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Free Weights or Resistance Bands?

A question I get asked with some regularity is whether weights or bands are better. My response is generally that it depends, which I recognize is not much of an answer. Each system has its pros and cons. Whatever your preferences though and to address everyones’ initial concern: both are effective and will yield results. You can get incredible results with either.

In 2008, I did three, full 90-day cycles of P90X. I did the first 90-day cycle using solely resistance bands, the second using solely weights, and the third using whichever worked better for each exercise. Based on that, I know that both bands are weights are equally effective. Sometimes it just comes down to personal preference, logistics, cost, or another factor. With this post, I hope to give you the information you need to determine whether weights or bands will be better for you to maximize your results with P90X, or the other programs that require weights like RevAbs or ChaLEAN Extreme.

Resistance Bands

Resistance BandsResistance bands are simple, lightweight elastic tubes that comes in a variety of colors, each representing a different tension strength. Typically, the darker a band, the greater the tension and therefore the greater the difficulty. Bands can be used alone or with accessories. Bands also come in both latex and non-latex versions, so if you have allergy issues, you need to be certain of what you purchase.

Pros and Cons

Perhaps the greatest advantage of resistance bands in their portability. You can take them anywhere, from your office to a vacation destination. Given their light-weight and extreme flexibility, carrying a full set of bands in your luggage is easy and convenient.

Cost is another big advantage. Good, quality bands range from $15 to $20 typically per bands. Some manufacturers charge extra for handles, but generally, you can get a good band, with handles, for under $20.

Bands also have a constant and increasing difficultly level. By that, I mean, as one stretches a band during an exercise, the amount of force required to continue to stretch the band increases. This means you get a better workout sometimes because of this effect. Whereas, in certain ranges of motion, the effort required to continue moving a weight will diminish, the opposite effect occurs with bands. (A great example is the standard bicep curl. Once the forearm reaches about 45 degrees off the upper-arm, free weights become “lighter” since you are no longer working against gravity. Contrast that to bands, which maintain constant tension and, and you will notice a big difference.)

Lastly, the versatility of bands makes them very user-friendly and functional. By creating a loop on the floor, stepping on the middle of the band, or hooking one over a door hinge, bands can be used to simulate nearly every exercise in P90X or any other program. Additionally, with certain special and inexpensive accessories, bands can be used truly simulate any exercise, just as pull-ups. Sometimes, to greater effectiveness than the “normal” exercise!

The one true disadvantage of bands is that they can get damaged. Small nicks, cuts, tears, or analogous things can not only ruin a band but also cause using it to be dangerous. Most bands, if properly cared for and maintained, will last for many years. But, you must be cognizant of monitoring wear-and-tear. Any legitimate signs of this indicate that a band has exceeded its useful life and must be replaced.

The other drawback to bands is that you eventually run out of bands. The “heaviest” band is often a 55-pounds band and this, for some people, is insufficient resistance. With weights, there is an unlimited range of difficulty. Bands cannot match this and, for that small group of incredibly strong people, can therefore only take you so far.

Free Weights

25 pound dumbbellsPut simply, free weights are any weight not attached to a machine or pulley-system. They can be dumbbells, plates, weighted-gloves, weighted-vests, or even just sandbags!

Pros and Cons

The most obvious advantage to free weights is a limitless ability to increase the difficulty level. Your ability to put on muscle and increase strength is limited only by what you can lift not the limits of resistance available at your local or online fitness store.

The other big advantage is maximizing results via proper form. With weights, since gravity is providing the resistance, you can perfect your form to get the best results. With bands, certain ranges of motion are less than ideal because the “weight” is caused by tension rather than gravity. So, your range of motion is limited to any direction away from the anchor point, which is almost always beneath one or both of your feet.

The three main disadvantages of weights are space, cost, and portability. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a set of adjustable-weight dumbbells, dumbbells, barbells, plates, medicine balls, etc. can require a fair amount of space. Plus, the stronger you become, the more you need to continue progressing. This just increases the amount of space you need.

Weights are also not cheap. Typically, dumbbells and plates cost around $1.00-$2.00 for each pound of resistance. So, a set of two, 20-pound dumbbells can easily run $40-$80! Ouch. Just like space requirements, the more you improve, the more you need.Weight Lifting Plates

Lastly, weights have near zero portability. Unless you are driving in a car with a pretty good suspension system, traveling with any material amount of free weight is impossible. If you travel for work, for instance, you are subject to whatever your hotel might have in its “fitness center”, which in my experience is generally dreadful. This makes exercising on the road or office frequently impossible.

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