Muscle flossing has recently exploded onto the physical therapy and fitness scenes, yet the mechanisms explaining why muscle flossing is so effective at increasing mobility and flexibility, rehabbing injuries, and as a prehab tool is still a mystery. Heck, even the most popular brand of floss bands on the market is called Voodoo Floss (sold by Rogue and MobilityWOD). Even with the mystery, the results you can achieve with floss bands are just short of incredible. Kelly Starrett has a video series on floss bands, and in the book “Becoming a Supple Leopard 2nd Edition,” Dr. Kelly Starrett states that floss bands are, “the most powerful and effective [mobilization] method in terms of restoring position and motion.” That’s a pretty nice endorsement.
Muscle flossing is the act of wrapping your muscle, joint, or both at the same time with a floss band, compressing the wrapped area in the process, and then moving the wrapped area through a typical range of motion (ROM). To do this, floss bands are used, and these are usually latex bands approximately 2″x7′ which are wrapped tightly around a chosen area.
Many write that floss bands help to break up intramuscular junk such as scar tissue, accumulated lactic acid, among other things, and while unknown mechanisms might exist for muscle flossing which explain how it breaks up intramuscular junk (whatever the heck that is), I believe there exist two scientifically feasible mechanisms which help to explain some of the reasons muscle flossing seems to be so effective in healing injuries, increasing mobility, and preventing injuries in the first place.
Joint centration is the position of a joint where there is maximal joint congruence (the joint is optimally positioned) and an ideal balance between the muscles which act upon the joint exists. Joint centration is important because it is in this ideal joint position that the body can safely handle the largest loads effectively. When a joint is ideally centrated, irradiation of the working musculature is increased, and this also assists in increasing the bodies ability to safely handle the largest loads effectively. Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation states:
A muscle working under significant load recruits the neighboring muscles to assist in supporting/moving the load, and if the neighboring muscles are already part of the action, their strength is amplified. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle spread out to other muscles and activate them, which feed back and strengthen the contraction of the main muscle(s) under load.
By wrapping a joint with floss bands and moving the area through its ROM, you compress the joint and muscles associated with the joint into their optimal positions, and then move the now centrated joint through its ROM. This creates a fantastic motor pattern stimulus for your central nervous system, especially if your joint(s) were previously not optimally centrated. Now that an optimal motor pattern has been established by the CNS, it will be much easier to achieve optimal motor patterning going forward, and as a result, proper joint centration without the use of floss bands.
This mechanism of creating and reinforcing proper motor patterns makes floss bands a great tool for rehab and prehab. If your joint is not optimally centrated, muscle flossing will help to reassociate your central nervous system to the correct movement patterns, and if you already have optimal joint centration, muscle flossing around a joint will only further reinforce that correct motor pattern.
Proper joint centration and irradiation have the added benefit of increasing total body stability, allowing heavier loads to be supported/moved by the body, and with a loss of joint centration, stress on the surrounding tissues, and subsequently the body, increases as there is a loss of full body stability along with the imprinting of sub-optimal motor patterns.
Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue which exists in the joints of the body, among other places such as the rib cage, ears, and nose, and it is stiffer and less flexible than muscle. There are three types of cartilage, but hyaline cartilage is the type of cartilage found in joints, and the type of cartilage relevant in our discussion of floss bands.
Hyaline cartilage is found on many joint surfaces, and when hyaline cartilage covers the ends of bones where they come together to form joints, it is more specifically called articular cartilage. Healthy articular cartilage is 2-4 mm in thickness and allows bones to move against each other with very little friction, making movement easy. If articular cartilage is damaged or completely destroyed, friction is increased, making movement difficult and painful. Knee surgeries (among others) are becoming so common because more and more people are completely destroying their knees articular cartilage (for a variety of reasons), and as a result, when knee movement occurs, the femur is in direct contact with the tibia (bone on bone), a limiting and painful condition.
Hyaline cartilage is made up of chondrocytes, the cells which make up cartilage, and cartilage is formed when chondrocytes secrete cartilage and become embedded in it. Chondrocytes and cartilage contain significant amounts of type II collagen, and cartilage contains no blood vessels or nerves. Cartilage, and in this case case articular cartilage, can be damaged in an injury or through normal wear and tear. If you are an athlete or strength train, you very likely place greater demands on your joints than the average person, and as a result the rate of normal wear and tear of your articular cartilage is possibly higher than normal. The issue with cartilage is since it contains no blood vessels, the normal bodily healing mechanisms do not apply, and as a result cartilage does not heal easily.
The chondrocytes embedded in the cartilage are responsible for the healing of cartilage, and chondrocytes are supplied by diffusion. To increase the rate of healing for cartilage then, it follows that the diffusion rate must be increased and cartilage building blocks must be in sufficient concentration as well. Here is where floss bands come in.
One of the many abilities attributed to floss bands is that they can be used to heal up an injured joint. Anecdotal stories of knee and shoulder surgeries no longer needing to be performed after the use of floss bands abound, and there is some science which can back up those reports.
