Pumping iron. The term is old school, and refers to the classic exercise of lifting dumbbells and barbells. In a way, lifting heavy pieces of metal is as old school as it gets (barring lifting rocks), and there’s a certain amount of revered tradition to it. Which is why these brightly colored resistance bands can strike so many of us as strange; how can you get the same ripped arms by doing curls with a bright green piece of plastic? For that reason, many people are resistant to using resistance bands, and hew to the classic dumbbells. But is this resistance logical? Can resistance bands give you the same quality workout, or an even better one? In today’s blog post we’re going to analyze their benefits and downfalls, and see if we can answer that question once and for all.

Let’s kick things off with with their most obvious benefit: resistance bands hardly weigh anything at all, and are thus extremely portable. This right here is revolutionary: resistance training wherever you go. For people who travel and can’t hit the gym at their destination this is a godsend, and can keep you track while on the road. Being able to throw in a couple of resistance bands that mimic curling with 65lb dumbbells is an awesome step forward in the direction of portability and efficiency. Furthermore, they’re easily stowed away while at home; no longer do you have to have dumbbells stacked up in your closet, or littering the floor of your garage, or hidden under your bed; with a couple of bands, you can just pop them in a drawer and be done with it.

Ok, fair enough, you can carry them around. But would you want to? Are they any good? I’m currently going through a round of P90X, and decided to give the bands a try. At first I didn’t like them. I would follow the people on the screen and stand on the band and then do the curls or shoulder press or what have you, and while it did the job, it felt awkward, the resistance wasn’t always right, and the handles would crack against my wrist whenever I rotated through the move. Then on an Arms & Shoulders day I made one key adjustment, and suddenly I was in love.

What I did was to wrap the band around the leg of my table, and then step back from it until the band was stretched out as much as I wanted. Planting my feet on the floor, I then leaned back, using the band’s own resistance to keep me propped up at about a 70 degree lean, and from there I did my first set of curls. Not finding it tough enough, I took a step back, and then a second, and then suddenly I was right in the zone with the exactly right amount of resistance.

For the shoulder press I did the same; kept the band wrapped around the table leg, face away from the table, and leaned forward to that same 70 degree angle from which I then pumped the shoulder presses out. I easily adjusted the resistance by moving forward or back, and avoided having the handles knock against my wrist by dint of the degree. Now, what makes this work is the fact that my table leg is really short, so the band doesn’t ride up the leg and stays low. If your table doesn’t have short legs, use your the leg of your couch, or bed, or whatever, as long as its heavy enough to anchor down the weight.

I love how I can now adjust to the exact degree the amount of resistance in my band. If at the end of my reps it starts to get too heavy, I just take a small step toward the table. If I want more resistance, just take a step away. Add that to the portability, how cheap they are compared to a full set of weights, and in my mind there’s no longer any doubt: resistance bands are the way to go.