Why the love affair with resistance bands?

I am going to do something serious and disrespectful to resistance bands in the mobility world... I am going to call them out!

Resistance bands are a distraction at best and counterproductive and dangerous at worst. Don't get me wrong, they are useful...for resistance! When used properly, they are very useful. They provide graded resistance and have been used in the powerlifting world to good effect.

What have resistance bands been used for in mobility and flexibility? To distract joints? To pull on muscles? To provide resistance? Just to stretch?

But why? Is it all bad? Is it all good?

Of course not. But at least know why you are doing something. It is fine to have a good reason given to you by someone of authority but does that reason apply to you? Know that reason!

Test/retest is used to show whether things have improved. This is good. But if it is only good for a short time, the resistance bands can become a ball and chain, tying you down to a long and frustrating routine of stretching and pulling and distracting joints and muscles. I have heard the stories and seen people spend a long time with all sorts of mobility aids...it is painful to watch!

So what do I recommend instead?

I have always maintained that you need to learn why your body doesn't want to let that tension go. Your brain is actually quite smart and will unconsciously try to protect you from whatever it perceives as danger. So if your shoulders are tight, sometimes it isn't just because the muscles or joint capsule are shortened. Sometimes it is because the joint feels "unstable" and the muscles are trying to protect the joint. I see this especially often in the hips and shoulders with tightened posterior capsules and overactive muscles. But I see this as being true all over the body.

When you take a joint that feels threatened with muscular imbalance and possibly feeling "unstable", then add in a resistance band while trying to distract the joint...also known as pulling on a joint or making it *feel* unstable...and then wonder why it doesn't get better!

That's right, I believe resistance bands don't solve a lot of problems because you don't actually achieve what you set out to achieve.

Don't get me wrong, resistance bands and joint distractions are great and I actually use these techniques...but I choose who I do this to carefully. I go through a process of assessment and testing before making a diagnosis which may or may not result in using joint distractions as a treatment option. It would seem that a lot of people think that solving movement problems is easy...I have spent far too much money on my education and too much time studying and thinking about what I do to devalue what we do as diagnosticians.

If you want a good diagnosis, ask a good diagnostician. If you want solutions to your problems, ask a good therapist (I am a physiotherapist - find a good one!). There are good and bad in every profession. I fear the bad experience you may have had may taint your beliefs about us that are trying to do out best to help you...every time! So keep seeking good help.

But about those resistance bands...try instead to develop the stability in your joints. It is counter-intuitive but it works.

Here is just one simple thing to try...test something that is tight, restricted, "heavy" or painful. Now press on something like a rib in your underarms. Then retest and keep trying different places. This won't work for everyone so don't fret - if it was easy to diagnose things from a blog, you would pay to read this! If you find the movement feels better, looser, freer, lighter or less painful, then I will bet my bottom dollar that you need more stability training.

Do I think you need to give up resistance bands for stretching? If you have been doing it for ages and you STILL have restriction, then yes! If you like the feeling of temporary release, then go for it - carefully! Otherwise SOLVE the problem and work out what needs stability and release and enjoy the benefits.

Please feel free to ask questions below - tell me about your situation and what isn't improving..

4 Responses

  1. Jay

    I completely agree that resistance bands can be overused, improperly used, and prevent proper movement patterns in an exercise. However, this was simply a very poorly written and explained article.

    1). “… bands are a distraction at BEST, and dangerous at worst” Then you say in the next line you say they are useful for resistance. So at BEST, they are not a distraction. Instead what you mean to say is that they are at best a useful resistance tool?

    2). “Test/Retest shows whether THINGS have improved, which is good, but for a short time.” What does that even mean? A duration during a specific treatment session? During a period of rehabilitation? For 30 seconds and then it expires? What things are improving?

    3). “…tying you down to a long routine of stretching and pulling joints/muscles.” So stretching is not good anymore? Joint distraction not affective?

    4). So your argument isn’t that resistance band joint distraction is bad, just that you find it necessary to assess, diagnosis, and develop a unique treatment plan for the patient? That’s revolutionary! Wow. It pains me that this is such an important revelation for you that you’ve decided to write about it. Where did you learn to do otherwise?

    5). “But about those resistance bands…try instead to develop the stability in your joints. It is counter-intuitive but it works.” It is counterintuitive to develop stability in a joint? I don’t know a single physiotherapist (except maybe the old you) who believes that resistance bands are the only way to build stability in a joint. Furthermore, I don’t know anyone anywhere who would suggest that joint distraction is a means for increasing joint stability. It is about allowing the even distribution of synovial fluid within the joint, not increasing stability.

