Is the gym finally dead?
I’ve spent a large chunk of my life in the gym.
As much as I enjoy transforming my body, traditional box office gyms have their drawbacks:
- Time — my 1.5 hour sandwiched between long commutes each way
- Culture — gym “bro” culture makes me cringe
- Ineffectiveness — each individual rep causes very little gain
- Injury risk — overuse and bad form injure beginners and advanced lifters alike
- Contractual commitment — my monthly membership fees ranged from $90 to $150 and locks me into a year-long contract
Science has longe espoused the correlation between strength, longevity, and quality of life. So I assumed that the gym would forever remain non-negotiable in my life.
Then I came across a particular sports science crowd that claims…Lifting weights is a terrible way to trigger muscle growth Click To Tweet
My research into the power of Variable Resistance Training (VRT) convinced me to buy a set of quality bands. But I quickly discovered that they didn’t work well.
Next, I came across the most popular full system called X3. I unearthed all kinds of mixed reviews.
I learned that the barbells and footplates in these systems make all the difference. They increase force production (to build power, muscle, and strength) and also reduce injury. After all, your brain will not let you put 600+ pounds of force through your ankles, wrists, and joints.
So I researched the best alternatives to the X3 bar, and came across Harambe.
Today, I’m reviewing the Harambe Fitness System — my favorite recent fitness tech discovery that gives you the equivalent of an entire home gym but also fits neatly under your bed. I’ve now personally seen the body transformation and performance gained by everyday folks and elite athletes alike, and by the end of this post, you’ll understand the hype.
Use Harambe System coupon code URBAN to save 10%
I Quit the Gym to Train with Bands Instead
Previously, I hit the gym daily. Whether to workout, sauna, rock climb, stretch, or enjoy a new group class.
When I moved to Austin, Texas, I had no viable gyms within 3 miles. My old bike made this a 25-minute commute each way.
I eventually came to the conclusion that I’d have to either build my own or find something different.
I explored elastic bands.
Compared to free weights housed within a commercial gym membership, bands offer:
- Consistency with fewer excuses to skip workouts
- Convenience as it stores easily and is conducive to micro-workouts
- Affordability with an upfront fixed cost
- Customization options
- Efficiency of time
- Healthy environment free of chemicals
- Protection agsint the elements
Then I remembered a fitness device that I used at a friend’s lakehouse. Unsatisfied with the value, I searched for the best X3 system alternatives.
Update: I decided to get a gym membership once again to add diversity to my training. I still use my Harambe several times per week. I especially like it to add resistance to squats and deadlift micro-workouts I perform throughout the day.
Scientific Benefits of Variable Resistance Training With Elastic Bands
Science comparing variable resistance training is convoluted for several reasons.
First, much of the funding comes from university sports science. Free weight “constant resistance” training has been the norm. Many studies simply benchmark VRT against it.
Therefore, it follows that we’ve mostly researched healthy athletes. Don’t let that dissuade you.
Even if you aren’t an athlete, this may be a good thing. Highly trained athletes are the most resistant to growth and progress. They can train religiously for a year for just a one percent improvement.
So researchers concentrating on this group isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Also, note that there are multiple forms of variable resistance training. The most common being:
- Elastic bands
Keep in mind that few studies have investigated systems like Harambe (which are considerably more effective than plain elastic bands). This special geometry almost mimics the studies in which athletes combine free weights and bands.
One did a particularly good job of summarizing,
“To accelerate strength gains over very-short time periods (i.e., 2 weeks), variable resistance training may be advantageous. Conversely, to optimize power adaptations in ballistic exercises across a similar time period, traditional free-weight training may be preferred.”Traditional Free-Weight Vs. Variable Resistance Training Applied to Elite Young Soccer Players During a Short Preseason: Effects on Strength, Speed, and Power Performance
Now, on to the benefits of VRT.
