Power Band: Supercharge Your Mobility & Banish Static Stretching Forever
Hopefully you have some awareness of the power band.
It’s a game-changer.
Not to be confused with the controversial power band bracelets, the power band (or jump stretch band) is legitimately one of the most important recent additions to the mobility landscape.
Not only has this little beauty revolutionized the way I treat my patients as a Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist), but it has substantially improved my ability to get results.
And it has come at an interesting time. We are now questioning the effectiveness of traditional static stretching, more so now we have these at our disposal. The idea of holding a simple stretch to improve flexibility is fast becoming obsolete.
So join with me as I pass on some Physiotherapy-based intel. Enrich your stretching routine, reach new levels of flexibility and function and dispense with static stretching forever.
The Power Band
Power bands are essentially the cousin of therabands and theratubing – convenient open-ended elastic bands best used for strength work. Interestingly, the power band is a thicker, stronger version of the same thing, albeit closed rather than open-ended.
It’s greater resistance makes them less useful for strengthening but perfect for supercharging your stretching.
Power Band: Brief History
The popularization of the power band (and my career to some degree) owes a lot to one brilliant American Physio, Kelly Starrett. Author of must-read books on improving mobility and human function Becoming A Supple Leopard, Ready To Run and Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Kelly rose to prominence through his ground-breaking work on MobilityWOD in the early 2000s.
If you see a power band in any Gym or internet video, give thanks to someone like Kelly for his hard work and ingenuity.
The Problem With Traditional Stretching
As mentioned before, the rise of the power band has coincided with us questioning the effectiveness of traditional stretching. Usually consisting of a 15-30 second hold, general stretching attempts to maintain or restore normal range of motion. We do so in the hope of better performance and reduced injury risk.
Yet despite this, stretching has become a chore for many. We know we should do it but it’s often a guilty afterthought. And we can’t blame anyone for two reasons.
- It’s boring and inconvenient to do consistently.
- It potentially doesn’t make us more flexible over time.
It’s hard to expect someone to persist with passive, static stretching if there’s no reward or inherent motivation beyond having to do it.
And this is part of the problem with how we’ve viewed stretching for so long.
We portray our lack of flexibility as just shortened muscles.
Yes they may be restricted (more on this later) but this neglects the role of other local tissue dysfunction – particularly the joint capsule.
Joint Capsule Stiffness
Almost every joint in the body is surrounded and supported by a joint capsule. When stiff, this deepest layer of soft tissue can act as a rusty handbrake to normal range of motion.
The challenge here is that joint stiffness is hard to notice unless you’re looking for it. A tight joint capsule won’t ‘pull’ in the same way a tight muscle will. It just stops moving.
And this is the important point to make. Because the capsule sits deeper than muscle, a stiff joint often trumps muscular tightness when limiting function. Often without us realizing.
So without addressing this stiffness I’m sure you can appreciate the effectiveness of passively holding a muscular stretch. It’s hard to expect tangible long-term results.
And this is where a power band can really help.
If you hate stretching, I bet you’ll hate it a little less once you see how quickly it can improve your flexibility.
Why Are Our Joints So Stiff In The First Place?
An article like this wouldn’t be complete without a quick dig at the modern world.
Consider a large majority of joint capsule stiffness a consequence of modern living. More specifically things that prevent us from using our bodies to their full capacity. We’re talking constant sitting, poor postures, heeled shoes etc.
For example, if you spend all day sitting with your hips bent, it’s highly likely the front of them will stiffen over time.
Similarly, wear shoes with any heel for long enough and watch the deeper ranges of your ankle mobility disappear.
We can also see a lot of capsular stiffness after injury and surgery. Trauma to the capsule can also leave it covertly stiff and tight if left unchecked.
In short, it’s something we all need to consider when stretching. We may not realize it’s there, but it’s presence can be one of the pillars of our our immobility, injury and dysfunction.
Power Band Revolution
The power band should be your mobility tool of choice for joint capsule stiffness.
It has an ability to directly influence the capsule in ways passive stretching can’t.
This is particularly important for those of us who suffer from capsular tightness-related dysfunction like ankle, hip and shoulder impingements, frozen shoulder, joint replacements, back pain, Arthritis etc.
In previous years, it might takes months of arduous, hands on Physio for your joint stiffness to resolve – if it did at all. Now you can improve your joint mobility with relative ease.
Power Band Benefits
Aside from hitting the joint capsule the power band is a perfect fit for mobilizing your body for a number of reasons:
- It’s basic band design allows for quick and easy setup and fixation at both ends.
