Illustration of a muscular man doing biceps curls with resistance bands.

We have an article about how to build a barbell home gym and we’re about to publish one about how to build a much smaller, cheaper home gym with just dumbbells or kettlebells. Our motto has always been that we can help you build muscle with any sort of weights, whether that’s a full gym membership, a barbell and some plates, some adjustable dumbbells, or a couple of old kettlebells.

One question we often get, though, is why we don’t recommend resistance bands. Now, it’s not that we discourage people from getting them. We just don’t actively recommend them. And that’s weird, right? I mean, resistance bands are cheap and portable, and aren’t they just as good for building muscle? After all, to stimulate muscle growth, all we need to do is challenge our muscles … right?

Illustration of a muscular man doing biceps curls with resistance bands.

Introduction

Recently, gyms around the world have been closing down, and so people have been looking for a way to build muscle at home. One common recommendation is to get resistance bands. In fact, that’s probably the most common recommendation right now. But why is that? Of all the ways to train at home, why resistance bands? Are they especially good for building muscle?

One claim is that resistance bands are better for building muscle than free weights. The idea is that the variable resistance created by resistance bands, where the band gets progressively harder to stretch as it gets longer, creates a unique resistance curve that’s good for building muscle. This is the exact opposite of what most research indicates, and we’ll discuss that in a second, but it raises another question. If resistance bands were a good way to build muscle, then why don’t people use them at the gym?

Despite how cheap and portable resistance bands are, people generally do biceps curls with dumbbells, bench press with barbells, and do lat pulldowns with cables. People buy gym memberships, expensive adjustable dumbbells, or fill a spare room with a barbell home gym just so that they can lift free weights. This is true of powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes of all levels. Why? Is there something special about free weights?

Illustration of a man doing a barbell bench press.

To be fair, at elite powerlifting gyms, sometimes people will use accommodating resistance, where they add some resistance bands or chains to their barbell bench press, back squat, and conventional deadlift to make the lockout harder. Does this increase muscle growth?

Also, it’s common to see people use resistance bands for metabolite training, like when women toss some bands around their knees when doing hip thrusts to get a bigger muscle pump in their glutes. Does that provoke extra muscle growth?

On the other hand, someone recently asked Mike Israetel, PhD, if he recommends resistance bands. I’m paraphrasing here, but he responded that if we can’t afford a couple of dumbbells, it’s probably better to focus on things like bodyweight hypertrophy workouts, jogging, or training with household “free weights” such as a jug of water or a backpack full of books. What’s so special about free weights?

And as the top hypertrophy researchers are forced out of their gyms, they’re buying equipment to train at home, too. For example, the leading hypertrophy researcher in the world, Dr Brad Schoenfeld, bought himself a couple of heavy adjustable dumbbells. Why did he choose free weights over resistance bands?

We Can Build Muscle With Anything

Before we dive deep into whether resistance bands are optimal for building muscle, it’s important to point out that we can build plenty of muscle in imperfect situations. In fact, there are only three things required to build muscle:

  • Eat enough calories to gain weight: the ideal rate of weight gain depends on how skinny you are, how new to lifting you are, how lean you are, and how aggressive you want to be with your bulk. But the important thing is that you can at least some weight on the scale each week.
  • Eat enough protein to build muscle: about one gram of protein per pound bodyweight per day is a good rule of thumb.
  • Challenge your muscles with strenuous exercise. This is what signals to our bodies that we need to start investing in muscle growth.

If we can do those three things, we can build muscle. In fact, I’m confident that you could build muscle if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing but your body weight and a weight-gainer supplement. But, I mean, I’m also confident that you could clean your house with a toothbrush and some vinegar. There’s a difference between something being possible and something being easy.

For some of us, it might not matter whether resistance bands are the best way to build muscle or not. I know people who have decently muscular physiques from swimming laps in a pool. Some people gain an abundance of muscle as a byproduct of becoming overweight. Other people have already built muscle and are just trying to maintain their size, strength, and health in an enjoyable way.

Illustration of a muscular guy flexing his biceps.

But I’m coming at this from the perspective of the skinny hardgainer. I only succeeded in building muscle when I started training for it deliberately and methodically. And when I was deciding what equipment to buy, I didn’t want to see a photo of a muscular fitness model holding resistance bands and saying “anything is possible!” No, I wanted to know what the pros and cons were. I wanted to know how resistance bands compared to barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

It’s possible to build muscle with anything, including resistance bands (study), and even including our body weight. Now let’s talk about which approach is best and why.

Are Resistance Bands Good for Building Muscle?

Okay, now that we’ve covered that, yes, it’s possible to build muscle with anything, including resistance bands, let’s talk about whether resistance bands are as good as free weights, and what the different pros and cons are.

The first thing is that whether we’re using resistance bands or free weights, the same general principles of muscle growth still apply. For example, we need adequate rest between sets so that we’re limited by the strength of our muscles rather than by our cardiovascular fitness. If our workout is a long circuit designed to leave us winded, that’s not hypertrophy training, that’s cardio. That disqualifies a lot of bodyweight, resistance-band, and even free-weight workout routines (including CrossFit), but it doesn’t mean that the tools are inappropriate, just the training style.

Whether we’re using free weights or resistance bands, we still want to focus on the big compound lifts, add in some isolation lifts, lift with a large range of motion, bring our sets close to muscular failure, and do enough of those challenging sets each week. So let’s go over these principles and how they apply to resistance bands.

The Problem of Variable Resistance

As a general rule of thumb, lifting with a large range of motion is good for building muscle. It forces our muscles to do more work, we stimulate a wider variety of muscle fibres, and we often engage more overall muscle mass. But there’s some nuance to it, too. There are two specific parts of the range of motion that are disproportionately important:

  • The sticking point: our muscles only grow when we challenge them, and some parts of the range of motion are more challenging than others. The most challenging part of the range of motion is called the sticking point. That’s where we tend to fail, and it’s also where we tend to stimulate the most muscle growth. For example, the sticking point of a squat is when our thighs are horizontal with the ground. If we squat to that point, we get most of the benefit of squatting, and so it’s considered a “complete” squat. If we squat higher than that, it’s considered a “partial squat,” and we miss out on some of the muscle growth.
  • The stretch at the bottom: the most important benefit of increasing our range of motion beyond the sticking point is that it allows us to get a loaded stretch on our muscles at the bottom of the lift. For example, if we squat even deeper, we’ll get an even better stretch on our quads, and we’ll stimulate even more muscle growth. This is probably why deep front squats and goblet squats stimulate just as much muscle growth as back squats, even though back squats are much heavier.

The next question is, how much does this matter? Are we talking about a 5% difference in muscle growth? 30%? 50%? This is where things get really interesting. If we look at a meta-analysis of all the relevant studies, we see that challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulates 260% as much muscle growth as challenging our muscles in a contracted position—nearly three times as much muscle growth:

Graph showing the difference in muscle growth when training with long and short muscles lengths.

So what we’re seeing here is that challenging our muscles when they’re stretched is an absolutely crucial factor for stimulating muscle growth. This is something we really want to pay attention to when choosing our main bulking exercises. It can nearly triple our muscle growth. (This is why the deep squat, bench press, deadlift, and even push-up stimulate so much muscle growth. They all challenge our muscles in a stretched position.)

The next question is, why does challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulate more muscle growth? The main way that we produce force with our muscles is by contracting them, which is called active tension. But our muscles are sort of like elastics. When we stretch them, they pull themselves back towards their resting length. This is called passive tension. If we’re contracting our muscles as hard as possible and getting some of that elastic effect, we’re combining both active and passive tension. This puts more overall mechanical tension on our muscles. Mechanical tension is the main driver of hypertrophy, and so having more mechanical tension on our muscles stimulates more muscle growth.

If you want a more technical explanation of how this works, here’s a quote from Greg Nuckols, MA:

Well, with any discussion of muscle growth, a good place to start is mechanical tension. While active contractile tension of a muscle tends to be highest at around resting length, passive tension from non-contractile elements (the tendons and muscle fascia) increases as muscle length increases, such that total muscular tension is generally highest when muscles are in a stretched position. Tension primarily seems to matter for hypertrophy because tension is sensed at costameres (where muscles attach to the surrounding fascia), which activate a protein called focal adhesion kinase (FAK), which then triggers the mTOR pathway, which is primarily responsible for exercise-induced hypertrophic signaling. In exquisitely controlled rodent research (study), it’s been shown that tension itself, not just active tension generated by muscle contraction, is what kicks off this pathway. Thus, even though active tension drops off, the disproportionate increase in passive tension, which leads to more total tension, should also lead to more hypertrophic signaling.

Greg Nuckols, Monthly Applications in Strength Sport

For a practical example of how this works, imagine loading up a barbell with more weight than you can deadlift and then yanking on the barbell with all of your might. You’re pulling as hard as you can but the barbell stays bolted to the floor. Is that ideal for building muscle? No. But your hamstrings and glutes are stretched, your spinal erectors are at their sticking point, you’re challenging your muscles, and you’re lifting close to failure. You’d still stimulate a good amount of muscle growth.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell sumo deadlift.

Now imagine setting up that barbell on safety pins a few inches above your knees. You lift it a single inch and hold it there for as long as you can (maybe using lifting straps). This is called an above-the-knee rack pull. It’s an absolutely terrible lift for the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors because none of these muscles are stretched or being brought close to failure. However, it’s a pretty good lift for our upper traps, which are being stretched and challenged.

So, you might be thinking, what does this have to do with resistance bands? After all, nothing is stopping us from using a full range of motion with resistance bands, right? That’s true, but the problem is that the resistance bands gradually apply more force the further we stretch them, meaning that the bottom of a lift is much easier than the top. We aren’t giving them enough of a challenge when our muscles are in that stretched position at the bottom of the movement, and so we aren’t getting the benefit of lifting with a large range of motion.

By switching from free weights to resistance bands, we’re changing the dynamics of the lift on a deep level, and not in a way that’s good for building muscle. This is the problem of variable resistance.

Resistance Band Strength Curves

Variable resistance is the term used to describe the odd resistance curve that resistance bands provide. To understand how that affects muscle growth, we need to compare that resistance curve against the natural strength curves of our muscles to see how well they match up. If resistance bands are tough where we’re strong and loose where we’re weak, that’s a good match. But if they’re tough where we’re weak and loose where we’re strong, that’s a poor match.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell biceps curl.

