Resistance Bands Vs Free Weights – Ultimate Visual Guide (2019)

Resistance Bands Vs Free Weights

The war between resistance bands and free weights is being there for decades. However, it has now got intensified in last few years only courtesy to the awareness about health arising in general public thanks to social media and increasing popularity of health channels and healthy foods.

Resistance Bands Vs Free Weights is the first doubt, every hobbyist comes up with in his mind when he/she is about to make a purchase of resistance bands but he/she is struck with confusion this post deals with. And you are among them for sure.

Now Lets dive in to how resistance bands differs from free weights –

This is the in depth analysis of difference between the resistance bands and free weights. But don’t get afraid as I have kept the language rather simple with visuals at every stage to help you consume the content easily.

Here, first we need to understand the definition of resistance bands and free weight. Oh.. come on, didn’t we know it?

This is the reaction you might be giving while reading the first line of the para. You are right but I recommend you to read from the beginning given the fact that whole subsequent explanations are based on these definitions. Chances are that you may not have thought about the definition as I am analyzing it.

Before we jump right into first point,

here is the brief topics we are going to cover and you will learn by the end of this post –


1. What are Resistance bands?
2.What are Free Weights?
3. What are the similarities between the resistance bands and free weights?
4. How resistance bands differs from the free weights?
5. Who is the winner – Resistance Bands or Dumbbells?

After this article you shall be well equipped to decide which one is better resistance bands or free weights.

Doubt No.#1 – WHAT ARE THE RESISTANCE BANDS? I am not going to bore you here by the giving the typical 1980’s definition. Cool ! The resistance training bands are simply the flexible rubber tubes sometimes hollow and sometimes not.

They have negligible weight of their own and as such the resistance required for doing various exercises is not provided by the virtue of the weight of these bands. Quiet obvious explanation, Isn’t it?

 So how resistance bands provide resistance?

The force you have to exert in order to stretch it over and above the original length at rest is actually the resistance offered by the resistance band

Here is the picture

depicting the effect of stretching on resistance offered by elastic band


Force required to alter the shape of resistance (in this case, it is length) is actually the resistance offered by the strength bands. More you stretch the bands, more force you exert and more resistance is offered to your muscle fibers

Doubt No. #2 – What are free weights?

Free weights by virtue of its name are just a weight of fixed resistance measured in pounds or kg. Their shape does not change when any force is applied over them. So, free weights don’t need to stretch like resistance bands for this purpose.

So how do free weights offer resistance?

The only way they offer resistance is by the law of gravity depending upon the mass of free weight.

Here is the picture 

depicting the effect of lifting the dumbbell in biceps curl on resistance offered (which is fixed here)


The free weights are simply the weights with some predetermined mass and they offers resistance when you act against the gravity to lift the weights. The moment, weights are lifted in vertical direction, you start feeling the resistance. That’s it. Simple!

Doubt No.#3 – What are the similarities between the resistance bands and free weights? Here is the nice visual giving quick recap of similarities between the two.  I shall explain all in detail just after the picture below

Free Range of Motion – #1

Range of motion  means the range of movement of hands/legs from the start of the exercise till the finish.

The fitness resistance bands are just the rubber tubes and you have complete freedom to use them in any direction and manner only limited by your imagination.

You may use it in right way or mess up all. That also means your hand movements are not restricted during the range of motion of the exercise.

Similar is the case with the free weights.


Unlike gym machines, hand movements in various exercises are not restricted in case of both resistance bands and free weights. Free range of motion is possible in case of both resistance bands and free weights

Progressive Resistance – #2

The progressive resistance means the possibility of increasing the resistance as your body starts adapting to the existing level of resistance offered by the equipment used for the exercise.

The resistance of fitness bands can easily be increased to challenge the muscles further in progressive manner.

Simply move onto higher resistance colors of elastic bands from yellow to blue to red to black or simply double up the existing resistance band. You may also stretch the resistance band even further to increase resistance.

Similarly, free weights such as dumbbells can be replaced with larger weight dumbbells as your stamina starts improving to keep challenging the body.


Both resistance bands and free weights are capable of providing the progressive resistance matching to your needs from initial stages to advanced stages of workout regime.

Variable Speed Training – #3

Variable speed training means the ability to do same exercises at different speeds.

This means that you can decrease the speed of movement of weight in range of motion to increase the time for which muscles under tension or increase the speed of movement for doing high rep exercises.

Both Resistance and dumbbells are free gadgets which are not restricted or guided by any artificial arrangement. As such both elastic bands and dumbbells can be used for variable speed training to achieve sport specific goals.


Building Muscles – #4

Building muscles here means the capability of building muscles solely by the only resistance bands or only free weights.

So whether resistance bands are as effective as weights when it comes to building muscles?

