Can you build muscle with resistance bands

Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands? Scientific And Case Studies Indicate You Can!

For much of my lifting career, I’ve been an advocate for dumbbells and barbells. But I began to lose my zest for training after using them for so many years. That’s when it clicked. Can you build muscle with resistance bands? And if so, are they as effective as weights?

Resistance bands can be used to build muscle. Gaining muscle requires intense weight lifting combined with a high-protein and caloric surplus diet. Therefore, using heavy resistance bands and increasing the weight lifted over time is an effective method for building muscle.

Below, I’ll share my experience with using bands to gain muscle mass.

I’ll also share the scientific research and case studies that indicate resistance bands work just as well for building muscle.

Finally, I’ll share the exact workout I used to build muscle at home with bands!

Let’s go!

How I built muscle using just resistance bands.

Recommended Bands For Building Muscle

You’ll see me using my resistance bands to demonstrate the principles I talk about in this post.

They’re the Undersun resistance band set (you can check out my hands-on review here).

I’ve been using resistance bands for over 5 years now.

My recommended bands for gaining muscle.

And in that time, I’ve cycled through many different brands; from good to bad, to downright rip-offs!

The Undersuns are slightly more expensive than the budget Amazon bands with handles. But they’re still cheaper than a lot of the other premium brands out there.

These are 100% the best value bands for building muscle at home in my opinion (oh, they come in a camo brown or orange color by the way).

They also come with a lifetime warranty!

If you’re interested, you can find the cheapest Undersun here.

Why It’s Possible To Gain Muscle Without Weights

Gaining muscle requires resistance training combined with good nutrition. Elastic workout bands are an effective form of resistance training. They can provide a considerable amount of external resistance for muscles to work against to promote hypertrophy.

How to gain muscle without weights.

Muscular hypertrophy (the posh word for muscle growth) happens when you present your muscles with external resistance. In other words, when you give them a force to fight against.

Repeated high-intensity contractions cause microdamage to occur in your muscle fibers. And the subsequent repair process causes them to grow back bigger and stronger.

This means you CAN gain muscle without weights.

All you need is that external resistance.

And bodyweight training is a popular method for beginners to apply resistance and build muscle.

Resistance bands simply make bodyweight exercises even harder.

By extension, this means resistance bands can indeed build muscle.

Can You Build Muscle With Resistance Bands ONLY?

Using only resistance bands can build muscle mass. However, a band needs to provide enough weight to challenge the target muscle. Applying overload by using progressively heavier bands is also recommended to maximize muscle gains.

Why you can build muscle with just only resistance bands.

Don’t let their simple design fool you.

Trust me, resistance bands can provide A LOT of tension (i.e. weight) to challenge your muscles for growth.

A good set of bands can even provide more resistance than most people can handle.

To put things into perspective; I usually barbell bench press 220lbs for 5 reps at the gym, and I struggle to complete 10 slow reps of banded-pushups using the extra-heavy Undersun band.

Don’t forget you can also stack multiple bands to further increase the weight.

If you integrate heavy resistance band training with progressive overload, you have the ideal combination to grow muscle and get big (tips on overloading later….).

Resistance Band Effectiveness For Building Different Body Regions

Resistance bands can build every major muscle group. This includes the chest, shoulders, arms, back, abs, and legs. Bands can be anchored and held in various positions to target specific body parts with different exercises like pressing, rowing, and squatting.

How to build muscle using resistance band workouts.

It can be difficult to wrap your head around how a simple elastic band can be used to hit each body group.

And who can blame you?

After all, the spotlight tends to be hogged by the more glamorous-looking barbell and dumbbell…

Here’s how to build muscle in different body parts using resistance bands:

Body PartPrimary Target MusclesEffective Exercises
ChestPectorals major and minorChest press.
Banded push-up.
Pec fly with bands.
Upward fly with bands.
Band crossover.
ShouldersAnterior, posterior, and lateral deltoidsShoulder press with bands.
Hammer press with bands.
Banded front raise.
Banded lateral raise.
Rear delt fly with band.
BackTrapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsiSeated back row with bands.
Incline standing row using bands.
Upright row using bands.
Banded lat pull-down.
Reverse banded fly.
ArmsBiceps and tricepsBanded bicep curl.
Banded hammer curl.
Tricep pull-down with bands.
Overhead tricep band extension.
All rowing and pressing movements
AbdominalsRectus abdominis and obliquesBanded ab crunch.
Woodchopper with bands.
Golf swing with bands.
Banded core rotations.
Lying leg raise with bands.
LegsQuadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutesBanded front squat.
Forward lunge with band.
Deadlift using bands.
Quad extension with bands.
Banded leg kick back

Next, I’ll share evidence that resistance bands are indeed an effective way to gain muscle mass and get big!

