Too many people believe the only way to burn fat, build muscle, and improve athletic performance is with traditional weights. And it’s no wonder; every time you turn on a YouTube video, movie, or show, you see people crammed into gyms, holding a pair of dumbbells, or throwing a barbell on their back.
It really wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic, when gyms were closed and weights were hard to come by, that people began to wake up to the benefits of resistance bands. When you’re comparing resistance bands vs. weights, particularly the X3 bar vs. free weights, the question becomes, “Is one better than the other?”
How Effective are Resistance Band Workouts? #
Before we discuss which is better, resistance bands or free weights, let’s start with whether or not resistance bands are effective for the most popular fitness goals with an emphasis on muscle building.
After all, if resistance bands aren’t effective for muscle building, there isn’t much of a competition with weights, is there?
As we’ve demonstrated, variable resistance is the BEST way to build muscle, promote growth hormone production, and avoid injury.
However, variable resistance is not possible with traditional weights like barbells and dumbbells because they provide static resistance.
When you pick up a 20-pound dumbbell to perform a bicep curl, the load doesn’t change as you move through the lift. And let’s face it, we know you can lift more than what you’re able to move at the very bottom of your curl.
Unfortunately, with free weights you are limited to the amount of weight your weakest range of motion can handle.
If you lift more than what your weakest range can handle, you put yourself at risk for incorrect form, strain, and injury.
This is why variable resistance is so effective. It allows you to go heavy where you’re at your strongest. And what is one of the core principles of muscle building?
You MUST go heavy to build muscle.
Now, if weights don’t rely on the principles of variable resistance, what does?
Every time you exercise with resistance bands, you tap into the three principles of variable resistance training we discussed above:
- Variable Resistance: A weighted load that changes, getting lighter at your weakest point and heavier at your strongest point.
- Constant Tension: There’s no resting at the bottom or top of a lift. The amount of tension will change from less to more as you move through the exercise, but there is tension the entire time.
- Diminishing Range: Reducing range of motion but continuing as you fatigue allows you to hit an optimal level of muscle growth.
Variable resistance training with resistance bands provides the ideal stimulus to encourage a hypertrophic effect.
Can Resistance Bands Build Muscle?
Absolutely. Numerous studies as well as our own research have repeatedly shown that resistance bands are extremely effective for building lean muscle mass.
But how is that possible? After all, don’t you have to go heavy to get bigger? And don’t bands weigh less than a pound?
How resistance bands build muscle can be broken down in a few ways: stimulus, growth hormone, and fatigue.
A Better Stimulus for Muscle Growth #
First, to maximize muscle growth, you need the right stimulus. And if you’re using an optimal muscle building program with resistance bands, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
You need a workout that provides the following:
MULTI-JOINT MOVEMENTS #
Also known as compound exercises, these movements activate numerous large muscle groups at the same time. Examples include squats, deadlifts, presses, push-ups, and pull-ups.
CONSTANT TENSION #
Studies show that eccentric-focused (lowering) contractions resulted in greater muscle growth than concentric-focused (lifting) contractions. 1
In other words, your muscles respond better to a slow and controlled lowering of the weight than they do to a controlled lifting of the weight.
Why does this matter for bands?
Resistance bands emphasize the eccentric contraction, and they naturally drive you to work harder during the concentric contraction.
It’s tough to maintain constant tension with traditional weights because the weight load is static and easily drops back to the starting position.
But with resistance bands, there is tension throughout the target muscle groups from start to finish.
HIGH INTENSITY #
Have you ever seen someone using resistance bands and moving through exercises really fast?
For example, people will perform a chest crossover with bands and it looks more like they are flapping their wings than going through a slow and controlled exercise.
This is NOT the type of intensity we’re talking about.
Performing repetitions as fast as you can does not equate to more intensity. In fact, there are some mistaken beliefs about this type of tempo-based training:
One thing people wrongly assume is that fast-tempo exercise must be high intensity and therefore should benefit muscle and strength.
In reality, a fast tempo is associated with improvements in power training such as sports-skill exercise, it does nothing for building muscle, increasing strength, and burning fat.
