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..

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About Antony Lo
Antony Lo is an APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist based in Sydney. His website is www.MyPhysios.com.au. He specializes in the management, treatment and prevention of pain and dysfunction, particularly of the pelvis and ribcage. His sub-specialties include Crossfit and Exercise Performance Optimization, Ante-Natal and Post-Natal Care and difficult cases that have failed treatment elsewhere.

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