If we look at the dumbbell curl, we see that we’re able to work our biceps through a fairly complete range of motion. We don’t really get a full stretch at the bottom, but our biceps are at least brought to their full resting length (or slightly beyond). But as we discussed above, we also need to see if our muscles are being challenged throughout that range of motion.

Illustration of the resistance curve of the biceps curl.

If we look at how our leverage changes as we curl the weight up, we see that the beginning of the lift is fairly easy, it gets harder in the middle (where our forearms are horizontal), and then the lift starts to get easier again after that. In that middle position, the weight is about 40% heavier, and so most people will fail there. That’s the sticking point. However, we also need to factor in our internal leverage:

Illustration of the muscle attachment and strength curve of the biceps curl.

Those little blue lines represent the moment arms created by our muscle insertions and joint angles. What that shows is that our biceps have poor leverage at the start, we get stronger in the middle, and then our leverage gets worse again at the top. I’m using loose numbers here, but in this example, our leverage is about 30% better at the sticking point. Most (but not all) of the resistance curve is cancelled out by our internal leverage. The dumbbell is light at the beginning and end of the lift, which is good, because that’s where we’re weaker. And the dumbbell is heaviest in the middle, which is great, because that’s where we’re strongest.

What’s insanely cool is that most free weight lifts are like the biceps curl, and they have their resistance curves at least partially flattened by our natural strength curves. We’re strongest at the toughest part of the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift, too. This allows us to lift fairly large amounts of weight, and it means that our muscles are challenged through most of the range of motion (including at the bottom, which is key). Our bodies are built to lift free weights. Of course they are. We’ve been lifting things against gravity for millions of years.

Now, there are other aspects to our strength curve as well. For example, if we stretch our muscles past their natural resting lengths, then they function sort of like stretched elastics, and they give us an extra little boost to our strength at the beginning of a lift. If we’re smart, we can use that as an opportunity to build the momentum we need to blast through the sticking point, further flattening the curve. Again, this is great for building muscle.

Illustration of a muscular man doing biceps curls with resistance bands.

Okay, so what happens when we look at resistance bands? In this case, assuming we hook the bands under our feet, the line of pull is great. That slightly backward angle means that we can actually get a bit more of a stretch on our biceps in the bottom position and that the sticking point will shift a little bit lower. That’s good. In fact, experts like Menno Henselmans, MSc, recommend doing cable biceps curls with this same angled line of pull.

So at first glance, this appears to be an even better lift than the dumbbell curl. But resistance bands are not the same as cables. Resistance bands have variable resistance. As we stretch resistance bands further, the load gets progressively heavier. The beginning is fairly easy and then the band only truly challenges our muscles at the end. We’ve turned a full biceps curl into a partial biceps curl. And, worse, it’s the most important part of the range of motion that’s rendered most useless.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that resistance bands are unable to stimulate any muscle growth. Our muscles are still challenged at some point during the lift, and so we’ll stimulate muscle growth with every set that we bring close to failure. No problem there. The problem is that the resistance curve of the bands doesn’t line up with our strength curve as well as free weights do, meaning that we’d expect them to stimulate less muscle growth per set.

Now, there are a thousand caveats here. We could pre-load the resistance band with enough tension that we fail at the beginning of the range of motion. We could attach the resistance band at different angles. We could even do several sets with varying degrees of tension so that we fail at varying parts of the range of motion. Or we could take the set long past failure, to the point where we can’t even stretch the band a single inch. But none of that is ideal. Resistance bands still make it harder to build muscle.

This is all to say that our bodies are built fairly well for lifting free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, and as a result, free weights make building muscle fairly easy. Resistance bands can still stimulate muscle growth, it’s just harder. Not the end of the world, but not a good first choice, either.

Accommodating Resistance

Accommodating resistance is when we add resistance bands or chains to free-weight lifts, such as the barbell back squat, bench press, and deadlift. Sometimes it’s used as an example of how resistance bands can be good for gaining muscle size and strength, but it’s actually quite different. To understand why that is, we need to understand what it’s for and what it does.

Accommodating resistance originated in geared powerlifting, where lifters would compete in squat suits, bench press shirts, and knee wraps designed to give them extra strength at the bottom of their lifts.

Illustration of a geared powerlifter doing a barbell back squat in a squat suit and knee wraps.

For example, let’s consider the squat. A powerlifter is doing everything they can to improve their squatting leverage: standing with a wider stance, sitting further back, and holding the barbell lower on their backs. This creates a squat with a shortened range of motion, and it makes that bottom of the lift very hard. The bottom being hard isn’t a problem for building muscle, but to win at their sport, they need to lift the most weight by any means necessary.

One way to make the bottom of a squat easier is to wear a squat suit that stretches out at the bottom, giving the hips a boost. Another trick is to use knee wraps, which also stretch out at the bottom, giving the quads a boost. This helps to flatten the strength curve. The beginning of the lift is still the sticking point, but it’s a bit easier, and so they’re able to lift a bit more weight. But powerlifters wanted to lift a lot more weight, and as squat suits and knee wraps got thicker, the strength curve actually began to reverse. The beginning started to become the easier part of the lift, and the lockout started to get harder. That changes the type of strength that a powerlifter needs. Instead of needing a stronger chest to lift the barbell off their chest, they need stronger triceps to lock the barbell out.

Illustration of a powerlifter doing a barbell back squat with resistance bands (accommodating resistance).
The Banded Barbell Back Squat.

Now, how can a geared powerlifter train their lockout strength? One option is to always wear squats suits, bench shirts, and knee wraps. But that style of training is extremely heavy and hard to recover from. And besides, those pieces of equipment are kind of a pain in the ass. Fortunately, this weird strength curve can be mimicked by attaching bands (or chains) to a barbell. If the bands make the lift heaviest at the top, then the powerlifter can focus on training their lockout strength. It’s a sort of partial. (And sometimes they do partials, too, but partials are heavier and harder to recover from.)

Nowadays, raw powerlifting is more popular than geared powerlifting. It’s rare to see a powerlifter who wears knee wraps and a triple-ply squat suit. Thing is, unless someone plans on wearing gear, that style of accommodating resistance does more harm than good. It makes the resistance curves worse for building muscle, and it isn’t great for developing the strength that powerlifters need at the bottom of the range of motion.

But then a new idea started cropping up. These powerlifting lifts are still hardest at the beginning, and it’s true that the top of the lift is fairly easy. Couldn’t we build more muscle if we made the entire range of motion more challenging? Maybe! So far, it hasn’t really panned out in the research, but it makes logical sense that if more of the range of motion was challenging, then we’d stimulate more overall muscle growth with every rep.

However, the most fundamental rule of accommodating resistance is that the beginning of the lift still needs to be the hardest part. The idea is to add light resistance bands to heavy free weights. The light resistance bands make the lockout a bit harder, but the heavy free weights ensure that the bottom of the lift is still the hardest. Otherwise, adding resistance bands would make the lift worse for gaining size and strength.

Illustration of a man doing a squat with a resistance band.
The Resistance-Band Front Squat

This means that if we remove the free weights entirely and squat with only resistance bands, we’re making the resistance curve radically worse for stimulating muscle growth. Not that the lift becomes useless or anything, it’s just that doing a regular squat with free weights would be much better. This is why research looking into accommodating resistance is really interesting for people who do the big barbell lifts but doesn’t apply to people who are choosing between free weights and resistance bands.

Again, there’s no proven benefit to adding accommodating resistance bands to the powerlifting lifts yet, but there certainly could be, and not just for gaining strength, but also for building muscle. It’s an interesting technique.

The next thing to consider, though, is that if we’re training to gain muscle size and general strength, we won’t necessarily be lifting like powerlifters. Instead of doing our squats with a wide stance and a shortened range of motion, probably better to do a deeper squat with the weight held in front of us. It reduces the amount of weight we can lift, yes, but it works our muscles through a longer range of motion and it does a better job of bulking up our upper backs.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat.
The Barbell Front Squat.

Thing is, the sticking point of a squat is always when the thighs are horizontal, but the front squat goes much deeper than that. This changes the strength curve. If we explode out of the hole, we can gather a bit of momentum to help us drive through the sticking point. Plus, the tension on our upper backs is coming from holding the weight in front of us, which is constant throughout the entire range of motion. The lockout is still the easiest part, and so accommodating resistance might still help, but the strength curve is already a bit flatter.

This same general trend is true of the other big compound hypertrophy lifts. Powerlifters bench press with big arches, reducing the stretch on our chests at the bottom of the lift. That’s bad for building muscle, so when we’re lifting for hypertrophy, we use a smaller arch and focus on getting a bigger stretch. This gives us a bench press with a flatter strength curve, and thus diminishes the value of accommodating resistance. Not that it’s necessarily useless, mind you, just not all that important. (And again, it’s still unclear whether it helps in the best of cases.)

Accommodating resistance is a combination of free weights and resistance bands. It’s popular with competitive powerlifters, but it’s possible that it could also speed up muscle growth. (There’s no good evidence one way or the other.) However, the fundamental rule of accommodating resistance is that it shouldn’t change the sticking point of the lift. If the resistance band makes up too much of the load, it will make the lift worse.

The Big Compound Lifts

Now that we have the basic principles down, we can go over some examples of how using resistance bands changes the dynamics of the big compound lifts, which is where the vast majority of our muscle growth will come from.

Illustration of man doing front squats with kettlebells.
The kettlebell front squat.

Consider a front-loaded squat done with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells, where we squat down as deep as our hips and knees allow, getting a nice stretch on our quads. These have proven, time and time again, to be better for building our quads than partial squats, even though partial squats are twice as heavy. Why is that? It’s because with a partial squat, we’re cutting out the most important parts of the range of motion: the sticking point and the stretch.

Now consider what happens when we do bodyweight squats with resistance bands. In the bottom position, the resistance band is loose, and so it’s very easy. Not good. As we get closer to the top of the range of motion, the resistance band is stretched, and so the lift gets harder. This means that we’re only truly challenging our quads at the very top of the range of motion. That’s not great for building muscle. Better than nothing, for sure, but it might not be better than bodyweight. We may build more muscle by doing bodyweight single-leg squats, where the bottom is the heaviest part of the lift:

Illustration of a man doing a Bulgarian split squat.
The Bulgarian split squat.

