A mixture of both resistance bands and free weights are essential to any serious home gym. However one needs to start somewhere, and for some that will be with resistance bands while others should go the more macho route with free weights.
Many of the pros and cons of resistance bands and free weights are self-evident, but it helps to take it all in to gain view of the big picture, and then make an educated purchase.
In the left corner, a stretchy, impossibly thin contender. In the right, the heavy, steel standby.
The Case For (And Against) Resistance Bands
- Cheap: under $40 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 more natural feel.
- Simple and intuitive to use.
- Very few parts, so less parts 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.
- Difficult to quantify gains in strength as you would with dumbbells (by adding additional weights).
- Pushing the limits of resistance can make bands 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
- Suitable 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.
- Travel with dumbbells is impractical.
A Fair Comparison?
Some will argue that this is an apple versus oranges comparison. In some situations resistance bands are the best, while in others it’s far behind lifting free weights. So 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 a better 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 makes you more timid 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 as well. Resistance bands are incredibly light and portable while toting dumbbells around is comically impractical.
Choice For Best Results
Resistances 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 get out of a fitness rut but at certain point you may feel you’ve outgrown them.