Building your home gym is exciting. You’re also faced with some tough choices.
You can do so many exercises with that fancy home gym machine, but it’s costly and huge. And will you really use that spin bike as much as you plan to?
At the beginning of this journey, you also could have to choose between a dumbbell set or a resistance band set.
A mixture of both resistance bands and free weights is essential to any serious home gym. However, one needs to start somewhere. And some will find more utility in resistance bands, while others should go the more traditional route with free weights.
It helps to take in the pros and cons of each to gain a view of the big picture, and then make an educated choice.
So, what will it be for you? Let’s get this fight rolling!
In the left corner, is a stretchy, impossibly thin contender. In the right corner, the heavy, steel standby.
The Case for (And Against) Resistance Bands
- Cheap: It’s under $45 for a good quality five band set with a maximum stackable resistance of 75 lbs.
- Extremely lightweight and convenient to transport.
- Can store even in the smallest spaces.
- Easier to complete full motion exercises with a natural feel.
- Simple and intuitive to use.
- Very few parts, so fewer components to possibly break.
- Able to make minor adjustments in intensity depending on the position of your body.
- Limited amount of resistance making strength training less feasible.
- Harder to quantify gains in strength as you would with dumbbells (by adding additional weights).
- Pushing the limits of resistance bands can make them snap, resulting in possible injury.
- Freedom of motion can create “dead spots” in which the effectiveness of your workout is diminished.
The Case for (And Against) Dumbbells
- Excellent for strength training.
- You’ll look and feel more rugged lifting free weights.
- Greater balance as you’re ensured to have the exact amount of weight in each hand. This is less precise with resistance bands as the position of your body inadvertently skews the weight to one side.
- Smaller supporting muscles are used giving you a more complete physique.
- Configurable to just about any weight.
- Lasts a lifetime with proper care.
- Biggest choice of exercises and workout plans.
- Easier to injure yourself if exercises are done with bad form.
- Requires time to learn proper technique, and focus to ensure you don’t get sloppy.
- Calculated by price per pound of resistance, dumbbells are more expensive.
- Storage racks have a large footprint (although this isn’t a problem with adjustable dumbbells).
- Travelling with dumbbells is impractical.
A Fair Comparison?
Some will argue that this is an apple versus oranges comparison. Resistance bands are the best in some situations, while in others you’re better off reaching for free weights. It’s true! Unless you have very specific fitness goals it’s hard to say one is better or worse than the other generally.
If you’re focused on strength training, free weights are unquestionably the best choice.
Although there are ultra-high resistance bands out there for strong individuals, MMA, athletes, etc., bands can snap when consistently taken to the limits. Getting a welt from a broken band is no fun. And the experience can make you overly timid about stretching your resistance bands in future sessions. With dumbbells, you can scale up to very heavy weights with total confidence.
The choice is easy for frequent travellers, and those with small living spaces. Resistance bands are incredibly light and portable, while toting dumbbells around is comically impractical.
Exercises Performed with Resistance Bands
The exercises you can do with resistance bands are endless. However, there are tried and true exercises you’ll keep coming back to.
Here are some of the top exercises:
- Lateral raise
- Chest press
- Leg press
- Bicep curl
- Lateral walk
- Band pull-apart
- Resistance band rows
Exercises Performed with Dumbbells
Many exercises can be done with your choice of resistance bands or free weights, but some of them just work better with dumbbells.
These exercises are your bread-and-butter:
- Shoulder press
- Lateral raise
- Bicep curl
- Bent-over row
- Bench press
- Hammer curl
- Goblet squat
- Overhead triceps extension
Choice for the Best Results
Resistance bands provide a good stepping-stone to free weight exercises as you gain confidence, strength, and more ambitious goals.
Free weights must be used with more knowledge of proper technique, but like most tools requiring more accuracy in operation, the rewards are greater.
If your goal is getting ripped quickly and effectively, dumbbells are definitely going to give you the best results. Resistance bands will keep you fit, cut, and will get you out of a fitness rut but at a certain point you may feel you’ve outgrown them.