The resistance bands offers the same level of resistance as offered by the free weights by just changing the colors of stretch bands.

Here is an important picture

citing the range of resistance attainable with different color resistance.

The body is not able to identify the source of resistance as long as resistance offered is same. So the resistance bands are solely capable of building and maintaining the muscle mass.

The free weights as we all know are increasingly popular for body building. So i don’t need to explain whether free weights helps building muscles here. Right!


Both resistance workout bands and free weights are capable of building muscles on their own as long as resistance level is same and good form is being used in both. Studies have found ERB (Elastic Resistance Bands) to be similarly effective in activating muscles compared to free weights during single-joint resistance exercises when relative loadings were matched

Here is an article written on do resistance bands really work which covers the all confusions around the resistance bands for building in appealing visuals.

Bookmark the above link for later reading so that you may keep focusing here till the very end.

Doubt No.#4 – How Resistance Bands differs from the free weights? Now as you have gone through all the basics and similarities, you now might start guessing whether the resistance bands are same as the free weights or better than dumbbells.

We have explained each difference with case study and pictures to support them. So relax and breeze through the rest part of this article.

Lets start –

See this detailed explanation by James Grage

About how resistance bands differs from free weights when it comes to building muscles

Variable Resistance

Now this difference is huge among all the other differences that’s why I have given it the topmost spot.

 This term comes from the fact that resistance of elastic bands varies widely along the range of the motion.

Take a look at the picture below

which explains how resistance of elastic rubber bands varies during the range of motion

Example –

Let us assume that I am doing the bicep curl with a green color resistance band of 20 kg (at its standard max length).

Now when strength training band is in lowest most position, the resistance offered by the band is the least and near to zero.

But as soon as i start lifting the dumbbell towards the shoulder, resistance band’s resistance starts increasing and becomes maximum (20kg) at highest most position near the shoulder.

This means that no resistance band has any fixed resistance. To give them identifications, elastic bands are usually divided into color code with varying min to max resistance.

In case of free weights – 

The resistance is fixed during the entire range of motion as the resistance of free weights is by virtue of its mass (which was covered in the definition of free weight). The mass of free weights remains fixed throughout the range of motion, so is the resistance.

Take a look at the picture below

which explains how resistance of dumbbell varies during the range of motion (Its fixed though)

Tension during the range of motion –

You might be getting anxious reading the above especially for those who are just the beginners looking for general fitness.

Don’t worry, I will explain it in very simple words.

Tension during the range of motion means the quantum of time your muscles being targeted remains under tension from the start to the finish of the particular movement in an exercise.


Let us take example of biceps curl being done with the help of dumbbells. When your hands are at the lowest most position towards your feet, there is maximum stress over the biceps muscles and this is weakest most point in the this range of motion.

When you start lifting the dumbbells towards the shoulders, the role of moment of inertia comes into the play. As you speed up the dumbbell towards shoulders, due to inertia of the weight of the dumbbells, you start feeling less resistance during the rest phase of range of motion due to inertia.

When the dumbbells are near the top most position near shoulders, resistance is almost shifted from the biceps to the shoulders. And that’s why, you feel relieved when dumbbell is the top most position.

Here is the picture depicting –

how resistance and muscle strength varies during biceps curl with dumbbells 


This is the reason, it is advised to make the movement of dumbbell slow enough to reduce the impact of moment of inertia on dumbbell and maximize tension on muscles. So don’t cheat!


Let us do the same biceps curl with the bands.

What happens now, read it carefully, it is interesting.

Now, resistance bands don’t have mass of their own as already explained you in the starting of the article.

Due to this, you don’t get any advantage even when you speed up the movement from initial start to finish towards the shoulders. As moment of inertia of resistance bands is negligible.

So your biceps muscles remains under tension during the entire range of motion and you can’t cheat this aspect by increasing the speed of the exercise.

Here is the picture depicting –

the tension variation in bands during the range of motion in biceps curl

Impact of Body Swings –

This aspect is very important not only from the perspective of this topic but also lets you learn the right technique of doing exercises in general.

Lets go!

While doing heavy exercises in general, we tend to swing our body to help lift the dumbbell.

Now, how does swinging of the body helps you cheat with dumbbell exercise?

When you swing your body, you actually makes the use of larger muscle groups such as thigh muscles and leg muscles which further accelerates the inertia of the dumbbell you are lifting.

As a result, you shall feel less tension on muscles due to the higher acceleration of the dumbbell.


Most people in the gym are seen swinging their body while doing dumbbell exercise. The reason being is that they are trying to lift heavy weights which they actually can’t. So they takes help of larger back and leg muscles to cheat.

Now, what happens in case of resistance band exercises?

As already told you before, the resistance bands don’t have any mass of their own. So swinging your body is not going to help you increase the inertia of motion of resistance gym bands.

