Are you thinking about buying resistance bands but you want to know if you can actually build muscle with them? Do you want to learn how to build muscle with resistance bands in the most effective manner...while also getting ripped?
Great! You’ve come to the right place. If you know SET FOR SET, then you are fully aware of how much focus we put on resistance bands, both in study and in practice.
In this post, we are going to go over the following:
Without further ado, let’s begin…
Yes, you can absolutely build muscle with resistance bands. All your muscles need to grow is tension, adequate recovery, and muscle adaption & progressive overload. Building muscle can be achieved with bodyweight-only exercises, so resistance bands will only increase your capacity for muscle growth.
That being said, building muscle is a lot easier than it sounds. It requires a lot of dedication, determination and consistency.
Let’s go over how building muscle (hypertrophy) works, that way you know exactly what it takes to build muscle with resistance bands.
How muscles grow
When you workout, you are putting greater stress (tension) on your muscles than they are used to. This damages your muscles, creating microscopic tears in your muscle fibers. After you workout, your body repairs the damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process that fuses the muscle fibers back together while forming new muscle protein strands (myofibrils) in the process. This ultimately increases the thickness and size of your muscles, and is what we call muscle hypertrophy.
However, without proper recovery, which includes a high protein diet, sleep, and rest days, your muscles will not grow effectively. And without increasing the stress you place on your muscles over time, your growth will plateau.
Here are the three main requirements of building muscle, in order, so we can make sure you are giving your muscles the chance to grow and build mass when working out with resistance bands.
1. Tension & Overload
In terms of fitness and building muscle, stimulus is creating tension via resistance. For your muscles to grow, you need to place resistance on them in the form of tension. This is what we mean when we say “putting stress on the muscles”. The tension on your muscles can be caused by gravity, external loads, or elastic tension. So, you can achieve this with your bodyweight alone, free weights, machines, or resistance bands.
This is the first phase of muscle growth. So long as the tension is sufficient, your muscles will respond.
Factors that relate to tension
As for overloading the muscle, this means you are creating tension on your muscles of which they are not used to. Your muscles will adapt over time, so they can manage the added stress. Thus, you will need to progressively put your muscles under more stress as they begin to adapt.
2. Adequate Recovery
The next phase of muscle growth is recovery. It is essential that you rest, eat well, take in plenty of water, and sleep for maximum muscle growth.
Rest: You need to take days off from training to allow your muscles to recover. This is why rest days exist.
Diet: You need a high protein diet for your muscles to grow. Remember, your muscles grow by forming new protein strands. Keyword, “protein” strands.
Water: Water intake is essential. You want to drink lots of water so your body can maintain good protein synthesis. Moreover, adequate water intake helps flush out wastes, allowing for more fat loss.
Sleep: Sleep is essential to building muscle. You must get adequate sleep. 7-9 hours a day. The more you sleep, the faster you will recover and the more often you can workout, which leads to a faster hypertrophy process and more gains.
All in all, without appropriate recovery, your muscles won’t be able to grow.
3. Muscle Adaption & Progressive Overload
Your muscles adapt to the stress you place on them by growing. Over time, what was once a hard workout becomes easy. You’ll just be going through the motions. So, while muscle adaption is good because that’s how you grow, you need to continually increase the stress you put on your body during a workout. If not, and you do the same workout - meaning same resistance, same time under tension, same rest time, etc - your body will plateau and you won’t continue developing muscle. You’ll reach a certain level and stay there.
This happens relatively quickly. So, you need to employ progressive overload if you want your body to continue adapting, thus building more and more muscle.
When you first start working out, pretty much any exercise you do will be an effective overload because your muscles are simply not used to doing anything beyond your normal daily routine of walking, sitting, standing, etc. As your muscles adapt, you will need to increase the stress you put on them. There are multiple methods to go about progressive overload.
Here are the best methods for progressive overloading with resistance bands.
Increasing time under tension & intensity: This simply means your sets are longer. You can do this by adding reps or changing your tempo. With resistance bands, the best tempo is 2:1:4:1. So, 2 seconds concentric (upward motion), 1 second hold at the top, 4 seconds eccentric contraction (downward motion), 1 second hold, repeat. Another way is to do slow eccentric, explosive concentric, and hold at the top for a second or two. Eccentric contraction is a key component to building muscle and strength with bands.
Increase volume of your workouts: You can do this by adding more sets to your workout and/or more exercises to your workout.
Decrease rest time: Less rest time equals more stress on your muscles!
Increase the frequency of your workouts: For example, if you workout 3 times a week, up it to 4 times! At some point, you can even do two workouts a day, not necessarily both with resistance bands. One could be a cardio workout and the other resistance training. That said, listen to your body so you are not overtraining.