Strength, speed, power enhancement
Several studies show impressive athletic improvements from VRT,
“Variable resistance training using elastic bands may offer a greater training stimulus than traditional free-weight resistance training to improve upper-body strength, velocity, and power in elite youth rugby league players.”Variable Resistance Training Promotes Greater Strength and Power Adaptations Than Traditional Resistance Training in Elite Youth Rugby League Players
Burns fat, builds muscle, improves endurance
Burns fat, increases lean body (muscle) mass, and improves exercise performance in sedentary middle-aged women,
“[Elastic bands] can thus offer significant physiological benefits that are comparable to those obtained from [weight machines] in the early phase of strength training of sedentary middle-aged women.”Effects of a short-term resistance program using elastic bands versus weight machines for sedentary middle-aged women
Augments free weight training
Combining free weights and elastic resistance, lead to impressive improvements in experienced athletes:
- 3X greater back squat
- 3X greater average power
- 2X greater bench press
Most of the research has focused on healthy, well-trained athletes adding VRT into their program. Some other notable performance-enhancing findings include:
- Enhanced power and strength from adding 1 VRT session per week
- Power, speed, and strength improvements from 20% of training load coming from elastic bands in elite youth rugby league players
- Less soreness and pain when collegiate baseball players train with chains instead of free weights
Muscular endurance and hypertrophy
This awesome 2013 study of men found both forms of training to produce similar results, with VRT even having an advantage,
“Only the variable resistance training group improved the total number of repetitions and volume load during the repetition to failure test. Similar improvements in maximum strength and hypertrophy of the lower limbs were observed in both training groups.”Variable resistance training promotes greater fatigue resistance but not hypertrophy versus constant resistance training
Results similar to free weights
A 2020 trial of elite young soccer players found both traditional free weight and variable resistance training to yield equal results,
“Both strategies were effective for significantly improving HS and JS power… half squat 1RM, vertical jumping ability, and change of direction speed.Traditional Free-Weight Vs. Variable Resistance Training Applied to Elite Young Soccer Players During a Short Preseason: Effects on Strength, Speed, and Power Performance
These researchers also found greater fatigue resistance, and increases in testosterone and cortisol from VRT compared to constant resistance. Though, bands don’t seem to promote the same level of hypertrophy or force generation.
One 20-week trial of older men age 65+ found equivalent force generation resulting from constant or variable resistance training, but with an additional edge to the latter:
“Only the variable resistance training group improved fatigue-resistance properties, which may be an important adaptation to maintain exercise and functional capacity in older individuals.”Neuromuscular adaptations to constant vs. variable resistance training in older men
Another 2020 8-week study of junior soccer players found significant benefits of VRT:
- Strength (absolute and relative) of thigh muscle increased
- Jump height increased
- Peak power output increased
- Muscle increased
Biomarker and hormonal improvements
This 2020 investigation of women in their mid-twenties found similar improvements between the variable resistance and constant resistance groups across many parameters:
- Growth hormone
Another study of young men found larger growth hormone, testosterone, and cortisol responses from VRT, likely due to the higher lactate-induced fatigue.
Norwegian powerlifter secret
While this final point may not be a benefit per se, I find it interesting nonetheless.
Training often and with lighter loads can lead to significant gains,
“The majority of Norwegian (76.9%) powerlifters train with variable resistance, with those competing internationally more likely to use elastic bands…Norwegian powerlifters train frequently (5 or more times per week) and with submaximal loads.”Contemporary Training Practices of Norwegian Powerlifters
Harambe System: Review & Test
The Harambe System is Khalid Bou-Rabee, PhD’s masterpiece. With quarantine gym closures, after extensive research, he created something out of personal necessity. Khalid put his engineering background to work, optimizing every facet of the ideal all-in-one variable resistance training system. Friends convinced him to release his unparalleled product to the world:
- Optimized bar handles working load of 1,000+ pounds, and appropriately loads the start of any movement with up tp 600+ pounds
- Force curve closely matches that of free weights, using precise geometry between the bar and foot plate
- Foot plate protects expensive elastic bands using patent-pending 100% ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMW) for self-lubrication and durability
- Incremental force adjustment gives Harambe multiple ways to granularly increase or decrease resistance and harness the full power of progressive overload training.
Unlike other well-known companies in the space, Khalid prioritizes integrity and truthful marketing. He does not make baseless claims, nor does he bash customers for any reason.
I connected with Khalid, and our casual chat affirmed that this is the absolute highest quality system available.
What follows is my experience after several months of consistently using Harambe.
Harambe System Unboxing
My Harambe arrived in three large, heavy, cardboard boxes several days after receiving the shipping confirmation email.
One contained the foot plate, one contained the bar, and a third small box contained the bands and accessories.
As I unwrapped it all, the build materials and durability immediately stood out. Khalid precisely engineered each component to last.
Harambe’s K System includes:
- (1) K-Bar
- (1) Footplate
- (2) Slings (pulley systems)
- (2) Instruction manuals
- (6) 41” bands
I also got two K Handles (sold separately).
I hadn’t previously watched any videos on it (I like the surprise), so the setup took a few minutes to understand.
The bar itself differentiates Harambe Systems from other products.
