time points (12 weeks and 24 weeks)." – Daryanti Saragih et al. 2022

For active older adults are out there, not only do resistance band exercises have the potential to improve strength, but they also may improve your mood!

Underlying Health Conditions

For individuals with certain underlying health conditions, there is good news. Depending on your condition, and if exercise is cleared by a doctor, resistance band exercises can be great for you.

In the systematic review article mentioned earlier, the findings indicated positive effects on muscular strength gained from the use of elastic resistance in the elderly, individuals with osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia – when compared with a control group (Lopes et al. 2019). For these specific populations, it was found that the resistance band exercises did help.

Further more, findings indicated that elastic resistance training improves muscle strength in people with COPD. The current review suggests,

"...elastic resistance as a potential alternative to conventional resistance training using weight machines, as they show similar effects on muscular strength, functional exercise capacity, and dyspnea." – de Lima et al. 2020

One other benefit as stated earlier, specifically for people with COPD is that resistance band exercises include the reduced risk of exacerbation-related hospitalizations (de Lima et al. 2020).


To rate this category for special populations, for the elderly and people such as individuals with COPD, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and other joint-related conditions, I rate resistance bands higher than the free weights.

I would give the resistance bands an A+ and I would give free weights or dumbbells a little bit lower – maybe even a B, just because they can aggravate symptoms. However, resistance bands have a tendency to not aggravate symptoms and joints. For overweight or obese individuals, you can choose either one, but just remember what the research shows.


If you happen to be an athlete watching this or an exerciser who’s looking to up your game, resistance bands can add to your "concentric training." When your muscles are in their shortest form, you can utilize resistance bands to add extra tension during normal weight training exercises or jumps. Or you can use resistance bands to pull you up to help you with your vertical jump. These two ideas work together in a technique called "bracketing" that can help you become more explosive.

There is a way that you can use resistance bands to help you with your tendon strength and ligament health as well. But you need to understand the 3 different components of muscle contractions – which are eccentric, concentric, and isometric. Each one of these contractile types of training have different benefits.

This video explains those 3 different training forms. You won't want to miss it because it explains everything from power, the goals for landing mechanics, decreased injuries, and even tendon, ligament, and joint health. Check it out and don't miss it.

Bonus : Free Interactive Balance Assessment

I do have a balance training program that goes through a variety of personalized series: stabilization, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. There are multiple levels in each series so that you know exactly your starting place, and you can move on progressively from there! Anyone from older adults to even youth athletes can do this program – as long as children under 18 have parental supervision.

Check it out on my website if you're interested. You'll get that free interactive balance placement assessment directly to your email!

As always, I have more helpful information about fitness health, follow-along workouts, and also more information about nutrition! Just check out the MyZeniverse YouTube channel.

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Emma Mattison. I'm an NASM certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, stretch & flexibility coach, pranayama breathwork guide, holistic nerd, and lover of birds & music! Scientific literature is fun to me, and my goal is to make it understandable and fun for you!

I am driven to share knowledge I find fascinating & transformative with my clients, and the world. Everyone has the power to take their health into their own hands!

My love for fitness and true discovery of health started with helping my best friend – who I can now call my husband! Today, I couldn't do any of this as smoothly and enjoyably as I do now without him! Check out our YouTube, MyZeniverse! He literally edits and films everything. He's editing the next YouTube video next to me right now, as we speak! Check it out, and give it a like if it's helpful! 😊😊



Daryanti Saragih, I., Yang, Y. P., Saragih, I. S., Batubara, S. O., & Lin, C. J. (2022). Effects of resistance bands exercise for frail older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies. Journal of clinical nursing, 31(1-2), 43–61.

de Lima, F. F., Cavalheri, V., Silva, B. S. A., Grigoletto, I., Uzeloto, J. S., Ramos, D., Camillo, C. A., & Ramos, E. M. C. (2020). Elastic Resistance Training Produces Benefits Similar to Conventional Resistance Training in People With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Physical therapy, 100(11), 1891–1905.

Liu, X., Gao, Y., Lu, J., Ma, Q., Shi, Y., Liu, J., Xin, S., & Su, H. (2022). Effects of Different Resistance Exercise Forms on Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Overweight and/or Obese Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in physiology, 12, 791999.

Lopes, J. S. S., Machado, A. F., Micheletti, J. K., de Almeida, A. C., Cavina, A. P., & Pastre, C. M. (2019). Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. SAGE open medicine, 7, 2050312119831116.

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