The same is true with the push-ups. Yes, we can load it heavier with resistance bands, but the resistance bands make the top of the lift disproportionately harder. This means that we’re no longer challenging our chests in a stretched position. Rather, we’re challenging our triceps at the lockout. A better way to replace the bench press is with the deficit push-up, where we raise our hands up so that we get an even bigger stretch on our chests and make the bottom of the lift harder:

Illustration of a man doing a deficit push-up.
The deficit push-up.

We start to run into problems when we get to back training. Most back lifts already have fairly poor strength curves. They’re easy at the bottom, hard at the top. That’s why it’s so hard to touch the barbell to our chest when rowing, so hard to touch our chests to the bar when doing chin-ups. If we add resistance bands to these pulling movements, they become atrocious. Resistance-band rows are incredibly easy at the start and extremely difficult at the end. Getting a cheap chin-up bar that you can bolt onto a wall or hook onto a doorframe doesn’t completely solve the strength curve, but it’s quite a bit better.

Illustration of a man doing an inverted table row with bodyweight.
The inverted row (using a table).

Even if you don’t have a chin-up bar, though, there are bodyweight rows that, yeah, still have a bad strength curve, but they aren’t nearly as bad as trying to do rows with resistance bands. So if choosing between inverted rows (using a table) or resistance-band rows, I’d think the inverted rows would be quite a bit better for building muscle.

There are surely exceptions, but as a general rule, resistance bands create poor strength curves for all of the big compound lifts, making it harder to build muscle.

Different Lines of Pull

One feature of resistance bands is that depending on where we anchor them, we can create different lines of pull. That’s the same advantage of using a cable machine, and it can definitely be handy. However, that’s usually accompanied by the statement that because free weights are just resisting gravity, they only allow us to train with a single line of pull. That’s not true, and it’s easy to see why.

Illustration of a man doing the overhead press to build broader shoulders.

If we think of a dumbbell or barbell overhead press, it’s true that, yes, we’re just pressing the weight straight up. It’s a vertical press. So the advantage that bands offer is that we can anchor them to a wall or door frame and create a horizontal press, right? That’s true. But we can create that same effect with free weights simply by changing the angle of our torsos, giving us a bench press, a floor press, or even a push-up. And these free weight variations have a better strength curve for gaining size and strength.

Illustration of a man doing a 3-point dumbbell row.

If we think about back movements, it’s the same thing. Chin-ups are a vertical pull, yes, but we’re not limited by that. If we bend at the waist, we can do horizontal rows with a barbell or dumbbell. And again, the free-weight variation has a strength curve that’s better for building muscle.

Illustration of a man doing dumbbell overhead triceps extensions.

Now, this isn’t to say that resistance bands don’t offer any advantages here. It’s true that being able to anchor the resistance bands in different positions can allow us to get creative with our lifts, and I think that’s one of the cooler things about them. However, most of those movements have a dumbbell variation. Straight-arm lat pulldowns can be replaced by dumbbell pullovers. Triceps pushdowns can be replaced with overhead triceps extensions. And in most of these cases, the free-weight versions do a better job of challenging our muscles in a stretched position, and so they do a better job of stimulating muscle growth.

Mobility & General Strength

When I started seeing these recommendations for resistance bands popping up all over the place, I asked our Marco his thoughts on using resistance bands to develop general strength and athleticism. (Marco has coached college, professional, and Olympic athletes, and worked with the top strength coaches in the world.) He shrugged and said that, yeah, we can build muscle with resistance bands, but that it would be hard, we’d lose out on some general strength benefits, and that if someone had no equipment, he’d probably recommend bodyweight training instead.

There are a few reasons why free weights are so ubiquitous for helping guys get stronger and more athletic. One reason is that we get to stretch our muscles under load and then lift a weight through a large range of motion. This not only makes our muscles physically longer (which happens as we gain muscle) and able to stretch further (flexibility), but it also gives us strength through that complete range of motion (mobility). This makes strength and hypertrophy training great for improving our general strength and athleticism.

Illustration of a man doing a conventional barbell deadlift.

The problem with resistance bands (and, to a certain extent, bodyweight training) is that we aren’t loading ourselves heavily in those stretched positions. That’s not only worse for stimulating muscle growth, it’s also worse for developing general strength and improving our mobility. After all, if the lift is easy at the bottom of the range of motion, then we aren’t developing as much mobility or strength there.

Mind you, I don’t want to oversell this point. Any sort of exercise is good for us. And doing light exercise through a large range of motion still has many benefits, even to our general strength and mobility. It’s just that if we have the choice, free weights are popular for strength and athletics training for a reason.

Improving Posture

Another great thing about lifting weights is, provided that we’re smart about it, it can be great for improving our posture. As with the above section, I don’t want to oversell the benefits of lifting weights or to overstate the harms of having poor posture—plenty of people have poor posture and never appear to suffer from it.

Illustration of a skinny guy becoming muscular from doing biceps curls.

Even so, I really like how over the course of gaining fifty pounds of muscle, my back gradually straightened out, my gut stopped sticking out, and my head stopped jutting forward. Why did I get those postural improvements? Because when we deadlift, front squat, and even do biceps curls, our postural muscles need to hold us in the proper position, which strengthens our abs, obliques, spinal erectors and the myriad of other muscles that hold us upright. This may not be the case for everyone, but it seems that most of us skinny guys have poor posture simply because our postural muscles are too weak. When we strengthen our postural muscles, that problem disappears.

It helps to have a barbell, sure, but we don’t need one. If we have a reasonably heavy dumbbell or two, we can do all of those same movements, just in higher rep ranges or while training one limb at a time. For example, we can swap out heavy conventional deadlifts for a split-stance Romanian deadlift while holding a dumbbell in each hand:

Illustration of a man doing a split-stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift.
The back leg helps with balance, the front leg does the lifting.

Even though the dumbbell Romanian deadlift is quite a bit lighter than a barbell deadlift, what’s neat is that since we need to train both legs separately, our spinal erectors and other core muscles need to do twice as much overall work, giving them a fairly good stimulus.

There are surely other ways to strengthen our posture, but lifting weights is an incredibly effective way of doing it, and we get to enjoy all the extra muscles and strength as an added bonus.

The next question, then, is whether resistance bands will give those same postural benefits. They might, but I’m not so sure. With resistance bands, the lift is only heavy at the very top, which is often when the load on our spinal erectors is the lowest (as with the deadlift). Plus, most of the range of motion is easy on our postural muscles, meaning that there’s less overall work being done with every rep.

The Advantages of Resistance Bands

Accessibility & Affordability

There are a few obvious benefits to resistance bands. They’re cheaper and more portable than free weights, and they allow us to do a ton of different exercises from the comfort of our living rooms. This makes them a nice addition to a bodyweight workout routine. This doesn’t necessarily make them better than free weights, but it does make them better than nothing. And again, perfection isn’t needed to build muscle. If we challenge our muscles, they will grow.

Pump Training & The Hormone Hypothesis

Another thing that resistance bands are famous for is that they make it easy to do metabolite training: lifting in higher rep ranges (12–40 reps per set) while keeping constant tension on our muscles (often doing partial reps), and then using short rest times between sets. This floods our muscles with metabolite-filled blood, gives us a muscle “pump,” and increases our production of local growth factors and hormones (such as growth hormone). Dr Brad Schoenfeld proposed that this style of training stimulates muscle growth via metabolic stress (study), and although that pathway has been questioned lately, there’s no doubt that it’s an effective way to provoke muscle growth.

Illustration of a man with burning shoulders.

When we talk about metabolite training, we should also talk about the hormone hypothesis. This is the idea that if we train in a way that increases our production of certain hormones, such as growth hormone, we can build muscle more quickly. Recent research shows that this probably isn’t the case. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between growth hormone and muscle growth, even when researchers give study participants extremely high doses of it. Furthermore, doing heavier sets of 6–12 reps, easing tension between reps, and taking longer rest periods between sets seems to work just as well for building muscle—sometimes better (study). So although metabolite training is effective, our hormonal response doesn’t seem to matter very much, and other styles of training appear to work just as well, if not better.

If our goal is gaining muscle size and strength, the best approach is probably to combine both styles of training, using a mix of rep ranges and even rest times. For instance, metabolite training doesn’t work well with compound lifts (because it’s too demanding on our cardiovascular systems), and it’s not as good at activating our bigger fast-twitch muscle fibres. But it is a great way to quickly add some extra isolation exercises to the end of a workout, raising our overall training volume higher, and flooding the muscles that we’ve already trained with some extra metabolites (which does seem to help with muscle growth). For example, maybe after doing a few sets of deficit push-ups, we add in some triceps extensions with resistance bands. Or maybe after doing a few sets of chin-ups, we add in a few sets of biceps curls with resistance bands.

Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

Now, to be clear, we can do metabolite training just as easily with free weights. That’s how bodybuilders have traditionally done it, after all. This is done by not pausing between reps and avoiding full lockouts. For isolation lifts like the triceps extension, this even has some research showing that it can improve muscle growth. But if you don’t have access to free weights, resistance bands are a valid alternative. They’re a tool that we can take advantage of.

More Muscle Growth?

Moving onto the less credible claims, there’s one resistance-band company claiming that resistance bands stimulate three times as much muscle growth as free weights. The first problem with that claim is that they reference a study on accommodating resistance, which is not the same thing as resistance-band training (as covered above). But the bigger problem is that the study states: “while lean body mass was not significantly different between groups, both groups did significantly increase their lean body mass over the course of the study.” So the claim that adding resistance bands to free weights triples muscle growth doesn’t even line up with the results of the study anyway. Rather, the study found that free weights stimulate muscle growth whether we add resistance bands or not.

Mind you, none of this means that resistance bands aren’t useful. Any challenging set, regardless of how bad the strength curve is, will stimulate at least a little bit of muscle growth. And just because some companies are making claims that (as best I can tell) seem to be incorrect, that doesn’t mean that resistance bands aren’t good for building muscle.

As far as I can tell, most of the purported benefits of resistance bands are incorrect or overstated. But even though resistance bands aren’t ideal for building muscle, they can still be handy to have around, especially if you don’t have access to free weights.

Research Comparing Free Weights vs Resistance Bands

We have a few reasons to think that resistance bands might not be great for building muscle. However, it’s hard to say any of this with certainty. Resistance bands don’t seem to have ever been considered very seriously for building muscle (outside of physiotherapy).

