How To Use Resistance Bands In Combination With Free Weights

Resistance bands, though, are very versatile and extremely flexible pieces of equipment, have their own limitations. The gaps left here and thereby the resistance bands are actually filled up by dumbbells. In short, both fixed weights and resistance bands truly acknowledge each other.

Won’t it be amazing if we can use them both together bringing in huge gains!

How am I gonna combine weights and resistance bands together?, What kind of precautions do I need to take?,  Should I be doing such exercises and what is the point of combining resistance bands & weights together? Today, you are going to get all the above queries answered here.

So, how to combine resistance bands with weights?  Before combining the resistance bands with weights, you will need an extra pair of resistance bands to use on both sides of fixed weights. Further, resistance bands can be combined with weights in three ways –

  • The weight training and resistance band training can be performed separately on alternate days.
  • One set of dumbbells workout can be followed by the resistance bands workout of higher repetitions.
  • Both bands and fixed weights can be used simultaneously in the same exercise for bigger gains.

Let us find out the detailed explanations for above including several questions closely related to the combination of resistance bands and free weights.

Here is the index of what you are going to learn by the end of this amazing class – 

Why should I be combining resistance bands with free weights? – A brief introduction

    2.

Should I be using resistance bands in combination with fixed weights?

    3.   

Am I well-equipped for doing exercises by combining bands with dumbbells and barbells?

    4.

Methods of combining resistance bands with free weights and their pros & cons

    5.

Best exercises by combining resistance bands and fixed weight such as dumbbells

    6. 

What precautions do I need to take while doing such exercises?

    7. 

My Final Thoughts

Jump anywhere if you are short of time. I would recommend going through all the above steps to implement the exercises to their true spirit.

❝ 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 ❞

Let us jump straight to the serial number one of the index –


Why should I be combining resistance bands with fixed weights?

Maybe, you started copying other people doing the exercises by combining resistance bands with free weights inside the gym or some friend of you suggested to go for such exercises.

However, it is important that you understand why you should be using resistance bands with free weights.

As stated earlier at the start of the article, the resistance bands and dumbbells/barbells have several limitations which become the base for combining both bands and fixed weights together. 

➡ If you are new to resistance bands, I would suggest you go for a detailed article discussing the major drawbacks of resistance bands which in turn will help you understand why we should be combining bands with free weights in general –  Disadvantages of using resistance bands – best tips to overcome drawbacks

Here are some of the reasons why we should be combining resistance bands with free weights– 

1. Resistance band, when combined with fixed weights, promotes better posture and form –  

Fixed weights such as dumbbells and barbells offer the same resistance throughout the range of motion of an exercise. However, our muscles do not behave in a similar manner alongside the complete range of motion due to rapid changes in the joint angle during exercise.

That is a reason, some portions of exercises are extremely difficult to perform as compared to the other parts of the exercises. As dumbbells provide the same resistance during all parts of the range of motion, people often cheat with the form and skip the difficult part of the range of motion to lift heavier weights than they can actually lift.

On the other hand, resistance bands provide low resistance in the beginning when combined with fixed weights. That means you get low resistance when muscles are not able to produce enough torque during the range of motion. 

This smart combined resistance variation along the range of motion lets you lift heavier weights while maintaining the posture and form.

2. Improves tension on muscles and increases the efficiency of each workout

Fixed weights such as dumbbells and barbells are dependent upon gravity. When the arms and legs are fully extended during the end of the contraction phase of an exercise involving only dumbbells, the targeted muscles are actually relieved of the tension for a moment which partly diminishes the purpose we are doing the exercise for. 

However, when resistance bands are added to the weight training at the same time, the moment when the effect of dumbbells and barbells is minimum at the full extension, the resistance band compensates that loss by providing maximum resistance due to their increased stretching.

Picture showing chest press exercise where lower resistance is offered when dumbbells are in line with the chest and muscles are not able to produce enough torque due to higher leverage –

In short, the muscles remain under tension throughout the range of motion and improve gains from the same exercises at a faster rate.

3. Decreases the chances of injury – 

As said earlier, the weights provide constant tension irrespective of the torque producing ability of muscles during the range of motion. So, the free weights overstress the muscles when they are not able to respond due to lesser leverage at different joint angles increasing the risk of injury.

However, when resistance bands and dumbbells are combined together by sufficiently reducing the dumbbell weight to accommodate resistance bands, their combined resistance is lower when torque developed by the muscles is also lower as shown in this picture.

Picture showing biceps curl exercise where lower combined resistance during the initial phase of the range of motion relaxes muscles and prevents injury –

This variation of combined resistance reduces the chances of injury.

