Benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights

Several studies to date have proven the effectiveness of resistance bands to be equivalent to the free weights in terms of intensity and development of power. In some instances, resistance bands overpower free weights. So, combining resistance bands with free weights like dumbbells and barbells (as well) does make sense.

Here I am gonna brief you not only the benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights but also the scientific reasons why such combination works the best. 

Every story has a flip side. So, I am also going to ponder over why combining exercise bands with weights may not work best for some people.

  

So, what are the benefits of combining resistance bands with weights? The resistance bands (with linear variable resistance) provide efficient loading especially during the lateral part of the range of motion of exercise and engage fast-twitch muscles thereby developing maximum power. It further improves the flexibility of muscles by assisting in doing the complete concentric and eccentric phase of an exercise. 

The above answer may feel a bit too technical. Don’t worry, I will simplify the above explanation by using the easiest of the words. 

❝ Hi, I am Ravi, your companion and a passionate fitness athlete, cyclist, runner, gym enthusiast who just loves the concept of resistance bands for their extreme flexibility. I have been using resistance bands as one of my primary fitness equipment for the last many years ❞

I promise, by the end of this article, you would be amazed to have learned a new dimension of adding these innovative moves to spice up the existing workout routines.

INDEX – 

This is what you will learn during the progress of this article. 

Benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights

2.

Limitations of combining resistance bands with weights 

3.

Who can really benefit by combining resistance bands with weights? 

4.

Do combining resistance bands with weights work well for all exercises?

5. 

Methods of combining resistance bands with weights.

6.

Bonus tips while using resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells.

7.

My Final Opinion

NOTE

Terms you will learn during the progress of this article – Linear Variable Resistance (LVR) and its pro, cons,  strength curve definition and its types, Muscle Fiber types

Feel free to jump anywhere if you are short of time.

Let us jump straight to the heading associated with Sr. No. 1 of the index  –  


Benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights

Before I start listing the benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights, It is important to understand how resistance bands provide the resistance and what are the pros and cons of the nature of resistance provided by the bands. 

 If you already know the basics of resistance bands and their variable nature of resistance, you can definitely go ahead.  Other readers may refer to this detailed article – benefits of resistance bands with unique visual insights for some useful insights and hidden tips

For your convenience let me explain you very briefly, what do you mean by linear variable resistance –

Linear variable resistance means that the resistance provided by the resistance bands during the range of motion of an exercise keeps varying unlike free weights such as dumbbells and barbells where this resistance is fixed during ROM (range of motion).

Let me explain you with an example –

As shown in the picture below, during the initial phase of an exercise such as biceps curl in our case,  the resistance band is least stretched and provides the minimum resistance.

As you move your hand towards the shoulder, the resistance band starts getting stretched more and more. So the resistance provided by the exercise band also starts increasing proportionately. This nature of resistance provided by the bands is called linear variable resistance

Now, let us start with the amazing benefits of combining resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells which are closely related to the linear variable resistance of exercise bands. 

1. Combining resistance bands with free weights promote the better form – 

During the range of motion of any exercise,  the muscles being targeted don’t behave in a similar fashion throughout the range of motion.  It means that the muscles are comparatively weaker during some portion of ROM (Range of Motion) as compared to the other portion. 

NOTE

That is the reason why you feel difficult to lift the weight from the bottom-most position of the squat exercise.  Similarly, with chest press exercise you feel much stronger when your arms are fully extended near the top of the chest.

Now,  due to variable resistance of resistance bands,  when these elastic bands are combined with weights,  the combined resistance of resistance bands and dumbbells is comparatively lowest during the initial phase of an exercise and keeps increasing as you move through the final stages of the concentric phase of an exercise.  

Chest press exercise using combination of resistance bands and dumbbells

That means, the lower combined resistance actually helps the muscles recover from the most difficult portion of the range of motion when muscles are comparatively weaker

In the case of fixed resistance training with dumbbells and barbells, we often try to cheat with the form while lifting heavy weights and skip the difficult portion of the range of motion. 

However, by combining resistance bands with dumbbells (weight of dumbbells is now reduced considerably to accommodate resistance bands) you can easily complete the full range of motion without cheating thereby assisting you in maintaining the form and posture for added benefits. 