Most resistance-band research doesn’t relate to muscle growth. There’s research looking at accommodating resistance, where free weights are combined with resistance bands, but that’s entirely different—the vast majority of the load comes from the free weights. And there’s also EMG research looking into muscle activation with resistance bands versus free weights, but that’s kind of useless here because EMG favours lifts that are harder at shorter muscle lengths, which is the opposite of what’s ideal for building muscle. Finally, there are studies comparing resistance bands with isometric dumbbell lifts, but that’s not how people lift weights (because it’s not as good for building muscle).

Training with resistance bands feels harder. What’s interesting is that in a lot of these studies looking into resistance bands, the participants said that they needed to put in a lot more effort to stimulate their muscles with resistance bands. Maybe that’s because they’re less stable, or maybe it’s because of the unnatural strength curve, but the research does show that building muscle with resistance bands feels harder (study, study).

We also have some research showing that resistance bands aren’t as good at stimulating our prime movers. For example, in a bench press, resistance bands aren’t as good at stimulating our chests. We’ve already talked about why that might be. Our chests grow best when loaded in a stretched position, and resistance bands don’t do that. It’s our shoulders and triceps that wind up bearing more of the load.

Another thing that keeps coming up in the research is that resistance bands are inherently less stable. As a general rule of thumb, stable training is better for building muscle because it allows us to focus more on moving the weight, less on stabilizing it. Mind you, dumbbells demand more of our stabilizer muscles, too, and are just as good at stimulating muscle growth as barbells (article), so I’m not sure if this would actually have an impact on hypertrophy. Mind you, resistance bands are much less stable than dumbbells.

We know that free weights are great for building muscle, and we can say that with certainty—they’re the industry standard. There are also good reasons to think that resistance bands wouldn’t be as effective, but it’s hard to say by how much, or whether it matters.

Key Takeaways

Resistance bands can be used to build muscle, and if that’s all you have access to, then you may as well take advantage of them. They can absolutely work. However, it’s quicker and easier to build muscle with free weights, and we get the extra benefits of denser bones, stronger spines, greater mobility, and tougher connective tissues.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

Does that matter? Maybe not. Any sort of exercise is infinitely better than being sedentary, and if you enjoy resistance bands, that’s great. But if you have a hard time sticking with the habit of exercising, or if you’re new to trying to build muscle, or if you worry that you’re a hardgainer, then bulking with resistance bands might be making things needlessly hard. Fortunately, there are a few great options:

  • Train at a gym.
  • Build a barbell home gym in a spare room or garage.
  • Get some heavy adjustable dumbbells (but you’ll need to train one limb at a time sometimes).
  • Get a few fixed-weight dumbbells or kettlebells (but you’ll need to train one limb at a time sometimes, and you’ll need to be flexible with your rep ranges).

But again, no matter what you’re using, you can still build muscle. Perhaps even more importantly, all of these options (including bodyweight training) are great for our general health. And no matter what you have access to, there’s a way to get better and bigger. Even if you can’t get to the gym, anything is infinitely better than nothing.

Plus, there’s nothing stopping you from getting started now with bodyweight training, gradually saving up for some free weights and then upgrading down the road.

Our specialty is helping hardgainers build muscle, and we’re willing to do that by any means necessary. Free weights are best, but our Bony to Beastly Program also includes a bodyweight bulking routine for guys who don’t have access to a barbell or dumbbells. (And given the current situation, we’re writing some free articles about building muscle at home, too.)

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping nearly ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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61 Comments

  1. NickA on April 10, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    Perfect timing with this article guys. I was asking myself the same questions lately. Thank you for the references too!

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 3:54 pm

      Our pleasure, man! I hope you’re doing well, all things considered 🙂

    • Tom on April 11, 2020 at 12:03 am

      I do not agree. I am a 48 year old ex powerlifter. I use bands incorporated with Bulgarian bags, Power ropes & sandbags. You do not need free weights to build muscle. Bands twice a week, Bulgarian bag weighted push-ups with ropes & sand bag cleans works just fine. 6 to 7 sets of Giant super sets one day. Power ropes 10 30 seconds to 1 minute waves or power slams & sandbag cleans. Chose a weight you can do 6 to 10 sets of 10.

      • Willie on May 21, 2020 at 9:32 pm

        Correct. I have a BS in Exercise Science and have just read a recent book by Chris Beardsley on Hypertrophy to boot. When it comes to hypertrophy, we are looking at what happens at the fiber level and what stimulates growth is based upon the force -velocity relationship in which the slower the contraction (not purposefully) the more force the fiber produces. If you do a weight that’s 40-~85% of your 1RM, you’re able to stimulate growth.

        What you’re looking for is fiber recruitment, doing the weight as fast as possible AND force production, which is getting to a point where you’ve fatigued the muscle so the velocity of the lift slows and the individual fiber produces much higher levels of force.

        When it comes to strength curves, one has to remember to use the proper resistance. If I can curl 35, I set up my bands so that the BEGINNING of the pull is at 35 pounds (if I can’t do more than 4 reps, I change the resistance slightly).

        All we are really going to have to play around with is HOW the hypertrophy takes place: are we going to see increases in muscle length or diameter?

        In short: you have to stimulate the muscle properly at the fiber level. If you’re not doing that, free weights or whatever, you’re not going to see growth.

        This is why doing optometric work doesn’t actually build muscle. Improper stimulation at the fiber level. Do all the jump squats you want, and you’ll get sore as all hell but the hypertrophy is minimal.

        • Shane Duquette on May 22, 2020 at 10:34 am

          Hey Willie, thank you for the comment.

          I haven’t seen the research, but it doesn’t surprise me that optometric work (where optometrists prescribe corrective lenses to help people fix deficiencies in their eyesight) doesn’t stimulate much muscle growth 😉

          Recruiting our muscle fibres by lifting in a suitable rep range and taking our lifts close enough to failure is important, too, absolutely. That doesn’t really have anything to do with free weights versus resistance bands, though. Both can do that.

          When we’re talking about strength curves, we aren’t talking about using the appropriate amount of weight, we’re talking about which part of the range of motion is most challenging. As discussed in the article, lifts that challenge our muscles in a stretched position stimulate more muscle growth than lifts that challenge our muscles in a contracted position, regardless of what percentage of our 1RM we use.

          I do agree with you, though, that resistance bands can be used to build muscle. I think that part of the message got a bit lost in the article. I’m not saying they don’t stimulate muscle growth. They do. I’m just arguing that free weights stimulate even more muscle growth.

          • Willie on May 24, 2020 at 4:31 pm

            There really is no reason to believe they stimulate MORE muscle growth given rate coding, the size principle, the force-velocity relationship or what actually happens at the fiber level.

            The strength curve is specifically about how we address sticking points and not about hypertrophy to the muscle at a fiber level, but how each strength curve affects HOW the muscle will find its particular growth pattern: flat, ascending, bell, descending. This is why we use various exercises to hit muscles at various angles to achieve growth throughout the muscle as a whole. Some can affect fiber recruitment differently, but when all else is similar in that starting resistance and curve are similar, the only true thing creating hypertrophy is stimulating reps.

            When it comes to curves we have active and passive elements to exercise that affect how the muscle growth occurs but not the growth as a whole.

            The major difference is confronting inertia and gravity at the beginning of a bell curve curl vs. simply elastic resistance hitting increasingly harder throughout the movement. This implies that the muscle grows differently and not that one elicits more growth.



          • Willie on May 24, 2020 at 4:43 pm

            Nobody would argue a partial range of motion brought close to failure at the right weight won’t elicit growth. It would only argue that growth would be different than free weights.

            Much like machines result in different kinds of growth than free weights and cables do as well.

            None of these methods are simply better for hypertrophy.



          • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 8:28 am

            We DO see different amounts of growth when challenging our muscles at different parts of the range of motion, though. If we look at a systematic review of all 26 studies looking into this (as cited in the article), we see nearly three times as much muscle growth when challenging our muscles at longer muscle lengths.

            There’s a mechanistic reason for it, too. The main driver of muscle growth is mechanical tension. When a muscle is stretched, there’s passive tension being added to active tension, meaning that there’s more overall mechanical tension. Having that higher peak amount of mechanical tension then stimulates more muscle growth.



        • Willie on May 24, 2020 at 4:51 pm

          PLYOMETRIC work. I thought you might have gotten that point through context.

          You can go through full ROM with weight that’s below threshold necessary and you won’t see any growth. Strength curve doesn’t matter in growth vs. non-growth but in what kind of growth you’d expect to see. Length or width? 😉

          • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 8:22 am

            I hear ya. I was just kidding with you 🙂



          • Willie on May 25, 2020 at 12:54 pm

            What we both know is that ROM reflects in a specific kind of growth regionally in a muscle and not a dichotomy of growth vs. non-growth.

            The mechanistic reason for it is that the fibers most stimulated result in the most growth. Hypertrophy is based on what happens at the fiber and not the muscle itself.

            This is also why recent research shows some muscles may benefit from less than full ROM in regards to specific regional muscle hypertrophy.

            Anyone still attempting to argue that one type of resistance is better for hypertrophy really don’t understand hypertrophy or what what causes it.

            There’s recent research where a load cell is used to regulate resistance by bands comparatively in resistance training and showing hypertrophy being comparable: makes sense considering that resistance only has to meet a certain threshold to stimulate the proper fatigue to create full recruitment of high threshold motor units and to induce the force-velocity relationship needed to produce hypertrophy, Right? 😉

            It’s really that simple.

            I’d really wish more “fitness gurus” understood what happens at the fiber level to produce hypertrophy and stopped relying on guesses made around muscle damage and metabolic stress when looking at the reality of mechanical tension being THE driving factor AND WHY.

            You seem to have hobbled together some ideas that don’t actually show a deeper understanding of the science, and if you’re going to keep this writing up, I’d suggest having an expert in the field edit and fact check your opinions.

            I wish you the best in your journey, but would never advise anyone talking to those that understand the science to repeat what you’ve stood by, here.



          • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 3:00 pm

            I’m not arguing with you that mechanical tension is the main driver of muscle growth, but rather that the length-tension relationship factors into mechanical tension. When we challenge our muscles at greater muscle lengths, peak mechanical tension is greater, and so more muscle growth is stimulated. The referenced systematic review goes over 26 studies showing that to be the case. If you look at the differences in hypertrophy, challenging muscles at longer muscle lengths resulted in nearly 3x greater muscle growth.