Chondrocytes, the foundation of cartilage, are supplied by diffusion, and as it turns out, mechanical compression of the articular cartilage generates the pumping action which assists in the diffusion of building blocks to the chondrocytes. Floss bands are meant to be wrapped tightly, and the intense compression exerted by floss bands when wrapped very likely compresses the articular cartilage to some degree, jump starting the diffusion healing process. By wrapping the affected joint, you compress the joint and tissues surrounding the joint, generating the articular cartilage pumping action which assists diffusion to the chondrocytes, and once the band is removed, blood rushes back to the area, increasing the amount of blood (and cartilage building blocks) to an even greater degree than before, quickening the rate of diffusion.
Floss bands both get diffusion started, and then overload the area with blood; it’s a one two punch. If you supplement with type II collagen too, you flood your body with additional cartilage building blocks, and set yourself up for a very friendly cartilage healing environment, something notoriously difficult to do. The degree to which the generation of the pumping action, the increased rate of diffusion, and the increased concentration of type II collagen from supplementation, is currently unknown, but even a slight increase in the healing rate of cartilage can have a big impact over years of consistent floss band use and collagen type II supplementation. As a result, I believe regular usage of floss bands will very likely increase the longevity of ones lifting career.
Voodoo Floss Bands Review
The Rogue/MobilityWOD floss bands come in two types: Voodoo Floss Bands (black) and Voodoo X Bands (red). The Voodoo X Bands are thicker than the regular version, and as a result they offer more compression when wrapped.
Voodoo Floss Bands Specifications:
- Length: 7′ (2.13 m)
- Width: 2″ (5.08 cm)
- Thickness: 0.051″ (1.3 mm)
- Material: Natural Latex Rubber
- Max Stretch: 150% of length
Voodoo X Bands Specifications:
- Length: 7′ (2.13 m)
- Width: 2″ (5.08 cm)
- Thickness: 0.06″ (1.5 mm)
- Material: Natural Latex Rubber
- Max Stretch: 150% of length
Floss bands can also be used for various exercises such as band pull-aparts or band assisted pull-ups. Personally I don’t recommend you use them for anything other that muscle flossing, as the bands are only 1.5 mm thick, and it’s easy enough to buy some heavy duty workout bands designed for exercise use, but if you’re trying to save some money or reduce the size of your gym bag, they can be used for multiple purposes.
When applying the Voodoo Floss Bands, the first thing you’ll notice is how much grip they have, and this is critical. For floss bands to work effectively, they must stick to your skin easily, and once fully wrapped, it must stick to itself so it doesn’t come undone. You can see a demonstration of how floss bands are wrapped below.
See some more demonstrations of how the floss bands work here.
Once the floss band is in place, leave it on for a couple minutes and move through any movements you’d like. If circulation starts to get seriously cut off during the muscle flossing, or your limb starts to go numb, unwrap immediately and wrap a bit looser next time.
Be warned, when flossing certain areas, specifically the elbows and shoulders, I find the floss bands often pinch the skin during application, leaving behind red marks which might persist for a couple of days. If you need to wear a sleeveless dress ladies or the you want to show off your guns guys, you might want to muscle floss the day after. With that said, the positive healing and mobility effects of the floss bands far outweigh the discomfort that can be experienced during proper application and any resulting red marks.
If you decide to pick up a pair of floss bands, make sure to wrap from the top down, leaving the loose end of the floss band at the bottom of the wrap job in order to avoid the band from rolling down on you. Since you leave the band on while moving through the wrapped areas full ROM, sometimes, but rarely, if the loose end of the floss band is left at the top, it will roll down end over end during the movement, tightening successively each time. This can get very uncomfortable very fast. I’ve had this happen to me once when wrapping my knee and it was very uncomfortable and almost impossible to get off.
When it comes to wrapping the bands, it is quite easy to wrap your ankles and knees by yourself, moderately difficult to wrap the elbows by yourself (but possible), and basically downright impossible to wrap the shoulders by yourself. This leads to the other main drawback of the floss bands which is that they are best used with the help of a friend, as your friend can wrap more securely/tighter and move your wrapped area through a greater range of motion than you would be able to do alone.
My experience with floss bands began when I mentioned to my coworker (who is a Crossfit junkie) that I was having some left knee pain during squats. He recommended that I try wrapping my knee with floss bands, which up to that point I had never heard of, and having a pair in his truck, he grabbed them, showed me how to use them, and then lent me one for a week. For the next week, I wrapped my knee diligently everyday, using them while performing deep body-weight squats, and by the end the week I was amazed by my huge improvement in knee pain, likely as a result of improved joint centration. After the week was up I bought a pair immediately, and since then my floss bands have become my most used gym accessory by a wide margin.
I continued to use the floss bands on my knee, eventually healing it up completely, and I also used it to rehab my previously rolled left ankle, my shoulders (which I injured a long time ago), strained biceps, and any elbow tendinitis I occasionally develop. Now I use floss bands on my knees before every squat session as a prehab movement, and whenever I can get someone to help me, I wrap my shoulders in an effort to fix them up.
Where to Buy
Rogue Fitness sells their two types of floss bands, Voodoo Floss Bands and Voodoo X Bands, but if you’d rather save some money on shipping and pick up a pair of floss bands of the same quality for the same price, you can also buy them on Amazon from WODFitters.
Considering my positive experience with floss bands, I highly recommend anyone who consistently hits the gym or is looking to rehab an injury to purchase a pair of floss bands.
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