2. Engages fast-twitch fibers and improves power – 

There are mainly two types of muscle fibers named slow-twitch fibers and fast-twitch fibers, used by the body for various kinds of movements.  In fact, every muscle in our body consists of these two fiber types in different proportions. We normally keep training slow-twitch fibers subconsciously during the day to day life.  However fast-twitch fibers are often left out. 

When we combine resistance bands with free weights,  due to the lower combined resistance during the initial phase of the exercise,  you are able to accelerate faster during that phase.  

Further, during the eccentric phase of the exercise,  when the targeted muscles are returning back to the resting state,  you are again able to de-accelerate faster due to rapidly reducing combined resistance. 

For fast acceleration and deceleration of the target muscles, the body employs fast-twitch muscle fibers of targeted muscles.  The fast-twitch fibers are responsible for adding power and strength just as in the case of sprinters who have higher muscle mass as compared to marathon runners.

3. It provides efficient loading during the entire range of motion and maximizes output for the same exercises  –

The major issue with weight training using dumbbells and barbells is that the muscles are not optimally and smartly taxed during the entire range of motion.

Just take an example of exercise such as chest press with dumbbells. During the initial phase of the exercise when arms are beside the shoulders, We can’t stay there even for a second.

Further, shoulders are more prone to injury during the initial phase of the chest press. When arms are fully extended in front of the chest,  pectoral muscles are in fact relieved of the tension. Such inefficient loading of muscles during the range of motion severely affects the time and effort that goes into the exercise. 

Now assume that you are doing the same chest press exercise with dumbbells in conjunction with resistance bands as shown in the picture while keeping the weight of the dumbbells lower than the earlier case to accommodate resistance of exercise bands.

The lower combined resistance provided by the combination of bands and dumbbells during the initial phase of chest press smartly supports the weak muscles. However, when arms are fully extended, we get a much higher resistance due to the maximum stretching of the bands. 

So as above, the complete range of motion of chest press exercise is getting adequately loaded with tension after dumbbells and resistance bands have combined together. In return, faster gains are bound to happen.

 4. Extremely beneficial for exercises with ascending strength curve – 

To understand the basic concept of the above-said benefit,  you must be clear about the basics of the strength curve in general.  So let me first briefly explain to you all the fundamentals of the strength curves.

Definition of strength curve –  

The strength curve refers to the variation of torque at different joint angles during the range of motion of an exercise. 

As I said earlier, torque is not constant at all the joint angles. In fact, It keeps varying depending upon the leverage between the targeted muscles and the point of external force

Every exercise we perform can be classified into three major categories based on the type of strength curve 

  1.  Exercises with ascending strength curves.
  2.  Exercises with descending strength curves.
  3.  Exercises with parabolic strength curves.

Exercises with ascending strength curve–  In such exercises,  muscles are weakest during the initial phase of the range of motion. However, muscles start gaining strength as we move further during the contraction phase of the exercises with the maximum being at the end of the contraction phase. 

The exercises with ascending strength are leg press, squat, chest fly, chest press, shoulder press, deadlift, push-ups, etc. 

Exercises with descending strength curve–  In such exercises, muscles are strongest during the initial phase of the range of motion. However, they get weaker by the time the contraction phase of an exercise ends.

Exercises with descending strength curves are rowing, chin-ups and leg curls.  

Exercises with parabolic strength curve –  In such exercise, muscles are strongest during the mid-phase of the range of motion as compared to the initial and final phases.

The biceps curl is one of such exercises with a parabolic strength curve.

Now you understand the definition of strength curve and exercises with different strength curve types.

Let us again move back to the exercises with ascending strength curves. 

When we combine resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells for an exercise,  such an arrangement proves particularly beneficial for exercises with ascending strength curves. 

In the case of ascending strength curve exercises such as leg press, squats, chest press when the muscles can’t bear enough stress during the initial phase of contraction, the combined resistance provided by the resistance bands and dumbbells is also lowest. 

However, muscles are appropriately tensed during the final phase of contraction when they are in the strongest condition. 

Pro-Tip 

So what would happen if I combine resistance bands with dumbbells for exercises involving descending strength curves such as rowing, leg curls, etc? 

You guessed it right!  Combining resistance bands with dumbbells for descending strength curve exercises would do more harm than any benefit.  

When muscles are weak and vulnerable to injury during the final phase of contraction, the resistance provided by the combination of bands and weights would in fact increase thereby multiplying the risk of injury. 

