Resistance bands can still play a role in stretching and general exercise between weight lifting sessions. They are also common in physical therapy and rehab programs for weight lifters recovering from injuries. Cross-training with both bands and weights is an effective approach to a well-rounded strength training program.
The big debate comes down to the actual ability to build strength. Are bands or weights more effective at building muscle? The answer to this is not simple, and numerous studies have been conducted to compare the two forms of resistance training. Personal preference is also an element that factors into the final decision for individuals engaged in a strength training program.
A March 2018 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics compared weights and resistance bands while focusing specifically on flyes and reverse flyes in a small group of 29 individuals. The study shows elastic bands deliver similar results to weights and demonstrates that bands are a reasonable alternative to weight training.
The weights were more effective at working the primary muscle groups, but the bands actually worked more of the surrounding muscle groups. Researchers attributed these findings to the less stable nature of bands versus weights. Regardless, it showed that bands are capable of delivering strength gains in a manner similar to weights for flyes specifically.
The study was small, though, so it's difficult to determine its accuracy. However, resistance bands seem like a good choice for maintaining overall strength and conditioning in the absence of gym equipment.
Examining Multiple Studies
Numerous studies have analyzed the results between weights and resistance bands, but they all utilize different exercises and relatively small sample sizes. The results frequently show that resistance band exercises for legs, arms and other major muscle groups have results similar to weight training.
One particular review compiled all of the smaller studies to show a bigger picture analysis of resistance bands vs. free weights and general weightlifting. Published in February 2019 in the journal SAGE Open Medicine, the review combined data from eight different studies and used the pooled information to draw conclusions based on a large data set. Results for both upper and lower limb strength gains were compared as well.
The study found that resistance bands show similar results to weights in both the upper and lower body exercises. This essentially means that both types of gym equipment can build strength without a major deviation in the gains shown between the two options. Resistance bands are not necessarily better than weights, but they provide similar advantages for strength training specifically.
Choosing the Better Option
Knowing that both weights and bands can deliver similar results, choosing one over another becomes a matter of personal preference and purpose. The types of exercises used also have some bearing on the results delivered. The Olympic clean and jerk with weights builds the fast-twitch muscle fibers required for speed and explosiveness, while simple deadlift builds general strength and muscle.
The same applies to explosive motions used with resistance band training. The explosive exercise will build athletic speed and power, while a static bicep curl builds the specific muscle for general strength and size. Both bands and weights offer great options for strength training, and both are adaptable to specific training programs.
Using both options is a good choice for many individuals. The bands offer a low cost, portable option that opens up strength training opportunities to more individuals. Living in areas without a gym or a dedicated set of weights makes them a better option. Having access to both options is ideal, though.
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