    6). Press on my rib? For the love of Pete.

    7). Joint distraction will never be a silver bullet for immobility in a joint or any type of restriction. Once again, I cant imagine anyone ever suggesting that – besides you.

    8). Do you have any academic evidence to back up anything you are suggesting or saying? You know, science?

    This article was completely illogical, poorly written, and undoubtedly simplistic. I have a hard time believing you are a physiotherapist. If you are, I am embarrassed that someone would read this and draw the conclusion that this is the thought process and analysis to be found with all Physio’s. This is very disappointing to see and, as a physiotherapist and potentially a colleague of yours if you are a PT, I have to ask you to please stop writing blogs. You are filling the general publics mind with weird misconceptions and oversimplifications. Not to mention the embarrassing display of misinformation and critical thinking that has gone on through this article. A clear example of a cross fit mind in a health care profession’s role, possibly.

    I apologize for the disrespectful nature of this comment. However, I find it the only way to get my point across to you and hopefully convince you to stop writing and get back into your books and read/study more. It sounds like you have spent a lot of money and time towards your education, but it is truly all for not when you write an article like this.

    Obviously this was posted over a year ago. But I clearly believed it needed to still be said, for the aforementioned reasons.

    1. Thanks Jay for your comments.

      From your initial statement, it is clear you misunderstood the topic I am talking about.

      This post is written for Crossfitters and was written in frustration because of all the patients that use resistance bands to distract their joints to “release” them. I will edit the post to reflect the purpose of the article. No pictures in the post – definitely written in haste and anger and frustration!

      1. Using a resistance band to mobilise is a distraction. Good for resistance training. I have no problem – just needs clarification

      2. This again is more “insider” talk – jargon. People use test/retest to “prove” that “releasing” with their resistance band is good for them. The point I am making is that it is short term

      3. What is stretching? What does joint distraction do? Is it normal to have to do 30mins of it before you workout to feel “normal” or “ready”?

      4. I am writing to the public, not to therapists

      5. My point is that stability and strength will ease the feeling of tension and overactive muscles. Not news to a Physio, news to the public who are told they need to stretch and release passively. My solution is active and therefore counterintuitive. Again, the audience is not you.

      6. Sure. Try it. Try something. Anything. I already asked them go see someone. Some won’t. Try anything to make a change.

      7. Well, people do. That’s why I wrote the blog post

      8. There is no evidence supporting or refuting band distractions as a long term treatment solution for “tightness”. So no but neither do they. It is therefore clinical experience that tells me that solving the underlying reason why their muscles are active inappropriately is the best way. Sometimes it is just a technique thing. Other times it is something else

      My blog post is not an academic article. It is written for a population who are doing something very common with the mistaken belief it will solve their problems. It was written because I have to deal with it all the time.

      I am a Physio. It’s ok if you don’t like it. I won’t stop writing. Read other stuff and leave comments if you like.

      I am not filling the public’ mind with misconceptions. The point of the article is to stop distracting your joints in the hope that your “tight” muscles will ease. Go seek the reason why. Some won’t go. So try something different.

      I don’t think you are really sorry but I appreciate your words. Perhaps you can direct me to your more astute writings.

      In the end, there is not a simple solution to people’s problems and I ask them to seek out people like me and you. Tell them your story and what you want. I doubt you are any more correct or incorrect than I.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. As you can see, I don’t censor comments (well, unless they are rude or spam!)

      Happy to discuss further!

  2. Jane

    I did not get the bit about pressing on the rib either- I have no idea what you are talking about.

    Demonstrating a point with an example would be good.
    i.e. People use resistance bands to free up the fascia around their shoulder joint in a dynamic stretch to get better range before they lift. If you do not recommend this, then what do you recommend instead?

    1. Hi Jane.

      Pressing on a rib is just a way to change input into the brain. Sometimes it can help. Find a tender spot and have a go.

      Freeing up fascia using resistance bands? Well, my point is that I don’t think that is happening. I think the decreased range is likely from the brain trying to protect the joint and doesn’t want you to have more range without stability. If you want more shoulder range of motion, develop better shoulder strength and stability, not stretching your shoulders. Move weight in different ways. Just try it.

      I’m attacking the premise that resistance band stretches are needed to improve performance. They aren’t.

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