Flex Bands are my new best friend in fitness. Yet when I'm using them, I despise them. I guess you could say we go back and forth, much like the bands themselves.
For months, I've had a standing invitation at Euphoria Health & Fitness in Cleveland to experience Jump Stretch, a personal-training program using giant rubber bands called FlexBands. Tim Slominsky, general manager there, swore it would loosen up my tight runner's legs.
Boy, did it ever. But it wasn't just my legs that benefited. Almost every other limb and joint in my body came out feeling looser and longer.
Like the tiny office supplies they resemble, Flex Bands are nothing new. In fact, they've been around since 1980, when Dick Hartzell, a coach at Youngstown State University, invented the rubbery loops ($12-$60 at flexbandonline.com) as variable-resistance training for his team.
At Euphoria, Slominsky worked from bottom to top. Lying on my back with a medium-strength band around my body and beneath my toes, I began by pumping each foot at the ankle to stretch my calves. It felt great, much like the warm-up I do before every run.
In that same position, I then locked and unlocked my knees, unclenching my tense hamstrings with every push. This was harder, like touching my toes an uncomfortably long time.
Not until the IT-band stretch, though, did I feel actual pain. Leaning his whole body against mine, Slominsky held each of my rubber-bound legs across the other as I lay on my side, deeply stretching the long muscles in my thighs. If I didn't yelp, I definitely winced out loud.
Later, we attacked the legs from other angles using a special platform on the floor, a stool and a brace on the wall.
Sitting on the stool with bands connected to the platform looped over each shoulder, I executed rapid squats and lunges, which burned my quadriceps like a dash up a steep hill. Here I also learned why they call it "Jump" Stretch, as Slominsky had me leap into the air out of a squat.
Stretches for the lower back and core were much easier, even pleasant.
Poised on my hands and knees, with multiple bands around my body, I raised and lowered my back using nothing but muscles in my middle. This I could have done for ages.
Ditto for what came next. Dangling by my legs from a high-strength band attached to the ceiling, I spun in each direction, twisting hard-to-reach abdominal muscles, then flipped face-forward onto the floor, letting gravity open up my back, neck and shoulders in the next best thing to a massage.
Stretching the arms took some work. Slominsky tied together several medium-size bands to form an elastic rope connected to the wall. This I pulled as far as possible with each arm, all the while turning side to side to tug my shoulders, chest and biceps, often with a sting.
As Slominsky predicted, the effects of Jump Stretch were palpable immediately, especially in my lower body. Leaving Euphoria, I felt exactly that, euphoric, limber and springy. Two days later, I went for a long run without any of the usual soreness.
I've since bought a Flex Band of my own, confident it'll make me a better runner, possibly even a faster one. If only there were a way to do without the pain.
FlexBand exercise feels great after the pain: Stretching Out
Akron Beacon Journal
AFTER LONG STRUGGLE, FLEX BAND FLEXES MARKETPLACE MUSCLE
Their designer casually refers to them as "rubber bands." Indeed, they look like giant rubber bands, in shades of red, black and purple.
To hear their supporters tell it, though, the latex-and-rubber exercise Flex Band can do everything, from helping older adults gain more flexibility, to helping a Twinsburg dentist break a world record by bench-pressing 480 pounds.
You can loop the thick belt around your back and toes to do leg lifts or tie it on a door knob to stretch your back muscles. Flex Bands are used for developing strength as well as flexibility.
Twenty-two years after they were designed by Dick Hartzell, a retired football coach in the Youngstown area, the Flex Band has suddenly gained popularity. Everybody's using them, from the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees, to the University of Akron's cheerleading team and the Youngstown State University and Ohio State's football teams.
Flex Bands come in six different sizes and resistance. They are 41 inches long and can stretch up to eight times their length. The wider the band, the more the resistance.
Dr. Michael Shimmel, owner of Stow-Kent Chiropractic Clinic on Graham Road in Stow, is a believer. He first learned about Flex Band in the mid-'90s, when the late Jimmy Warfield, trainer for the Indians, gave him one. Shimmel put the belt away and out of his mind. But when a Massillion basketball coach mentioned Flex Band to him a few months later, Shimmel was intrigued.
He spent the next eight Saturdays at Hartzell's enormous all-rubber band gym in Youngstown. "At that point, I was hooked," he said. "I started doing the same exercises I taught my patients but with the band."
Shimmel is now Hartzell's top distributor, selling about 3,000 bands a year. The bands provide different levels of resistance, from 25 to 200 pounds of pressure.
Hartzell first felt the need for a kinder, gentler workout device in 1978, while watching his high school football players injure themselves using weights. Two years later, he designed the band and its accompanying Jump Stretch equipment (which athletes use to perform squats). Then began a long process of finding and losing manufacturers for his product.
