Resistance Bands Vs Cable Machines – Head On Comparison

The topic I am going to discuss is quite obvious for the reason that both the resistance bands and the cable machines involve very similar dynamics and also provide very similar kinds of exercises.

When both resistance bands and cable machines provide a similar functionality then why should I go for expensive and heavy machinery like cable machines?

Here I’m going to provide the head-on comparison between the resistance bands and cable machines.  Some of the differences you may already be knowing, so my main focus shall be on technical aspects.

So what is the difference between resistance bands and cable machines?  The resistance bands are cheap and extremely portable as compared to the cable machines. However, cable machines excel on usability terms. The main technical difference between the two is the variable resistance of resistance bands as compared to the fixed resistance training provided by the cable machines. 

However,  Does variable resistance training provided by the resistance band is really worth a try? Can resistance bands really replace cable machines?

❝ 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 ❞

You will find the answers to the above million-dollar questions as I explain to you the similarities and differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines on commercial aspects as well as the technical aspects.


Here is an index –

Feel free to jump anywhere, you want, however, I would recommend you to spend a decent amount of time on technical differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines

   1.

Similarities between the resistance bands and the cable machine.

   2.

Differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines based on

   3.

On commercial terms

   4.

On technical terms

   5.

My recommendation


Similarities between the resistance bands and cable machines –

As you may already be knowing, the cable machines are the inherent part of the gym whereas resistance bands are only used for warming up and recovery exercises inside the fitness clubs.  

The main issue arises when you have to choose between the resistance bands and cable machines for your home gym set up, given the huge similarities between these two types of fitness equipment.

Let us discuss the similarities between the resistance bands and the cable machines one by one

1. Provides resistance in multiple directions –  

Both resistance bands and cable machines are capable of providing resistance in multiple directions.  That means the chest press exercise that you used to do while laying down on the bench with free weights, the same exercise can also be done while standing on the floor with the help of resistance bands and cable machines.

Both resistance bands and cable machines are able to provide training to the muscles from infinite angles. 

2. Provides resistance training in multiple planes of movement –  

Where free weights such as dumbbells and barbells provide training only in vertical planes due to dependency on gravity,  the resistance bands and cable machines can provide resistance in horizontal, transverse as well as in the vertical plane of movement.

For example – In the case of biceps curl exercise that you do with the help of dumbbells, the movement of arms is only in the vertical plane. Instead, if you do the same biceps curl exercise while laying down on the floor with bands and cable machines,  your arms move in the horizontal plane.

Similarly, the exercises where you twist your abs and back using resistance bands and cable machines,  you are making movements in a transverse plane

Now let us discuss the differences between the resistance bands and cable machines based on commercial and technical aspects.


Differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines based on the commercial aspects

1. Resistance bands are way cheaper –

The resistance bands may cost you only a few dollars whereas a good quality cable machine are way costlier.  The cost of the cable machine is the issue of huge consideration among the buyers and that’s why people get inclined towards buying the resistance bands.

2. Portability – 

The resistance bands are extremely portable whereas cable machines are very heavy and occupy a lot of space. 

So if you have space constraints in the house or you are a frequent traveler who needs fitness on the go, the resistance bands are a no-brainer.

3. Life span of fitness equipment- 

The shelf life of resistance bands is very short and their life ranges from 6 months to 2.5  years at maximum depending upon the usage and maintenance of the bands. 

 To know more about the shelf life of resistance bands and tips to make them last longer read this article – How long do resistance bands last – Best tips for longevity

Whereas cable machines can last for a decade depending upon the quality of the material.

4. Ease of using the equipment

In the case of cable machines,  switching between the weighing plates and changing the direction of pull is super easy and fast. 

Whereas in the case of resistance bands, you have to completely replace the existing color band with a new one for changing resistance.

Similarly, for changing the direction of pull, you need to refix the anchor accessory across different locations around the door and on the wall.

