The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Dumbbells or Bands: Is There a Difference?

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Monday, May 06, 2013

For additional health benefits not provided by aerobic exercise, it is recommended that most adults perform regular muscle-strengthening or resistance training.  What is considered “regular”? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state that adults should perform muscular strength and endurance activities on a minimum of 2 days per week (Haskell, et al, 2007). On each of these days, individuals should perform 8 -10 exercises with 8 -12 repetitions. During these exercises, individuals should work against resistance, which can come in many different forms including body weight, resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells and many other apparatuses.

Using elastic resistance bands, or one’s own body weight, as resistance can provide great benefit due to the ease of being able to do resistance training outside of a traditional gym or weight room. It is easy to take bands almost anywhere, along with our own body weight of course, which can make resistance training possible while staying in a hotel room during travel, outside at a park, or even on a break in the office. But do elastic resistance bands provide the same amount of muscle activation as one might benefit from if using dumbbells or other similar apparatuses?

A study of healthy female workers compared muscle activation and levels of perceived exertion while performing three resistance exercises (Anderson, et al, 2010). Muscle activation was measured in five different muscles involved in the movements. The group performed the exercises with either dumbbells or resistance bands. At the conclusion of each exercise, the participants were asked about their perceived levels of exertion. In the study, “comparable high levels of muscle activation were obtained during resistance exercises with dumbbells and elastic tubing,” thus indicating similar benefits with either form of resistance.

This evidence shows us that rather than worrying about what tools are around us for resistance training, it is more important to ensure that we are doing something in which our bodies are challenged against resistance. This way we can meet the recommendations for our health as well as obtain the many other benefits resistance training has to offer.

What are some of the most interesting places you have performed a resistance training workout? Share them with us on our Facebook page.


Anderson, L.L., Anderson, C.H., Mortenson, O.S., Poulson, O.M., et al. (2010). Muscle Activation and Perceived Loading During Rehabailitation Exercises: Comparison of Dumbbells and Elastic Resistance. Physical Therapy. 90(4): 538-549.

Haskell, W.L., Lee, I-M., Pate, R.R., Powell, K.E., et al. (2007). Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendation for Adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 39(8): 1423-1434.