4. Improve the flexibility of muscles

You are now able to complete the range of motion due to the smart adjustment of the combined resistance of bands and weights. That means, the muscles get adequately shortened during the concentric phase and lengthened during the eccentric phase of an exercise. 

The stretching of muscles through a wider range improves their flexibility and decreases the chances of injury.

✋ NOTE – 

I apologize for some of the technical terms you may be finding difficult to understand if you are not a fitness freak. 

➡ For your convenience, the above benefits including several others have been discussed in complete details (along with the basics of a range of motion, LVR (linear variable resistance)  and other technical jargons) in this article – benefits of combining resistance bands with fixed weights – Pro & Cons


Should I be using resistance bands in combination with fixed weights?

First of all, let me tell you that combining resistance bands with fixed weights isn’t that easy. 

You must have seen the advanced athletes including bodybuilders using resistance bands with their extra heavy barbells and dumbbells to lift even higher weights to increase their maximum power. 

The resistance bands when used along with dumbbells and barbells put much higher stress during the later part of the range of motion when the focusing muscles are contracting.

The athletes are at the risk of overtraining the muscles if they don’t understand the dynamics of resistance bands and how to safely include them in existing weight training routines.

Beginners should be better focussing on toning muscles through conventional methods of resistance training for 1 to 2 years at least before jumping into the game of fine-tuning the exercises.

The intermediate and advanced athletes can go for resistance bands and fixed weights in combination with their workout regime.


Am I well-equipped for doing exercises by combining bands with fixed weights?

For using resistance bands in combination with fixed weights, you will need the following types of resistance bands – 

Using barbell with resistance bands –

  1. You will need to have an extra pair of power loop resistance bands of the same color, especially where you need to attach power loop bands on both sides of the barbell between the ends of the barbell and the rack for carrying out incline chest press, decline chest press, and squats, etc. 
  2. If you don’t have power loop resistance bands, you can make use of tube resistance bands. Usually, tube resistance bands are not as long as power loop resistance bands. So while doing exercise with a barbell, you may need a pair of same color tube resistance bands to maintain equal resistance on both sides.

For using dumbbells with resistance bands – 

1. While doing exercises with dumbbells, due to the less wide frame of arms as compared to the length of barbells, single color power loop bands and tube resistance bands may also be sufficient. 

✋ NOTE  –

I will show you dumbbell exercises with a single color tube resistance band and power loop resistance band considering the fact that everybody possesses at least one color of power loop band or tube resistance band if not two, of the same color.

2. Further, it is a nice addition if you can buy an extra pair of ankle cuffs which makes the process of coupling resistance bands with dumbbells or barbells a much easier process and also prevents the chances of slipping of bands. 

➤ Don’t worry if you are unable to understand the reason behind the use of ankle cuffs, I will let you know the explanation in the section where I will be discussing the exercises with resistance bands and dumbbells combined. 


Methods of combining resistance bands with free weights and their pros & cons

It is not necessary that you should be combining resistance bands with free weights at the same time in the same exercise.  

It requires skill, practice, and experience to get used to the resistance training by combining weights with resistance bands. 

There are broadly three methods of combining resistance bands with free weights as under – 

1. Keep resistance bands workout separate from fixed weights workout – 

In this case, we do not combine resistance bands with dumbbells and barbells at the same time but include resistance band training once or twice a week in the weekly plan. 

Without any prior experience with resistance band training, it takes time to get used to the variable resistance provided by the bands where you have to work harder in the later stages of the exercise as compared to the initial stage. Further, resistance bands create a sense of instability due to their varying resistance. 

 So, it is advised not to mix resistance bands with fixed weights head-on at the beginning especially for people who are new to resistance bands. With time, more resistance band sessions can be included in the weekly routines.  

2. Follow each dumbbell exercise set with resistance band set in succession– 

This kind of method is very close to using resistance bands in combination with fixed weights. 

For example – If you are doing a biceps curl exercise using dumbbells with 7 to 8 repetitions,  then immediately follow it up with a set of the same exercise using resistance bands with a higher number of repetitions to the point of muscle failure.

This round of dumbbell and resistance band workout in succession will make one superset. Repeat this method for other exercises of a particular workout session. 

➤ This method won’t provide you all the benefits of combining bands and weights together, however, it’s a step closer to what we want to achieve. 

3. Combining resistance bands and free weights together as one unit for exercises – 

This is an ideal method where resistance bands and fixed weights work simultaneously in the same exercise. I would suggest you go for one such workout session every week and slowly progress with the higher number of workouts per week.

