Elastic band or dumbbell? Can we really compare these 2 equipments?
I must confess something first.
If you had asked me a few years ago to choose between elastic bands and dumbbells to train with, I would have asked you if you were in your right mind.
The only memory I had of elastic resistors were those famous wood and metal handles with 5 or 6 turnbuckles that would fart in your face during the workout. If they didn't break, they were so distended after 10 sessions that your arms became too short 🙄
So, it seemed like a no-brainer. Dumbbells, and nothing else! That's why I had about 100 kg of discs and bars of all styles: straight, short, EZ...
But today, because of my frequent travels abroad, I had to make other choices that completely changed my way of seeing things.
Table of Contents
Elastic band - Why I changed my mind
First of all, because only fools don't change their mind, and that's not the category I prefer to be classified in. Which doesn't prove that I'm not one, since I only have my brain to judge me 😂
But it must be recognized that resistance bands have completely evolved, and now raise this real question:
Should I buy dumbbells or resistance bands for my workouts?
And you'll find that this question is really worth asking. Because everything changes, including my opinion on the subject. Resistance bands have nothing to do with the material I knew before.
That's why I use them in my training program today.
Follow me to find out why.
Resistance band - What is it about?
In this article, I'm not talking about simple elastibands.
They are practical for those who do yoga, but too limited to effectively replace dumbbells.
For my part, I chose a resistance band kit complete with handles and ankle straps, to which I added a super door anchor . This type of equipment is best suited for those who want to do without dumbbells.
The elastic resistance band has been used for nearly a century.
Today, it is mainly used in fitness or rehabilitation sessions.
Elastic band and dumbbell - Common points
A resistance band and a dumbbell have a number of similarities:
- They allow to create a resistance in the muscular effort
- They offer the possibility to modulate the workload
- You can do a multitude of different movements during your training
- The movements can be executed more or less quickly with the 2 equipments
Know that these 4 similarities are extremely important to get a quality workout.
Numerous studies have shown that it is possible to gain muscle volume and strength with these 2 types of equipment. The resistance bands burn fat in the same way as dumbbells.
Contrary to what you might think because of their lightness and apparent fragility, a rubber band can produce as much resistance as a dumbbell during training.
That's why resistance bands work the same way as cast iron weights, and even more.
But it must be recognized that there are also important differences between these 2 equipments.
Let's see which ones...
Elastic band or dumbbell - The differences
Here are some important points that differentiate this equipment for your home workouts.
Dumbbells and universal gravitation
Let's start with what seems most obvious:
A cast iron weight weighs more than an elastic resistance band. I know, I'm not telling you much.
And yet, it changes a lot of things. If you had asked Isaac Newton, he would have told you "Law of Universal Gravity". Yep, you should have worked harder in school if you don't understand it 😉
This means, among other things, that it takes a special effort to get your dumbbell off the floor and up to the ceiling. That's why all dumbbell exercises require a special effort. push from the bottom to the top.
The only way to do this is to use machines with pulleys and guided loads. But as you know, this kind of equipment is very expensive.
The lightness of an elastic bodybuilding band
Conversely, a resistance band has no need for the earth's attraction to offer resistance.
The effort to be produced depends only on the resistance of the rubber band itself. You can therefore work your muscles in any direction. From top to bottom, from bottom to top, from right to left and back, diagonally, etc.
You get a multitude of possibilities whose only limit is your imagination.
We'll see later that this property has many advantages. But first, let's do a little comparison between resistance bands and dumbbells...
Dumbbells for weight training
Benefits of dumbbells
Let's face it, the main advantage of dumbbells is that there is no limit to the weight you can try to lift. If you have enough cast iron and strong enough bars, there's nothing to stop you from loading up to 300kg if you're able to lift it.
That's why dumbbells will probably remain the choice of bodybuilders and powerlifters for many years to come.
I can't leave this point out, because it wouldn't be fair. Free weights have long been proven to be effective in building muscle size and strength. There's no question about it!
Training with dumbbells also makes it easy to burn fat.
It's more impressive (in front of the girls)
Even if it is not an advantage in the sport itself, it is easier to impress those who watch you lift weights than if you do the same exercise with the same intensity using only a rubber band.
That's the way our egos are. Maybe that's why men prefer to use dumbbells and bars in the gym. It's easier to impress a girl with 120kg in the bench press than with 2 black rubber bands + 2 green rubber bands + 1 blue rubber band for example. You know what I mean 😉
In short, if your goal is to lift very heavy, become a bodybuilder or powerlifter, dumbbells are for you.
But I know that's not the goal of the majority of those who do weight training or fitness at home.
Disadvantages of dumbbells
One of the disadvantages of dumbbells is that they the space that you need to set aside for them. You need to store the short bars, one or two long bars, an EZ bar and a multitude of cast iron discs.
Not to mention all the equipment that goes along with using dumbbells.