They sell three bars:
- K Bar (optimal) — 36” wide, weighs 12 lbs, working load of 1,000 lbs
- L Bar (lighter) — 36” wide, weighs 3.5 lbs, working load of 700 lbs
- T Bar (narrower) — 28” wide, weighs 2.5 lbs, working load of 700 lbs
All are constructed of quality stainless steel (instead of cheap aluminum) giving the bar better grip, feel, performance, and durability.
Each uses their proprietary sling system, which mirrors the symmetrical force curve of free weights, causes less “band jerk”, and improves both your workout and results.
The extra weight of the 12 pound K Bar makes for smoother repetitions which are gentler on the body, reduce stabilizer activation, and directs the force towards the primary muscles worked.
At 36 inches wide, the K Bar can deliver an industry-leading 500+ pounds of force at the start of movements. For exercises like the deadlift, where most bars only load 200 pounds, the K Bar excels, especially for experienced lifters. Even beginners benefit, as the capabilities leave plenty of room to grow.
From extensive testing, I’ve found that I can stack up to three bands at once on my K Bar. Any more, and the bands struggle to slide under the foot plate.
Harambe’s large footplate is their other distinct advantage.
The patent-pending design plays several important roles:
- Improves geometry
- Shields bands
- Injury protection
The foot plate withstands up to 1,000 pounds of force. While at the same time, the geometry between the bar and plate reduces friction which extends the life of your elastic bands.
Weighing 14 pounds, and at 2 inches thick, Harambe manufactured their footplate with aerospace-level precision. Coated with 100% ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMW), the same material used in bulletproof vests. This imbues the board with self-lubricating and durability-increasing properties.
All the added durability does cost a premium.
Harambe’s footplate has two cross channels of different sizes. Choose the wide channel for increased resistance, and the narrower channel to decrease.
This lets you perform the most possible exercises and vary force accordingly.
There’s a special non-slip finish on the top of the platform. I feel sturdy while lifting heavy — even in rain-soaked shoes, or while barefoot.
Despite being the largest platforms available, my only gripe is that I wish it were a few inches larger. That would make some exercises easier. At the same time, this would prevent me from tossing it in my backpack and carrying it to my local park.
Aesthetically, the company logo takes up little space. When used in public, I don’t feel like I am a walking advertisement.
Your VRT system is only as good as the bands.
There are several factors to consider when buying elastic bands:
- Size (41” is optimal)
- Type (layered latex is optimal)
- Quantity (more is better)
Harambe made the smart choice of going for the very best 15-layer Serious Steel latex elastic bands. These are designed to last a long time, and they hold up in real-world testing.
Compare this to industry-standard rubber resistance bands which weaken and snap with age.
The Harambe Complete Set comes with six elastic bands:
- Orange: 2-15 lbs
- Purple: 5-35 lbs
- Red: 10-50 lbs
- Blue: 25-80 lbs
- Green: 50-120 lbs
- Black: 60-150 lbs
To be honest, I haven’t even opened the orange or purple bands yet, as I primarily use the system for heavy compound lifts.
Most often, I’ll stack the black and green or black and blue.
At first, I thought that changing bands would be a hassle. After some practice, I now add, remove, or change bands in less time than it takes me to change a traditional barbell.
To maximize the longevity of the bands, they come treated with a special powder coating. I had the misfortune of discovering that I have an allergy to that coating. After talking to Khalid, I rinsed the bands with water. The runny nose and brain fog never came back.
Harambe Exercises & Workouts
Once you receive your order, you’ll probably wonder…
What kinds of exercises and workouts can I do with my Harambe System?
Since all of their systems consist of a weighted bar and footplate, you can do most free weight exercises.
Good exercises to perform with Harambe Systems include:
- Front squats
- Back squats
- Split squats
- Zercher squats
- Calf raises
- Bent-over rows
- Upright rows
- Bench press
- Close-grip bench press
- Overhead press
- Tricep extension
And much more.
Basically, most things aside from Olympic lifts (no cleans nor snatches, etc).
Harambe’s suggested workout programming is simple. Most of the variation is by muscle group (legs require longer recovery). In essence, they recommend the following for each exercise:
- Warmup set
- 2 sets of 10 reps
- 1-5 minutes rest per set
- 1 set of AMRAP (as many reps as possible/to failure)
Though I personally prefer to follow something akin to a modified Super Slow Strength Training. Constant tension throughout the entire range of motion makes the workouts more effective and closer to free weights. Plus, I simultaneously get the benefits of high-intensity resistance training.
I won’t sugarcoat it. None of the Harambe Systems are cheap.