Using resistance bands in the same workouts with weights has several repercussions which I shall be discussing after the detailed demonstration of exercises using resistance bands and weights combined.

? Pro-Tip 

Without prior experience with exercise bands, it is not recommended to directly jump into combining bands and weights together for your workouts. Instead, start from method 1 and slowly progress through method 2 and enter into an ideal routine mentioned in method 3. 


Best exercises using resistance bands and fixed weight such as dumbbells in combination –

Here I am using a pair of dumbbells which is one of the most common strength training accessories, everyone has access to inside the gym and in-home gym arrangement.

 

Here are the step by step instructions for each exercise with crucial tips  – 

Using tube resistance bands, ankle cuffs and pair of dumbbells

  1. Biceps Curl Exercise using tube resistance bands with handles- 

SET UP
  • Choose the appropriate color tube resistance band with handles on both side
  • Reduce the weight of the dumbbells marginally than you would ordinarily lift to accommodate the variable resistance of resistance bands.
  • Step on the tube resistance band barefoot or using flat sole shoes keeping feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the handles of the tube resistance band in both hands along with dumbbells ( palms facing in front of you). Ensure that grip is secured and the band is tight at the bottom-most position of the biceps curl.

Biceps curl exercise with dumbbells and resistance bands combined

INSTRUCTIONS –
  • Move one hand slowly towards the shoulder while stretching the resistance band and lifting the dumbbell, keeping the core tight and exhaling. 
  • When the elbow is pointing towards the ground and palm is facing towards you, lower the weight again slowly while inhaling the air.
  • Now repeat the same movement with other hand. 
  • Do the above steps alternatively with both hands for 8 to 9 repetitions for each set. 
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of the exercise with adequate rest according to the intensity of the exercise.

? Pro-Tip 

The only drawback with the above method is that holding dumbbells and handles of tube bands in the same hands is quite uncomfortable. If you have a pair of ankle cuffs, you can wrap the cuffs on the rods of each dumbbell as shown in the picture.

Then simply attach the hook of tube resistance bands to each ankle cuff and perform the above exercise with a super comfortable grip.

Hammer curl exercise with tube resistance band without handles

SET UP
  • Here as suggested earlier, wrap ankle cuffs on each of the dumbbells and attach an appropriate size resistance band to the ankle cuffs. 

Hammer curl using combination of resistance bands and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS –
  • Step on the resistance bands with feet shoulder-width apart while holding the dumbbells in both hands and palm facing towards the thigh. 
  • Make sure that the tube band is tight enough at the lowest most position.
  • Slowly move one dumbbell towards the shoulder exhaling while stretching the band and stop when the elbow is pointing towards the ground and forearm is almost in the vertical plane.
  • Slowly lower the hand while inhaling the air to its original position. 
  • Repeat the above steps with the other hand for 8 to 9 repetitions.  
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of the exercise with adequate rest in between the sets depending upon the intensity of the exercise. 

Shoulder raise exercise with tube resistance band without handles and single dumbbell – 

SET UP
  • Wrap the ankle cuff on each leg slightly above the ankle.
  • Attach both ends of the appropriate color tube resistance band on each ankle cuff through D-cycle.
  • Position the dumbbell at the mid-length of the tube band in such a way that the tube band runs over the middle rod of the dumbbell. 

Shoulder raise exercise using combination of resistance band and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS
  • Hold the dumbbell with both hands while palms facing towards back and feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure that the tube band is slightly tight at this moment. 
  • Slowly raise the dumbbell while stretching the resistance band keeping the core tight and inhaling. Keep the elbows slightly bent. 
  • Start lowering the dumbbell when arms are almost horizontal to the ground while exhaling.
  • Repeat the same steps for 8 to 9 repetitions.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets with adequate rest between the sets according to the intensity level of the workout. 

Squat exercise with ankle cuffs, tube band, and single dumbbell

SET UP – 
  • The set up is quite similar to the shoulder front raise exercise. Wear the ankle cuff on each leg slightly above the ankle.
  • Attach both ends of an appropriate size tube band to the ankle cuffs and run the dumbbell through the mid-length of the tube band. 

Squat exercise using combination of resistance band and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS –
  • Hold the dumbbell with both hands while keeping feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower the body as we sit in the chair while ensuring that knees don’t cross ankles and the back is straight & core tight.
  • Stop when thighs are horizontal to the ground, preferably slightly above the horizontal plane while inhaling.
  • Slowly raise the body and come back to the standing position and squeeze glute muscles a bit. 
  • Repeat the above steps for 8 to 9 repetitions for each set. Perform 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise. 
? IDEA – 

The same exercise of squat can also be performed with the power loop resistance band using a single dumbbell only as shown in the picture. 

