Free Weights or Resistance Bands? How to Choose the Right Weights for You

You're stronger than you know.
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Free Weights or Resistance Bands? How to Choose the Right Weights for You

It's decided: you're going to finally start a strength training program. Maybe you're aiming to get stronger for your upcoming 10K run or maybe you just want to get stronger, period. After all, strength training has a slew of benefits, including increasing metabolism and increasing bone density. 

So now that you've decided you want to start lifting, where do you start? Should you hit the weight machines or grin and bear the weight room?

Choosing the right weights is important when it comes to getting the most out of your workout. Not sure which equipment is right for you? We break it down. 

Weight Machines

Weight machines are an ideal choice for beginners. Let's face it: a gym newbie is always a little intimidated by the heavy lifters in the weight room. And, also, free weights require certain strength in the major muscle groups being worked that a beginner probably doesn't have yet. 

Which is where weight machines come in. They're a great way to isolate and target a variety of muscle groups while also taking the guesswork out from the proper lifting technique. They're specifically designed to place you in the right position to promote a full range of motion. They're relatively safe and easy to use, including switching resistance levels. 

However, you don't want to spend too much time on weight machines since you run the risk of creating imbalances in the body since they promote muscle group isolation. Ideally, you want to work your way up to performing compound movements in your strength training routine. Compound movements engage two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups. Think: squats or a lunge with a bicep curl.

Basically, if you're lifting consistently on weight machines, you should head over to free weights after eight weeks of training. 

Best for: beginners.

Free Weights

Free weights are a good choice for more experienced lifters who want more variety and flexibility in their routine. Free weights provide free range of motion while working with gravity. This builds momentum, which then builds muscles. Some fitness experts argue that free weights are more effective than machines because they cause your entire body work in unison (think: compound movements), allowing more muscles to grow and teaches your body to work as a single unit rather than one muscle group at a time. 

This is also why free weights are excellent in promoting functional fitness, which refers to exercises that can be applied in everyday activities, like pushing, pulling, and squatting. Free weights also require more control and balance, and as a result, further intensifies the workout. Translation: think you need cardio to burn calories? Think again. 

Best for: building bigger muscles.

Resistance Bands

Like free weights, resistance bands provide a free range of motion and progressive resistance, meaning you can increase or decrease the resistance based on your needs. Unlike free weights, you're not working with gravity but rather the tension in the bands.

Why should you use 'em? For starters, they're versatile and easy to use and are great for people of all exercise levels. Bands also provide assistance when tackling difficult exercises. For example, if you're still trying to master a pull-up, attach a resistance band to the bar and to either under your knee or foot to work your way up to an unassisted version.

They're also an awesome tool to help with flexibility and mobility, and they're a quick fix to amp up a bodyweight workout. Just try doing a series of bridges and donkey kicks with a band above your knees, and you'll know what we mean. 

Best for: looking to sculpting and tone. 

Kettlebells

Kettlebells are a simple yet effective means of adding explosive strength training to your routine, including a HIIT or Tabata set. They're also pretty incredible used on their own. Because kettlebells emphasize technique, these are best used by those who are already comfortable with using free weights and have experience with a resistance training program or can be coached by a personal trainer. 

While you can use kettlebells and free weights interchangeably for some exercises, kettlebells are best reserved for higher, faster reps, activating a number of muscles, ranging from your legs to glutes to arms. 

Kettlebells are an amazing way to help elevate your power endurance, which is the ability to execute consecutive explosive movements over an extended amount of time. This helps to burn fat and increase lean muscle mass. 

Best for: burning fat and building endurance.

The Takeaway

Like with any new exercise routine, when it comes to lifting weights, it all comes down to listening to your body. With some good old fashioned trial-and-error, you'll be on your way to finding the best resistance training method for you. And remember: lift what feels right for your body. Strength comes from within, and not from the heaviest pound you can squat. Know your limitations, as well as trust your strength. You're stronger than you know! 

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