Reddit Agree Resistance Bands Can Build Muscle

I turned to Reddit to find supporting evidence that resistance bands are a good way to build muscle.

Why?

Based on personal experience, I found the Reddit community to be a good place for real-life case studies. You know; real results from real people…

I tracked down the following threads:

Surprisingly, 100% of respondents agreed that resistance bands are a good way to build strength, gain muscle, and get ripped.

You may also be interested in checking out my other post for various before and after transformations using resistance bands from ordinary people like you and me.

Reddit agree it is possible to build muscle with only resistance bands.

Speaking from experience, I feel resistance bands can be extremely effective for beginners. You’ll be able to effectively work all muscles for growth as a newbie.

Things start to become harder after your first year of training. The further you progress into the intermediate and advanced stages of band training, the harder it becomes to sufficiently working your legs.

These are the largest muscles in your body.

As such, you’ll need to find creative ways to keep them challenged using only bands since there’s only so much weight you can apply.

In comparison, it’s relatively simple to keep overloading with more weight using a barbell.

Next, I’ll explore the scientific evidence that suggests resistance bands are a good way to build muscle.

Can Resistance Bands Build Muscle As Well As Weights?

Resistance bands can build muscle like weights. This has been shown by scientific studies which demonstrated bands improve muscular strength better than free weights. Since muscle strength and size are correlated, this indicates bands are as effective as weights for building muscle.

Studies find resistance bands can build muscle better than weights.

Let me first point you to this 2016 study which examined bench press strength development in Rugby players.

The participants were split into two groups:

  1. Trained in the barbell bench press.
  2. Trained with the barbell bench press with bands attached.

The scientists found that group 2- players who trained with the banded bench press– developed greater bench press strength and power compared to group 1!

Studies find resistance bands can build muscle as well as weights.

Now let me point you to this 2019 meta-study which compiled data from 29 independent studies.

Each study compared strength development between training with resistance bands vs free weights and weight machines.

Furthermore, a wide range of demographics was studied (including the elderly, those with underlying conditions, and elite athletes).

The meta-study concluded that, overall, resistance bands work just as well as weights for building muscle and strength!

Next, I’ll share muscle-building examples from elite athletes who work primarily with bands!

Examples Of Bodybuilders Who Use Resistance Bands

A few notable bodybuilders train with just resistance bands. James Grage and Erin McComb both compete, or have previously completed, in bodybuilding competitions. Both advocate the exclusive use of resistance bands and go through extended periods of band training.

Bodybuilders who only use resistance bands include James Grage and Erin McComb.

James works primarily with bands right now.

He’s the founder of the Undersun Fitness bands.

If you go on his Youtube channel, you’ll find a variety of resistance band exercises for building muscle.

Erin first discovered the benefits of using resistance bands when she suffered a hand injury.

She’s since fully converted to band workouts and it’s one of her favorite ways to work the glutes.

You can check out Erin’s thoughts and opinions on bands here.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Resistance Bands

Advantages Of BandsDisadvantages Of Bands
Cheap way to start working outDurability issues mean bands can snap
Portable and can be used anywhereImpossible to quantify weight
Reduced joint aggravation compared to weightsUnreliable tracking of progression
Provides enough resistance for muscle growthHard to stay motivated with band programs
Suitable for all fitness levelsDifficult to get big
Linear variable resistance only found in bandsRequires a secure anchor for full benefits

Pros Of Using Resistance Bands To Build Muscle

Advantages and pros of using bands to gain strength and lean mass.

Let’s further explore the advantages/pros of using resistance bands to build muscle:

  • Cheap and affordable. You can buy a good set of bands from a reputable company for under 100 bucks. And that’s enough to start building muscle. That’s a fraction of the price you’d expect to pay for free weights. I use and recommend the Undersun bands (you ucan find the cheapest price here).
  • Portable and convenient. They can be used at home, at the park, or on the beach. This can relieve the monotony of training. The Undersun bands come with a bundled travel pouch!
  • Reduced joint aggravation. Unlike weights, bands only provide resistance when they are stretched. This unique property is much easier on the joints making them ideal for people who have bad shoulders, hips, or knees.
  • Provides enough resistance for muscle-building. A good set of workout bands will give you enough resistance to progress onto the advanced stages of building muscle mass. You don’t need to worry about outgrowing them.
  • Suitable for all fitness levels. Beginners can use lighter bands. If you have more training experience, you can use heavier bands. You can even try combining and stacking bands for even more resistance. A set of workout bands allows you plenty of room for muscle gains and progression!
  • Linear variable resistance. Also abbreviated to LVR, this refers to how bands provide more resistance as they stretch. This is a unique property with workout bands and makes them great for muscle gains (I’ll explain why below).