The products stand in a league of their own. Raw materials and parts comprise the vast majority of the cost. I went in thinking that I’d buy a bar, make a plate, and create a system for myself. After Khalid shared the numbers and some sourcing details with me, I changed my mind. Making my own quality system would cost considerably more and take a lot of time.
Before making any purchases, I always look at the warranty as a barometer of quality. Harambe’s warranties testify to the outstanding build quality:
- 1 year warranty on rope and bands
- 10 year warranty on everything else
The price of the full Harambe packages come out to:
The only difference is the bar (see above) and price. You can always start with the L System and upgrade the bar when you feel ready.
If this replaces your gym membership, it will quickly pay for itself.
Assuming a $100 monthly membership fee, Harambe would become the cheaper option after considerably less than one year. And it can last a lifetime.
For those willing to wait, I’ve seen sales of up to $120 off on days like Black Friday. Paired with the code URBAN, the base system drips under $500.
But it’s not for everyone. Absolute beginners probably don’t need all the bells and whistles, nor the 1000-pound force rating.
In that case, if you’re willing to sacrifice quality, and don’t mind frequently buying new bands, you can check out these popular Harambe System alternatives.
Does Harambe Work?
When used properly, Harambe works exactly as promised.
Over the three months I’ve used it so far, I’m not sure I’ve built slabs of new muscle. Nor have I crushed PRs. Without a force meter, I’ve had difficulty quantifying my progress.
Scientific evidence, like this 2019 meta-analysis of eight studies, supports elastic brand training as a viable alternative to free weights for muscle building,
“Elastic resistance training is able to promote similar strength gains to conventional resistance training, in different population profiles and using diverse protocols.”Effects of training with elastic resistance versus conventional resistance on muscular strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis
I didn’t do a before/after Dexa scan to quantify my body composition changes. But I’ve noticed something interesting.
As a staple in my hybrid-style cross-training, Harambe has helped me correct muscular imbalances. I’ve stepped away from the constant resistance of free weights. Training with these different variable force curves has strengthened my “weak links” in each of the exercises I constantly performed.
And that’s quantifiable.
Despite going 6 months without touching heavy free weight (I had 40-pound dumbbells), I had no problem putting up a 295-pound squat, 345-pound deadlift, and a 245-pound bench on my very first session back in the gym.
Less than 20 percent below from my PRs of recent years.
That doesn’t happen in the untrained. Or in those that haven’t touched a barbell in half a year.
Granted, I did use blood flow restriction training in conjunction with VRT.
Considering that most people struggle most with inconsistency and inconvenience of training, as far as I’m concerned, Harambe is effective for building muscle and strength.
Harambe System Overview
Harambe System Pros
Impeccable build quality
Intelligent design increases effectiveness
Stacks multiple bands
Footplate protects elastic bands
Bar & footplate rated to 1,000 lbs
5 ways to precisely modulate resistance
Easy setup, assembly, disassembly
Workouts and exercise demonstrations provided
6 bands include
Harambe System Cons
~7-10 seconds to change bands
Loads erector spinae muscles more than free weights
Hard to get into under bar for heavy lifting of certain exercises
Heavy & large K System harder to travel with
Challenging to gauge progress
Harambe System Review Verdict: Is It Worth The Price?
Traditional weight training has been the gold standard for improving strength, building muscle, and sculpting your ideal body.
But could it be inefficient and dangerous?
Many experts think so…
“Weight training overloads joints, and underloads muscle”Dr. Peter Attia
Variable resistance training (with bands) has a greater benefits-to-risk ratio.
But before you run off to Amazon and buy a cheap set of rubber elastic bands, the secret to success lies in the system as a whole:
- Bar that’s well constructed loads the primary muscles rather than the stabilizers
- Footplate allows you to move up to 1,000 pounds of force without snapping your wrists or ankles
- Sling system to evenly distribute the force
The build material of each component in the system makes the difference between effective workouts, and a home full of snapped bands. Before Harambe, I had snapped 9 elastic bands.
That’s the difference between Harambe and other resistance systems. Khalid, the system’s inventor, wanted access to a squat rack during the nationwide gym closures. Drawing on his engineering and mathematics background, he spent months prototyping, testing, and perfecting his design. Then he decided to share his creation with the world.
Harambe has taken the world by storm, becoming the fastest growing professional elastic band system.
When I got my unit, I finally quit my $100 per month gym membership. Within six months, the savings from the unit would have fully paid for itself.
Now I can get a gym-quality workout anytime, anywhere. I can slide it under my bed, toss it in my car, or even bring it with me traveling.
Use Harambe System coupon code URBAN to save 10%
Have you tried the Harambe Systems or one of the alternatives? Leave a comment below and let’s make this a conversation.