I will be living in Africa for the next year, with little access to a gym. I was thinking about purchasing a portable gym resistance band set, but I'm skeptical of the efficacy of resistance bands in building muscle mass.

Does anybody have any links to studies or anecdotal evidence confirming or denying the effectiveness of resistance bands? And if so, what routines do you recommend?

  • 3
    Why not make your own equipment there? You can go a long way without professional equipment. Rocks, tires, bars etc. should be available everywhere. Unless you'll be constantly on the go...
    – BKE
    Aug 21, 2013 at 19:32
  • maybe rocks it is; surely someone has figured out a portable way to get swole. Aug 22, 2013 at 5:05
  • 3
    You can even effectively build muscle mass with bodyweight exercises! For them you need almost no equiment (just a pull-up bar, gymnastic rings or something similar). Sep 19, 2013 at 19:47
  • Could you clarify what you mean by effectively? Effective in relation to what?
    – Baarn
    Sep 20, 2013 at 10:55

7 Answers 7


Consider this more as a longer comment but as an answer:

Physical analysis

Let my try to analyze the differences between weights and resistance bands from a "physical" point of view in two steps: free weights vs Cables and Cables vs Resistance bands:

Free weights vs Cables

The main difference in force production is that gravitation always points down to the earth, whereas the force produced by the cables always points into the direction of the cable.

Consider for example a standing biceps curl. Using a weight the force you have to overcome always points to the ground.

If you use a cable to do this, the angle of the cable to an vertical axis changes during the motion and such the direction of the force you have to overcome changes. This depends also on where the cable is attached to the next deflection roller.

Note that in this and almost every other exercise you have to keep in mind that the lever arm changes during the motion and such the produced torque, which seems to be more relevant when thinking about what has the muscle to work.

Then one might try to capture so called strength curves (one axis: torque, other axis angle) which gives experts some information about how good a exercise stimulates a muscle.

Another difference between free weights and cables is that with free weight you can perform explosive movements where you also have to use forces to overcome the intertia of the free weight.

Free weights and resistance bands have in common that they produce a constant force along the line of action.

Cables vs. Resistance bands

Additionally to the differences discussed above resistance bands do not produce a constant force, but the force increases when the band is stretched. Not that this relationship is not even linear.

The key factor here is the relative and not the absolute elongation. I.e. if a resistance band is stretched by x percent of the original length it produces a particular force F(x) which does not depend on the original length.

So using a resistance band the force increases during the range of motion of the exercise. However using resistance bands you can get similar strength curves as with free weights so in some cases the muscle stimulation seems to be comparable to free weights.

Other comments and Conclusion

When training with resistance bands you should keep in mind the same points as when training with weights:

  • get a proper nutrition such that your body has the building blocks to repair and build new muscle (protein, carbs, etc).
  • get a proper recovery time
  • have a large enough training volume per muscle group
  • choose the right amount of resistance such that you can just do 8-12 reps per set
  • increase the resistance in small steps over the time to keep the rep range above

For the last point it is important to have a resistance band set wich allows you to change and combine bands easily, such as the systems by bodylastics, lifeline-usa or gorilla-strength-gear.

For certain exercises you want to decreas the effect of increasing resistance with elongation in resistance bands. For this instead of taking the band shorter you should take the band as long as possible (or even two bands in series) and choose a heavier band instead or even better use several lighter bands in parallel to get the right resistance for you. This is because the increase in resistance depends on the relative and not on the absolute elongation as stated above.

For example when doing squats, you can do squats with the bands at your sides, armes hanging down. Then you have a strong increase of resistance force on the way up. Contrary doing overhead squats will give you a more constant resistance because the relative elongation is smaller (though the absolute elongation will be the same).

This can also be done by a sheave construction such as in the follwing patent: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US20130035220.pdf

Another important factor in using resistance bands is where to anchor the band to get the correct strength curve for optimal muscle stimulation. See this paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21757393 and this blog article for a summary: http://www.hygenicblog.com/2013/03/20/quantifying-torque-in-elastic-resistance-exercises-part-i/

You can even think about using some sheaves to get a proper line of action of force for your exercise.

I think it should be able to build mass with resistance bands alone perhaps complemented with body-weight exercises. However it seems to be more complicated since you have to control more variables and there is not much literature about it with form pointers and guides to follow.

I am planning to buy a bodylastics set and try if it is possible to gain mass just with this and bodyweight exercises.

Since I also have a strong interest in this question and since this topic is not good documented in the web I give a bounty to this question to get a more in sophisticaded and more in depth answer.

I will add further references and diagrams later.

Some links:






The resistance generated from bands is very similar to using machines in the gym and I know several people that have built impressive gains on machines only. Just take a look at Hulk Hogan who has built a lot of size using machines exclusively because of all his back injuries.

The point is resistance is resistance whether it's bodyweight, free weights or bands it doesn't matter. The only reason free weights are so recommended for gains is their ability to quickly change the weight by several pounds or more where as bodyweight exercises are not (unless you know a great deal about leverage) and the other is accurately measuring your progress by pounds lifted where as bodyweight is a lot more vague. In the case of resistance bands it's somewhere in the middle: the resistance can be very easily changed (sometimes easier than free weights), and progress can certainly be measured.