5.  Improves the flexibility of muscles

Let me explain you the above benefit in context with the importance of doing exercise with the complete range of motion

Performing the complete range of motion means the focus muscles are properly shortened during the contraction phase and lengthened during the eccentric phase of an exercise. That means muscles are strengthened at all the joint angles and perform well in real-life situations. 

As explained earlier, combining bands with dumbbells at the same time, makes the difficult part of exercise easier by adjusting the resistance to a lower level. Exercises that we try to perform with heavyweights while compromising the range of motion are no longer restricted after combining bands with fixed weights. 

NOTE

While dealing with weights heavier than allowed,  people often cheat with the form and only perform the part of the range of motion where muscles are in the strongest position. That means muscles are not flexed properly. It prevents the overall development of muscles and increases the risk of injury.

6. Relaxes muscles adequately before the harder part of the exercise – 

When you are performing any exercise with a fixed weight such as dumbbells and barbells,  the resistance remains constant during the entire range of motion. 

Take an example of bicep curl exercise (with parabolic strength curve)

When your hands are at the lowest most position near the waist, the resistance offered by dumbbells is still the same. 

It prevents the muscles from relaxing before the harder middle phase of contraction jumps in where leverage between the point of the external force and elbow joint increases. 

By combining resistance bands with dumbbells, the combined resistance is considerably lower during the initial phase giving muscles a much-required break before the middle phase of the range of motion where muscles need to work much harder to maintain the form. 


Limitations of combining resistance bands with weights – 

Don’t be surprised!  We must talk about some of the reservations while doing exercises by combining soft elastic bands with weights. As you may face several challenges while doing exercises with the above combination in real-life scenarios. 

Here are some of the limitations of using bands together with dumbbells and barbells

1. It is really difficult to do it in the right way. 

Personally, I found it challenging to set up the system in my first few attempts. It takes some practice and skills to combine resistance bands with weights in the exercises. However, it becomes easier as you practice more and more. 

2. You will need the right type of resistance bands and some extra pairs ready.

It becomes a real challenge if you don’t possess the right accessories to start with. 

The pair of same color power loop bands,  tube resistance bands and some accessories such as door anchors,  ankle cuffs can make the process much easier.

3. Combining resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells doesn’t seem to be a good idea for beginners – 

The primary objective for beginners is to tone up the muscles and build some basic strength before diving into the deep waters. It doesn’t seem logical for a newbie reading and implementing strategies of marathon runners when he is not capable of jogging even for a 5-kilometer distance. 

Further, combining exercise bands with dumbbells creates excessive stress during the advanced stage of contraction as compared to the initial stage and makes the same exercise a lot much harder to perform increasing the risk for injury especially for beginners. 

Pro-Tip

Combining resistance bands with weights is always a good idea for intermediate and advanced athletes who have done at least 24 months of fitness training before he/she starts thinking about making their workouts more efficient with better results.

4. Combining workout bands with fixed weights doesn’t go well for descending strength curve exercises– 

As also explained earlier, the resistance curve of resistance bands when coupled with free weights follows an ascending path. That only matches with the exercises where muscles follow an ascending strength curve. 

However,  in the case of descending strength curve exercises, when weak muscles need to be relaxed, the external torque developed by combining the band with dumbbells and barbells actually becomes highest thereby increasing the chances of injury.  

In short, the exercises with ascending strength curve should be prioritized with the combination of elastic bands and fixed weights as compared to the descending curve and parabolic curve exercises. 

5. There is always a risk for overtraining when resistance bands are combined with free weights.   

When I do training by combining bands with dumbbells,  it becomes really difficult to judge the actual resistance that I may be facing during the final stages of the contraction phase beforehand. 

Often I am tempted into keeping the weight of dumbbells the same while using resistance bands along with dumbbells and that increases the risk of overtraining the focusing muscles. 

Pro-Tip 

Never assume resistance bands to be fragile and weak when combining them with free weights. They actually add a lot of resistance to the second half portion of the contraction phase. 

Always start with the lightest color resistance band and considerably reduce the weight of the dumbbell before combining both. Get the feel of exercising with the combination for a few repetitions before upgrading the resistance band and further increasing the weight of dumbbells.

6. It works well for only exercises involving vertical plane of movement – 

As you already know,  the resistance provided by the resistance bands is independent of gravity and we can do the same exercise in multiple planes of movement. 

It is one of the core features of resistance bands.

