Oh, snap! Don't hurt yourself with that resistance band

Tacoma News-TribuneSeptember 3, 2012 


Resistance training, using simple rubber bands available for $20 or less, is a popular home strength training option.


The snap came first. Loud, like a gunshot. The pain came a second later, and I dropped to the floor, certain every finger in my right hand was broken.

The heavy-duty neon green resistance band I was using in a workout class had snapped at full tension, and now the gym staff was scrambling for ice, gloves and chemicals to clean the blood off the floor and to call paramedics.

Luckily – and “surprisingly” according to my doctor – nothing was broken. This was seven months ago. Today, my hand looks normal and works fine with the exception of occasional pain in my right pointer finger. Nerve damage, the doc says.

There is no arguing the fact that elastic resistance bands are an easy and unintimidating way to build strength. They are easier to store and convenient for travel.

But resistance bands are not without risk.

“It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard horror stories,” said Christy Wondercheck, a Seattle 24 Hour Fitness manager who recently worked at the Team USA training center at the London Olympics.

Millions of people use resistance bands every day, unaware of the potential danger.

Here are tips for using them safely.

•  Read the labels: I recently picked up two resistance bands; one had 17 safety recommendations and warnings, the other 10. They ranged from wearing eye protection and cleaning your hands before using to a warning not to jump rope with the bands.

•  Inspect daily: It takes only a few seconds so do it before every use. Look for cracks in the latex or white areas in colored bands, and signs of weakness in and around the handle, the area most likely break.

Don’t assume bands at your gym are in good shape. Check them every time, and bring damaged bands to the attention of gym officials.

•  Don’t rely on your instructor: Learn the proper way to use a band, and if the instructor tells you to do something that isn’t safe, don’t do it. Better yet, politely let the instructor know.

I made this mistake when I mangled my hand. The exercise the instructor asked me to do overextended the band, and it required tying the band to a railing. I didn’t question the instructor.

After my accident, the gym said it abolished the exercise from its classes.

•  Wear good shoes:When workouts require stepping on the band, wear shoes with nonabrasive soles, Wondercheck said. This keeps you from damaging the band. It also decreases the chances the band will slip from under your feet. Never use bands with bare feet, she said.

•  Check the floor: If you’re stepping on the band, don’t work out on a floor with an abrasive surface. This could damage the band.

•  Don’t look: Safety warnings for some bands suggest always using eye protection. Others say don’t look at the band during your workout. The latter is more practical.

•  Buy multiple bands: Shortening a band for more resistance might be common practice, but it can greatly shorten the life of a band, Wondercheck said.

•  Don’t overstretch: Wondercheck recommends never extending a band more than twice its resting length.

•  Be aware: Storing and even using bands in hot places or in direct sunlight can weaken them. Avoid moisture, and don’t use them near pools.

•  Don’t tie it down: Tying off a band creates areas of friction on the band that will weaken it.

•  Ditch the jewlery: Rings, watches, bracelets can rub on bands, causing damage.

•  Consider braided bands: Wondercheck says braided resistance bands offer an extra level of safety because if one braid of a band snaps it simply unravels.

•  Keep your distance: You aren’t the only one who could get hurt if your band snaps. Give yourself plenty of space away from kids, pets and fragile family heirlooms.

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