Increasing resistance: Using a band with a higher resistance level is an obvious method. However, with bands, it can be hard to determine exactly how much resistance you are using (we will explain this more in-depth below). Nevertheless, it will still work if you listen to your body and gauge the difficulty of previous weeks.
Keeping Track of Progressive Overload with Bands
All in all, if you want to see continued results in your muscle growth, you need to progressive overload. A big part of progressive overload is keeping a strict routine. If you constantly change up your exercises, workouts and overall plan, you won’t be able to progressive overload. So, anyone who says you need to keep changing things up to see growth is wrong. The only thing you need to change is the time under tension, volume, rest time, frequency and resistance level.
That being said, after 2-3 months, it is ideal to give yourself a few days to a week of rest and then switch routines.
So, if you want to see real muscle-building effects, stay consistent with the same plan and track your workouts so you can continue to make them harder through the progressive overload methods above.
Resistance bands provide tension in a different way than free weights and bodyweight exercises.
Free weights use loads and gravity to provide tension. The force will always be downward, so you have to position your body in a way that allows you targets your muscles correctly. For example, if you want to hit your chest, you must lie down parallel to the floor with your face up. If you want to hit your back muscles, you need to get into a bent over position...You get the point.
Bodyweight uses gravity alone. As with free weights, you have to position your body so that gravity works to provide tension on your body’s weight. For example, push ups, you put your body parallel with the floor and face down so you can push yourself up into gravity.
With resistance bands, the force is caused by elastic tension. The more you stretch the band, the more tension is created. This means you can target your muscles from any direction. For example, if you want to target your chest, you can do so standing straight up. You can cause tension diagonally by anchoring the band to one foot or to a bar, above or below you and to the side. Again, the force can be made in any direction as it is based on the elastic tension, not gravity.
That being said, gravity will, of course, play a role in resistance band training too. For example, if you do a squat with a resistance band, you have the elastic tension and gravity to work against. It’s like a bodyweight exercise on steroids.
Resistance Band Levels of Resistance
With free weights, if you choose a 10lb dumbbell, it will always be a 10lb dumbbell throughout the entire movement. The weight won’t change, obviously.
However, with resistance bands, the more you stretch it, the more the resistance increases as there is more tension being produced. This is why a resistance band will have a range for its resistance level (i.e. our yellow band ranges from 5-20lbs).
So, during a resistance band exercise, the movement will be the most difficult toward the end-range of motion, as the more it is stretched, the more resistance is created.
This is completely opposite to free weight and bodyweight exercises. With free weight and bodyweight exercises, there is a strength curve. Of course, the weight doesn’t change, but the exercise becomes easier toward the end range of motion because you can naturally produce more force as your muscle shortens and contracts.
Think about when you squat with a barbell, it will always be harder towards the bottom and middle of the lift, and easier toward the top. That is the strength curve. With bands, it is easier when the band is less stretched, so the top part will be the hardest. This is a big reason why people love to use bands with barbell lifts. It eliminates the strength curve. It's also why people who do bodyweight workouts (calisthenics) love bands. Because they can take the difficulty of their exercises up a few notches.
So, in a nutshell, bands create resistance through elastic force/tension, and the more you move through the range of motion, the more the resistance/tension increases.
Increase difficulty with bands
For resistance band exercises, start with the band taut and then move through your range of motion. If you start with it lax, you will have no tension at the bottom range of motion.
If you are anchoring the band to a bar, then you can just step further out to achieve this. If it is looped around your foot, then you can wrap it around your foot twice or three times to make it more taut from the start of the exercises.
When it comes to building muscle, free weights are typically more effective. For a few reasons.
First, progressive overload is easiest when you are dealing with straightforward resistance levels like dumbbells and barbells with plates provide. Second, once bands reach a certain resistance level, they are really hard to use compared to the same resistance level of a free weight. When you get to high levels of resistance, it’s easier to work against gravity than elastic force.
Now, if you are a beginner, then for sure resistance bands are a good option for building muscle. In fact, just as good if not better. It will have a low risk and high reward, unlike free weights, which for beginners are high risk.
If you are an advanced fitness level or you become advanced used bands, then you just need to be creative with your progressive overloading to continue building muscle. If you look at calisthenic guys, they become super ripped and have incredibly lean muscle mass without touching free weights. So, if they can do that with bodyweight alone, then adding resistance bands to the mix can only enhance that. Think about them doing their advanced push ups, such as clapping push ups, and then adding bands to that clapping push up. Therefore, even advances trainees can build muscle with resistance bands.
Many advanced lifters end up switching out free weights for resistance bands because it is much less taxing on their spine and joints, and they can still see good results. After years of beating the joints down, this makes a lot of sense.
So, to answer the question, "are resistance bands just as good for building muscle as free weights?"...It is not so straight forward, there are pros and cons to both free weights and resistance bands…which we are about to explain.
