Resistance bands can come in handy whether you're acquiring workout equipment for a home gym, trying a new butt workout you saw on Instagram, or figuring out ways to stay active while you travel. The stretchy bands are lightweight, versatile, and pretty cheap. On top of that, if you're just starting to strength train, then using a piece of rubber feels a lot less intimidating than picking up a barbell.
At some point in your resistance bands journey you might wonder, is using a resistance band as good as using a weight? Both are effective tools for building strength, but they are slightly different, according to Aaron Karp, MS, ATC, CSCS, sports performance specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Using bands is not cheating, and "you can still get in a great workout," he says. But understanding the nuances will help you tailor your workouts appropriately.
When you're trying to build muscle, the time that a muscle is "under tension" (aka working) during an exercise is just as important as the amount of weight you're using or the number of reps that you're doing, Karp says. Using a resistance band for an exercise can increase the "time under tension," because your muscles have to stay engaged throughout the movement, he says. "Instead of just letting the weight drop and kind of hanging out at the bottom, keep a little bit of tension on a band," he suggests. You can also apply this strategy when you're using free weights, too, but it's easier to maintain tension when using a band.
Another benefit to using resistance bands is that you can adjust the amount of tension that it provides, simply by adjusting the length of the band, or opting for ones that are thicker and designed for strength training, Karp says. You can also be creative with resistance bands, and use them for everything from biceps curls to hip abductors. Some people even run with a large resistance band around their waist to improve speed.
That said, the fact that bands are so adaptable is also a downside, simply because you can't be as precise with the amount of weight you're using, Karp says. When you lift a weight, you know exactly how much weight you're lifting. "With resistance bands, the tension is going to be different depending on how you push and pull it," he says. So, if you're trying to improve your lifting personal records, or entering a weightlifting competition, using a weight might be more appropriate.
TL;DR, resistance bands are still fantastic if you want to start strength-training but aren't sure where to begin. "If access to equipment is the reason you're not strength-training, you should definitely use resistance bands," Karp says.