Many of us want to start strength training. But it can be difficult and frustrating to choose the type of equipment to use from such a large variety of options. This post explains which is better between resistance bands vs dumbbells.
Resistance bands are ideal for people who are looking to build moderate amounts of muscle, lose fat, or do cardio. Dumbbells are great for people who want to maximize strength and muscle gains. Current fitness levels and goals should be considered when choosing which is better.
That’s just a very simplified answer.
In reality, both can be used for overlapping purposes. And both have their pros and cons that make them suitable for different types of people
Below, I’ll share the scientific evidence as well as a public poll to help you decide for yourself!
- Differences Between Using Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells
- Scientific Studies Comparing Resistance Bands With Weights
- Reddit's Opinion: Resistance Bands Vs Weights
- Why Band Weight Is NOT Equivalent To Dumbbell Weight
- 1) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is Harder To Use?
- 2) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is More Effective?
- 3) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is Safer?
- 4) Resistance Bands Vs Weights: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
- 5) Resistance Bands Vs Weights: Which Is Better For Building Muscle?
- When Resistance Bands Can And Can't Replace Dumbbells
- Should You Get Resistance Bands Or Dumbbells?
Differences Between Using Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells
Resistance bands and dumbbells produce different types of resistance. Bands give linear variable resistance which increases as the band stretches. In comparison, dumbbells give constant resistance. They also differ in the precision of weight, cost, space requirements, and durability.
|Ideal Candidates||Beginner general fitness||Intermediate muscle-building|
|Resistance Type||Non-functional linear variable||Functional constant|
|Direction Of Resistance||Vertical and horizontal||Vertical-only|
|Progression Tracking||Subjective and “by feel”||Quantitive and precise|
|Durability||Not very durable||Extremely durable|
Here are the differences between resistance bands and dumbbells explained in more detail:
- Bands are ideal for beginner general fitness. They’re cheap, portable, and sufficient to challenge your muscles as a beginner. Dumbbells are better for intermediates and people looking to maximize muscle and strength.
- Bands give linear variable resistance. They produce more resistance as they stretch through the range of motion. This is non-functional as not many of us experience this type of resistance daily. Dumbbells produce a specific amount of resistance that does not change through the range of motion. This is more functional and representative of everyday movements.
- Bands allow vertical and horizontal resistance. This means they can be effectively pushed and pulled in two planes. Dumbbells work with gravity, meaning you can only use them effectively in the vertical plane.
- Progression tracking with bands is less precise. Although they are color-coded with different weights, a resistance band does not give you a specific amount of weight but instead gives you a range of weight. This is unlike a dumbbell where you know exactly how much you are lifting. This can make it difficult to track progression with bands.
- Weight increments in bands are much larger. Most bands offer a maximum of 5 different weight increments within a set (e.g. extra-light, light, medium, heavy, and extra heavy). In comparison, an adjustable dumbbell may have up to 15 or more different weight settings (e.g. 10lbs, 12lbs, 14lbs, etc). Smaller increments are better for tracking progression and progressive overload (more on that later).
- Bands are considerably cheaper. Expect to pay $20-70 for a good set of bands. In comparison, good pair of adjustable dumbbells can easily cost more than $200.
- Bands require less space. They’re small and can be scrunched into a drawer for storage. In contrast, dumbbells are bulky.
- Bands are more portable. They’re lightweight and can be stuffed into a pouch for travel workouts. In comparison, dumbbells are usually exclusively used at home.
- Bands are less durable. Premium resistance band brands generally have a longer lifespan than budget brands. But even so, they are no match for the durability of dumbbells made from solid steel.
Next, I’ll share the scientific research on which is better; resistance bands or dumbbells (weights).
Scientific Studies Comparing Resistance Bands With Weights
Here are studies I tracked down to give you a better idea of whether resistance bands or dumbbells are more effective:
|Author & Year||Study Details||Study Results|
|Lopes et al. 2019||Meta reviewed 7 independent studies all of which examined the differences between using resistance bands, weight machines, and dumbbells on strength development in a wide demographic (including the elderly and athletes).||Resistance bands and traditional weight training promoted similar strength gains in all populations.|
|Bergquist et al. 2018||Compared muscle activation in the forward and reverse fly exercises using resistance bands and dumbbells in healthy men and women (some had previous weight training experience).||Dumbbell flyes activate the primary target muscle more than the stabilizers. Bands were the opposite, activating the stabilizers more than the primary target muscle. Overall, both methods can be effectively substituted with one another.|
|Lopez et al. 2016||Compared bench press strength/power development in rugby players training in the barbell bench press and banded-barbell bench press.||Players who trained in the banded-barbell bench press saw greater strength and power gains compared to players who trained barbell-only.|
|Oliviera et al. 2016||Meta review compared the difference between band-only and weight-only training on strength development in a wide demographic (including trained and untrained men and women).||Resistance bands are as effective as weights in promoting strength gains in untrained people, but inferior to weights in promoting strength gains in trained people.|
|Saeterbakken et al. 2014||Studied how substituting the weight in a barbell squat with weight from resistance bands would affect core muscle activation in women with previous weight training experience.||Substituting barbell weight with resistance band weight did not change core muscle activation during the barbell squat.|
|Rogers et al. 2002||Compared how resistance band and dumbbell training affected upper and lower body strength in senior females.||Bands and dumbbells both led to similar strength gains.|
My comprehension of the data:
Resistance bands CAN be just as effective as dumbbells and free weights for beginners to build muscle and strength.