Hartzell is the first to admit that Flex Band has not become a household name like other similar products, such as Thera-Band. After 19 years of struggling, losing his home and life savings and more ups and downs than a basketball, though, he is hoping that his lean times are over. Last year, he went over the $1 million sales mark for the first time.
"I lost money for 19 years. But I believed in what I was doing. With three kids, there were Christmases and birthdays where I had no money for gifts. But through all the trials and hardships, my wife stayed with me."
With recent articles in Men's Fitness, Reader's Digest, Powerlifting USA and other national magazines and a few deals pending, Hartzell believes that he is on the verge of a major breakthrough.
If Dr. Larry Miller, a 48-year-old Twinsburg dentist, has his way, that day shouldn't be too far off. "This is the best tool I've ever seen for stretching, flexibility, strength training and rehabilitation," he said. "It's hard to convince someone that a band can do so much."
Miller, who is also a power lifter, credits Hartzell with helping him bench-press a record-breaking 480 pounds at the Master's National tournament in 2000. Since then, he has lifted 535 pounds at the gym -- not bad for a guy who weighs 165 pounds.
"The bands provide a totally different response to the muscles," Miller said. "It's quick and explosive. You lift faster and speed is extremely important for power lifters." Miller uses the bands daily for stretching and twice a week for lifting, by attaching them to the weight bars.
Wade tells of a Stark County high school basketball player who added more than six inches to his vertical leap by using the Flex Band for six weeks.
The Flex Band is not just for athletes and power lifters.
Shimmel said that the band has helped patients with chronic back pain, who previously did not get relief "no matter what we did."
Another happy side effect is that patients don't skip stretching as they do with static stretches. "The compliance rate is great," Wade said. "It's easy, convenient, space effective and takes way less time than the traditional program."
Shimmel tells patients to experiment with different stretches, as long as they're not reinjuring an old injury. "You're limited only by your imagination. I tell patients to go to pain, not through pain.''
At 62, Hartzell is a walking billboard for his product. His ankles are so strong that once, while demonstrating his jump-on-your-twisted-ankle routine, he crashed through the table he was standing on. He emerged unscathed. While he couldn't touch his toes when he played college football in 1960, today he is flexible enough that he can do a full split.
"My generation has horrible flexibility," he said. "I'm 62. I don't have a twinge of pain in my body. I'm the best example of the product."
Akron Beacon Journal-August 27th, 2002 Thrity Umrigar, Beacon Journal staff writer
Don't have a partner, dumbbells or even a gym? No worries. A six-foot-long rubber band - along with this 15 minute program - can deliver super flexibility and strength, simultaneously. And the increased flexibility will optimize your muscle development when you start training with weights.
...I've opted for a superb stretching device that experts say may actually be better and safer than partner-assisted stretching: a
6½-foot rubber band.
Don't laugh. These modern stretch bands are a quantum leap over old-school surgical tubing and provide a time-saving "active stretch" that delivers both flexibility and strength. Used lightly for 10 to 15 minutes, the bands provide a superb warm-up for weight training or aerobic work. Used intensely, they offer a suprisingly tough resistance workout.
Active stretching can be done with or without equipment such as dumbbells and stretch bands, depending on your goals. By making each stretch tougher, however, bands are on par with weight work for spurring muscle growth.
"As a warm-up for light weight training ar aerobic activity, you don't necessarily need bands during your active stretching, but they're a great fill-in between weights and a good warm-up for heavy lifting. You can get pretty doggone strong with bands." Michael Yessis, PhD., author of Explosive Running
For a quick, all-body stretch-band session we combined input from Tessis and Dick Hartzell, the inventor of the FlexBand, a leading athletic stretch band now used by the Cleveland Indians.
Roy M. Wallack - May, 2002 Mens Fitness Magazine pg. 68-72
For women who hate weights, it sounds too good to be true. A new study suggests you can get stronger without bulking up, compromising your cardiac fitness, taking extra time in the gym, or lifting a single dumbbell. William Kraemer, an exercise physiologist at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, gathered 35 women and asked some to do 40 minutes of step aerobics three times a week. Others were asked to do 25 minutes of step and 15 minutes of resistance training using stretch bands to simulate exercises usually done in a weight room-like squats, rows, and curls. After 12 weeks, it was clear the
aerobics-resistance combo was working. Not surprisingly, only the stretch-bands users showed significant gains in strength and upper-body power, but they were just as fit-and had lost just as much body fat-as the aerobics-only group. Kraemer thinks misconceptions about strength training are keeping women from fulfilling their fitness potential. "There's this fear of becoming Ms. Olympia. But in reality, most women lose body fat while enhancing their aerobic condition. "Want to give it a shot? You can try the bands at your gym, but if you want the maximum benefit, Kraemer recommends working out with the bigger, stronger bands used in the study.
June, 2001 HEALTH Magazine pg. 36
*User please seek advice of a medical professional prior to using the product and/or attempting to use workout/rehab information.