If you use a system that lets you use multiple bands you can count how many, if you anchor the band to something you can count how many footsteps away you are from the anchor point, or if you shorten the length by stepping on the band or holding it higher up on the band you can mark the exact spot and decrease the length next time.

While all these methods aren't as accurate as being able the slap on another 5 pounds exactly onto a barbell knowing you added another band to your bench after decreasing the length on the two bands you were already using is still easily recordable progressive overload and we all know that and a proper diet is all you need for gains to happen.

  • "The resistance generated from bands is very similar to using machines" no. the resistance from bands varies across the motion while machines provide the same resistance through the movement.
    – flies
    Jan 23, 2017 at 22:35

Yes it is possible. There isn't anything ground breaking on the advice you will get on band training techniques. The books will basically give you creative ways to attach them. You want to be doing the same movement as your squat, deadlift, bench, (find a place to do pull ups and chin ups), curls, tricep extensions, good mornings, and so on... The movements don't change, how you attach the bands depends on what you have available. You can get in great muscular shape using bands. You will not put on a lot of mass quickly, your workouts will have to be pretty much non-stop (to get intensity), and you may have to settle on smaller gains but bands vs just body weight in the middle of no where... give me the bands to work with too (and do body weight exercises). I would also sprinkle in lots of plyometrics but I like speed builders.


I've seen lots of answers for questions like these that say, "good for warmups or small muscles, but not good for gaining mass in larger muscles." Ha ha, dude, get some real weights.

It sounds to me like these answers assume that you're using one skimpy band, like the kind they use for physical therapy. Yes, for those single bands, the resistance is limited.

But for other types of bands, where you can connect as many bands as you want to one handle or to a bar, the potential resistance is literally unlimited.

For example, the base Gorilla Strength kit can give you a max resistances of 200+ pounds. Are you currently curling 350 on one arm? Well, in that case, buy two kits and combine bands from both. Or buy one of the bigger kits, which goes up into the 700+ pound range. Are you benching 900? Then buy two of those kits and combine.

Bodylastics also sells a kit with a total resistance in the 400+ range.

Why would pressing 250 against gravity be different than pressing 250 against rubber? Why would 250 pounds of gravity build muscle while 250 pounds of rubber would just "warm you up?"

If you short rep to failure with both, it's reasonable to assume that the effect on muscle growth would be similar.

And if power lifters are putting rubber bands on their bench press barbells anyway to improve the resistance curve at the top of their movements, then it starts to sound like 250 pounds of rubber is better than 250 pounds of lead to begin with. You know, if you have to add rubber to the lead to improve it, why not just use rubber?

  • Rubber always starts easy and then gets harder due to the nature of the material. For those who struggle at the start of a movement they don't help focus on that particular part. You point is a good one though, they can be used in place of larger weights.
    – John
    Jun 15, 2017 at 6:41

I use resistance bands for warmup to my routine. In my opinion, they are useful to train smaller muscles like shoulders but bigger muscles need other exercises. To be honest a good pushup/pullup routine can go a long way. (Close grip push up, wide grip push up, there are many good variations!)


Sure it is.

The following study had three groups of women.

  • Step Aerobics (SA)
  • SA for 25 minutes + Resistance Training (SAR25)
  • SA for 40 minutes + Resistance Training (SAR40)

The resistance training was solely done with bands. Training was 12 weeks.

I boxed the relevant groups, and then subboxed the relevant attributes for this question:

resistance bands improving strength and body composition

Credit: Resistance training combined with bench-step aerobics enhances women’s health profile

Any solid resistance training program would work e.g. muscle groups hit twice per week, regularly trying to engage in progressive overload.

The key for bands is using ones which are strong enough. A good place for these is EliteFts. Their bands get quite strong.

My clients are everyday people. We haven't needed to go above a couple of their monster minis, though we did focus more on upper body. Some might need stronger bands for the lower body. I don't have exact rep numbers, but six months of ~five clients per day, three days per week, doing ~100 band reps per client, is when the bands started to wear. Long story short, they should last a single person a long time.

(My experience has also been to avoid the tubing type of band. They're more likely to snap, leaving people feeling much more uneasy (many have had a bad experience or have heard of one), where people won't exert themselves the same. You can wrap PVC pipe on an EliteFts band if you want to make a handle.)

EliteFts' bands are commonly used in powerlifters. Westside Barbell, perhaps the strongest humans on the planet, use bands often. Force curves are nothing to worry about.

“Relative to other stages, the terminal range of motion of many exercises, like a squat and bench press, involves little force. Nobody gets stuck during a squat the last six inches. Once past the sticking point, the latter portion of the range of motion is never maximally worked. You can quarter squat more than you can half squat. If we’re going to criticize bands for what they lack in providing at the bottom of a rep, we need to concurrently criticize free weights for what they lack in providing at the top of a rep. (And no one has trouble getting strong muscles and bones from free weights!)”

More details if desired, such as how bands can improve bone density as well, EliteFts chart of band strengths, etc: https://b-reddy.org/2016/03/25/can-resistance-bands-improve-bone-density/


Muscles respond to stimulus: they don't know, or care, where the stressors come from - suppose there were no free weights to use? That's why one can build strength with the right bodyweight movements - so there's no reason why bands can't do the same thing.

  • Perhaps consider backing up those statements with some factual evidence. Effective and proven resistance band programs, etc.
    – Eric
    Oct 20, 2015 at 16:03

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