Resistance Tubing vs. Free Weights

More and more, the evidence is proving to us that our general fitness exercises are not enough. We can’t just walk or jog or swim or bike and expect to maintain functional fitness throughout our lives. For healthy muscles, bones, and balance well into older age, we need strength training. Depending on your inclination and available space, that could mean joining a gym, putting together a weight set in your garage or spare room, or maybe just picking up some resistance tubing.

You might already be familiar with resistance tubing and bands. They’re commonly used in physical therapy and injury rehabilitation exercises. They’re also great for older exercisers and beginners. Hardcore bodybuilders sometimes look down on resistance tubing as a tool for amateurs, but who needs those guys? We’re not looking to oil up and pose on stage, we’re just trying to keep it together for as long as we can.

So what’s the difference between resistance tubing and weights?

Both resistance tubing and weights are great for strength training, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been lifting for years. The principle is the same: you get stronger and build muscle by pushing or pulling against the resistance provided by either the tubing or the weight.

Resistance tubing comes in different colors, each offering a different amount of resistance, from light weight to heavy. The more the tubing is stretched, the greater the resistance.

Tubing is also inexpensive, portable, and space-saving, allowing you to do your exercises just about anywhere you go. You won’t want to drag a full set of weights to work every day to use on your lunch break, but resistance tubing makes quick workouts easy wherever you go.

Most common weight exercises can be performed just as well with resistance tubing. Bicep curls, chest and shoulder presses, tricep extensions, and squats are no problem. In fact, there are plenty of additional resistance tubing exercises that could never be replicate with weights, and resistance tubing is great for assisted stretching as well.

Like weights, resistance tubing allows for progressive resistance — up to hundreds of pounds when you double up on the heavier tubing. Unlike weights, the tubing resistance is variable, getting stronger over the motion of each repetition.

On the downside, resistance tubing is not nearly as durable as a good set of weights, which can last a lifetime. You’ll find yourself needing to replace the tubing periodically as it wears out. Also, it’s easier to measure your progress with free weights, since you know exactly how much you’re lifting with each rep.

For most people, strength training is probably best with a mix of both free weights and resistance tubing. The important thing isn’t so much which tools we use to do our exercises — the important thing is that we do those exercises.