Are you a barbell badass, or is it time to become a resistance band leader?
When you work on moves like glute bridges, resistance bands are certainly famous for getting your peach from a square butt to the type of Kim-Kardashianesque heart-shaped butt that you would be proud to pose with in your gym selfies.
Maybe you’re asking: “Can I do squats and deadlifts with resistance bands?” Today, we’ve got the answer. Let’s explore the impact of performing these major muscle-builders using resistance bands instead of the traditional barbell.
Find out whether switching up your equipment takes away from the effectiveness of these core moves, improves them, or makes little difference.
What are some advantages to doing squats and deadlifts with resistance bands instead of barbells?
Workout on the Go
Resistance bands are a take-anywhere type of equipment. You can bring your resistance band workout with you outside, to the gym, to the beach, or on vacation anywhere in the world.
Working out your squats and deadlifts with resistance bands is better than not training them at all.
If you’re going to be away from home for a prolonged period and have no other ways to get workouts in, using resistance bands is a great way to maintain your gains so you don’t have to start from square one once you get back home from your trip.
Resistance bands can feel more approachable than using a heavy barbell for gym beginners. If you’re a fitness newbie, you may find the bulky and cumbersome size of a barbell to be a bit intimidating.
Plate-loading your barbells and effectively securing your weights with barbell clips can also be a bit of a learning curve. If you want something easy to just get up and go with, a resistance band may feel easier to use than a clunky barbell.
Some of us also struggle with balance when we are first starting to work out. Balancing a barbell evenly in your arms for a deadlift or across your shoulders for a back squat may tend to throw us a little bit off-kilter.
A resistance band anchors under your feet and stays pressed tight to your body through the duration of your movements. If barbells make you feel unbalanced or out of control, a resistance band can help reduce that feeling and give you more command of your movement.
Having the confidence to feel like you’re in the driver’s seat and that you’re controlling your equipment rather than your equipment controlling you is one of the best ways to develop your confidence in the gym.
If you’re in a commercial gym and want other equipment to swap out for a resistance band, try deadlifting with a pre-loaded barbell or using dumbbells. Pro-tip: work with a friend who understands how to spot a squat when you’re making the transition from resistance bands to barbells.
See which equipment feels the most comfortable for you. Once you get more used to the movement and the equipment, you’ll probably feel more comfortable working up to doing your squats and deadlifts using plate-loaded barbells.
Although, as we saw, there are several advantages to squatting or deadlifting with resistance bands, there are some cons as well.
Pain in Hands
Gripping a barbell can be painful for those who don’t train their grip strength. However, resistance bands have more of a tendency to dig into the flesh of your palms. This is especially true of very heavy deadlift weights.
Some resistance bands have pre-attached handles. but many of the ones offered at commercial gyms are simple looped bands without much structure or handles for support.
Check out the options that your gym provides you with and see if there are bands with handles. These may feel a little bit more comfortable in your hands as you lift.
Both a banded squat and a banded deadlift require you to step on your resistance band. With very heavy weights, these can cause your feet to lift off the ground.
Because of this, it can be very hard to progressively overload your weights. Remember, progressive overload is a key resistance training principle that requires you to up your load each time you lift to send signals from your brain to your muscles that it’s time for the muscles to adapt and grow.
If you want to keep squatting with one medium heavy comfortable weight for yourself day in and day out, resistance bands can be a good option.
But if you want to progressively overload your weight to get stronger, increasing it each time you lift, it’s hard to do this with a comfortable form at a heavy weight with resistance bands since your feet tend to lift as you pull the bands upward.
Less Heavy Lifting
Because of the way resistance bands anchor to your body, for more experienced lifters, resistance band squats and deadlifts may not be as great for moving heavy loads.
That being said, they can be good if you want to incorporate alternative variations of squats and deadlifts into your workout. For example, front squatting may be easier than back squatting with resistance bands.
You’ll have to get a little bit craftier with the variations you use in your resistance band moves. But if you’re trying to train a different variation than you usually use, resistance bands squats and deadlifts can certainly be effective to practice.
Are Squats and Deadlifts with Resistance Bands as Effective?
If you prefer using resistance bands to traditional weights or if you’re just limited on equipment you may be wondering: is it effective to squat or deadlift with resistance bands?
That may depend on the exercise you’re looking to perform. One study by the Journal of Human Kinetics found higher muscle activation from free weights in the muscles most people aimed to activate when studying their use in dumbbell flyes and reverse flyes.
However, the resistance bands increased muscle activation in the front and medial deltoids as well as the upper trapezius muscles. In short, both approaches may benefit muscle activation in different areas of the movement.
Keep in mind that this study was performed on upper-body muscles.
This will depend on what your goals are in the gym. Resistance bands can be just as effective as barbells if you’re training for aesthetics, hypertrophy, mobility, or agility.
If you’re going for strength though, nothing beats the real deal. A heavy barbell is the best way to truly get stronger. For beginners, though, resistance bands can certainly be a way to build your strength. But there comes a point where you will max out on resistance you can add to the band.
Let’s look at deadlifts.
The lifting mechanism of resistance bands works differently from a barbell. Although in the concentric lift (where your muscles shorten and you stand up) the pattern of resistance is similar to using a barbell, you’ll need to compensate in the eccentric part of the lift, (where you bring your torso down and your leg muscles lengthen) since resistance bands have more of a tendency to go slack.
A similar principle applies to squats, only at the “up” part of the exercise. In a squat, you might not feel like you’re getting the same “break” from the move at the top where you pop your hips to engage the glutes.
This is because, by nature resistance bands give you more continuous time under tension than barbells. If your hips hurt when squatting with a resistance band, you can always switch back to a barbell.
Using resistance bands can be a great way to enhance your squats or deadlifts if you’re not able to access traditional gym equipment, or if you are traveling.
If you’re going for championship lifts though, using barbells is probably going to be more effective if you’re an experienced lifter. There’s more space to up your progressive overload using a barbell than there would be with resistance bands.
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Bergquist, R., Iversen, V. M., Mork, P. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2018). Muscle Activity in Upper-Body Single-Joint Resistance Exercises with Elastic Resistance Bands vs. Free Weights. Journal of human kinetics, 61, 5–13. https://doi.org/10.1515/hukin-2017-0137
Elzanie A, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. [Updated 2023 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/
Hody, S., Croisier, J. L., Bury, T., Rogister, B., & Leprince, P. (2019). Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Risks and Benefits. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 536. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00536
Ourieff J, Scheckel B, Agarwal A. Anatomy, Back, Trapezius. [Updated 2023 Mar 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518994/
Padulo, J., Laffaye, G., Chamari, K., & Concu, A. (2013). Concentric and eccentric: muscle contraction or exercise?. Sports health, 5(4), 306. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113491386
Plotkin, D., Coleman, M., Van Every, D., Maldonado, J., Oberlin, D., Israetel, M., Feather, J., Alto, A., Vigotsky, A. D., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2022). Progressive overload without progressing load? The effects of load or repetition progression on muscular adaptations. PeerJ, 10, e14142. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14142