People also mistakenly believe that if you perform strength and cardio together at a high rate of intensity, you can enjoy the benefits of both. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Prolonged cardio cancels out the benefits of strength training.
For example, during a strength training session, levels of cortisol decrease while growth hormone increases. However, during a long cardio session, just the opposite takes place.
What’s more, studies show strength training sessions provide the fat-loss benefits you’re seeking from cardio. For muscle growth and weight loss, you don’t actually need cardio at all. 2
So, when we say high intensity, what are we talking about?
High intensity workouts that build muscle and strength have three things in common. They use a heavy load, tap into a high degree of muscle activation through constant tension and stabilization, and include high-volume sets.
With variable resistance, you don’t have to worry about being limited to your weakest range of motion, so you can trigger a greater degree of stabilization training.
You might be thinking, “Hey, how’s that possible? How can you have both a heavy load AND high volume?”
That’s the beauty of variable resistance.
With variable resistance training, you are able to go heavy during your strongest range of motion AND perform a high number of repetitions with constant tension.
Speaking of which …
HIGH VOLUME #
Resistance bands allow you to perform high-repetition sets.
But wait, isn’t it best to do several sets of 8 to 12 repetitions?
This has been the idea of muscle building in the bodybuilding community for too long. Yes, studies suggest that four or five sets of 8 to 12 repetitions does increase muscle mass BUT only when you are using traditional weights. 3
Here’s the kicker:
While you might build some muscle with this traditional bodybuilding program, you won’t get anywhere near your actual growth potential.
This is because you aren’t lifting as heavy as your strongest range of motion allows. With dumbbells and barbells, you are limited to the amount of weight you can lift during your weakest range.
If you try to build muscle with weights, you will always lag behind your actual potential.
Using resistance bands instead of weights allows you to take advantage of both high-volume training and variable resistance training.
Exercise science studies show that to optimize muscle growth, you should perform high-volume workouts, hitting each muscle group three times per week.4
This means you can get away with less volume in a single day and instead, spread it out over several days.
While the traditional weightlifting workout uses several sets of 8 to 12 repetitions, the X3 Bar workout only requires ONE set of 15 to 40 repetitions for each muscle group.
And the workouts are spread out over three days. Each day, a major muscle group is targeted and pushed to muscle exhaustion with just one set.
Muscle Building and Resistance Bands #
When you perform a high-volume workout with heavy resistance bands, you create the ideal environment for growth.
You achieve complete muscular exhaustion and tap into the level of fatigue necessary to activate several muscle-building processes including a significant spike in growth hormone and testosterone production.
The science is crystal clear with this: the more testosterone you have, the more muscle you can build.
If you’re following a system like the X3 Bar workout, you can rest assured you’re getting heavy training with high volume, plenty of growth hormone production, and completely fatigued muscles. In other words, the perfect recipe for muscle growth.
Resistance Bands vs. Dumbbells #
Before talking about resistance bands vs. dumbbells, we want to highlight the key differences between barbells vs. dumbbells.
If you wanted to increase strength and build muscle (which, of course, you do), what would you use: barbells or dumbbells?
Dumbbells might seem like the better answer because you’re able to isolate each side, but studies suggest otherwise.
It turns out that barbells are the more effective fitness tool. They produce a greater response in the central nervous system, which equates to better results.
One study found subjects were able to lift almost twenty percent MORE weight during a barbell bench press than a dumbbell bench press. Heavier weight equals greater gains. 5
In another study, researchers found subjects were able to produce ten percent greater force with a barbell compared to a dumbbell. 6
Now, the reason we wanted to discuss barbell vs. dumbbells first is because the X3 Bar uses an Olympic-style barbell. We’ll expand more on this below.
As for resistance bands vs. dumbbells, the biggest difference between the two is in the fact that dumbbells cannot be used for variable resistance training.
We can’t stress this enough: What’s the best way to increase strength and build muscle?
Variable resistance training!
The static load of a dumbbell is good, but it’s not great. It limits you from ever reaching your potential. With resistance bands, you can always go heavy when it counts, which is at your strongest range of motion.
Resistance bands also ensure you can perform the high-repetition count that is needed for complete muscular exhaustion.