            Marco has a BHSc, is a fully certified strength coach, has interned under some of the top experts, has over a decade of experience helping thousands of people bulk up, including world-class athletes, such as our Canadian Olympic rugby team. Before we wrote this article, I asked him what he thought of resistance bands. He told me that they can work if that’s all someone has, but that they aren’t very effective, and he’d much rather use other methods to help people build muscle. If you look at the methods that other top strength coaches use, you’ll see that they primarily use free weights, too.

            Just to make sure we weren’t totally off base, though, I also asked Greg Nuckols, MA, from Monthly Applications in Strength Sport (MASS). He confirmed that challenging our muscles in a stretched position seems to be better at stimulating muscle growth. Regarding resistance bands, he called their strength curves “wonky,” if I recall correctly, but said that they can be used to build muscle if nothing else is available. That’s the same stance we’re taking. I don’t think it’s all that controversial.

            On that note, here’s a relevant quote from MASS, written by Greg Nuckols and reviewed by Eric Helms, PhD, Eric Trexler, PhD, and Mike Zourdos, PhD: “While active contractile tension of a muscle tends to be highest at around resting length, passive tension from non-contractile elements (the tendons and muscle fascia) increases as muscle length increases, such that total muscular tension is generally highest when muscles are in a stretched position. Tension primarily seems to matter for hypertrophy because tension is sensed at costameres (where muscles attach to the surrounding fascia), which activate a protein called focal adhesion kinase (FAK), which then triggers the mTOR pathway, which is primarily responsible for exercise-induced hypertrophic signaling. In exquisitely controlled rodent research (study), it’s been shown that tension itself, not just active tension generated by muscle contraction, is what kicks off this pathway. Thus, even though active tension drops off, the disproportionate increase in passive tension, which leads to more total tension, should also lead to more hypertrophic signaling.”

            The main thing I asked Greg about (before writing this article) was if regional hypertrophy meant that there might be a benefit to challenging our muscles at a variety of different muscle lengths, such as choosing some exercises that challenge our muscles while stretched and others that challenge our muscles while contracted. He said that, no, there’s no evidence of that, and he’s skeptical that it would help. He thinks it’s better to focus on lifts that challenge our muscles at longer muscle lengths.

            I wish you the best on your journey, too, man!



  2. Nate on April 10, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Shane what do you think about systems like X3, which claims to have a lot of research behind it? Here’s a link to their science page, not sure I can post the link here but remove it if it’s an issue. It’s hard separating hype from reality so just curious on your take on it…

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 5:50 pm

      This is a neat question, yeah. This science page is weird, though.

      The research there doesn’t say what it seems to be saying. The study he uses to prove that resistance bands are better than free weights is a study on accommodating resistance: adding resistance bands to free weights (as powerlifters often do). That absolutely works. The free weights make up the majority of the load, making the lift hard at the bottom of the range of motion. The bands kick in at the top, making the lockout hard as well. It’s a way of further flattening the resistance curve created by free weights. But if we remove the free weights, then we’re left with the resistance curve of just the bands, which is not good.

      The next problem is that he claims that the study shows 3x the amount of muscle growth in the accommodating resistance group, but that’s not what the study says. It did find larger gains in strength from accommodating resistance, but there was no difference in muscle growth between the two groups. The conclusion of the study states: “while lean body mass was not significantly different between groups, both groups did significantly increase their lean body mass over the course of the study.”

      Also, there are some other good studies looking at how accommodating resistance affects strength gains. If we look at them as a whole, they fail to show much benefit (or downside). When it comes to muscle growth, as with this study, it’s not even clear if accomodating resistance produces ANY extra muscle growth (although it might!). But again, that’s not what X3 is. Accommodating resistance is adding a light band to a heavy barbell, not adding a light bar to a heavy band.

      Then he talks about electromyography (EMG) research, and this is admittedly not something I know a great deal about, but if I understand it correctly, EMG research runs into problems when comparing muscle activation at different muscle lengths. It gives higher readings when muscles are in shorter positions, which is where resistance bands are heaviest, but that’s a relatively unimportant part of the range of motion for stimulating muscle growth. For example, EMG research finds much higher glute activation in hip thrusts (hardest at the top), but squats produce much greater amounts of glute growth (hardest at the bottom/middle).

      So, yeah, the X3 system would have all of the downsides mentioned in the article. What’s even weirder is that this guy claims that free weights are a bad way to build muscle, which is total nonsense. That’s not what the research shows, it’s not what the experts recommend, it’s not what bodybuilders (including natural bodybuilders) use to build muscle, that’s not how Olympic athletes lift, or professional athletes. It doesn’t make any sense.

      But again, it’s not that resistance bands can’t stimulate muscle growth. They can. It’s just that free weights appear to do an even better job of it.

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 6:03 pm

      Also, take what I say here with a grain of salt. This is my first time looking into this. I didn’t look into it deeply.

      • Coty on April 11, 2020 at 7:50 pm

        I would take a deeper look then. If you understand the principles of GH and different forms of training that can cause larger dumps of GH (I.E. BFR training) there is definitely something to his methodology. Pro bodybuilders have been using BFR training for decades (even if they didn’t know why it worked so well). I have trained BFR and had amazing results. I just bought the X3 as a skeptic but am keeping an open mind. After doing a few of the workouts in get the same pump/burn I get while doing BFR. Not saying that means I will get a GH dump, but it sure feels like it.

        For the record, I am not a proponent of band training, but I’m opened minded to anything. I think shooting down his website and product with a quick once over of the research is a bit of a jump. The idea that you could not build muscle with bands when they have the equivalency of a 450lb deadlift (elite band) for someone that is approximately 6′ is a bold statement.

        6′ male
        225lbs
        9% bf
        @spraggeth IG if you need to check. Only have a few videos posted though.

        • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 10:26 pm

          Hey Coty, I agree that people can build muscle with bands. I’m not trying to suggest that it’s impossible to build muscle with bands. Just that it’s easier to build muscle with free weights.

          I also agree with you that blood flow restriction training (BFR) is a proven method with a lot of high-quality research to back it up. As an overall approach, it doesn’t work as well as regular training done with free weights, but it works well when done in combination with free weights (which is what most people do). It’s not magic, but it can be an effective part of a muscle-building plan, for sure.

          Getting a pump can be good, yeah. Resistance bands can be good for that if you’re doing higher reps with constant tension. Free weights can be good for that, too, if you train with that same pump-oriented style. In either case, that can be a good way to finish a workout.

          I’m not trying to shoot down a product. It could be that people really enjoy it. I think resistance training (and exercise in general) is great, and there’s no need for people to do it in a totally optimal way. I was just commenting on the claim that resistance bands allow us to build muscle three times faster than free weights, but the proof is a study showing that accommodating resistance DOESN’T cause extra muscle growth when compared with just free weights.

          Plus, the study is on accommodating resistance, which involves getting most of the load from free weights anyway. Adding a band to a heavy deadlift makes it harder at the lockout so that the entire range of motion is challenging, which is either neutral (as this study suggests) or good (as future studies may show) for building muscle. But a resistance band is only challenging at the top, which is bad for stimulating muscle growth.

          I was also challenging the claim that variable resistance is good for building muscle. I don’t think that’s the case, and I’ve explained my reasoning above.

          • Coty on April 11, 2020 at 11:38 pm

            Shane-
            I really appreciate your approach in the way you look at this and have been trying to respond since you wrote me last. However, the website seems to be a bit laggy no matter the internet source that I try (fiber and mobile seem to have issues getting your site to load).

            You are a little flawed in the way that you are approaching this because I think you are looking at this research incorrectly. For one, the research shows a much greater increase in the hormone response (GH, test, cortisol) with banded training as opposed to free weight only. I think we can both agree that would make that a positive for banded training. If we can’t agree on that then this conversation would have to be dead.

            Second, your idea behind your logical approach to this is flawed as well. You are correct in stating that the movement when using free weight resistance (FWR) is harder it the mid-range movement. However, it isn’t due to the fact that you are using FW, it is due to the levers and the mechanical advantages that you are currently at (IE the weight is furthest from your body at mid-range). This does not change when doing banded curls, your lever is still at its least advantageous position at mid-range using bands. However, the difference being in FWR the rep gets easier once past the mid-range; in banded resistance the rep gets harder as the bands are pulled (the mechanical aspect does go in your favor however).

            Third, you are not looking at the banded+FWR training research in the proper light. FWR training combined with banded resisted training (CR) is essentially the same as doing bands the whole time. For example, when doubling up the Elite band with the X3, it is around a 400ish-lb deadlift at the BOTTOM. This is identical to doing a 400lb FWR deadlift at the start. However, with the bands, it gets harder every inch that you go up. Your argument that a band is only difficult at the bottom is a highly flawed statement. The deadlift is hard from bottom to top with the elite (the others are not that difficult).

            (Your website just crashed on me after trying to submit and I am having to retype the rest of this)

            Fourth, it is widely accepted that eccentric muscle contractions cause a muscle to hypertrophy more than a concentric muscle contraction. Banded training is known to have a much greater eccentric contraction than that of a FWR training. That is all I will say on this.

            I think if you take a step back and look at this completely objectively (hard to do when we are biased), you will see that banded training offers a lot advantages over that of FWR training. However, FWR training offers a ton of benefits over that of banded training. They both have a place. In my opinion, you will do significantly more with the X3 than you will with some kettlebells (I do both of these most days since the shelter-in-place).

            I love FWR training. Nothing will ever have a place in my heart like it does. Bands do not make steel bend around me when I am trying to back squat a set at 585. They don’t make my shins bleed when PRing on DL (the X3 actually did once because I wasn’t used to training with it but it was coming down from OH press hahah).

            I really appreciate you having a conversation and keeping a cool head with everyone when they are coming at you from all angles. I do agree with you that the dude selling is making some claims that are bit BS (traditional style workouts don’t gain muscle bwhahaha what?). Either way, I suggest you get one of these and try them out. It isn’t your typical TheraBand exercise band.



          • Shane Duquette on April 12, 2020 at 10:31 am

            My pleasure, man! I write about this stuff because I love it, and I really enjoy having these conversations. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

            The site is loading slowly because this article started trending on Google Discover and a ton of people are all suddenly trying to load the article at once. I’m sorry for that. It’s going to clear up soon. It’s already gotten better.