 To know more about the technical insights into the resistance bands you may refer to this article –  Do resistance bands really work? which covers all the technical aspects of bands with some useful insights.

However, when we combine resistance bands with dumbbells,  such combinations only work where weights move in the vertical plane of movement as dumbbells and barbells only act in vertical planes due to gravity.  

This fact restricts the versatility of resistance bands to a great extent. 


Who can really benefit by combining resistance bands with weights? 

By now, you might already be knowing the answer to this question. 

The advanced athletes including Olympians have already been combining resistance bands with dumbbells, barbells for decades to increase their maximum strength and improve their flexes by engaging fast-twitch fibers. Further, they are able to lift higher weights than they normally would,  due to the limitations of the strength curve. 

As such, intermediate and advanced athletes are always recommended to practice with the combination of resistance bands and dumbbells

Experimenting with the bands and dumbbells may do more harm for the beginners due to the risk of overtraining and improper technique.  


Do combining resistance bands with weights work well for all exercises?

The combination of resistance bands with fixed weights works only for exercises with ascending strength curves as stated earlier.  Examples of ascending strength exercises are chest fly, chest press, leg press, squat, deadlift, etc. 

Parabolic strength curve exercises like biceps curl may benefit to some extent as the first half of the parabolic strength curve of muscles matches with the resistance curve made from the combination of bands and fixed weights.


Methods of combining resistance bands with weights

Combining resistance bands with free weights doesn’t mean that you always need to use resistance bands and fixed weights together at the same time. 

Combining bands with weights and using them in the gym or within your home can be tricky sometimes. Further, maintaining the same resistance at both dumbbells or the ends of the barbells is important. 

So, you may opt from any of the below-mentioned methods for combining resistance bands with fixed weights in your workouts – 

  1. You may switch between resistance band training and fixed weight training on alternate days.  That means, in this case, we are not going to merge resistance bands and fixed weights into a single exercise at the same time.  In fact, if you do weight training with barbells and dumbbells on Mondays and Fridays, the resistance band training can be done during every Wednesday and Sunday. 
  2. Perform one set with dumbbells followed by another set with resistance bands of the same exercise.  In this case, if you do one set of biceps curl with dumbbells,  then you can immediately switch over to the resistance bands and do another set with higher repetitions of biceps curl exercise in follow up aiming for muscle failure, making it one complete superset.
  3. Overlap fixed weights with the flat bands or tubular band as per your convenience at the same time for your workout routines. This is an ideal way to reap in the benefit of resistance bands as well as free weights.  Initially, you may find it time-consuming to set up and difficult to complete the sets due to the instability created by resistance bands.

To begin with, you may go for one exercise per workout per day with a combination of resistance bands and weights. With practice, you may be able to judge the correct size of the resistance band and dumbbells to use in combination and increase the number of exercises per workout with a combination of resistance bands and fixed weights.


Bonus tips while using resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells

Here are some of the bonus tips that may prove useful while doing exercises by combining resistance bands with free weights.

1. Combining tube resistance bands with dumbbells can be very difficult as also shown in this picture. 

It is quite uncomfortable while gripping both the resistance band handle and dumbbells at the same time.

As shown in the above picture, It is better if you can wrap the ankle cuff around the rod of dumbbells and attach tube bands to the ankle cuffs through a hook.

2. Always practice using a resistance band alone before it is combined with the fixed weights so that you may get the feel of resistance offered by the bands and decide the appropriate size of weights according to your needs.

3. Adjust the length of resistance bands in such a way that they remain tight in all stages of the range of motion while using in conjunction with free weights.

4. Make sure to use the same color resistance band on both sides of the barbell and dumbbells if you are using separate resistance bands for each side.


Final Words – 

Resistance bands and fixed weights are great pieces of fitness equipment with their own benefits and limitations. By combining resistance bands with free weights, we are able to overcome the limitations associated with resistance bands and free weights.

It is worth trying the combination of resistance bands and dumbbells/ barbells if you understand the concept and reasons as stated in this article. Doing the wrong exercises with this combination may cost you an injury. Practicing patience and developing skills over time can bring faster results and muscle gains. 

When pro athletes and coaches are including resistance bands in their conventional weight training for decades, there is no reason that you would try and don’t get the results.


Do try combining resistance bands with fixed weights and share your experience in the comments.  We will love to hear your opinion and suggestions. 

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