Think you can pick up a heavy dumbbell and perform 40 repetitions? Unless you’re using very light weight, the answer is no.
But with resistance bands, that’s exactly what you’re doing. You are going heavy at your strongest range and pushing the muscle to exhaustion with high-rep counts.
Resistance Bands vs. Barbells #
Based on what we said above about barbells being more effective than dumbbells, you’d expect that resistance bands wouldn’t stand a chance against a barbell. Not so fast.
While a standard Olympic barbell is superior to a pair of dumbbells when it comes to producing the greatest amount of stimulation, a barbell still suffers from the same problem as its rival, the dumbbell.
A barbell limits you to your weakest range of motion. No matter what exercise you perform, you can only load the barbell to the weight you can handle at your weakest range of motion.
Take the barbell bench press as an example.
When you perform the barbell bench press, what do you think is your weakest range of motion?
Is it when the bar is high above your chest? Or is it when the barbell is almost sitting on your chest?
Anyone who has ever allowed their ego to load up a barbell knows from embarrassing firsthand experience that you are weaker when the barbell is near your chest. You can only lift what you’re able to handle at your weakest position.
With resistance bands, you don’t have to worry about that problem. Variable resistance provides the optimal resistance curve for maximizing the lift where you are strongest.
The load gets heavier at your strongest range of motion such as when you’re pushing the weight away from your chest.
And the load gets lighter at your weakest range such as when you’re holding the weight above your chest.
For those of you who are familiar with the X3 Bar , you might be a bit confused. If resistance bands are so great, why did we create an attachment that is designed from an Olympic barbell?
We get asked this a lot, and the reason for the barbell has to do with peak force.
A barbell is able to maximize the amount of peak force you can both produce AND withstand. You’re no longer limited by what your wrist and ankle joints could withstand if you gripped the bands directly.
We’ve hammered this time and time again, but it’s worth repeating. The ability to produce and withstand force is how your body is able to optimize growth hormone for muscle growth and fat burning.
Barbells also recruit more muscle groups, increasing intensity, tension, and fatigue.
The real question is, “Why on earth would we not have a barbell-based attachment?”
With a barbell attachment, you’re getting the best of both worlds: More muscle activation and peak force combined with variable resistance and high-volume sets.
Are Resistance Bands Better Than Weights? #
This is a question we get asked all the time.
Before we answer that, let’s take a step back and answer a different question:
Are resistance bands as effective as weights?
Countless studies have shown resistance bands are more effective than weights for achieving fitness goals.
Researchers have demonstrated that variance is more important than the amount of static weight you can lift. Resistance bands allow for a greater degree of variance compared to traditional weights, which promotes better results.
Now, as for whether resistance bands are better than free weights – You can look at this in two ways: results vs. preference.
A set of resistance bands has science in its corner. It’s proven that variable resistance training with bands elicits a greater response for muscle stimulus and fatigue.
Science aside, there’s one very important factor that we have not considered: preference.
Sure, the X3 Bar has been shown to pack on muscle mass, burn plenty of fat, and skyrocket muscular endurance, but what if you prefer to lift weights?
We know plenty of people who’ve spent their lives throwing old rusty weights around and they are happy doing just that.
If you prefer to stick with classic bodybuilding routines, no one can blame you. There is something about the feeling of holding that metal handle or loading up those iron plates.
And hey, if it’s the feeling of holding a barbell in your hand that you love, the X3 Bar is just that… a barbell!
But if you’re serious about not wasting time in the gym and you want to safely take your results to the next level, resistance bands are the way to go.
Are There Downsides to Using Resistance Bands? #
With that said, there are a couple of precautions you want to take when using resistance bands vs. free weights.
First, we do not recommend using ONLY heavy bands.
Heavy bands are very thick and strong. Normally, when you stand on a pair of light resistance bands, it’s safe to do so under your feet because you are heavy enough to form a solid base of support.
Heavy bands require a far greater and heavier base of support. Otherwise, when they are stretched, they can move the base of support, which is YOU.
This is why using a platform is a requirement when you are using heavy bands. Not only does a standing platform keep you safe, but it ensures you’re able to use strong enough bands for muscle growth and strength building.