But dumbbells and free weights are generally better for experienced lifters to maximize muscle size and strength (see Oliviera et al. 2016).
Additionally, combining resistance bands WITH dumbbells and weights seems to be the best for strength and muscle gains (see Lopez et al. 2016).
Next, I’ll see how regular people like you and I (i.e. not in controlled scientific experiments) feel about the bands vs weights debate.
Reddit’s Opinion: Resistance Bands Vs Weights
I took to Reddit to find out what other people found more effective; resistance bands or weights.
After all, public consensus provides a more reliable answer to the question (in my opinion)!
Here are the Reddit threads I located:
- Dumbbells vs resistance bands
- Resistance bands vs dumbbells at home?
- Bands vs weights?
- Does anyone prefer using resistance bands to dumbbells?
And here are the results:
- 32% of respondents prefer dumbbells over bands.
- 33% of respondents agree both are effective but prefer dumbbells (if they had to choose one).
- 35% of respondents prefer bands over dumbbells.
You can see that the contest between bands versus weights is pretty even. But weights seem to have a SLIGHT edge over bands.
This is further evidence to support my claim; bands and weights are both good ways to train. And one method isn’t necessarily worse than the other.
Ultimately, a decision should be made based on your personal needs and goals.
Next, I’ll try to clarify the main difference between the resistance provided by bands and free weights.
Why Band Weight Is NOT Equivalent To Dumbbell Weight
Resistance band weight is similar but not equivalent to dumbbell weight. Bands produce linear variable resistance where the weight increases as the band stretch longer. In contrast, dumbbells feel different because they produce constant resistance that does not change throughout the movement.
I conducted a simple experiment to find out if the weight quoted on my resistance bands were accurate.
I strapped a band to my adjustable dumbbell that was set to the weight quoted on the band (50lbs).
Next, I pulled on the band until it stretched to the point where it could lift the dumbbell off the ground.
I took this to be the weight equivalent of the band and dumbbell, both of which were indeed 50lbs.
Although on paper the weights are equivalent, you have to remember that 50lbs of band tension is generated if and ONLY IF the band stretches far enough.
Additionally, the band could produce even more than 50lbs of resistance if it were stretched enough.
This is the unique band property of linear variable resistance (LVR) in action.
Due to LVR, more practice is generally required to use resistance bands properly. You need to have a feel for how far to stretch them in order to produce the desired weight.
In contrast, dumbbell weight is much more standardized and intuitive to use; you know exactly how much you’re lifting every time.
Next, I’ll compare and contrast resistance bands vs dumbbells in more detail.
1) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is Harder To Use?
Most people find resistance bands harder to use than weights. Bands are more difficult to grip and require more stabilization across multiple planes, compared to dumbbells for example. This means bands are generally harder to lift than dumbbells for any given weight.
Unlike dumbbells, most (not all) bands don’t come with handles so they are more difficult to grip.
Additionally, stronger stabilizer muscles are required to keep your body steady as you stretch a band that is trying to revert back to the unstretched state in all manner of directions.
And on top of this, the difficulty is further compounded by the LVR of resistance bands (see the previous section).
So lifting bands is generally harder to get right compared to dumbbells.
Is that a bad thing?
Remember; the more difficult something is to lift, the better the workout (generally speaking).
However, the difficulty of using resistance bands also makes it harder to load them with heavier weights.
This is why building muscle with dumbbells is generally easier.
2) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is More Effective?
Experienced lifters will usually find dumbbells to be more effective than resistance bands for building muscle and strength. However, that is not to say that resistance bands are ineffective. Beginners can often find bands to be just as effective as dumbbells for building muscle.
The results of the studies mentioned at the start of the post suggest that for muscle-building purposes:
- Beginners will find both bands and dumbbells equally effective.
- Intermediates will find bands as effective as dumbbells if they are used properly.
- Advanced lifters will usually find dumbbells more effective.
At the end of the day, both dumbbells and bands can be used for similar movements.
And whilst most people associate dumbbells with strength training (check out my home dumbbell workout here), you can also get stronger with resistance bands.
Additionally, remember that your muscles don’t know what type of equipment you’re using.
They only sense the resistance being applied to it.
If you push yourself appropriately, both bands and dumbbells CAN be as effective as the other.
With that being said, the way bands produce resistance (i.e. the linear variable resistance explained previously) makes it difficult to quantitatively track progression.
Bands are crudely categorized as light, medium, and heavy. But this is nowhere near as precise as dumbbells which have a defined weight.
As such, it can be difficult with bands to steadily add weight over time (something easily achieved with dumbbells) as you don’t always know exactly how much you were lifting before.
This is called progressive overload and it is a key aspect of building muscle.