If you’re interested you can check out my other article to find out why I think resistance bands are good!

Cons Of Using Resistance Bands To Build Muscle

Disadvantages and cons of using resistance bands to gain muscle mass.

Now let’s further explore the disadvantages/cons of using resistance bands to build muscle:

  • Durability issues and snapping. A short lifespan is a tradeoff for bands being so cheap. Good bands can last for years. But budget models can snap within months. This is no good for making muscle gains!
  • Impossible to quantify weight. Unlike with dumbbells, for example, you can’t reliably quantify the weight you’re lifting with bands. This is due to LVR (see above section). This may not be a big issue with seasoned lifters who can tell by feel. But it makes it hard for beginners to know exactly what they are lifting.
  • Unreliable progression tracking. Since it’s hard to tell how much weight you’re lifting with bands, it also becomes hard to track progression. And as you know, PROGRESSIVELY overloading is the best way to build muscle. Thus, building muscle with bands can be slightly trickier compared to using weights (especially as a beginner).
  • Hard to stay motivated with band programs. This 2022 study found that the greatest motivation for sticking to something comes from seeing quantifiable improvements over time. Therefore as a result of unreliable progression tracking, it’s also hard to stay motivated with band programs. Therefore you’re muscle gain journey may end prematurely!
  • Difficult to get big. Getting big requires consistent training over extended periods. As a result of the previous 3 points, it can be more difficult to get big using resistance bands vs weights.
  • Requires a secure anchor. A door anchor is essential for unlocking the full array of mass-building exercises available with bands. Fortunately, a good set of resistance bands like the Undersuns come bundled with a high-quality anchor.

Now you know what to expect from resistance bands, I’ll show you HOW you can start building muscle with them!

How To Build Muscle With Resistance Bands

Here’s a 3-day full-body training split that helped me to build muscle.

It focuses mainly on compound movements that work multiple muscle groups in one motion.

But isolation movements are also there to define and tone specific muscles like the biceps and abs.

DAY 1:
ExerciseSetsRepsRecommended WeightInter-Set Rest
Push-Up With Bands48-1230-60lbs2 min
Back Row With Resistance Band48-1230-60lbs2 min
Overhead Shoulder Press48-1230-60lbs2 min
Banded Ab Crunch412-1515-25lbs2 min
Front Squat With Resistance Bands48-1230-60lbs2 min
Bicep Curls With Resistance Bands412-1515-25lbs2 min
DAY 2:
ExerciseSetsRepsStarting Band WeightRest Between Set
Banded Chest Press48-1230-60lbs2 min
Reverse Fly With Bands412-1515-25lbs2 min
Banded Lateral Raise412-1515-25lbs2 min
Core Rotation With Bands412-1515-25lbs2 min
Deadlift With Resistance Band48-1230-60lbs2 min
Banded Tricep Pull-Down412-1515-25lbs2 min
DAY 3:
ExerciseSetsRepsStarting Band WeightRest Between Set
Pec Fly With Resistance Band412-1515-25lbs2 min
Back Row With Resistance Band48-1230-60lbs2 min
Overhead Shoulder Press48-1230-60lbs2 min
Banded Ab Crunch412-1515-25lbs2 min
Front Squat With Resistance Bands48-1230-60lbs2 min
Bicep Curls With Resistance Bands412-1515-25lbs2 min

I used this workout to great effect with the Undersun bands!

Next, I’ll share some ways you can apply progressive overload to this resistance band workout to maximize muscle gain.

Progressive Overload Tips To Maximize Muscle Growth With Resistance Bands

It doesn’t matter WHAT you’re using- bands or weights- progressive overload is key to building muscle.

Here are some resistance band progressive overload tips that worked for me:

  • Increase weight. The perfect weight to build muscle fatigues (aka the “burn”) your muscle by the end of the last few reps in a set. If you don’t feel the burn by the last few reps, then you should use a heavier band. Likewise, if you can’t complete the set because the band is too heavy, then use a lighter band. But most importantly, you should aim to use a heavier resistance band over time. This keeps the hypertrophy stimulus present to keep your muscles growing.
  • Increase reps. Another way to overload is to perform more reps in each set. Instead of doing 8 reps with your resistance bands, try 9 instead! Caution- this is an effective way to overload and build muscle, but don’t exceed 15 reps per set. This is the threshold between hypertrophy and cardio training. If you find yourself able to do 15 reps with ease then start to increase weight instead.
  • Increase sets. A slightly less popular way to overload using resistance bands is to increase the number of seats for each exercise. So instead of doing 4 sets of band squats, you’d increase to 5 sets. I wouldn’t exceed this though, as this 2018 study indicates anything more than 6 sets per muscle per workout becomes wasted “junk sets”.
  • Vary rep ranges (bonus tip). Also called “periodization“. This is done by changing the number of reps you do. It’s typically completed in 1-3 month cycles. So for example, months 1-3 could see you working with 8 reps which emphasizes hypertrophy. Then, months 4-6 would see you working with 6 reps which emphasizes strength. You would adjust the weight accordingly as per tip #1. The goal of periodization is to constantly present your muscles with a new stimulus to adapt to.

