The Difference Between Dumbbells, Cables, and Bands

For those who have experienced movement in our facility, you have no doubt used a wide assortment of tools. Our playground has a good size toy box from which to enjoy the exploration of movement. We have barbells and kettlebells, battle ropes and climbing ropes, stability balls and medicine balls and a whole bunch of other tools to choose from. We have quite a few pieces of equipment, not only to offer variety but, to achieve a desired outcome in the body. Depending on what we are trying to accomplish in the training program will help us determine which tools to select. For instance, there is a difference between using a dumbbell, cable resistance, and rubber band resistance when performing the same movement. Let’s use the chest press (forcing the arms away from the chest) and the squat as exercise examples and how by using the three different tools how you can change the outcome. Here are the major differences between all three:

  1. Dumbbells are great strength training devices which have been around for centuries. Dumbbells are always used against gravity. They do not work well in outer space. Therefore, to load the proper muscles, you intend to target, you must adjust your body’s position in relation to In the case of a chest press, a person must lie on their back and press the dumbbells up above to target the chest region. If they were to perform the same arm action standing up the target area would have changed and focused more on the top of the shoulders and back. In relation to the squat dumbbells can be an ideal resistance tool because the body travels in the same direction as gravity.
  2. Cable resistance can offer the same level of resistance as dumbbells, but the difference is that the direction of force can be adjusted rather than the body. The cables pull upon the body from various angles and not just up and down. In the case of the chest press, a person can be in a lying or standing or seated position and still apply tension to the chest muscle provided the cable is at the appropriate angle. In regard to the squat, the cables can provide a variety of force directions while the body moves vertically compared to just one force direction with dumbbells.
  3. Band resistance is similar to both dumbbells and cables but with one major difference: bands create variable resistance. What this means is that the further a band stretches the greater the degree of force is created. Dumbbells and cables both rely upon the constant force of gravity. This is why astronauts have been using resistance bands in space as one form of exercise; they are not dependent upon gravity! The other cool thing about bands is that the majority of the time the band is at its greatest degree of force when the body is at its strongest position and offers the least amount of resistance at the body’s weakest point. In the case of the chest press, we are strongest when our arms are extended out straight and weakest closest to our body. On the squat, we are strongest at the point of standing and weakest at the lowest point. If the band were to go along with the movement’s path the most force would occur at the strongest point and the least at the weakest. That’s pretty cool.

This does not mean that the bands are the best tool to choose and the dumbbells are the worst. It really all depends on the movement and our desired outcome. There is a place for everything you just need to know when to choose which.