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Resistance band exercises - How to use them for injury rehab

Updated: May 10

Resistance band exercises can be very useful for injury rehab, especially if you can’t or don’t want to go to a gym. However, the range of choices of resistance bands out there can be a bit bewildering. This article explains the various options when choosing resistance bands, how to safely attach them so you won’t topple a chair or grandfather clock while doing your exercises, and how to start and then progress your resistance band workouts. Remember, if you need more help with an injury, you're welcome to consult one of our physios online via video call.

Learn how to use resistance bands for rehab.

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In this article:

We’ve also made a video about this:

Choosing resistance bands

If you go online, you’ll see that there’s a wide variety of resistance bands available. Probably the best-known brand is TheraBand, but there are many others out there as well.

All those handles, straps, and loops!

Some resistance bands are simple, long elastic bands, others are loops, and others come complete with handles and/or ankle straps and/or stuff to anchor them with. Some are round and some are flat.

I prefer the plain, flat ones because they are light and take up very little space – ideal for when I travel.

It’s easy to grip one end with your hand when you’re doing arm and certain upper body exercises. When your feet or legs are involved, you can tie one end to the other to form a loop, and simply stick the relevant limb(s)s through the loop. By tying the loop yourself, you can also decide what size the loop is.

I’m not very fond of those shiny tube resistance bands, because to me it feels like they don’t offer the amount of resistance that the manufacturers claim they do.

You may wonder how to attach your resistance bands to objects if they don’t come with anchoring equipment – I’ll tell you about a neat trick lower down.

All those colours!

Resistance band sets must be some of the most colourful products on the Internet, but there’s method to the madness. Different colours denote different resistance strengths, just like you would find dumbbells of different weights in a gym.

Unfortunately, there’s no “industry standard” for which colour denotes which amount of resistance. TheraBands start with yellow for the least resistance, and then work their way through red, green, blue, black, silver, and lastly gold for the most resistance. Another brand might start with green, then on to blue and yellow, and so on.

Unlike weights, the amount of resistance that a single band offers increases as it is stretched further and further. So, there’s quite a bit of versatility in terms of how you can use even a single band to produce various levels of resistance.

This is also why you don’t necessarily have to splash out on a full set of seven bands. There are several packs of three or five resistance bands available that will probably meet your rehab needs for resistance band exercises. You can also double up and use two bands to increase resistance.

Here’s a selection of various brands of resistance bands, or you can visit the TheraBand Store for more options:

How to attach a resistance band

Like many people, I used to tie my resistance bands to a piece of furniture. However, it can be difficult to find something to attach your resistance bands to that doesn’t move as you pull on the band, especially with leg exercises, where quite a strong force is sometimes exerted. Chairs and tables can easily move, and even beds have moved with some of my resistance band exercises!

Then, one of my patients showed me a really clever trick with a door. You simply tie something like a sock or a sturdy spoon to one end of the resistance band, stick that end between the door and the door frame so that the “stopper” is on the other side, and close the door. Now your resistance band is anchored very securely. (I have since found out that you can also buy resistance band door anchors separately.)

This also means you can attach the resistance band at exactly the correct height for your exercise – something you can’t always do when you’re relying on a piece of furniture.

Here's the demo from the video:

How to start resistance band exercises for rehab

To start with, control is better than high resistance

You have to start with a resistance that's light enough, that doesn't cause you pain, and allows you really good control of movement.

If the resistance is so high that you can’t do your exercises in a slow, smooth, controlled way, you will risk re-injuring yourself. And the exercises themselves might be painful, which will lessen your motivation to keep up your rehab programme.

Also, because the band’s resistance increases as it lengthens, a resistance that’s too tough may prevent you from moving through the full range of motion that your injury needs for proper rehab.

Having said that, you should use a level of resistance where there is at least some resistance right from the start of your movement, so that you work against resistance through the whole movement. So, there should be no slack in the band when you start the movement.

Aim for a resistance level that allows you to do 15 repetitions at a time. If you get so tired that you can’t finish 15 reps or have pain, the resistance is too high. If you don’t have a resistance band that is light enough for this, start with fewer repetitions.

The release is as important as the pull

These exercises are not about pulling at the resistance band and then letting it snap you back when you’ve reached the end of the pull movement.

First, you may injure or re-injure yourself by letting it all snap back in an uncontrolled way.

But most importantly, working your muscles and tendons by slowly easing back against the resistance of the band (an eccentric muscle contraction) gives you as much benefit as stretching the band out, if not more, especially in a rehab exercise situation.

Control the movement properly and release the exercise band slowly.
Control the movement properly and release the exercise band slowly.

Functional exercises

You can use resistance bands to mimic the movements of the sport that you’re aiming to get back to after your rehab.

For instance, a right-handed tennis player with a shoulder injury can mimic their backhand stroke by fixing the resistance band at hip height to their left-hand side, reaching across with their right arm, gripping the band, and then pulling it back across to their right.

Exercise bands are great for training functional movement patterns.
Exercise bands are great for training functional movement patterns.

Muscle activation

Resistance bands are good for making sure that all the muscles that are supposed to participate during an exercise do so.

For example, you can use resistance bands for squats to make sure that your glute meds are working. Loop the resistance band around your knees so that they have to pull outwards, using the glute meds, to stay in line with your feet and not buckle inwards when you do your squats.

How and when to progress your resistance band exercises

Your body grows stronger by having to deal with little bits of extra load that are added in gradual increments. If your exercises stay at the same level of difficulty for weeks and weeks, your body will eventually just go, “Yeah, I can do this. No need to grow any stronger.”

So, when you get to the stage where 15 reps of a resistance band exercise feel way too easy, you should usually increase the resistance so that it is a bit of a challenge to get to 15 reps again.

How we can help

Need more help with your injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at SIP online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

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About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 20 years' experience and a Master’s Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


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