Now let us discuss the differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines based on technical terms- 



Differences between the resistance bands and cable machines based on the technical aspects

1. Origin of resistance –  

This is one of the major differences between the resistance bands and the cable machines.  In the case of resistance bands, the source of resistance is the stretching of elastic rubber which tries to resist stretching to bring the resistance band back to its original position.

Whereas in the case of cable machines, the gravitational pull of the weighing plates is transformed into the directional pull by means of cables and pulley arrangement.

Interesting fact –  This is the reason, astronauts in outer space make use of resistance bands to keep themselves fit due to the non-dependency of bands on the gravitational force.

2. Resistance bands provide variable resistance during the range of motion of exercise – 

This is the difference that sets resistance bands apart from the cable machines. In the case of cable machines, they have constant weight during the entire range of motion as shown in the picture below. 

Whereas resistance bands provide a variable resistance throughout the range of motion as shown in the picture below –

As shown in the picture, the resistance provided by the resistance bands during the initial phase of the range of motion is near to zero. However,  as you start moving your hand towards the shoulder during biceps curl exercise, resistance band gets stretched and corresponding resistance also starts increasing.

NOTE

All the other differences between the resistance band and the cable machines to be discussed from here on are in relevance to the variable resistance of resistance band training as compared to fixed resistance provided by the cable machines.

3. Resistance Curve of bands follows the strength curve in a better way

The resistance bands follow the strength curve of muscles much better as compared to the cable machine especially in case of exercises where muscles follow an ascending strength curve.

Confused!  you should be.  Some questions might be arising in your mind like what actually is strength curve and how it impacts the exercise and what role do resistance bands can play in those exercises

Let me first explain to you some of the basics of the strength curve.  

Don’t get overwhelmed,  it’s really simple and extremely interesting.

What do you mean by the strength curve?

It is the amount of torque developed by the muscles at different joint angles during the range of the motion. 

The strength curve may be ascending, descending or parabolic depending upon the kind of the exercises.

Let me provide you with some of the examples of exercises with different types of strength curves

A. Exercises with ascending strength curve

In exercises with the ascending strength curve, the torque producing ability of the muscles keeps increasing during the contraction phase of the range of motion. 

Squats,  bench press,  shoulder press are examples of such exercises where muscles follow the ascending strength curve. 

Let us take an example of a squat exercise. When you are in the bottom-most position in a squat exercise,  where your glutes are at maximum distance from the knees, the torque produced by the muscles surrounding knees and glutes is at a minimum.  

However, during the topmost position when the glutes are almost in line with the knee joint,  the muscles are capable of providing the maximum torque and that’s why you feel much better during the final phase of squat exercises.

B. Exercises with descending strength curve

In such exercises, the torque producing ability of the muscles starts decreasing during the contraction phase of the range of motion which is exactly opposite to the exercises where ascending strength curve is followed by the muscles. 

Examples of exercises with descending strength curves are rowing and chin-ups where the muscles are capable of producing much larger force during the initial phase of the exercises. 

That is the reason you feel much better during the initial phase of rowing exercise. However, when your elbow is close to your back, it is really difficult to stay steady at that point.

CExercises with parabolic strength curve

In the case of the parabolic strength curve,  muscles are weak during the initial phase and final phases of the exercises. However, during the middle portion of the range of motion, muscles are strongest.  

An example of such exercises is the biceps curl.

Now you understand the basics of the strength curve of different exercises. 

Now let us discuss the advantage of resistance bands in relevance to the strength curves of the exercises.

As shown in the picture below,  during squat exercise, when the athlete is at the bottom-most position,  due to the ascending strength curve, muscles are at their weakest level. The resistance bands at this position also provide the lowest resistance due to the least stretching. 

Resistance bands matches strength curve in a better way

As soon as the athletes start lifting their bodies, their muscles are able to generate more power. Similarly, the resistance provided by the resistance bands also starts increasing due to increased stretching of the band.

As such,  resistance bands help you recover from the position when your muscles are the weakest and provide you with appropriate loading when your muscles are strongest.