- It’s rubbery surface creates a stable connection.
- It hooks around the joint and allows you to stay relaxed without needing to hold it in place.
- It’s elasticity suits the supple nature of our soft tissue unlike the more rigid belt-like bands.
- They’re far more durable than theraband or theratubing.
- You can literally do it anywhere with an attachment point.
The Role of the Brain in Muscle Tightness
This article wouldn’t be complete without addressing the muscular side of things.
Passive stretching may not work as advertised because it doesn’t cater to why your muscles have become tight in the first place.
When I ask my patients this very question, most answers focus on a lack of use. Which does makes sense. We don’t use our muscles enough so they become tight as a consequence.
The problem though is we tend to see muscle and muscle tightness as having lifeless, passive elastic qualities. Hence the need to passively hold a stretch over time.
The Cause of Muscle Tightness
Interestingly, muscle tightness actually exists at the request of your brain and nervous system. It’s a tool used to offer support and protection for areas of concern, compensation and misuse.
Your musculature isn’t a lifeless piece of elastic meat. It’s a fancy little piece of adaptive machinery.
Leave a muscle in a shortened position for too long and your brain begins to see that as valuable. So it makes it a reality.
Move inefficiently for long enough and your brain will support that pattern.
Develop weakness or poor motor control somewhere and watch your body tighten somewhere else to keep the functional status quo.
In short, muscle tightness is almost always there for a reason. It has a primal, yet noble purpose.
So I’m sure you can you imagine what this means for static stretching. Passively tugging on something your nervous system has asked to be there may not produce sustainable long-term changes in flexibility.
Because it can’t.
It doesn’t respect the adaptive neuromuscular nature of muscle tissue. Nor the mechanical shift that may cause it.
So you can’t blame those who fall off the stretching bandwagon over time. Static, passive stretching has no finish line. It’s just a hamster wheel of endless effort.
Instead, we need to use tools like the power band to restore normal motion to the underlying joints while also respecting the brain’s role in muscle tightness.
We need to recognize and appreciate that something is tight, but we also need to go on the hunt for mechanical or structural cause of that tightness. We need to take away your body’s reason for creating tightness, otherwise it will just eventually re-tighten again.
PNF or Contract Relax Stretching
This is the second piece of the puzzle. Instead of passively holding a stretch engage in something called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitative (PNF).
Otherwise known as “Contract-Relax” stretching, this is the stretching we should be doing with a power band.
PNF stretching involves short sustained tensing of the tight muscle (and surrounding muscles) followed by a period of relative relaxation – all while maintaining the same stretch.
This technique works because it engages the nervous system.
A basic theory of muscle behaviour suggests that maximal activation is followed by maximum relaxation. So we can use PNF stretching to cue our nervous system into releasing tightened areas.
Excitingly, you should always expect instant gains in mobility from PNF stretching. Long-term, you should expect see actual progress, not just maintenance.
It works amazingly well.
9 Of The Best Power Band Stretches
For a window into what the power band can do for you give these stretches a go.
Consider doing each for 2 minutes a side and pair them with PNF.
If you can’t take comfortable deep breaths at any time during these stretches then you’re in too deep. We want your brain and nervous system to feel comfortable enough to release their hold on your tissues, so keep it comfortable.
I highly recommend testing out your flexibility before and after so you can genuinely see what they can do for you.
Give them a go and let me know your results in the comments. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
1. Couch Stretch
This is a must do with or without a power band. Effectively the anti-sitting stretch, the Couch stretch opens up the front of the hips better than anything I’ve ever seen as a Physio. It can be challenging to do early on so ease into it. Consider doing it with your back knee up in the corner of a chair to make it easier. Make sure you can breathe during this one!
2. Mid-Low Back Stretch
There are a number of ways to free up a stiff mid-low back, but there aren’t too many as specific and powerful as using a power band. Stabilize your pelvis by keeping your glutes squeezed. Extend through your spine, and move the band up or down depending on where you find the most restriction. As always be respectful of how things feel and only use as much tension as is comfortable. Avoid doing this if you currently have low back pain unless your health professional gives you the all clear.
3. Ankle Stretch
Like the Couch stretch, the banded ankle stretch should be considered a staple of any mobility regime. Thanks to modern heeled footwear, the majority of us are likely missing full ankle range of motion. This can set us up for any number of foot, ankle, shin and knee complaints. A power band can specifically mobilize a rusty ankle like little else. Make sure to keep that back heel down and don’t let the back knee cave inwards. It’ll want to if it’s trying to find a way around a restriction.