Here’s a detailed look at the pros and cons of using resistance band to build muscle.
Pros of building muscle with resistance bands:
1. Perfect for beginners
Resistance bands are perfect for beginners as it is easy to learn how to use them and they are effective for building muscle when you are first starting on your fitness journey. Resistance bands will be an all-in-one tool to get into great shape and build a solid foundation. The best part is, even if you move on to free weights, you will still find plenty of use for your resistance bands as they are extremely versatile. Bands lend themselves to all fitness levels and aspects of fitness (i.e. flexibility, warm ups, explosive training).
2. Easy on the joints & spine
A huge advantage of resistance bands is that they are safe, easy on the joints, and less taxing on the body. This is as important for beginners as it is for veterans who have put their bodies through years of abuse in the gym. If longevity is just as important to you as building muscle, then working out with bands is one of the best approaches you can take.
Note: Free weight exercises like squats and deadlifts put a lot of stress on the spinal joints. Although these are great exercises for building muscle and strength, they are the biggest culprits of spinal injuries from working out.
3. You can workout anywhere
Bands are easily the most effective and affordable portable training tool you can buy. If you want a low cost home gym, bands. If you travel a lot and you want to stay fit, bands. If you want to workout in the sun, bands. Like we said, they are extremely versatile. If you have bands then you have all you need to stay fit, even in the most confined of areas (hotel room workout anyone?). In truth, resistance bands are all you need to keep fit on the road and when combined with bodyweight exercises, there's absolutely no reason why you can't stay fit anywhere in the world, including your home.
4. Constant tension & No way to cheat
Bands are one tool that will provide constant tension during an exercise…so long as you start with the band taught. This allows you to maximize time under tension, which is what you want if your goal is to gain muscle mass.
What’s more, bands eliminate (or at the very least, reduce) “cheating” during exercises. As much as we all want to grow and improve, our minds fight with us during tough exercises, leading us to cheat by performing exercises improperly. For example, many people use momentum during free weight and bodyweight exercises. Why? Because it’s easier and it allows them to just get through a set. This is not conducive to growing muscle. With resistance bands, you won't be able to use momentum or jerky motions. It just doesn’t apply to elastic force. They require proper control and strict form.
5. Not limited by gravity
With bands, you can work through multiple planes of motion easily. The tension is coming from wherever you anchor the band, and you can anchor the band in any direction you want. So, you can work the transverse plane, frontal plane and sagittal plane with ease and without having to get into strange and injury-prone positions like you would with free weight and bodyweight exercises.
Cons of building muscle resistance bands:
Although we have 5 pros and 2 cons, these 2 cons are very considerable when it comes to building muscle. For beginners, it won’t be an issue as you can progressive overload effectively with any of the other methods, but for those who are already quite strong, bands may not be as appealing for the purpose of building muscle. Nevertheless, they will still be useful for other aspects of working out, like flexibility, mobility, warming up, supersets, giving your joints a break, and put simply, getting shredded.
Beginners are always recommended to start with bands, if you are asking us, as they will build a solid foundation in tandem with bodyweight training. You will build muscle.
So, can resistance bands replace weights?
Hypothetically, yes. Bands can be used to build muscle if you understand what it takes to build muscle, which is what we’ve discussed above. This is especially true for beginners and those who have taken a break from fitness for a while.
That being said, we feel that both bands and free weights should have their place in a fitness regimen. The free weights don’t have to be barbells and dumbbells either, they can be unconventional training tools like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, and so on, as these are very effective for building muscle and they are easier on the joints than barbell exercises.
In an ideal world, we’d want it all. Resistance bands, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and so on. All of these tools we mentioned are useful in their own right. They all could find their use in an “ultimate training regimen”. But if you want to be minimal and economical, bands are a great option.
When it comes to building muscle, if you stay consistent, stick to a routine, focus on progressive overload, get proper rest at all times, and employ new strategies every few months, you will succeed.
STUDY ON RESISTANCE BANDS VS CONVENTIONAL RESISTANCE:
Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis: "Evidence from this study suggests that resistance training with elastic devices provides similar strength gains when compared to resistance training performed from conventional devices. These findings allow coaches, physiotherapists, and even patients to opt to use devices with low costs, ease of handling, and which can be used in different places, such as elastic devices, for maintenance and gain in muscular strength."
Results will vary depending on various factors, as they do with any type of exercise routines and equipment.
Things like how frequent your training is, how difficulty your workouts are, how well you are employing progressive overload techniques, your nutrition, your rest, your genetics, and your starting fitness level all play a role in how long it takes to see results.
On average, beginners and those who’ve taken a break from fitness for some time can expect to see some noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks of starting a resistance band training regimen. If you are starting off past a beginner level, you should see some good results around 12 weeks in.
