Stretch your workouts with resistance bands

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTERJuly 15, 2013 

Resistance bands accomplish a lot that weight machines and free weights simply cannot.

They're a great way to complement your workout, and can be used in place of weights altogether. They're especially useful for older people, those recovering from an injury, and others who want to gradually increase their strength. The versatility is seemingly endless.

There's a big "however," though: Bands come in a large array of colors (signifying different resistance levels ranging from 5 all the way up to 300 pounds), widths and lengths. But they're basically really strong rubber bands. That means they can break if they wear out, and if that happens, they can cause serious injury.

Do a Google Image search of "resistance band break" and the starkest photo you'll see is the horrifyingly black-and-blue right hand of Tacoma News-Tribune writer Craig Hill. He suffered an agonizing injury, including nerve damage in his index finger, when a band snapped during a workout class in early 2012.

Check out the accompanying tips to help you avoid injury and spot signs of wear in a band. But in general, the flat latex bands last longer than the tubular ones with handles, says Dave Schmitz, who sells bands and instructional materials on his website, ResistanceBandTraining.com.

"The flat, continuous-loop band is going to last significantly longer, probably eight to 10 times longer," said Schmitz, who is based in Germantown, Wis.

One problem is the widely varying quality of bands on the market.

The device originated as a physical therapy tool used to help people regain strength, flexibility and balance a bit at a time. SPRI Products Inc., based in Libertyville, Ill., held the patent on the more durable tubes used by fitness enthusiasts for decades. But that patent has long since expired, and now there are dozens of models out there.

"Someone called and said, 'Your green tube isn't the right resistance,'" said Adam Zwyer, SPRI's director of marketing and operations. "I said, 'That's weird. Send it to me, let me look at it.' It wasn't even one of our tubes."

SPRI offers the traditional tubular bands, plus flat bands, as well as newer coiled bands that are touted as more durable than the tubes. Zwyer defended all of the company's products, saying they're tested regularly.

Schmitz advocates using both bands and weights, but says elastic resistance has the benefit of not giving you the respite gravity provides with free weights.

"As you push a dead weight over your head, when you get halfway through the movement, essentially the lift is over, because your muscles are in such an anatomically good advantage, you finish it with less than half the energy. With elastic resistance, you need even more at the top," Schmitz said.

Bands can increase the intensity of simple moves such as push-ups and squats, and can be used for shoulder presses, lat pull-downs, curls and many others.

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