Resistance bands and free weights are both effective for muscle-building and cardio workouts that, when combined, help you tone and improve your shape. Each has advantages and disadvantages, based on your specific goals. For most women, however, dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands are smart choices for meeting your fitness needs.
Type of Resistance
Free weights create constant resistance, meaning the amount of weight you use remains constant throughout your exercise. For example, if you use a 5-pound dumbbell to do a biceps curl, the weight stays the same the entire rep. When you use resistance bands, the amount of resistance changes as you pull the band, then release it, creating a variable resistance exercise. Resistance bands provide a better muscle-building benefit because you keep more tension in your muscle the entire exercise. For example, after you raise your arm during a biceps curl, with an exercise band, your arm must continue resisting the band pulling against it. With a dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell, your biceps relaxes considerably after you finish the uplift.
Amount of Resistance
Many exercise bands only provide a maximum resistance level of roughly 50 pounds, although you can purchase ones that provide more. Free weights let you work with up to hundreds of pounds of weight. If you are into serious bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting, or are buying a gift for someone who is, resistance bands won’t take you past a beginner level of training.
Resistance bands let you increase your resistance as you build your muscles without having to buy new equipment. With free weights, you’ll need new or additional weights as you build strength. A set of resistance bands might cost less than $10, while that price might cover just one pair or dumbbells.
Resistance bands are a go-anywhere exercise choice, convenient for use at home, the office or in a hotel room. While you might be able to transport one or two kettlebells in your car, forget about taking most free weights on a plane or to work.
You can perform most of the same basic exercises for cardio, toning or strength training with resistance bands and free weights. Common exercises you can perform with bands and weights include curls, rows, kickbacks, triceps extensions, flyes, squats, lunges, heel raises and deadlifts. A kettlebell lets you perform swinging routines, which are very effective for working your legs, hips, arms, shoulders and tummy while you burn calories. Unlike free weights, resistance bands let you target your inner and outer thighs with adduction and abduction exercises, moving your legs away from your body and out to the side against resistance.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.