One of the great things about bands is they are less taxing on the body. As long as you eat well, sleep well, and drink a lot of water, you should be able to have a high training frequency. However, it really depends on how you feel. You don’t want to overtrain, as letting your body rest is just as important for building muscle as working out is.
If you want to workout every day, then do splits rather than full body workouts.
Here is an example of a weekly workout plan that would have you training every day:
Monday - Legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes)
Tuesday - chest, triceps
Wednesday - core (abs, obliques)
Thursday - back, biceps, forearms
Friday - shoulders, traps, calves
Saturday- core (abs, obliques)
Sunday - REPEAT (or take a day off, do an HIIT workout, run, cycle, swim, etc.)
Here are two resistance band workout schedule for building muscle that we recommend:
Day 1 - Lower Body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves)
Day 2 - Upper Body (chest, back, shoulders)
Day 3 - Core & Arms (abs, obliges, biceps, triceps)
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Lower Body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves)
Day 6- Upper Body (chest, back, shoulders)
Day 7 - Core & Arms (abs, obliges, biceps, triceps)
Day 8 - Rest
Day 1 - Lower Body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves)
Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Upper Body (chest, back, shoulders, abs)
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Lower Body (quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves)
Day 6- Rest
Day 7 - Upper Body (chest, back, shoulders, abs)
Day 8 - Rest
You’ll notice how there are no bicep and tricep days for the above workout plan. That's because you should be using compound movements. With compound movements, you don’t have to isolate the biceps and triceps as they are being worked already. i.e chest and should presses work your triceps and pull ups and rows work your biceps. Don’t spend time on isolation exercises unless it's something you really enjoy.
Full body muscle building resistance band routine for beginners:
Day 1 - Full Body
Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Full Body
Day 4 - Rest
Day 5 - Full Body
Day 6- Rest
Day 7 - Full Body
Day 8 - Rest
For full body workouts, target each large muscle group for at least 2 exercises. Perform only compound exercises like banded squats, deadlifts, chest presses, shoulder presses, and rows if you want your workouts to be efficient, which they should be.
The most effective way to train with resistance bands is by focusing on these progressive overload methods.
These are the easiest progressive overload methods for resistance bands
Stick to these three and you will gain muscle. You can also go up in resistance band size for certain exercises where it makes sense.
Building muscle is a science, so be smart and track yourself each week so you can increase the difficulty the following week.
What’s more, aim to do metabolic workouts. Metabolic workouts are best for building muscle with less resistance. Metabolic workouts work perfectly with resistance bands and you won’t just build muscle, you will burn fat and get ripped too, which should be the ultimate goal of fitness - shredded with lean muscle.
Metabolic Workouts with Resistance Band for Building Muscle
One of the best ways to build muscle with any lightweight equipment is by doing metabolic workouts.
You don’t need heavy weights, so resistance bands will be perfect.
Metabolic workouts are simple, you need low rest time, high intensity, and your workouts should be around 30-40 minutes, never longer.
Perform compound exercises only. That’s how you burn a lot of calories and build muscle at the same time!
It’s very similar to HIIT. It’s like a hybrid of resistance training and HIIT. You can use protocols like supersets, circuits, ascending/descending ladders, complexes, Tabata.
Here’s a good, simple full body metabolic workout with bands.
Chest press x 30 seconds
Shoulder press x 30 seconds
Mountain climbers x 45 seconds (no band needed on this one)
- Don’t rest between exercises, rest 1 minute between rounds. Complete 4-5 rounds
Squat Thruster x 10
Burpee with push up x 1
- First set is 10 reps of squat thrusters and 1 rep burpee with push up, done consecutively, immediately go into the next set and do 9 squat thrusters and 2 burpees with push ups, then, 8 squat thrusters and 3 burpees with push up, and continue like this until you do 1 squat thruster and 10 burpees with push up. Then you are done
- Only rest if you must. This is a burn out finisher.
Simple, tough, and effective for all fitness levels.
Although there are several types of resistance bands on the market, there are only two that make sense for building muscle - closed loop resistance bands (41 inch loop bands) and resistance tubes with handles. The 41 inch loop resistance bands are superior to the tube bands for many reasons. They are more versatile in their uses and the exercises you can perform.
We’ve done a whole comparison on loop resistance band vs resistance tubes with handles if you want to learn more about why loop resistance bands are best.
Now, to end this, here are some effective resistance band exercises and workouts for you to try and pull inspiration from!
RESISTANCE BAND EXERCISES
Playlist of resistance band exercises on Youtube (chest, arms, back, legs, shoulders, and more)
RESISTANCE BAND WORKOUT
Full Body Workout For Building Muscle With Resistance Bands
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