Using Weights vs. Bands?

Some senior tennis players just go out and play tennis.  Others (like me) try to do some off-court activities to improve their physical condition and, hopefully, help prevent future injury.  So if you do strengthening exercises, is it better to use free weights, machines, or bands?

A Lifetime of Weights

When I was just 15 years old, my older brother dragged me out to our family garage to start lifting weights.  We had a full set of Olympic weights that he and his friends had bought; and I became addicted … and became the strongest kid in my large NY high school.

So, I became a lifelong believer in the power of pumping iron; and continued using free weight dumbbells (10 and 20 lbs. each) up until last year.  I used the weights to strengthen my forearms, upper arms, and shoulders; but also used bands for the classic rotator cuff exercises (see an earlier post on that subject).

The Benefits of Bands

It was reading Tom Brady’s book that first got me thinking about switching to total use of bands.  While I question many of his basic food and drink premises, the concept of using bands seemed to make more sense.

I like the bands for these reasons…

  • Continual resistance: when you pull on the band there is resistance; but there is also constant resistance on the slow release back, which I believe provides a better workout.

  • Muscle isolation: it appears to me that you can do an even better job of isolating tennis-related movements (serve motion, backhands, etc.) than with weights.

  • Variable tension: while using a 20 lb. dumbbell, you have a constant weight and can reduce the workout when tiring by just reducing the number of reps.  But with the bands, you can just move closer to the source and reduce the tension to complete the set.

  • Portable: while you can cart the weights with you on a trip, sticking the bands in your suitcase is easy to do.

Other Options

While I still value the use of weights over not doing anything, for me, the bands seem to work.  And, I do not have any real experience using machines in a gym to give any worthwhile opinion.

How about YOU… if you do strengthening, what do you believe in?

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8 thoughts on “Using Weights vs. Bands?

  1. Both, of course. Upper body toning is primarily bands for me. Am firm believer in lower body strength work, not toning and that is done best with weights whether machine aided or not. Doing the low rep, higher weights builds strength and mass while lower weight, higher reps does toning. Having the thighs bigger and stronger through leg presses, quad leg extensions, and back of thigh leg pull downs, and the hip, groin work moving the weights out to the side with resistance and then opposite, back together is what I emphasize the most. Some calf raises with weight also good.
    The above is geared towards protecting the joints by having the musculature take more of the stress created by tennis stop and start torque. The training to have quicker feet, fast twitch muscle development (jump rope etc) has long past me by as anyone watching me play can tell. But, I am still playing and the lower body weight work is critical in my opinion. Was told by Orthopedic Doc almost 20 years ago that I was a classic candidate for knee replacement as decades of playground basketball had worn out the soft tissue padding in my knees. So far so good in avoiding chronic knee problems – the weight work and stretching are significant factors in that good “luck”.
    If you want to keep playing tennis as you age, you have to earn the right by off court training and be lucky. Caveat to all the above is I am an amateur, trial and error fitness person and I am sure George will get authoritative, professional comments which have more credibility.

    Winder, great advice on the lower body work needed! thanks, george

  2. As a certified kettlebell instructor and CrossFit trainer, I have found no offcourt training tool has helped my tennis more than the kettlebell. I’d recommend it for all tennis players but particularly for the 55+ crowd. Low impact (nice for skeptical joints) while giving a multitude–power, cardio, strength, mobility, balance– of benefits. A 20-minute regimen 3x a week of swings and an alternate movement (presses, lunges, goblet squats, Turkish get-ups) will do wonders. Just be sure to learn from a certified instructor. Good technique is not as obvious as it might appear on YouTube.

    Doug, i have never tried it, but looks like it would really strengthen the core. thanks, george

  3. George,
    Valuable content. Have been using bands, bicycle and swimming for several years and find them all helpful. Probably don’t do enough work to help bad knee and torn rotator cuff. Will have to look up kettleball exercises as they might also help. I like to vary exercises so I don’t get bored.

    Larry, right, if it is not fun/interesting, no one will do it. thanks, george

  4. Here’s another option: TRX straps let you use your own body weight for resistance and can be used anywhere there’s a door to hang them over. My PT recommended them for core strengthening after back surgery.

    Joe, i had to Google that to see what they are… appear to be bands for the whole body. Yes? thanks, george

  5. Choice is always personal. But for sure, what ever works for you, everything in moderation ……….
    I find a dog leash is very helpful for hamstrings, like the bands, but seems to get more of direct benefit to the back.

    Howie, but what does your dog think about that?! thanks, george

  6. Howie is always doing those back stretching exercises at Spike’s on Mon am , but then it takes TWO of us to get him off the floor!

    Scoot, as you age, it is easy to get down, but tough to get back up! thanks, george

  7. I use a combination…..bands for most of the upper body and shoulders but free weights for forearm curls (palms up and palms down)……Jim Currier suggested this, and I’ve found that it works better than bands, when strengthening the forearms……really helps the racket-head speed.
    John

    John, i am mixed on that one … i too, like using the free weights for the forearms; but am adapting to using the bands for the exact same motion. Have you tried it? thanks, george

  8. George, As you might suspect, I had to chime in on this question. The comments were excellent and you and many of your tennis friends are right on in what you have done. Here’s my take on it. First,it all starts with the core (Abs, obliques, spine muscles, lats, glutes and traps. Without a good core foundation, the rest will never reach the level you desire.

    Secondly, there is not one program that fits all – has to be some individuality to the program. Third, to build both muscular-tendon and bone, there must be ground-base exercises (which is eliminated with machines). Finally, the program must include these elements – flexibility/ROM exercises, strength exercises (which could be body wt only), aerobic/anaerobic component, and exercises that are single leg balance exercises (single leg dead lifts, single leg bicep curls, single leg squats, etc).

    So the comments above touch of all of these in some form or another. Bands are excellent for some exercises (RTC, scapular stabilizers, lower extremity ab/adduction, clams, etc.) Free weights (for us seniors – 10-15 lb dumbbells) are excellent because they are ground base. TRX does an a great job for core but be careful not to over-due too soon and place undo stress on lower back. Keetlebells have their place but MUST be done correctly or could cause more harm then good.

    Finally, a good conditioning program must include good warm-up (foam roam and dynamic stretching) and good cool down (static stretching).
    This is a great topic for not only senior tennis players but all active seniors. Thanks for including it in your post. And thanks for educating all of us!

    Larry, thanks to you for adding your professional input to the discussion! george

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