Why Bands Can Be Better Than Weights For Building Muscle Fast

Linear variable resistance (LVR) explains why bands can build muscle better than weights. This is a resistance property that is only found in elastic bands. Not only is it more gentle on the joints, but it can also provide a more intense stimulus compared to weights.

Why resistance bands can be better than weights for building muscle fast.

If you’re wondering how to build muscle fast, the logical question to ask would be which type of training gives the best muscle activation; bands or weights?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as we’d all hope.

It turns out, they may simply be as good as each other.

“Overall, [our] results show that elastic resistance bands can be considered a feasible alternative to dumbbells.”

Bergquist et. Al 2018

The above scientific study proposed resistance bands lead to less primary target muscle activation but greater stabilizer muscle activation.

In a bench press example, the primary target muscle would be the pecs whilst the shoulders act as the stabilizers to keep your body braced.

In contrast, weights are the opposite. They mainly work the primary target muscle and less of the stabilizers.

But overall, one is not superior to the other.

They’re as good as each other.

With that being said, speaking from personal experience, the LVR offered by bands does give your muscles a completely different type of workout compared to weights.

And I found that alternating between the two is a great way to build muscle fast.


For a more detailed explanation of LVR and why it’s so good for building muscle, you can check out my other post on how resistance bands work.

Do Resistance Bands Build Muscle Or Tone?

Resistance bands are equally effective for increasing muscle mass as well as adding definition to muscles.

That’s because building muscle and increasing tone are related processes.

In other words, increasing muscle size usually increases tone too. Similarly, increased muscle tone usually comes about after building muscle size.


If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out my other post which explains if resistance bands build muscle or tone.

Can Resistance Bands Build Strength?

Increasing muscle size and strength are usually mutually-dependent processes. In other words, increasing one usually increases the other too.

Resistance band workouts can be optimized for strength gains by decreasing reps and increasing weight.

However, speaking from experience, it’s harder to push heavy bands compared to pushing heavy free weights.

That’s because it’s more difficult to brace the body when using bands since they are inherently more unstable than a barbell, for example.

Indeed, this 2016 study concluded that resistance bands CAN be used to build strength in beginners who haven’t trained before, but bands are still inferior to free weights.


If you’re interested, you can check out my other article for a resistance band strength workout.

Can Resistance Bands Build Lean Muscle?

Resistance bands can certainly get you shredded!

You can check out my other post for a resistance band program to get ripped!

Best Band For Building Muscle

There are multiple types of bands to choose from to build muscle:

  • Loop-style bands.
  • Tube-style bands with handles.
  • Figure 8 bands.
  • Booty bands.
  • Therapy bands.

Speaking from experience, the first two (loop and tube bands) are the most suitable.

Why?

The best resistance bands for building muscle share similar qualities:

  • Offer heavy resistance. As you now know, heavy lifting is essential to building muscle with bands!
  • Have multiple increments. This is conducive to progressive overload since you can work through the weights.
  • Have a single-mold shape. Circular loop bands made from a single piece of rubber are more durable than tube-style bands which are unattached on either end. And durability is a key property since muscle workouts will usually stress your bands more than any other type of workout.
Best bands to gain strength at home.

I use and recommend the Undersun band set.

Ok, so they’re a bit pricier than the Amazon ones with handles.

But man these things are durable.

I’ve been using them for over two years now and they’ve lasted me with no problems. In comparison, my budget bands have always snapped within 6 months (I’ve been through 2 sets).

And best of all?

They come with a lifetime warranty!

If you’re interested, you can find the cheapest Undersun price here.

Conclusion

I’ve explained why resistance bands can indeed build muscle mass.

They can be just as effective vs free weights for growing big muscles.

Not only are they cheap, safe, and convenient to use, but their unique linear variable resistance property is a great way to challenge your muscles for growth!

Just remember to lift heavy and apply progressive overload.

Will you be using resistance bands to gain muscle?

Let me know in the comments!

You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition I used to go from skinny to ripped!

Thanks for reading guys!

Peace Out,

Kal

(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)

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