It’s for this reason that most people find dumbbells more effective than bands for building muscle.
3) Resistance Bands Vs Dumbbells: Which Is Safer?
Resistance bands are generally safer than dumbbells. They are extremely light compared to dumbbells and do not pose a safety risk when they are dropped. However, care should be taken to ensure a resistance band under tension does not snap back onto the user.
The snap-back caution is important.
This is probably THE biggest safety concern with bands and comes as a result of overstretching and improper grip.
Other than that, resistance bands are much safer than dumbbells in my opinion.
I also found resistance bands to be less aggravating for painful joints compared to dumbbells.
This can make bands more effective for post-injury or rehab training.
New to band workouts? You may want to check out my other post to learn why you should avoid using resistance bands every day!
4) Resistance Bands Vs Weights: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
Resistance bands are generally better for weight loss compared to dumbbells. They are considerably cheaper but just as effective. Both types of equipment are effective for expanding calories, burning fat, and losing weight.
Weight loss simply requires you to burn more calories than you consume.
Resistance training- in the form of bands OR dumbbells- is simply done to offset that calorie balance in your favor
You can check out my guide to losing fat with dumbbells if you like.
But ultimately, both bands and dumbbells are effective for burning fat.
It’s down to personal preference which you choose.
Most people will find bands to be more affordable and better value for money than dumbbells if their goal is to only lose weight.
If you’re interested, you can check out my band workout to get ripped!
5) Resistance Bands Vs Weights: Which Is Better For Building Muscle?
Dumbbells are generally better than resistance bands for building muscle. It is easier to lift more weight and progressively overload weight over time using dumbbells compared to bands. With that said, this does not mean bands are completely ineffective for gaining muscle.
Most of us won’t deny that dumbbells are a great way to gain muscle and bodybuild (check out my dumbbell bodybuilding plan if you like).
However, did you know that resistance bands can build muscle too?
Whilst bands may not be as effective for intermediate bodybuilding, they CAN still help beginners gain a considerable amount of lean muscle.
As a beginner, why not start with bands first to build your strength and practice your form?
Then when you’re ready, you can progress onto dumbbells.
Dumbbells take the edge over resistance bands when it comes to bodybuilding.
As explained previously, dumbbells allow for easier progression tracking and progressive overloading with extra weight.
When Resistance Bands Can And Can’t Replace Dumbbells
Resistance bands can replace free weights in most instances. However, people who are looking to maximize muscle growth and strength development should not substitute dumbbells for bands. Here, free weights are more suitable.
When it comes to choosing to use resistance bands instead of dumbbells, and vice versa, it depends on who you are and what you are training for.
Instances where a person CAN replace weights with bands include:
- Post-injury training. Bands are easier on the joints and generally more suitable for rehab training.
- Beginners and intermediates looking for moderate muscle gains. As explained in this article, heavy resistance bands are more than enough for a novice to start building muscle.
- Training for fat-loss. As explained previously, any type of physical activity can promote fat loss if a good nutrition plan is also followed.
- Building muscle and tone. Resistance bands are effective for both building muscle and tone.
- General fitness. Bands are more than sufficient for casual fitness workouts.
- Cardio. Light bands are cheap and ideal for cardio.
Instances where a person SHOULDN’T replace weights with bands include:
- Advanced powerlifters or bodybuilders. As established, dumbbells are easier to load with heavier weights and more conducive to accurate progression tracking.
- Experienced weight lifters looking to maximize muscle gains. For the same reason as above.
Should You Get Resistance Bands Or Dumbbells?
Resistance bands are more affordable, convenient to store, and can be used for moderate muscle-building, fat-burning, and cardio. Dumbbells are more expensive and bulky but are more suitable for maximum muscle gains. A choice should be made based on personal needs.
I’ve done my best to give you the scientific evidence and public consensus to help you decide for yourself.
There’s no right or wrong answer.
Instead, you should try to figure out which is more suitable based on your personal fitness level and goals!
I prefer using dumbbells.
I find them more fun to use, easier to progress with due to the quantifiable weight, and overall more motivating to use.
That comes as no surprise since this 2022 study found that the greatest motivation for sticking to a routine is being able to see measurable improvements over time.
However, dumbbells ARE more expensive and require storage space.
I use the PowerBlock Elites which are awesome.
Having researched over a dozen models, I found them to be the best value for money dumbbells for building muscle.
If you prefer bands, then I use the Undersun band set which comes with a unique lifetime warranty!
They’re affordable, easy to use and store, and work well for fat-burning moderate muscle-building, and general fitness!
Hopefully, this post has helped you decide which is better between resistance bands vs dumbbells and free weights.
There really is no right or wrong answer.
The best choice depends on your personal fitness and future training goals.
Beginners looking to build moderate muscle, lose weight, or do cardio, will find bands to be cheap and effective.
People looking to build maximum muscle (especially intermediates and advanced lifters) would do best to invest in a good pair of adjustable dumbbells.
Are you favoring resistance bands or dumbells?
Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions! You can find my details on the “contact us” page.
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 (with printable worksheets) I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)