3 Ways To Build Muscle With Resistance Bands

Looking to switch things up and keep growing for your next workout? Resistance bands provide a unique form of resistance that puts considerable stress on muscle tissue, causing considerable gains in muscle mass and strength that is comparable to free weights. In addition, because the elastic resistance force is so fundamentally different from free-weight resistance, both approaches can be simultaneously used during your workout to create a combination of forces that place greater initial strain on the muscle while maintaining maximal strain on the musculature throughout the entire movement— generating remarkable gains in strength and size.14

Here are three reasons to add resistance bands to your training arsenal.

3 Ways To Build Muscles With Resistance Bands


Free weights and elastic resistance fundamentally differ because free weights provide constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion, while elastic bands provide greater resistance all the way through the movement. This occurs because the band is stretched throughout the movement, causing increased tension within the band that generates greater resistance as the range of motion increases. This form of dynamic resistance from elastic bands provides benefits over free weights that can be clearly demonstrated in exercises such as the bench press. Since greater muscular force occurs in the initial phase of the bench press, greater momentum is generated throughout the rest of the movement when using free weights. Once the weight has built up momentum in the initial phase, the muscle fibers do not need to be maximally activated to continue moving the weight throughout the rest of the movement, thus diminishing the training effect. However, the increase in resistance generated from elastic bands negates the production of momentum – disallowing the momentum-driven propulsion of the bar through the rest of the movement and creating a demand for greater muscle activity that ultimately stimulates greater muscle growth.

This effect from elastic resistance was clearly demonstrated in a study by Jalal et al.1 that showed a 15 percent increase in muscle activity during elastic resistance training when compared to free-weight training. Moreover, the comparison between elastic training and free-weight training also showed a considerably higher level of muscle activation in the later phases of the movement— supporting the idea that the ascending force from elastic bands diminished momentum, causing muscle activation throughout the entire concentric phase of the movement.

3 Ways To Build Muscles With Resistance Bands


Elastic resistance naturally produces a greater amount of tension on the muscle compared to free weights because, as previously stated, it has the capacity to minimize momentum— causing greater muscle activity throughout the entire movement, which effectively increases the amount of time the muscle is under tension. In addition, elastic bands also produce resistance independent of gravity, which fails to produce tension on the muscle during specific phases of certain lifts. For example, free-weight biceps curls produce very little muscle tension at the top of the concentric phase due to the prominent horizontal movement of the weight that no longer creates gravitational resistance. On the other hand, the precisely positioned use of elastic bands— that causes the elastic material to be stretched for the entire movement— places resistance on the biceps throughout the entire range of motion. The continuous tension from elastic resistance training should stimulate greater muscle growth, as it has been well documented2 that greater time under tension potently increases mechanical tension on the muscle cell. Increased mechanical tension on the muscle cell produces more muscle cell damage and/or increased metabolic stress, which powerfully enhances muscular size.

Clearly demonstrating the ability of elastic bands to build muscle, a study by Colado et al.3 found that elastic resistance is as effective if not better than free weights or resistance machines at increasing both lean body mass and strength.


Exercise-induced muscle damage stimulates many different cellular and molecular mechanisms that cause the muscle cell to grow and become more powerful.4 For example, muscle damage activates the inflammatory response – causing different immunological cells, such as the macrophage, to migrate to the damaged muscle tissue, consequently facilitating muscle cell repair and growth.5 Furthermore, exercise-induced muscle damage stimulates IGF-1 activation of the enzyme mTOR, which triggers muscle cell protein synthesis6, enhancing the hypertrophic response to resistance training.

A study by Aboodarda et al.10 showed that elastic resistance training induced a similar amount of muscle damage when compared to Nautilus machine resistance. While the underlying mechanism of these findings is unknown, a potential explanation for this result may have been uncovered in another study by Cronin et al.11, which demonstrated a considerable increase in muscle activity within the quadriceps muscle during the eccentric phase of leg extensions while using elastic resistance. Because the forced lengthening of the muscle cell that occurs during the eccentric phase creates the most extensive muscle damage12,13, this greater level of muscular contraction during the eccentric phase while using elastic bands most likely encourages considerable muscle damage. Interestingly, this greater level of muscle activity during the eccentric phase of the leg extension may be due to the enormous recoil force generated from the fully stretched elastic band that occurs right at the beginning of the eccentric phase


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  2. Pinto RS, et al. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. J Strength Cond Res 2012;26(8): p. 2140-5.
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  14. Anderson CE, Sforzo GA and Sigg. The effects of combining elastic and free weight resistance on strength and power in JA athletes. J Strength Cond Res 2008;22(2): p. 567-74.



For most of Michael Rudolph’s career he has been engrossed in the exercise world as either an athlete (he played college football at Hofstra University), personal trainer or as a Research Scientist (he earned a B.Sc. in Exercise Science at Hofstra University and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Stony Brook University). After earning his Ph.D., Michael investigated the molecular biology of exercise as a fellow at Harvard Medical School and Columbia University for over eight years. That research contributed seminally to understanding the function of the incredibly important cellular energy sensor AMPK— leading to numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals including the journal Nature. Michael is currently a scientist working at the New York Structural Biology Center doing contract work for the Department of Defense on a project involving national security.

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