            You’re talking about the “hormone hypothesis” to muscle growth, where the idea is to train with higher reps, shorter rest times, and keep constant tension on our muscles. That was a really popular way of training for muscle growth up until about a decade ago, at which point evidence started coming out that growth hormone doesn’t cause muscle growth (study), and that longer rest periods between sets can improve muscle growth despite lowering the hormonal response to training (study). That doesn’t mean that training with higher reps, shorter rest periods, and constant tension is worse. Far from it. It’s still an effective way to train. But it’s not a better way to train. If anything, it might be slightly worse. The best approach, though, is probably to combine both styles of training, starting a workout with some heavier compound lifts and then finishing it off with some pump work.

            I’m not sure why being able to train that way would be a positive for banded training, though. If you wanted that effect with free weights, you’d just lift in a way that keeps constant tension on the muscles (e.g avoiding the lockout), you’d lift in higher rep ranges, you’d shorten rest times, you might even use BFR. But the reason people don’t favour that type of training is that it isn’t necessarily better. It’s just one of several effective ways of building muscle, and it can be done with either free weights or resistance bands. But with free weights, you’d also be getting more mechanical tension on your muscles by challenging them in a more stretched position. Free weights are still better.

            I don’t think I’m misunderstanding the role of lever lengths in determining the resistance curve of a lift. This article explains lever lengths with both text and by drawing diagrams, and I’ve linked out to two more in-depth articles I’ve written on how external moment arms affect the resistance curve of lifts, as well as how our internal moments somewhat cancel that out. As you’ve mentioned, though, resistance bands add a new variable to the mix: variable resistance. It makes the lifts easier at the beginning and harder at the end. Now, it’s not that we can’t put any tension on our muscles at the bottom of a lift, it’s that there’s less tension on our muscles at the bottom of the lift. It’s disproportionately easy compared to the end. That’s not ideal for building muscle. If anything, we want the opposite, where the lift is harder at the beginning (where our muscles are stretched).

            Accommodating resistance is different from using resistance bands. With free weights, you’re correct that some lifts are easier near the lockout. That’s not true of the chin-up or row, but it’s true of the deadlift, squat, and bench press. For those lifts, some people like to add bands or chains to make the end of the lift a bit harder, flattening the strength curve. The goal is to make the lift equally challenging throughout. However, even then, relatively light resistance bands are used to make sure that the lift is still hard enough at the beginning to be good for stimulating muscle growth. The only people who use high amounts of band tension are geared powerlifters who are trying to train specifically for lifting in squat suits and bench shirts. Adding a little bit of tension from bands might help with building muscle, although so far there’s no evidence of that. But adding a lot of band tension makes the strength curve worse for gaining size and strength. If all we’re using are resistance bands, that would be even worse.

            Eccentric training can stimulate muscle growth, yes. But again, that’s a whole different style of training. Our muscles are much stronger while lowering weights, and so we’d need to use much heavier weights with eccentric training—heavier than we’d be able to lift. For example, instead of doing barbell curls, we’d do power curls, where we thrust a too-heavy barbell up with our hips and then lower it down slowly. The reason it isn’t popular is that it causes absurd amounts of muscle damage. As an overall approach, it’s not actually better for building muscle. That’s why we choose weights that we’re strong enough to actually lift. Does lowering those weights challenge our muscles enough to provoke growth? Not really. But does that matter? Not really.

            Now, this doesn’t mean that resistance bands can’t be useful or that we can’t build muscle with them. We totally can. But when compared against free weights, free weights are generally better for building muscle.

            And again, I appreciate the comments, man. Thank you!



    • Zen on April 16, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      Hey Shane

      Awesome article with a great update! It’s so useful to have the myth-busting and clarification. It really puts it into perspective.

      Keep up the good work!

  3. Derek on April 10, 2020 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for this, man! I just bought some bands and I’m wondering if I should swap them for dumbells.

    What do you think about this guy who does X3 bar? His schtick is that you do reps until you can’t even move the bar anymore. You might do 8 at full range of motion, then 8 at partial range, then 8 at a third range. It’s all one set and completely fatigues the muscle. Does that seem kinda BS?

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 6:01 pm

      I think if you have bands you can find some fun stuff to do with them. If you have the option to swap them for dumbbells, I would, but you can absolutely still use them.

      Have you tried them yet? How do you like them?

      Regarding the X3 stuff, check out the comment above yours. It’s … weird. The science page (unless I’m sorely mistaken) seems to have some major mistakes. For example, the study he references to show that accommodating resistance produces 3x more muscle growth didn’t actually have those findings. The conclusion of the study states: “while lean body mass was not significantly different between groups, both groups did significantly increase their lean body mass over the course of the study.” But X3 isn’t accommodating resistance anyway. Accommodating resistance is effective, but it involves lifting free weights AND using bands. It’s when you add a chain to your barbell bench press.

      I’m not sure if completely fatiguing the muscle like that is a good way to build muscle. It’s an interesting idea, but lifting to failure doesn’t produce more growth than stopping a rep shy, and it comes along with the downsides of producing a ton of extra fatigue and muscle damage. That approach sounds like the equivalent of doing a bunch of cheat reps—going BEYOND failure. But again, I’m not sure.

      Finally, it makes me skeptical when one specific product claims to have the ultimate solution, especially when it goes against the overall body of evidence, the expert opinion, what all the best lifters do, and tradition.

      But I’ll totally admit to having a bias towards the conventional. I want to do what has been proven to work. I want all the kinks already worked out. I like all the research to provide the ins and outs of how to min-max our training. I’m not a hypertrophy revolutionary.

      • Derek on April 11, 2020 at 1:28 pm

        Hey Shane, thanks for the thoughtful reply! What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.

        • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 10:41 pm

          After you mentioned that approach of failing at all different parts of the range of motion, I thought it was interesting, so I was thinking about it a little bit more.

          If we look at a chin-up, we have an iffy strength curve where the lift is disproportionately hard at the very end, similar to resistance bands. To do a “complete” pull-up, we need to bring our chests all the way to the bar. However, when training for muscle growth, we usually want to push our sets a little further than that. We want to do an extra couple of reps. If our chin passes the bar, it counts. It’s a “chin-up,” after all. So I think that idea of doing a bit more work once we’ve failed at the very top of a lift does make sense in some cases. But this is a way of mitigating a small downside, not an advantage.

          Plus, we can do this with any lift! We could squat higher and higher every rep, starting with deeps squats and ending with partial squats. Same with the bench press, starting from the chest and doing smaller and smaller partials. So, yeah, it is doing cheat reps. It’s just more similar to doing cheat reps on a chin-up or barbell row, where the top is the hardest.

  4. Dustin on April 10, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Shane,
    Thanks for the great article! This post doesn’t have anything to do with bands, other than I’ve found a way to not have to use them & thought I’d share for your readers that it applies to (limited space, funds, can’t find equipment right now, etc$

    I live in apartment with limited space for equipment. I found that for $80 I could pick up a sandbag with multiple filler bags so I could start with my big compound lifts & take out weight as I progressed through the workout to smaller isolation lifts. It’s insane how much I’ve been able to do with this one piece of equipment.

    Bands just don’t do it for me. Sure, they’ll stress the muscle, but it just doesn’t motivate me the way moving something heavy does.

    Sure with the sandbag I can’t load it enough to do a heavy 3rep set or anything (cleaning & pressing that over my shoulders would be a no go, ha) but I can up my reps, focus on MMC, & do slow controlled reps working all those stabilizer muscles to combat the shifting sand. You can get these things up to 220lb!

    Best solution I’ve been able to find to the current gym less situation. They are currently available, very economical, & don’t take up much space. Plus they work all those smaller muscles that may not get as much love. Most importantly I still get to do my big lifts (stiff leg DL, squats (front & back), rows, presses, cleans) I’ve found a way to work every muscle group & get a good pump.

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 10:02 pm

      That sounds like a sweet setup, man! It sounds like a pretty effective way to build muscle, too. And fun! I dig it 🙂

  5. Robert on April 10, 2020 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks so much for publishing this. I was thinking about getting some resistance bands but this made me think twice. With that said, I live in a small apartment and don’t have the space for any of the equipment you recommended in your barbell home gym article. What kind of equipment would you recommend getting for guys who live in small urban apartments? I have a pullup bar and have been trying to get by with that plus situps, pushups, etc. Really hoping I can avoid losing my hard earned gains until my gym reopens. Thanks again!

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 9:48 pm

      Hey Robert,

      Between a pull-up bar and push-ups, you’re already doing pretty well for upper body training. Add in some jump squats or single-legged squats and you’ve got a pretty good makeshift muscle-building workout.

      If all you’re trying to do is maintain your gains while you wait for the gym to open back up, I think you’d be okay with what you have. You could make good progress on your chest by doing a few sets of deficit push-ups to failure a few times per week, you could do handstand or pike push-ups for your shoulders, chin-ups for your back and biceps, and crunches/hanging leg raises for your abs. I bet you’d be able to make good progress on all of those muscle groups.

      With your legs, glutes, spinal erectors, traps, and some of the smaller muscle groups, you might just maintain or even lose a bit of muscle, but that’s not really much of a concern. Within a couple of weeks of being back at the gym, that muscle would spring right back.

      If you want to go beyond just doing makeshift workouts, though, my recommendation would be to get a couple of kettlebells, a couple of dumbbells, or a pair of adjustable dumbbells. Again, it all depends on how much you want to spend and how permanent you want your home gym to be. Adjustable dumbbells are more expensive but allow you to do entire bulking programs without any real compromises.

      When I made my own makeshift home gym, I decided to get kettlebells. Even cheap ones are very sturdy and comfortable to grip, so I found them more comfortable for goblet squats, overhead presses, rows, carries, and overhead triceps extensions. And then for my chest, I’d use them as handles for my deficit push-ups. Kettlebells aren’t totally ideal for some of the other lifts (such as curls), but they get the job done. And your pull-up bar will take care of your biceps anyway.

      So I think the correct answer is to get some sort of adjustable dumbbell, but sometimes the cheaper ones can be rickety, so it really depends on how much you’re willing to spend and what quality you’d be satisfied with. So if I were in your position and was planning on eventually going back to the gym, I might get, say, a 25 and 50-pound kettlebell. (Back in the day, I got a 15, 35, 50, and 75-pounder, but I mainly used the 35 and 50.)

      I really hope that helps. I’ll be going into more detail on this stuff in our next article, too.

      • Robert on April 11, 2020 at 3:53 am

        Shane,

        Thanks so much for the fast and detailed reply. The kind of personal attention that you and the other founders give to members is one of the reasons I’ve been a part of the B2B community for over five years.

