Weights and Cables and Bands, Oh My!

Weights and Cables and Bands, Oh My!

With many different options for resistance training in a gym, it can become difficult to determine which equipment to use. What are the advantages of free-weights vs cables? Are bands worth incorporating into my routine? Can you get a free-weight level workout with cables and bands? Maybe you have pondered these questions, but then quickly moved on to return to your ‘tried and true’ exercise type. Perhaps changing up some of your exercises could yield better results. Below, we’ll break down the pros and cons of each type of resistance


Weights have been around for building strength and fitness for centuries. Gravity pulls the weight downward and work is done by resisting and pushing upward. The raw simplicity and obvious carry-over into real-life movements is attractive to many gym-goers. Weights are extremely consistent – no matter where you go, a 25 lb dumbbell will weigh 25 lbs and provide the same resistance. You can precisely track how your strength has improved and control the incremental progression of that training program over time. This quality of consistency helps with comparing your strength to others and bragging about your personal bests. On the downside, free-weights require you to change the position of your body based on the direction of the movement. For example, you’ll need to lie on your back to perform a bench press. Changing your body position for each muscle group or plane of movement can require additional equipment and present some problems for people with mobility issues. Of course, there are also additional risks with loading your body with heavy weights and potential falls, but having a training can help to minimize these dangers. 


Cables can provide the same amount of resistance and precise resistance control as weights, but they allow the direction of the resistance to be adjusted rather than the body. Thanks to this adjustability, exercises that would need to be done from a lying position (such as a chest press) can be performed in a seated or standing position. On top of that, the angle of the chest press can be adjusted easily without requiring several different angled benches and body adjustments. Cables are also generally safer, because the heavy load does not need to be placed directly on the body. The weights are contained in a weight stack, which also allows for faster weight changes relative to free-weights. 


Resistance bands are similar to cables in the sense that the angle of the resistance can be changed. Bands, however, have a very unique difference – linear variable resistance. This describes how a band’s level of resistance increases as the band is stretched further. This property is important, because most exercises become easier as the repetition comes closer to being completed. For instance, a squat is easiest in the standing position and most difficult at the bottom. If the resistance provides an increasing level of resistance as the exercise difficulty decreases,the effort and tension needed is constant throughout the entire exercise. Neato. Furthermore, bands carry little risk as long as the exercise is performed properly (except for the bands occasionally tearing and snapping). 

No single exercise form listed above is better than another in every circumstance. Perhaps you have an injury or condition that prevents you from easily changing your body position, so opting for cables and bands may be a better choice. Maybe you find that the amount of force free-weights can provide in a squat or deadlift is unparalleled. Using a rotating combination of exercise forms may be the best for you if you have always stuck to one form in the past. Regardless of your individual situation, it takes some intuition and experience to determine which method of performing an exercise will lead to the most results for you. There is always value to having a personal trainer help you navigate the array of fitness options, as well as ensure proper form and body mechanics. Your time and progress in the gym can be greatly maximized with the guidance and tracking of a qualified fitness professional.

While I’m training at Electrofit, I like to use a variety of these exercise forms, plus more (Body weight, TRX, resistance balls…). Some exercises are best suited with a specific type of resistance, but a lot of times it simply comes down to my client’s personal preference. An advantage of training with Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is that you don’t need to use a large amount of outside force to activate the same amount of muscle fibers. I’ve found EMS to be very helpful in training clients with mobility issues and joint problems, because of the small amount of outside resistance needed. Even I have benefitted from adding EMS training to my personal workout program. I will always love the satisfaction of setting a personal best in the bench press or deadlift, but varying my training styles and adding EMS has been very beneficial.

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