We all wake up first thing in the morning planning to hit the gym on the way home from work. But then life gets in the way.
The gym is closed or packed.
You left work too late and now don’t have an hour to workout.
Your muscles are still aching from your last workout.
While unfortunate, not being able to hit the gym doesn’t necessarily mean you have to skip your workout. An at-home resistance band workout may be a viable alternative every now and then.
Resistance bands are lightweight and easy to store when space is low.
The question is, though, are they actually suitable for what you need?
That’s the question I’ll be helping to answer for you today, as we look at whether resistance bands can actually help you to build muscle. Or are they just a toning tool?
Table of Contents
What Is A Resistance Band?
A resistance band is an item of fitness equipment made from a stretchy material—usually latex or rubber—with handles at either end. They come in a variety of different resistances, so are suitable for people from a wide range of abilities and can be used for a variety of exercises.
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They allow people to work out by training against a natural resistance, as opposed to lifting heavy weights. This makes them a safer option, as there is nothing that could be dropped on you, and you are much less likely to overstrain.
They are also incredibly popular with people who train from home or those that travel a lot.
This is because they are small, light, and foldable, meaning they are easy to store away or take with you on a trip.
Additionally, they are usually fairly cheap, compared to other fitness equipment, making them a good value investment available to people from all backgrounds.
How Do Resistance Bands Work?
Resistance bands work in a similar way to traditional weights. They provide an external resistance for you to push or pull against during your exercises.
The difference is that, while weights do this based on er…their weight…resistance bands do it by providing tension.
This can even have some benefits that you don’t get from traditional weights, such as the fact that there is a continuous line of resistance throughout a repetition, making it much harder to cheat.
They also provide an added bonus of increasing tension throughout a rep like at the top of a banded push-up.
As you progress, the band gets tighter and becomes harder to move the further through the movement you get.
This can be beneficial, as muscles are weaker the more extended they are, which means the beginning of a lift is usually more challenging than the end.
Unfortunately, this understandably leads to people using weight suitable for their ability at the start of the rep, keeping the fibers responsible for the latter portion from reaching failure.
With a resistance band, the challenge should be equal throughout, making sure every fiber is sufficiently worked.
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How Do You Build Muscle?
Muscles are built by tearing the fibers within them, which encourages the body to repair them bigger and stronger than before, in order to try and prevent it from happening again.
We tear the fiber by contracting our muscles against a resistance.
The greater the resistance, the stronger the contraction needs to be, and the stronger the contraction, the more fibers we tear.
This is why, as we progress, we require bigger weights and a greater variety of exercises to continue growing. The body is constantly adapting to try to protect itself from what we do to it, meaning we have to keep on our toes if we want to continue improving.
This idea is called progressive overload and and there are a number of ways to implement it.
Our body can’t just do all the repairs on its own, though.
While our hormones, such as testosterone, play a huge role in the body’s ability to repair the damaged fibers, we also need to give it the fuel it requires to do the work.
It requires an excess of calories in order to have the energy to repair the damage, as well as a steady supply of protein, which is one of the vital components for repairing muscle.
This is why protein shakes are such a popular supplement.
So Do Resistance Bands Build Muscle or Tone?
So, based on what I’ve said so far, if you’ve got sufficient resistance from the bands to contract your muscles against and are eating enough protein and calories, then surely you should be able to build muscle.
Well, on the surface, that is correct.
You can indeed build muscle with resistance bands—up to a point.
While they provide everything you need on paper to build muscle, the problem lies in their limitations.
The Limitations of Resistance Bands
The bigger you get, the more resistance you need, and, at a certain point, this becomes challenging to get in a resistance band.
Then there’s the issue of how to position it for different exercises.
When performing an exercise such as, say a shoulder press, at a lower resistance, it’s easy to position the middle of the band under your foot or seat.
However, when you require a great deal of resistance, this becomes an issue.
The variety of resistances available in bands is also much more limited than it is in free weights.
Finding one for an advanced lifter that has enough flexibility to go under their base and then get into the starting position with a suitable resistance is hard enough, let alone it then having enough stretch to continue through the full contraction.
Then think of exercises like squats or deadlifts, where serious lifters use hundreds of pounds.
How is a resistance band able to compete with that?
So while, technically yes, you can build muscle with resistance bands, especially if you’re a less experienced lifter, they are much better suited for toning muscle than they are for building it.
Toning doesn’t require the same level of output from a muscle. It is less about breaking the fibers and more about keeping them working.
This allows the muscles to stay strong and firm, as the body is keeping them prepared for activity without constantly trying to thicken them up.
Additionally, any exercise will help limit body fat, which is a huge part of what determines how toned you look overall.
Bottom line, you could build some muscle with resistance bands, and they are incredibly useful for maintaining your physique when traveling or unable to get to the gym.
However, if you really want to pack on the mass, there’s no better way than going old school and hitting the weights.
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