So practically you can’t cheat form while doing resistance band exercise. A BIG PLUS, isn’t it! Here is an article on psychology behind the cheating inside gym. 

See this detailed explanation by Caysem Johnson

About how resistance bands have an advantage when it comes cheating the form by swinging of body

Multiple plane of movement –

This is again a big difference between the exercise bands and the dumbbells.

Let us find out how?

Dumbbells as we already know produces resistance due to its mass which is dependent upon the gravity. And gravity always acts downwards.

So you can well understand that if you want to do exercise with dumbbells you have to act against gravity of dumbbells in vertical plane only.

You can’t do chest press exercise in standing position as it shall infact put stress on shoulders.

 Here is  picture depicting – 

plane of movement in case of dumbbells and wrong way of doing chest press

What happens in case of resistance bands?

In case of elastic bands, where ever you anchor your bands, resistance of bands starts acting in that direction. So you are not limited to do chest press lying flat on the bench.

Here is the picture depicting –

multiple plane aspect of resistance bands and variation of chest press in standing position


With elastic workout bands, you can actually improve your original sports specific  movements as its resistance can be applied in whatever plane of movement you practically use in routine or in sports to strengthen those targeted muscle fibers.

Most Pro athletes are making use of resistance bands to improve their sports performance for decades.

Bands Follows Natural Curve Of Strength –

 The first question that shall come to your mind when you read the above headline is –

What is the strength curve?

For all muscles of the body, there is a definite curve or the pattern in which the strength of muscles varies over the range of motion of a particular exercise.


Lets again take an example of biceps curl. When hands are in the lowest most position, the biceps muscles are in the weakest form. But as soon as your dumbbell reaches midway, muscles starts becoming stronger.

This means all muscles have a strength curve.

So how does it matter here?

Idea behind strength curve is to adequately fatique the muscles along its strength curve. Which means that resistance should be able to fatique muscles adequately when hands are in the lowest most position.

However, when hands move upward in biceps exercise, strength of muscles starts increasing. So resistance applied on muscles should also increase.

Now what happens in case of Free Weights?

Free weights have fixed resistance over the range of motion as you already know. So when you are doing a dumbbell curl, resistance offered by dumbbell won’t increase with increase in strength of muscles along with range of motion.

So read carefully here,

The maximum weight of dumbbell which can be lifted during a dumbbell curl is limited by the maximum weight which can be lifted when muscles are in weakest position.

Here is the picture depicting –

relation between the strength curve and resistance curve in biceps curl using dumbbells

What happens in case of resistance bands?

You must have guessed it already, but I should be explaining you to register the concept in right way in your memories.

Resistance bands have variable resistance which means they provide least resistance when bands are least stretched in the lowest position of bicep curl. This is the same position when muscles are also the weakest.

When hands moves upwards in biceps curl, band gets stretched further and your muscles more resistance. This increased resistance by bands proportionally matches the muscles which are now stronger.

Here is the picture depicting – 

relation between the strength curve and resistance curve in biceps curl using resistance bands

Fact –

So the Resistance bands adequately fatigues the muscles during the complete range of motion as bands keeps burdening more as muscles are getting stronger. Many studies have shown significant improvement in maximum force and velocity when resistance bands are used for strength training.

Rehabilitation for injuries –

I need not to explain this fact in detail. Resistance stretching bands have long being used for recovering from injuries. The flexibility in resistance variations, multiple plane of movement and ease of use makes training bands such as yoga bands a perfect option to gradually recover from the injuries.

Read this article Rehabbing sports injuries with resistance bands for detailed explanation on injury recovery

 As above I have covered the main differences between the free weights and resistance which matters in true sense in terms of effect on the performance.

Other differences such as lower cost of bands and portability of elastic bands as compared to free weights may also be included in general.

The showdown of Resistance Bands Vs Free Weights here now comes to the climax in form of the verdict. But as said at the start of this article, you are for sure at the stage to decide whether resistance bands are as effective as free weights.

But before the verdict, here is recap of

what you learned through this article for quick overview – Resistance Bands vs Free Weights

Doubt No.#5 – Who is the winner – Resistance Bands or Dumbbells? VERDICT (Resistance Bands or dumbbells which one is better) –

The way resistance bands differ from free weights in looks, they also differ hugely from free weights in terms of performance. Resistance bands competes very closely with free weights and even surpasses free weights in some of the aspects such as better emulation of strength curve and ability to perform sports specific movements.

Finally, in the final showdown of resistance bands vs dumbbells (free weights) it can be safely concluded that resistance bands are as equal as the free weights and even supersedes free weights in some aspects.

To explore amazing collection of resistance bands for yoga, cardio and athletics, visit our store


We have tried our best to provide the information with simple words with visual explanations when and where needed.

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