4. Hip Capsule Stretch
This hip stretch also deserves a seat along side the Couch stretch and banded ankle stretch as must-do items.
Hip mobility is essential for normal lower back, hip and knee function. So having a simple stretch to target this is vital.
The key here is that you want the band pulling laterally. In the picture above I’ve got the majority of my weight going through the right hip. I’ve shifted my body so it feels as though my right thigh bone is pressing out through the back of my right buttock. You can shift your body further back into more hip flexion, or up into less hip flexion to find where your stiffness is. An absolute must.
Furthermore, externally rotate the same leg into the position shown above. This will bias some of the rotational capsule stiffness. As before, shift your weight over to the same side and also up/down to find where you need to be.
Lastly, internally rotate your hip (foot will end up out) to capture any remaining stiffness. A lack of hip internal rotation is linked with many hip-related dysfunctions including impingement. Go hunting around for your specific restrictions as there’s likely to be a fair bit.
5. Hip Flexion Stretch
A power band pulling laterally can also help to improve hip flexion. This is a great one to test/re-test with a deep squat. You should expect to see genuine change and further improve your hip, low back and lower leg function with this one.
6. Shoulder Flexion Stretch
We often underrate the need to reach over head. Full overhead range of motion is an essential component of overall shoulder function. Whether it be a stiff first rib, toughened shoulder capsule or associated shoulder muscles, things can get tight.
Similar to the hip flexion stretch above, you can get a brilliant before and after visual with this. Raise both arms up as straight as you can and take note of how it looks (and feels) in the mirror. Work through this shoulder stretch – making sure to keep your arm externally rotated (palm up), and then note the difference afterwards.
7. Scapula Stretch
The upper back can become stiff and tight if we spend too much time reaching and slouching. If you use a computer, spend long hours in the car or even just sink into the couch on a nightly basis, this stretch is for you. As with the overhead stretch above, we want to prioritize an externally rotated shoulder (palm up) as you bring the arm across the front of your body. If performed correctly you should feel a really nice stretch in your upper back.
8. Internal Rotation Shoulder Stretch
As with the hip, a lack of internal rotation can set the shoulder up for a number of complaints (frozen shoulder, impingement, rotator cuff dysfunction etc). This stretch may look and feel awkward, but it’s an important one to master. With your shoulder blade back, we want to internally rotate the shoulder with the band pulling it backwards. If you have enough mobility you’ll be able to reach around and pull your elbow forward to exacerbate the stretch.
At no stage should this feel uncomfortable at the front of the shoulder, it should always be felt at the back. Maneuver yourself around until you can make it work!
9. Shoulder Capsule Stretch
Another shoulder stretch that mimics the hip. As with the hip capsule stretch we want to feel like our arm is almost pressing out the back of the shoulder. This may require you to shift your body weight across and up/down depending on what you feel. The band pulling laterally will again help open up the shoulder and bias that stiff capsule.
Also consider dropping down on to your elbow. This will help drive more force through the capsule and generate a more powerful stretch. As with the hip you can externally and internally rotate your arm (forearm will end up pointing either more to the right or left) to bias any specific areas of concern.
Where To Get A Power Band
If you don’t have a power band and are thinking of purchasing one, please consider starting here (affiliate link). Either way, have a look around and see what might work for you. Note the different resistances. I find something in the middle works really well for most people.
I’d genuinely recommend having one or two lying around the house. I personally take one to the gym with me and keep one strapped to the foot of my bed as a daily reminder.
If you’re not keen to buy one there are plenty of other options out there for you.
An old bike inner tube like this is a good substitute.
Similarly, you can use theraband or theratubing if you have them lying around. They don’t provide as much resistance but still get results. You can always double them up or spend more time using them if need be.
So if you’re looking to supercharge your stretching routine consider equipping a power band. As a Physio and long-term power band user, I can’t speak highly enough of their ability to get results. They’ve literally raised my expectations and changed the way I look at stretching.
Additionally, couple this with PNF stretching to really add some depth to your routine.
By addressing any underlying capsular stiffness and respecting the nervous system’s role in muscular tightness you should see far better results from stretching.
We can stop seeing stretching as a way to maintain or consistently reclaim lost flexibility, and instead use it to consistently graduate to new levels of mobility and function.
And with this we can begin to move away from passively holding our stretches and hoping for change.
Do you use a Power Band when stretching? What are your thoughts on them?
What are your go-to Power Band stretches?
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