In general, if you want to be sufficiently equipped, you should buy a rack for dumbbells, bars and discs, a bench for bench press and inclined press, candles for squats, etc.
This can quickly become a problem if your home is not very large. For a long time, I had to share my room with my weight bench that I had to move every time I worked out.
This brings us to another major drawback: the cost. To be well equipped with dumbbells is very expensive.
Sure, when you buy your first pair of dumbbells, you don't spend a lot of money. But that will quickly change if you want to progress.
It is important to know that cast iron discs are usually bought by the kilo. Today, you will pay about 2 € per kilo in the cheapest stores, without counting the price of the bars.
When you have to buy all the necessities I mentioned above, you will easily reach 400 € (not including the rack and the varieties of bars) for your whole equipment.
Paradoxically, one of the major advantages of dumbbells is also its main handicap.
Indeed, the dumbbells are not not transportable. This means that every time you go somewhere, you need to make sure you have access to a gym nearby. This usually means additional expenses.
Otherwise, you'll have to leave your training behind when you're on the go.
The possibility to cheat during the movement
It is not uncommon to see people training with loads greater than their true capabilities.
One of the problems with using dumbbells is that you can take advantage of the momentum generated during the movement. This is not only unnecessary, but also dangerous.
The weight lifted must always be controlled.
The risk of injury
Having experienced this on several occasions, I must admit that the risk of injury is much greater with dumbbells.
This is due to the very nature of this equipment. The heavier you work, the greater the risk of injury.
The first time I suffered from lumbago, I was 27 years old and was doing lateral raises with dumbbells loaded to 23 kg each. One wrong move got me stuck with dumbbells in my hands. Luckily I wasn't alone!
This is why you should always find a partner when you want to train with heavy loads.
Where to buy adjustable dumbbells
Well, if you love dumbbells, I understand you too. They remain the equipment of choice for all young people who want to build muscle.
In Europe, you'll find great value at Avalon Gear with free 4-5 day shipping on top selling models. Here are some examples of BowFlex models:
|MODELS (Nuobell type)||Total weight||PRICE|
|A pair of 2 to 20 kilos||40kg||449,90 €|
|A pair from 4 to 32 kilos||64kg||499,90 €|
Elastic bands for bodybuilding
Don't get me wrong, you can do super effective sessions with this equipment today. It's nothing like the rubber bands that were on the market 15 or 20 years ago...
Advantages of a bodybuilding elastic band
Resistance bands really do allow for any type of workout anywhere.
You can use them to do an intense session with relatively low tension to lose weight. They also allow you to increase the resistance in a real weight training session to gain volume.
I said earlier that resistance bands allow you, unlike dumbbells, to work your muscles in any direction. This allows you to train with movements that actually resemble what you do in other sports, and therefore improve your performance in specific ways.
Let's take an example :
Let's say you are a tennis player. If you want to improve the power of your forehand or your serve, you'll have a hard time working on this ability with dumbbells.
Indeed, dumbbells do not allow you to work in a right-to-left movement parallel to the ground, and even less in an up-and-down movement with abdominal contraction at the end of the movement.
On the other hand, you will have no difficulty working on this type of movement with a resistance band. All you have to do is use a door anchor to perform the corresponding movements with a more or less strong elastic band.
And you'll soon find out that this is true for all kinds of movements, and therefore for all kinds of sports.
2. The size and ease of transport
These latex tubes really have the ability to help you gain flexibility and muscle size without taking up space.
If you use super quality resistance bands, you won't need to invest in dumbbells or gym equipment. They'll give you the best possible workout anywhere, anytime.
For example, the kit I'm using (Amazon USA part number below) can create a resistance equivalent to nearly 120 kg, while it fits in a small bag that weighs 3.2 kg in total. It is about 40 cm high. I easily carry it in a suitcase.
This ease of transport is certainly one of the biggest advantages of this type of equipment. You can really take it anywhere, including the office, on business trips or on vacation.
You'll have no excuse not to train.
3. The price
Another advantage, and not the least, is the price/performance ratio.
If you wanted to do the same number of exercises with dumbbells, you would have to invest at least in 60 kg of cast iron discs (120 €), 2 short bars (20 €), 1 long bar (40 €), 1 multifunctional inclinable bench (120 €) and candles (70 €). That is to say a total of 370 € minimum. And even more with adjustable dumbbells…
Even buying 2 complete kits, I spent less than 100 €. I would have had to spend 500 € to achieve the same resistance with free loads.
However, be careful about the quality of the tapes you buy. They are not all the same.
If you are not equipped, I recommend one of the 2 elastic band kits from the European brand SmartWorkout. Not only are they attractively priced, but you get free access to 3 workout programs and videos. In addition, you get 20 % discount with this link. Here's what's included in the Elite Pack:
- 7 natural latex 100 % tubes, which can provide up to 120 kg of resistance;
- 1 bar with integrated fasteners for attaching rubber bands;
- 2 non-slip silicone handles for a better grip;
- 2 neoprene padded ankle straps;
- 1 thick easy to install door anchor;
- 4 unbreakable stainless steel carabiners;
- 1 compact bag to carry the kit anywhere;
- 3 free weight training programs included (Express, SmartGains, Strong & Beautiful);
- 1 user guide.
