How to Use Resistance Bands for Upper Body Recovery

If you don’t have a dedicated recovery day in your current programming, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Let’s take a look at how a lack of recovery day is going to catch up to you sooner rather than later and what you can do to ensure you’re taking care of your body the best you can.

Most of us split our workout programme into upper body movements and lower body movements because this gives the other muscle groups a chance to rest and recovery. Here’s where resistance bands come into play: they’re essential for helping induce muscular contraction.

Training with resistance bands in the park focusing on upper body

Let’s take a look at what that phrase means and how you can use bands to benefit you on recovery days.

Your upper body muscle groups – back, shoulders, chest, and arms are all responsible for helping you maintain a good posture, supporting and keeping safe your internal organs, and developing a strong core. Stretching and recovery are often a part of fitness that lots of us forget about, but when you understand everything your upper body helps you to do, you’ll see that this is an important day not to skip. By stretching and actively recovering regularly, you can help you receive muscle tightness, improve your mobility and range of motion, and help prevent injury as well. Ultimately, all of this will help you find more fun in fitness, which might encourage you to work out more often.

The more your recovery days integrate the appropriate tools, the more you’re likely to correct muscular imbalances and address muscular contraction issues. Resistance bands are lightweight elastic bands that help induce muscular contraction. The contraction motion helps to build strength as you pull on the bands. Historically, resistance bands were used as part of physical therapy to rehab injured muscles. Now, they’re used for both in the PT office and at home to help recover from strenuous workouts and prep for the next round of lifting.

How Resistance Bands Work

Like free weights, resistance bands provide an external force that your muscles have to work against. When you’re pushing or pulling on a band during a stretch, your muscles engage to fight the tension. Because bands don’t rely on gravity in the same way that free weights do, you’re working against the force of the band. That means that you’re able to work through an entire range of motion, not just the portion when you’re moving against gravity.

Don’t let the simplicity of the band fool you. Band movements might seem easy enough, and the amount of resistance generation might not seem like it’s able to increase your athletic performance. The truth is that resistance bands do that and more.

Your muscles are sore after a hard workout because the movements you’ve done to create larger muscles have created small micro-tears in your muscle fibres. Adding in resistance bands to recover means that you’re going to increase your mobility because you’re able to strengthen the fatigued muscles. Additionally, you’re able to activate small stabiliser muscles, which might just be what you need to advance to the next stage of training.

Types of Bands

Resistance bands vary in size, shape, handles, and whether or not they are looped. For recovery day, using a therapy band will provide you the widest range of motion. They don’t have handles and are gentle to use. The flat surface makes them easy to hold, so they’re especially useful for opening up and stretching large muscle groups like your legs and back.

Loop bands are flat and are longer than therapy bands. Reach for these bands when you need help getting into a stretch but don’t yet have the flexibility to do so.

Both loop bands and therapy bands are useful for your recovery session, and each will provide a different component to stretching and lengthening your muscle groups. Here are four exercises to try when you’re sore all over.

For upper body recovery work that targets muscles in your neck, back, and arms, there are infinite ways to use resistance bands. Most of these will require anchoring the band to a door-mounted pull-up bar or a squat rack. If you don’t have any of those available, you might find the right positioning using a climbing frame or monkey bars in the local park.

Shoulder and Back Mobility

Band Pull Aparts

Engage your rear delts, rhomboids, and Teres minor after a heavy chest workout with this simple movement. These should be a staple in your training, both as part of a warmup and on a dedicated recovery day. The simplicity of this movement might make you think it’s not useful but think again. The key here is to make sure you’re moving slowly and with control. When done correctly, a front pull apart movement will help improve your scapular mobility and strengthen both your back and shoulders – critical when you’re working to develop overhead press strength, or you’re trying to improve your deadlift and pull up capabilities.

To perform this movement correctly: stand with your band in front of you, wrists straight, and shoulder blades retracted. Pull the band toward your body and maintain a neutral posture. Imagine your arms sliding against an invisible horizontal surface. Spread your arms apart until you’ve reached max tension in the band. Then slowly return to the starting position.

Shoulder Flexion

Working with resistance bands during upper body recovery is a great way to work on your shoulder mobility. As we know, shoulder mobility is important for several reasons. Having mobile shoulders can help you improve your front rack position for front squats and cleans and help you push more on your bench press. Fitness aside, our shoulders are constantly pulled forward from daily activities like computer work and driving. This exercise can work to counteract that pull and open up your shoulder girdle. It’s especially useful for days when you’ve had a really intense upper body workout.

Stand with your arms stretched out, wrists straight. Move the band upward as if you’re doing a front raise to make a Y shape. Focus on keeping your rib cage contracted. Make sure you don’t try to gain a false range of motion by pulling the band apart. Instead, keep the same amount of tension on it during the entire movement. Over time you’ll find that your shoulders are more flexible, which will allow for a wider separation of your arms.

Lat Stretches

For this movement, you’ll want to loop your resistance bands around a pull-up bar. This forward-leaning lat stretch will feel so good after a serious deadlift day or if you’ve been training hard on your pull-ups. The stronger you are, the thicker band you’re going to want to use. Put your hand in the resistance band and turn it, so your palm is facing up. Walk back slowly to increase tension on the band. Then, allow your shoulder, back, and lats to relax. Make sure you’re not pulling on the band. Instead, try to elongate your back and much as possible. Aim for thirty seconds on each side.

When combined with other active recovery techniques like using lacrosse balls and foam rollers, resistance bands can help you get one step closer to achieving your fitness goals. Resistance bands allow you to decide your own tension and explore deeper ranges of motion that you might not otherwise have experienced. Resistance bands offer you the types of mobility exercises that you just can’t achieve with bodyweight movements alone. When you incorporate bands into your upper body recovery day approach, you’re able to take your flexibility and mobility to incredible new levels.

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