Squat exercise by combining resistance band and dumbbell

Just step over the loop band while keeping feet shoulder-width apart and looping the resistance band through the dumbbell rod. Follow the earlier steps and complete the sets.

Shoulder press using resistance tube band without handles, pair of dumbbells and ankle cuffs

SET UP – 
  • Wrap the ankle cuffs around the dumbbell rods. Alternatively, you can hold the handles of tube bands along with the dumbbell rod in the same hands.
  • Now, sit down on your toes and pass the tube band below the ankles leaving two ends of the band on both sides. Now attach the ends of the cylindrical exercise bands to the ankle cuffs.  

Shoulder press exercise using combination of resistance band and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS –
  • Keep your back neutral without overarching. Raise the dumbbells on both sides until the dumbells are in the same plane as ears. 
  • Look straight and chest out. Lift the weight upwards until dumbbells almost touch each other without locking the elbows.
  • Bring the dumbells slowly back to the original position where dumbbells are in line with ears.
  • Repeat the above steps for 8 to 9 repetitions.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of shoulder press exercise as per the above-stated steps.

Using Power loop resistance band and dumbbells

Deadlift exercise using power loop resistance band and pair of dumbbells – 

The main challenge while doing deadlift exercise with dumbbells and power loop bands is to ensure that the loop bands don’t loosen up at the bottom-most position of the deadlift. 

Deadlift with dumbbells and resistance bands combined

INSTRUCTION –
  • Double up the power loop band and tie both loop ends of it through the middle rod of dumbbells.  
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart. Touch the dumbbells close to the shin while lowering the hips. 
  • Position the dumbbells slightly outside the legs with palms facing backward. 
  • Keep back in a neutral position without overarching and chest out. Take a deep breath. 
  • Lift the dumbbells along the body line while keeping the weight over the midfoot and heels.
  • Extend the knees and glute muscles in the topmost position without leaning backward. 
  • Come back slowly to the bottom-most position while keeping back neutral and leg very slightly bent and hips down. 
  • Repeat the above steps for 7 to 8 repetitions depending upon the intensity of the workout. 
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of the deadlift exercise. 

Chest press exercise using power loop band and a pair of dumbells – 

SET UP
  • Double up the power loop band and pass it through the backside of the chest area while laying down on the floor ensuring that the loop ends are visible on both sides of the body.
  • Wrap both loop ends through the middle rods of both dumbbells. 

Chest press exercise using combination of resistance bands and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS – 
  • Keep the back straight without overarching and elbows slightly lower than the shoulders and forearms vertical. 
  • Lift the dumbbells and stretch resistance bands while keeping the core engaged and chin bent towards the chest.
  • Don’t lock the elbows at the topmost position. Don’t touch the dumbbells at the topmost position as it may lift the weight from the chest area.
  • Bring dumbbells back to the original position slowly beside the shoulders.
  • Repeat the above range of motion for 8 to 9 repetitions.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise with adequate rest in between the sets. 

Chest fly exercise using power loop bands and pair of dumbbells

SET UP
  • Double up the power loop band and place them below your upper back while laying down on the floor. 
  • Loop the ends of the power loop resistance band through the middle of both dumbbells.

Chest fly using combination of resistance bands and dumbbells

INSTRUCTIONS
  • Bend the knees while laying down on the floor and extend the hands in the front of the chest area with elbows slightly bent without locking.
  • Move the arms down slowly inhaling making an arc while feeling the chest squeezed. 
  • Bring arms in line with the chest. 
  • Now slowly raise the arms again in an arc motion while exhaling.
  • Repeat the above range of motion for 8 to 9 repetitions for each set.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of chest fly with recommended rest between 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending upon the intensity of the workout.

Bent-Over Dumbbell row with a pair of dumbbells, ankle cuffs, and tube resistance bands

SET UP-
  • Wrap ankle cuffs around each of the dumbbells. 
  • Attach the ends of the tube resistance bands to the ankle cuffs on each of the dumbbells.
  • Step over the tube resistance band while keeping feet shoulder-width apart.

Bent over dumbbell row with resistance bands

INSTRUCTIONS – 
  • Slightly bend your knees while keeping feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep palms of both hands facing towards the body and shoulder-width apart away from the body without locking the elbows. You can also keep elbows facing each other as an alternative method. 
  • Keep back straight while bending it at 45 degrees and not beyond 45 degrees to avoid overexertion. 
  • Bring the dumbbells by stretching the bands towards the waist while exhaling. 
  • Stop when hands are in line with the waist. It is ok even if dumbbells are slightly after the waist area.
  • Again lower the dumbbells while inhaling and extending arms without locking elbows. Keep back straight and feet firm on the ground during the entire range of motion.
  • Repeat the above range of motion for 8 to 9 repetitions for each set.
  • Do 3 to 4 sets of the above exercise with 30 seconds to 2 minutes rest between each set depending upon the intensity of the workout. 