You can also purchase the SmartWorkout Pro package which includes exactly the same items except for the bar (click on the link to learn more).
4. Reducing the risk of injury
Many doctors and therapists recommend the use of an elastic muscle band, including for rehabilitation. This is not for nothing.
Training with free weights like dumbbells often creates a lot of stress on the joints. At my age (50, yes!), this difference is especially evident. I don't feel no joint pain using the resistance bands, even on intense efforts.
You can easily increase the resistance without the risk of injury.
This is totally impossible with dumbbells. If you have taken a load that is too heavy, you will have to find a way to put the bar back in its place or to put the dumbbells back on the floor anyway. Even if you are young, this can sometimes create complicated situations.
I speak from experience! I have found myself stuck under a heavy load several times in the squat or bench press, sometimes while training alone.
That's why you can work as hard as you can with bodybuilding elastics, even if you're alone. This is strictly impossible with dumbbells, and even dangerous.
5. The ability to use all muscle fibers
Many athletes who use resistance bands have noted that they are able to feel the burn in their muscles more easily during training than when using free weights.
This is mainly due to the fact that the resistance offered by an elastic band increases during the movement. This allows more muscle fibers to be used during the movement.
Disadvantages of resistance bands
The impossibility of reaching extreme loads
As I said at the beginning, this type of equipment will not be enough for a man who wants to build extraordinary muscle volume. I would tend to say monstrous, but that's just me.
Take a look at what Blake Kassel achieves by using only elastic bands on this video (in English). That's not bad, is it?
I sincerely believe that this material is sufficient for the vast majority of men and women, at least those who are normally constituted.
I've always preferred the muscles of gymnasts for men or fitness for girls to those of bodybuilders(deuses). To each their own and these are my choices (try saying that with marshmallows in your mouth 😛 ).
Evaluating your strength level with an elastic band
In reality, I don't care about this problem at all.
But perhaps for some of you it is important to be in the same league as others. This is almost impossible if you are using latex tubes. You won't be able to compare yourself too much to the person training next to you.
It is certain that with elastic bands, it is impossible to say "I lift 100 kg in bench press".
Now, there's nothing to stop you from going to the gym from time to time if it's bothering you.
The need for an adaptation period
If you have been training with free weights until now, you will need a period of adjustment.
For example, if you were doing dumbbell curls at 12kg, it's not clear that you would do exactly the same thing with a resistance band marked at 11 or 12kg. It's all going to depend on the extension of the tube and the type of workout you choose.
When I work out with the weight training bands, I do relatively long sets of at least 15 to 20 reps as a warm-up.
I do the series without any rest or very little (10 seconds). This is what allows me to reach muscle congestion without hurting myself. I can hardly achieve this result with dumbbells, especially in 4 or 5 minutes. And without hurting myself.
It is therefore necessary to adapt your training when selecting resistance bands.
Conclusion and comparison of elastic or dumbbell
An elastic band is a really effective material for your fitness or weight training session. It is a real alternative to dumbbells and machines dedicated to weight training for a lower cost.
Latex tubing offers unparalleled range of motion. The elastic bands take up little space, are easy to carry, and can be used by beginners and fitness experts alike.
I'll admit that I've been looking for the best way to replace dumbbells since 2006, when I started moving almost every week.
Only the resistance bands totally convinced me, while all the material I had tried before was forcing me to go back to free loads.
I have never been able to do such effective sessions with dumbbells at home.
This summary table will help you to visualize the basic similarities and differences between dumbbells and elastic bands:
|Possibility to increase the resistance||X||X|
|Freedom of movement||X||X|
|Variations of the speed of movements||X||X|
|Increase in strength||X||X|
|Increase in muscle volume||X||X|
|Helps to burn fat||X||X|
|Possibility to make movements in all directions||X|
|Variation of resistance during movement||X|
|Impossibility to cheat by taking too heavy a load||X|
|Easy to store||X|
|Easy to transport||X|
|Easy to evaluate strength levels||X|
|Possibility to increase the weight to infinity||X|
|Low risk of injury||X|
|Ease of use of all muscle fibers||X|
I hope this article has really enlightened you on the value of elastic bands for fitness and strength training at home. I now consider this equipment to be an indispensable part of my equipment. I'm sure that resistance bands will quickly become a must-have for me. indispensable in your training sessions.
Another article in this series will explain how to choose the best elastic band kit. Read it as soon as possible.
What about you, are you more of a rubber band or dumbbell, or both? Tell me what you think or share your experience by leaving a message below in the comment area. THANK YOU!
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