The Perfect Muscle-Building Match: Combining Resistance Bands with Free Weights
by Evelyn Valdez·
When it comes to resistance bands vs free weights, both have their pros and cons. Resistance bands are lightweight, portable, provide a constant tension, and allow you to train in multiple planes of motion – something free weights don't offer. However, resistance bands have their limitations that weights like barbells and dumbbells can fill. Like being able to control the exact resistance and practice progressive overload for better muscle-building results. This is why most that are strength training to build muscle will choose free weights over resistance bands... But what if we told you that they don't have to be mutually exclusive? In fact, combining resistance bands with free weights can help maximize your gains!
Resistance bands can be combined with free weights in three different ways. The most common way is by adding a resistance band to a free weight exercise, but this method requires experience and skill. The other two methods can be used by anyone weightlifting, regardless of fitness level.
Stick with us because we'll be covering all the details on the three ways to combine resistance bands and free weights, so you can start implementing them into your training program. But first let us tell you why this combination is a match made in heaven!
Benefits of combining resistance bands with free weights
As mentioned earlier, resistance bands help to provide a constant tension throughout the entire exercise, meaning through the full range of motion. Free weights, on the other hand, don't. To understand why, we have to explain the strength curve. Strength curve refers to the muscular force generated at different joint angles throughout the entire range of motion of any given exercise. But because free weights work against gravity, the resistance is not constant. For example, when performing a dumbbell or barbell bench press, more force is required during the first third of the movement opposed to during the lockout which is when the weight feels lighter. Resistance bands, on the other hand, opposes the strength curve. When you're performing a bicep curl with a resistance band there is less force required to get it moving up, but more force is needed when you are locking out. So, when you add bands to free weight exercises, you add more resistance and tensions during the concentric part to help improve your lockout strength!
However, this applies to only one of the ways you can combine the two. Incorporating any of the methods will provide you with some pretty great muscle-building benefits! Including...
- It helps promote better posture and form – When going heavy with weights there's a tendency to lose your good form and posture. This often leads to other muscle groups picking up the slack, which can then lead to an overuse injury. It's much harder to lose your form with resistance bands because of the constant tension they provide. So, combining the two can help you maintain good form and posture, regardless of how heavy the weight is. This will also help prevent you from skipping out on the difficult part of the exercise so you go through the full range of motion even with a heavier weight. Thus producing greater results!
- Improves the flexibility of the muscles – Adding resistance bands to free weight exercises allows you to move through the entire range of motion due to the adjustment of them being combined. This means that during the concentric phase the muscles get shortened, and during the eccentric phase they lengthen. Allowing your muscles to fully stretch through the entire range will help to improve your flexibility which in turn helps to reduce your risk of injury!
- Helps place a different challenge on your muscles – When you're training whether for hypertrophy or strength, you need to practice progressive overload to make progress. This often entails increasing the volume of your workout or increasing the resistance/weight. But there will come a point when you have to switch gears to drive better progress, and one of those ways is by combining resistance bands with free weights. Combining the two helps you achieve full muscle stimulation, range of motion, and helps increase the intensity of your workout. It also places a different challenge to your muscles that they have to adapt to! All of this helps to drive progress effectively for better results.
Ways to combine resistance bands with weights
The most common, and best method involves combining your free weight exercises with resistance bands. Like combining deadlifts with long resistance bands, you may have seen a powerlifter or bodybuilder do this at the gym or online. But this method is very advanced, it requires skill, practice, and experience. However, it's not impossible. All three methods provide great benefits, but you can work your way up to the more advanced method to really maximize your gains.
1. Separate resistance band training from fixed weights training
This method doesn't combine resistance bands with free weights at the same time. Instead it involves including resistance band training into your training program once or twice a week. This is a great starting point for anyone who hasn't trained with resistance bands in the past. Resistance band exercises can take time to get used to due to the variable resistance provided where you have to work harder in the later stage of the exercise.
So, you don't want to mix the two if you're new to training with resistance bands. Get the hang of doing popular strength training exercises with resistance bands, and once you get the hang of the variable resistance then you can start to incorporate the next two methods into your training.
2. Follow dumbbell exercises sets with a resistance band exercise set
This method is a good starting point for those who are familiar with resistance band training. It essentially involves creating a superset workout by combining a dumbbell exercise with a resistance band exercise in succession. It won't provide you with all the benefits of combining both together, but it's a step closer and it still effectively works your muscles!
For example, you can start by doing heavy bench press set using dumbbells (or a barbell) then immediately follow that set with a standing chest press for a higher rep set to the point of muscle failure (typically 15-20 reps). Do this for any muscle group you're trying to grow. So, if you want to focus on growing your shoulders, up the intensity of your workout by adding in a band exercise (like front raises or lateral raises) after performing a dumbbell shoulder press. Doing this will increase the intensity of your workout without adding any weight, and promote better muscle growth.
3. Combining resistance bands with free weights as one unit
This is the ideal method that will help improve your posture and form, flexibility, and build muscle effectively. It involves combining long resistance bands and fixed weights so that they work simultaneously in the same exercise.
For example, if you're at home and don't have access to a barbell, but have dumbbells, and want to get a challenging lower body workout, then try a dumbbell front squat with a long resistance band. Step over the elastic band with your feet shoulder-width apart and loop it through the dumbbell rod. Then perform the squat as you would! You'll immediately feel like you're working 10x hard to push yourself back up to the top of the movement. Since doing this increases the intensity of the exercise, start by using a lighter resistance level and then increase it as you make progress.
That's just one exercise of many that you can try! The best exercises to try in combination with free weights include:
- Bicep curls, using dumbbells or a barbell.
- Hammer curls
- Shoulder front raises using a single dumbbell
- Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
- Dumbbell or barbell rows
- Dumbbell shoulder press
- Dumbbell or barbell deadlift
- Chest press
- Chest flyes
Should I be using resistance bands in combination with free weights?
If you're training to build muscle, strength, or want to improve on your technique and form then yes! But be careful. Although this combination is a match made in heaven, it's not easy to do. Advanced athletes like bodybuilders use resistance bands with heavy barbell exercise to increase their power, but they are trained and have the skill and experience to do so. If you're a casual lifter who wants to switch things up in your routine, then take it slow. Start by doing a few resistance band workouts a week, then creating supersets with free weight and resistance band exercises, and finally, move your way to combining the two.
Bottomline is, combining resistance bands with free weights is a great way to challenge your muscles in a way that forces your body adapt to a new movement pattern, thus helping you effectively make progress. However, it is an advanced technique that should be taken with caution! Remember to start with the first two methods before attempting to add resistance bands to your weighted exercises.
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