What precautions do I need to take while doing such exercises?

There are a number of challenges that come while doing exercise with the combination of resistance bands and fixed weights. Those challenges and issues looked pretty small until those cost me a back injury which took several weeks to recover.

Here are some of the precautions that you may need to take while doing such exercises.

1. The combination of the resistance band and fixed weights holds good only for exercises including ascending strength curve of muscles and to some extent for exercises having parabolic strength curve. 

Let me explain you the basics of strength curve so that you may be able to grasp the reason behind the limitation easily –

The strength curve refers to the variation of torque produced by muscles at different joint angles as shown in this picture

Picture showing ascending strength curve for exercises such as chest press, leg press, chest fly, squat, deadlift etc-

The torque produced by the muscles is not constant throughout the range of motion but keeps varying depending upon the leverage between the muscles and point of external force including the joint angle. 

Now, what happens when we use resistance bands in the exercises –

The resistance provided by the resistance bands follows an ascending path from the point of initial stretching to full extension. 

In short, the resistance curve of bands follows an ascending curve which matches with exercises having ascending strength curves like leg press, chest press, squat, deadlift, chest fly, etc. 

Rowing is an example of exercise with a descending strength curve where you feel difficult to stay in position when the hands are near the waist while pulling the weights towards the back.

 As shown in the above picture, when the hands are in line with the chest, the muscles are unable to produce much torque to sustain the external force exerted by the resistance bands.

However, resistance bands are at their peak due to their maximum stretching. This mismatch of resistance curve of bands with the strength curve of the muscles during rowing exercise causes muscles to over train making a solid ground for injury.

➡ More details about the different kinds of strength curves and their implications have been covered in this amazing article –  Resistance band versus cable machines – head-on comparison.

The biceps curl exercise is an example of a parabolic strength curve (picture below) –

2. Always restrain from using the same size dumbbell with the resistance band. Reduce the dumbbell size to accommodate the resistance band. 

3. Do not go overboard with all exercises by including resistance bands and dumbbells/barbells. Initially, go for one workout per session with the combination of resistance bands and dumbbells. Thereafter, slowly increase the frequency.

4. The exercises including the combination of resistance bands and fixed weights are not meant for beginners but only for intermediate and advanced athletes who want to go one step further for improvising the existing workouts for enhanced performance.

5. As suggested earlier, if you are using tube resistance bands, use ankle cuffs around the dumbbell rods to grip tube resistance bands and properly anchor the bands below your feet. 

Picture showing ankle cuff wrapped around the dumbbell rod for attaching tube resistance bands –  

? FACT

Slippage of resistance bands from under the feet during exercises is the second most common reason after the snapping of bands, responsible for most of the severe resistance band injuries. 

6. After setting up power loop bands or tube bands with fixed weights, do not directly go for exercise.  

Instead, check the set up by cautiously performing one or two repetitions while keeping face away from the reach of resistance bands. Ensure that anchoring is strong and secured before going for the exercise full on. 

7. Only perform exercises in a vertical plane of motion while combining resistance bands with free weights as the weight of dumbbells and barbells only act in the vertical plane due to gravity. (check the picture below)

That means you can’t perform standing chest presses and biceps curls while laying down on the floor as you would have been performing with resistance bands alone.


My Final Thoughts

Resistance bands and free weights are awesome to work as a standalone accessory due to the flexibility and freedom of including numerous variations of exercises, unlike guided gym machines. However, both come with their own limitations.  

The free weights such as dumbbells and barbells don’t provide the exercises in multiple planes of movements and maximum weight lifted is largely dependent upon the sticking point where the muscles are unable to produce enough torque.

The opposite is true for resistance bands. In short, resistance bands and fixed weights complement each other when combined.

➤ Combining resistance bands with dumbbells in safe proportions while avoiding the overtraining of muscles is an art. 

Have patience and progress slowly while ensuring that the resistance band doesn’t get overstretched and doesn’t slip from the anchoring point.

Serious injuries have been reported in the past related to eyes and dental due to the malfunctioning of resistance bands. 

Do go through this article –  Are resistance bands safe? – best practical tips to avoid injury

LIFE IS SHORT, WORK HARDER AND WORK SMARTER, 

GOOD LUCK 


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