Here is the important finding published on researchgate.net  on Muscular bases and mechanisms of variable resistance training efficacy which supports the above advantage of resistance bands as compared to the cable machines which have a fixed resistance training –

Exercises that have an ascending strength curve, such as the back squat and bench press, have been shown to benefit the most from VR.
NOTE
Resistance bands training with resulting variable resistance has a special role to play in exercises with ascending strength curves like squats, bench press, shoulder press and several other exercises with similar strength curves.

4. Resistance bands provide the ability to focus more on a certain part of a range of motion

With variable resistance, you can focus on certain parts of the range of motion of exercises to train them. 

Take an example of chest press with resistance bands, you feel more resistance when your hands are away from the chest.  In that case, you can specifically improve the strength of inner pectoral muscles by adding resistance bands to the cable machine workout so that there is more resistance during the final phase of the exercise as compared to the initial phase of exercise.

 

5. Resistance band recruits fast-twitch muscle fibers better than cable machines – 

Let me explain this concept with an example of biceps curl exercise. With variable resistance training, due to low resistance provided during the initial phase of a biceps curl, there is faster acceleration to overcome the elasticity. 

Similarly, there is fast de-acceleration due to larger eccentric loading by returning resistance band. As a result, more of the fast-twitch fibers are employed which makes you stronger and bigger. 

6. Resistance band training provides more instability  –   

While doing resistance band training,  you will notice that it is really difficult to maintain posture and body parts start vibrating a bit.  In response, the body recruits more muscles to keep the body stabilized with a good posture. 

As a result, the variable resistance training through resistance bands is more effective in improving the overall strength of the muscles than fixed resistance training provided by the cable machines.

?


Here is the most fantastic and affordable home pulley cable system you can install right within your home and take advantage of all cable machine exercises you may have been doing in the costly gym premises –

Package details of DIY home cable pulley workout system


My Recommendation

Please don’t conclude from the above comparison that the resistance bands are superior as compared to the cable machines. However, it also doesn’t mean that resistance bands are inferior to the cable machines.

Both cable machines and resistance band have their own place in the fitness routine.

Resistance bands have exclusive benefits where exercises with ascending strength curves are involved. You can better load muscles when they are the strongest and relieve them when muscles are weakest in the initial phases of the exercise.

?  Pro-Tip

  1. It doesn’t mean that you should not be loading muscles when they are weakest and perform only the portion of the range of motion when you feel better.  It is always a better idea to do a complete range of motion for the overall development of muscles. The only consideration should be the optimum loading during the entire range of motion without overtraining muscles at all stages.

  2. Combining resistance bands with fixed resistance training like free weights and cable machines can be a huge advantage to benefit from both. 

Let us finally conclude as under

  1. If you have a budget, I would recommend you buy both cable machines and resistance bands. For exercises with the ascending strength curve, bands can help you improve the overall strength and also let you focus on certain parts of the range of motion to train in a better way. 
  2. For people who can’t afford cable machines,  I would recommend you to go for resistance bands without any second thought.  

Explore the amazing range of affordable resistance bands sold by us here with easy returns 


  If you still have doubts about the potential of resistance bands to use as standalone training equipment, do read this article – Benefits of resistance bands – with visual insights

There is the finding published on NCBI which confirms that resistance bands are no way less than the cable machines in terms of effectiveness –

Evidence from this study suggests that resistance training with elastic devices provides similar strength gains when compared to resistance training performed from conventional devices.

These findings allow coaches, physiotherapists, and even patients to opt to use devices with low costs, ease of handling, and which can be used in different places, such as elastic devices, for maintenance and gain in muscular strength.


NOTE –

For beginners and intermediate athletes, if you can afford the cable machine,  you may not require a resistance band at the initial stages as developing a decent strength is going to be the primary objective. 

For advanced athletes, if you can afford the cable machine then it is a wise decision to also invest in some of the different resistance bands types.

 Do check this amazing article which lets you make the right decision while purchasing resistance bands – How to choose resistance bands – Ultimate Visual Guide


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