        Regarding my goals, the reason I originally said my goal was just to maintain is that I figured it would be nearly impossible to actually build muscle without access to a gym or gym equipment that won’t fit in my apartment. But if building muscle is relatively straightforward with just a pullup bar and a set of kettlebells, that absolutely changes things.

        If you don’t mind, I have a couple follow up questions. First – are there any adjustable dumbbells you’d recommend? I don’t mind splurging on those if they’re going to be significantly more effective than getting a couple kettlebells. But if the difference is relatively minor, I think kettlebells will suffice until the gym reopens.

        Also, do you have any suggestions for workout routines for this type of minimal home gym? I know you mentioned you’d be going into more detail in the next article, so it sounds like you might be addressing that soon.

        Thanks again man! I really appreciate all the info.

        • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 12:15 pm

          My pleasure, Robert! Yeah, you can absolutely build muscle without access to a gym. Hell, you can even build muscle without any equipment whatsoever. It’s easier for some muscle groups than others, but now would be a great time to focus on your back and biceps with the chin-up bar, your chest and shoulders with push-us, your abs with hanging leg raises and crunches. If you decide to get kettlebells/dumbbells, it becomes even easier, and you’ll have a better time bulking up other muscles as well.

          There are advantages to adjustable dumbbells, yeah. You can increase the load in small increments allowing you to lift in narrower rep ranges. That’s not needed to build muscle—progressively increasing rep ranges and training volume works, too—but it can make things a bit easier. Another advantage to dumbbells is that you can do lifts like dumbbell curls and wrist curls without the grips twisting in your hands. For arm training in general, I’d lean towards dumbbells. But the differences are indeed minor, and to be honest, I prefer kettlebells to all but the highest-end adjustable dumbbells (like BowFlex or IronMaster). Even cheap kettlebells are sturdy and feel nice in the hands, and they’re really comfortable for the compound movements: goblet squats, front squats, overhead presses, Romanian deadlifts, loaded carries, and so on.

          When I had to train at home for a while, I got a couple of kettlebells, really enjoyed it, and made some good progress. Mind you, you could also make good progress with resistance bands, or even with bodyweight. Making progress doesn’t hinge on you getting free weights. It just makes it easier and more enjoyable. 

          • Robert on April 11, 2020 at 3:32 pm

            Awesome, thanks Shane! I did a quick search for adjustable dumbbells and unfortunately it looks like most of the good brands are sold out. All I could find were some cheap looking off-brand ones that were still selling for over $500 for a pair. So I’ll probably stick with kettlebells until the gym reopens.

            Also, does B2B have any plans to release a workout plan for guys with minimalist home gyms? It looks like no gyms will be open for at least a few more weeks so it would be great to make sure we’re getting the best use out of limited equipment. I know you guys are busy so I completely get it if you don’t have time but I’m sure a lot of your members would really appreciate it. Thanks again!



        • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 3:58 pm

          Yeah, man. I hear ya. That’s important. We’ve already got a minimalist home gym plan up in the member community. Check out the “How to Train During a Pandemic” thread. And much more is to come 🙂

          If that thread doesn’t answer all of your questions, just make a post there and Marco, SteveM, and I can help you figure it out 🙂

          • Robert on April 12, 2020 at 3:08 am

            I read through the thread you suggested and it seems like a great place to start. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I’m looking forward to seeing what else you guys come up with for home gym routines!



  6. Kevin on April 10, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    This seems like a one sided argument. You can definitely build muscle with bands and work a lot of muscles that dumbbells wouldn’t touch with the negative and extra resistance at the top. Resistance bands will get you more ripped but maybe not as much mass as lifting for 1-5 reps with heavy weight. Seems like more research is needed especially for specific goals.

    • Shane Duquette on April 10, 2020 at 10:01 pm

      Hey Kevin, I’m sorry if I didn’t communicate this properly, but I totally agree that people can build muscle with resistance bands. They’ve got a funny strength curve, and I think free weights are an easier way to build muscle, but resistance bands are still viable, and if you prefer them, sweet.

      I’m confused by your second point. What are the muscles that you can’t build with free weights? And why would that be the case?

      I wasn’t trying to argue that heavy strength training was better. Doing sets of 1–5 reps isn’t very good for building muscle, either. As with resistance bands, it’s certainly possible to build muscle that way, but it’s much harder. If I recall correctly, Schoenfeld compared a group doing 7 sets of 3 reps against a group doing 3 sets of 10 reps. They both built the same amount of muscle, but the 10-rep group finished their workouts in fifteen minutes feeling fresh, whereas the 3-rep group took 90 minutes to finish their workouts and felt wrecked by the end of the study. So if I had to guess, I suspect that the guy doing sets of 10 reps with resistance bands would be able to build muscle more easily than the guy doing 3-rep sets with a heavy barbell. (Not that 10 reps is a magic number or anything, but it’s within that 6–20 range that makes it easiest to build muscle for most lifts.)

      If I understand what you’re saying, getting ripped (lean?) versus gaining mass (bulking?) is mainly a difference in calorie intake. To lose fat, eat a low enough amount of calories that you lose weight. To build muscle, eat enough calories that you gain weight. Both could be done with either resistance bands or free weights. Or am I misunderstanding you?

      • Kevin on April 10, 2020 at 10:23 pm

        Thanks for clarifying. In opinion resistance bands requires more of a dynamic strength squeeze as opposed to free weights. Gravity also has to be taken into account where you use stabilizing muscles and contestant tension with bands where free weights there is not much negative benefit unless purposeful in working that. Thanks for clarifying and bringing knowledge to my ignorance

        • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 12:16 pm

          My pleasure, Kevin! It’s true that resistance bands give more of a squeeze at the top of the lift. That can be good for getting a muscle pump, and that’s not without value. However, free weights can do that, too, but they also allow us to lift heavier weights with a more challenging overall range of motion, which should, in theory, stimulate at least a bit more muscle growth. I don’t want to overstate these differences, though. We won’t know for sure until more research comes out.

          Gravity plays a bigger role when we’re lifting free weights. With bands, we’re mostly pushing against the tension of the band. With free weights, we’re mainly lifting against gravity. I’m not sure this matters for muscle growth aside from free weights having a more natural strength curve, though.

          Building stabilizer muscle strength is definitely a nice feature of bands, but again, the same is true with free weights. Furthermore, since free weights are more similar to what we lift in day-to-day life, especially considering the strength curve, I’d expect them to translate to better general strength. Again, though, I’m not sure how big that effect would be. It may not matter.

  7. Bruno gattuso on April 10, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    I’m confused,why is it that the inventors of bodylastics and TA2 have proven that you can build a great body with using just resistance bands? Also Jim Stoppani who’s well respected in the science of bodybuilding over the years is a strong proponent of using resistance bands only to build serious muscle.

    • Kevin on April 10, 2020 at 10:27 pm

      I agree with this. To me bands are just as beneficial however not as sexy as the free weights in the gym. Bands got a bad rap somewhere as being less beneficial without the science. However now we have an article addressing the science which I believe has flaws in interpreting gravity and tension. Hmmmmm

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 9:46 am

      I think it’s clear why people who invented a particular product might be interesting in showing the benefits of their product. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but it’s not an unbiased source of information. I’m not super familiar with Jim Stoppani, but he’s not one of the lead hypertrophy researchers. Again, not there’s anything wrong with that. However, Dr Brad Schoenfeld, the leading hypertrophy researcher in the field, has called Stoppani’s ads “charlatanism.”

  8. Justus on April 11, 2020 at 4:00 am

    This is such an eye opening Shane so thanks for the article.

    I have bought a resistance band but it’s taking forever to arrive but have resulted into doing 500 plus pushups a day and just mocking up some water bottles for the free weights.

    I intend to use the resistance bands for the time being as it’s the only alternative available for me. Thanks once again.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

      Hey Justus, that sounds like a great plan! I think resistance bands are a cheap and effective way to add some variety to your home workouts. Even if the strength curve isn’t as good as with free weights, they can still work quite well.

      Push-ups are about as good as it gets for building muscle, especially if you raise your hands up a bit (on a couple of books, say) to get an even bigger stretch on your chest at the bottom of the lift. If you keep up with that push-up routine, you should be able to make killer progress on your chest and shoulders. And adding in some resistance band work will only make your progress all the better 🙂

  9. Gavin on April 11, 2020 at 6:11 am

    This is very one sided, it’s simply they do different things in an ideal world you would incorporate both, which is what I do.
    The best advice is try it and see, bands aren’t that expensive so it’s worth the investment in my opinion.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 11:17 am

      Hey Gavin, I’m sorry if the article seems one-sided. I tried to mention in every section that we can indeed build muscle resistance bands, just that it’s probably a bit easier with free weights. I wasn’t trying to make it sound like it’d be a bad idea to get resistance bands, or that if you prefer training with them, that it’s not a valid way of building muscle. You can absolutely build muscle with them, they’re cheap and portable, and some people prefer them.

      That’s a really interesting idea that you’re bringing up, too. Is it better to incorporate a few different lifts with different strength curves into our bulking routines? Would that yield more muscle growth than simply choosing lifts with better strength curves? For example, if we combine preacher curls, which work our biceps hardest in a stretched position, with resistance-band curls, which works our biceps hardest in a contracted position, will we stimulate extra muscle growth than doing just preacher curls? 