Second, whether you’re using light or heavy resistance bands, avoid purchasing cheap and poorly made attachments, handles, or bars.
Resistance bands produce an incredible amount of tension. If you are using an off-brand or low-quality attachment and it breaks, that tension and force from the bands is coming right at you. You can find countless examples of such workout fails on YouTube.
There’s no denying the benefits of resistance bands, but like any piece of fitness equipment, they need to be used as directed.
Can Resistance Bands Replace Weights? #
Resistance bands can easily replace your typical weight set, saving you time, energy, and a ton of room. Here’s why you should consider replacing your weights with bands – or at least adding bands to your fitness equipment collection.
Better Results: Resistance bands produce a far greater load that allows you to go heavy for more repetitions without the same risk of injury as weights. Creating the ideal environment for growth, bands maximize workout intensity, muscle fatigue, and growth hormone production.
Cost Effective: If you wanted to build a home gym, you’re looking at investing well over a thousand dollars (realistically, it’ll be a lot more). Don’t spend the money on weights when you can get the same results with resistance bands. Best of all, you won’t break the bank.
Space Savers: The typical dumbbell and barbell set usually requires its own room or part of a large basement. Resistance bands require a fraction of that space, and you can easily store them in a closet or under your bed.
How to Use Resistance Bands Instead of Weights #
Think about your current workout. How long does it take you to finish?
And after all of that effort, are you even happy with the results you’re seeing?
If you’re like most people, you’re spending far too much time inside of a gym and not enough time enjoying the progress you’re making … because you aren’t making much progress.
When you are exercising with resistance bands, your workout is going to take only a fraction of the time you’re spending now.
The X3 Bar workout, in particular, takes just ten minutes per day.
You read that right. Only ten minutes. You’ll be finished with a proven muscle building workout before everyone else is finished warming up in the weight room.
And here’s something to remember: The X3 Bar workout isn’t ten minutes because we wanted to save you time. That’s not the case at all. The real reason is because ten minutes is all your body needs to see results.
The X3 Bar workout is incredibly effective, but it also provides an intense workout because it’s ten minutes of constant tension on the muscles!
This is the optimal amount of time needed to maximize muscle growth when following the principles of variable resistance training.
Now, we understand you might be skeptical. How in the world can you build muscle with just ten minutes a day using resistance bands?
Unfortunately, this is the mindset of old school weightlifting, a way of lifting based on outdated science.
Now, we know better; you only need ten minutes with the X3 Bar to see the results you want. That’s because the X3 Bar utilizes the greatest number of muscle groups, exhausting the muscle through constant tension and stabilization demands.
The result is an optimal degree of stimulus, resulting in muscle fatigue, growth hormone release, and more muscle growth.
The breakdown of the X3 Bar workout is simple and straightforward. This is for beginners:
And once your body adjusts to the X3 Bar workout, you can move on to the next stage of workouts:
The latter workout might look intimidating but remember you’re only performing ONE set for each muscle group, and that won’t take you longer than 10 minutes.
The key is to go to complete muscle fatigue for each set. This means that by the end of that set, you shouldn’t be able to move the band an inch.
X3 vs. Weights: Stop Wasting Time with Weights #
We get it, you’ve been using weights since you started working out. It’s a tough habit to break. We were the same way until we looked at the science of muscle building.
Now, we’re never going back to the old ways of weightlifting.
The X3 Bar is a proven system for muscle building and strength gains that takes a fraction of the time of a normal weightlifting workout.
Don’t waste another minute struggling to build your ideal physique with weights.
When it comes to X3 vs weights, you’ll get the body you want sooner (and more safely) with X3.
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American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):687-708. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670. PMID: 19204579. ↩︎
Schoenfeld BJ, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2016 Nov;46(11):1689-1697. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8. PMID: 27102172. ↩︎
Stock, m. s., beck, t. w., defreitas, j. m., & dillon, m. a. (2011). test–retest reliability of barbell velocity during the free-weight bench-press exercise. the journal of strength & conditioning research, 25(1), 171-177. ↩︎
Saeterbakken, A. H., & Fimland, M. S. (2012). Muscle activity of the core during bilateral, unilateral, seated and standing resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(5), 1671-1678. ↩︎
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