      One of the researchers who’s been looking into strength curves recently is Greg Nuckols. He’s been reviewing all the studies on strength curves and accommodating resistance for Monthly Applications in Strength Sport. I asked him about that idea and he said that we’d likely build more muscle by focusing only on the lifts that challenge our muscles in a stretched position. He’s guessing that the lifts that work our muscles in a contracted position just aren’t as effective for building muscle, even when combined with lifts that work the stretched position. 
      Now, that isn’t to say that using resistance bands for some lifts is a bad idea. That’s not to say that resistance bands aren’t a useful tool to have around, either. They can allow us to do a wider variety of lifts, and I’m sure there are some good uses for them even when free weights are available 🙂

  10. Regjoe on April 11, 2020 at 6:46 am

    Very informative and honest article.
    I’ve been training with resistance bands for last 8 years for personal reasons. Before that, I was well trained with free weights and weight machines at a gym( had been a gym gore for 15 yrs ). I lost much mass over the time I used bands only. I’ve used all kinds of training techniques but still lost muscle mass.
    Those band sellers who have videos on YouTube, if you watch them, mostly perform metabolic types of training. Yet they claim that builds ‘ extreme’ muscle. ( Watch bodylastics videos and Dave, the bandman videos). If the circuit training ( bandman’s training techniques most of the time ) and high rep ( we are talking 30-40 reps like in bodylastics videos) truly build ‘extreme’ muscles as they suggest, everyone would have huge mass on their bodies.
    The author nailed it on science part with resistance bands. Beginning of any movement has to be loaded to stimulate muscle. That’s where you feel most ‘ difficulty’ when you strength train. With bands, that part of any given movement is the easiest part. You make that part hard like many blind and inexperienced band supporters suggest, then you never can complete the movement as the resistance increases too much halfway through, hence effectively( or ineffectively in this context) removing the benefit of having the complete range of motion.
    Bands can provide excellent conditioning training. No doubt. As for muscle building, if you are beginner, you could get that beginner’ gain but after that, you will have load muscles from the beginning to the end in a movement.
    It never ceases to amaze me about how uninformed many are when they say that bands provide constant tension. Really?? Try to do a set of shoulder press with dumbbells and then do with bands. See which gives the feel of ‘ constant tension ‘.
    Don’t fall for the sales pitch and bad information circulating on internet about bands.
    It’s good if all you can use to get in shape. For muscle building, stick with something heavy. Heavy that is from the beginning to the end.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 10:58 am

      Hey Regjoe, yeah, that’s a great way of putting it.

      You’re making a good point. It’s weird how as soon as people move away from free weights, they throw out all the principles of hypertrophy training. If we’re trying to build muscle, it doesn’t matter whether we’re training with barbells, dumbbells, or resistance bands, we still need to focus on gaining strength and work capacity in our muscles, not just on fitness, conditioning, and pump work. If our cardiovascular system is the limiting factor, then it’s our cardiovascular system that will see the most robust adaptations. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s great. But it’s not going to be as effective for building muscle.

      As far as gaining muscle with resistance bands goes, if you’ve built a lot of muscle over a long lifting career, it might be hard to maintain your size and strength with just bands. I’ve seen a number of the more advanced powerlifters and bodybuilders worrying about that if they can’t get back to the gym within the next couple of months. Even then, though, if all you have access to is bands and bodyweight training, that’s still so, so much better than doing nothing at all. Even if it’s hard to maintain peak size and strength, band training can still allow us to be muscular, strong, and healthy.

      Mind you, I think for a lot of us, we’d be able to maintain our muscle mass or even make progress with bands and bodyweight training, especially in some muscle groups, such as our chests and shoulders. Free weights would just make it easier.

    • Ron on April 12, 2020 at 6:47 am

      Bands don’t put on muscle the same way weights do.
      Show me one bodybuilder who built their physique through bands exclusively and I’ll eat my words but I won’t have to.
      Why, because no bodybuilder ever did.

  11. Tom on April 11, 2020 at 11:09 am

    I do not agree. I am a 48 year old ex powerlifter. I use bands incorporated with Bulgarian bags, Power ropes & sandbags. You do not need free weights to build muscle. Bands twice a week, Bulgarian bag weighted push-ups with ropes & sand bag cleans works just fine. 6 to 7 sets of Giant super sets one day. Power ropes 10 30 seconds to 1 minute waves or power slams & sandbag cleans. Chose a weight you can do 6 to 10 sets of 10.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 11:13 am

      Hey Tom, thanks for the comment. I tried to make it clear that we can indeed build muscle with resistance bands. And I know that some people enjoy it, especially given how convenient it is. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the best way to train for muscle hypertrophy, though. What is it that you disagree with?

    • Daud on April 11, 2020 at 11:18 am

      That’s similar to how I train: resistance bands; sandbags; kettlebell and bodyweight.
      I’m 50 this year. I ditched free weights when I took up grappling. I needed the body to work as a unit. I’d only use static lifts to work on a weak or injured area. Resistance bands emulate a person pulling against you which dead weights don’t.

      • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 12:13 pm

        Daud, that’s an interesting point about resistance bands being more similar to grappling. I hadn’t heard that. For what it’s worth, Dr Mike Israetel is big into martial arts, with his focus being on BJJ, if I recall correctly. He’s one of the guys saying that free weights are far more effective than resistance bands for building muscle. I haven’t heard him comment on how that transfers to grappling, though.

  12. JerryM on April 11, 2020 at 5:05 pm

    Great article, and exactly what I’ve been thinking about for weeks.
    Any thoughts on the door gyms that are just a more sophisticated band system, like Body by Jake’s Tower system?

    • Shane Duquette on April 12, 2020 at 9:15 pm

      Hey Jerry, yeah, okay, I just watched a video of someone going through one of the official workouts using the Body by Jake Tower System. The resistance band and pulley system would have the same strength curve as regular resistance bands, it’s just got a different way of anchoring the bands and adjusting the tension. It seems like more of a system for doing specific general fitness workouts, sort of like P90X or Insanity. I’d guess that the less sophisticated resistance bands would be easier to build muscle with.

  13. Tom on April 11, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Resistance bands provide more resistance through the entire range of motion. This is not the same for free weights. I was a competitive raw bench pressure for years, don’t misunderstand, I loved throwing 300 plus pounds off my chest…Ego boost. But, I find because of the full range of tension resistance bands provide, I am still able to add muscle. At my age, it allows my joints to feel less pain & allows me to recover faster. Respectfully, Tom.

    • Shane Duquette on April 11, 2020 at 10:52 pm

      Hey Tom, that’s awesome! A 300-pound bench press is sweet! It’s great that you’re keeping up with resistance training as you get older, too. I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t use resistance bands or anything. Some people like them and that’s awesome. The important thing is to exercise, you know?

      As a general rule, free weights have bell-shaped strength curves where the lifts are hardest in the middle. That’s true with the barbell curl, a deep squat, the bench press, the conventional deadlift. The lift is challenging at the bottom, hardest in the middle, easier at the top. That’s good for building muscle.

      With resistance bands, the lift is easiest at the bottom, hardest at the top. It’s not providing more resistance throughout the range of motion, it’s just providing more resistance at the top. But if we’re trying to build muscle, it’s better to have more of the resistance at the bottom.

      That’s not to say that resistance bands are bad or that we can’t build muscle with them. Just that the variable resistance is a disadvantage. I hope that makes sense.

  14. Ron on April 12, 2020 at 6:10 am

    Great great article however, does the question change when you consider using suspension training (TRX)?

    • Shane Duquette on April 12, 2020 at 9:29 am

      Hey Ron, yeah, great question!

      With free weights and bodyweight exercises, gravity is providing constant resistance, and so the strength curve is determined by our lever lengths (external moments), internal leverage (internal moments), and how stretched our muscles are (length-tension relationship). What makes resistance bands unique is that they add variable resistance into the mix, where the further the bands are stretched, the more force they exert. This almost always makes a lift disproportionately hard at the end of the range of motion, which isn’t ideal for gaining muscle size or strength. That’s the problem of variable resistance.

      With suspension training (like TRX), we’re lifting against gravity, and there’s no variable resistance. However, we can set up at various angles so that we aren’t just pulling straight up or down. That can change the strength curve, for sure, but it’s not always going to be making the lift hardest at the very end. In some cases, it might even improve the strength curve. For example, it’s possible to set up bodyweight rows with a TRX machine so that they’re easier at the end.

      For another example, doing push-ups with resistance bands shifts the emphasis away from the chest towards the triceps. But with a TRX suspension trainer, the chest would need to work extra hard to keep the handles from flying apart. It become more like a dumbbell bench press. And again, that can be an advantage.

      Mind you, I don’t have a lot of experience with TRX suspension trainers, and I don’t know how versatile they are. I’m not sure they’d be great for training the legs, say, or the shoulders, or for doing curls. They’re one of those tools that can be handy to have around, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to do an entire workout with them. (The same can be said of a chin-up bar.)

      If it were me, I’d still lean towards getting free weights first. But a suspension trainer is one of those tools where even if you have free weights and a chin-up bar, you might still use it for some lifts. (I’ve seen Marco use TRX suspensions trainers with clients either to progress them towards chin-ups or as a good horizontal row variation.)

  15. Barry on April 23, 2020 at 2:48 am

    Great article. As you said, you can build muscle with free weights, bodyweight, and yes bands. I use a combo and have had great results.
    I want to take issue with one of the main premises of your argument though: you claim much of muscle building comes when loading the stretch position. It is something i heard before and have always thought this sounded like “bro-science”.

    You reference this literature review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32030125

    However, that review does not study “stretch” it studied partial versus full range of motion which is very different especially since “full range” itself is contested.

    Any thoughts?

    • Shane Duquette on April 23, 2020 at 8:58 am

      Hey Barry, thank you!

      I totally agree that it’s not about the range of motion, it’s at which point in the range of motion our muscles are most challenged—the strength curve.

      I suppose it does sound like bro science, yeah, but sometimes the methods bodybuilders use to help them build muscle become popular because they work. That’s where research can be most useful—to test ideas that appear to work in practice.

      In the section on variable resistance, we go over the results of this meta-analysis (a review of all relevant studies). It shows that challenging our muscles at longer (more stretched) lengths yields nearly three times as much muscle growth as challenging our muscles at shorter (more contracted) lengths.

      We also have a mechanistic explanation for why challenging our muscles at longer lengths is so effective for stimulating muscle growth. Muscle growth is stimulated via mechanical tension, and when our muscles are stretched, this adds extra passive tension. That means that when we challenge our muscles in a stretched position, overall mechanical tension on those muscles is higher, increasing the hypertrophy stimulus.

  16. Jan Zavrel on May 10, 2020 at 5:04 am

    Great article, but X3 bar is not weird. It works great! Don’t take my word for it. Check the FB group of other X3 bar owners. I had my doubts, but finally jump in and boy, what an experience. Combined with bodyweight, it’s the best of both worlds. The platform and the bar makes all the difference. It’s not as much about bands, it’s about clever variable resistance.

    • Shane Duquette on May 10, 2020 at 2:12 pm

      I’m glad you like it, Jan. That’s sweet 🙂

      Just to be clear, I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t use it or that it’s bad or anything. I was just saying that the variable resistance from bands isn’t ideal for building muscle and the claims on their science page are incorrect. But if you love it, go for it. You can still make progress, improve your health, and build a rad physique 🙂

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