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  • Writer's pictureBruce Carpenter

Using Traction to Relieve Your Joint Pain

The following blog is an excerpt from my new eBook, "Train Away Your Pain." At the bottom of this blog, there is a link to download the entire book for FREE if you find this information helpful! Traction - “Pulling on part of the body” 

I love the definition for this. It's quite elegant in its simplicity. The first part of our 3-step process to eliminate pain is providing traction for afflicted joints. I consider this the opposite of compression. Every morning when you get out of bed your body is hit by gravity and subject to the effects of compression. This isn’t a terrible thing by itself, but imagine the strain it puts on the body, always being compressed. Think about grandma or grandpa who is now 2- 3 inches shorter after fighting compression all their lives. Then add in a quality weight training routine where you battle compression with every lift under a barbell. It’s not hard to imagine why your joints may be upset with you. 

To address this stress we need to change our perspective on exercise and incorporate more traction. This can be tough to think about because it’s so opposite from typical exercises. So I want you to think about exercise types that involve your joints trying to hold you together versus exercises where your joints try to support more weight. I promise that it's simpler than it sounds. Take our staple traction exercise: the double overhand bar hang. Now that is exactly what it sounds like. Grab a pull-up bar with both hands and just hang. Yeah, it's going to be pretty tough on your grip, but don’t worry we’ll address some easier ways to perform this exercise later. 

Traction becomes a critical component of our strategy because of its effect on the joint structures in our bodies. You see, at each junction we have this thing called a Joint Capsule. Joint capsules hold synovial fluid, reduce friction when joints bend, and provide additional structural stability by inhibiting movement. Our focus is to improve all of these traits. 

When we use a traction-based exercise, it's like giving our joint capsules a mini vacation, so when they go back to work they’re even more productive. These exercises improve synovial fluid production, increase the functional size of our joint capsule, and improve blood flow to help with the healing and recovery of the joints. There are a ton of other benefits, but those are the ones we’re focused on in this book. 

Traction Exercise selection: 

The Double Overhand Bar Hang - This is our number 1 drill for traction. I’ve used this drill by itself for clients in the past with shoulder injuries and pain and seen them make a full recovery. Simply find yourself a pull-up bar and hang. It’s going to take some time to build up the hand strength but it's worth it. 

Man hanging from pullup bar


-Easy: 5 sets of 15-second bar holds

-Medium: 5 sets of 30-second bar holds 

-Hard: 3 sets of 60-second bar holds  

Double Overhand Bar Hold notes: While this is the most effective drill, it also requires a good amount of explanation. There are a great many people who aren’t yet strong enough to hang from a bar for any amount of time. The first regression I offer for those clients is a grounded TRX Hinged Hold. This allows us to keep our feet solidly on the ground and still receive the benefits of traction through the shoulders and lower back. From there we can move up to the Faux Hold. The Faux Hold places more stress on the hands and lets gravity provide more traction, but you still receive some assistance from your toes on the floor. This can be a difficult exercise to space out height-wise. Try using boxes or blocks to get the right height. Finally, we have the progression once you’ve completely mastered the double overhand, continue practice with the alternated grip version. Just remember to practice alternated grip on both sides.  

Personal Trainer doing a TRX stretch

Fitness coach on a pullup bar

Banded Distractions: Scap Retractions and Hip Distractions 

Bar hangs aren't the only thing that can open us up a bit, we also have banded distractions. You’ll need some large resistance bands and a solid anchor point to make these work.

For Scap retractions you’ll anchor the band high, and lock it in around the wrist. Once in position, let the band pull your shoulder fully and then fight the band by squeezing your shoulders down and together. Pro tip: You can use this as a great warmup to a regular workout. Extend the motion from only scapular retraction to a full row/pulldown to maximally engage the shoulder and back. 

Athlete doing a shoulder stretch for mobility

Scapula retractions using a band

Scapula retractions using a band


 -Easy: 2 Sets of Distractions per side, 60 seconds each arm, with no shoulder squeeze. 

 -Medium: 3 Sets per side, 45 seconds each, add in shoulder squeeze at a steady pace for the duration of the set. 

 -Hard: Perform the Pro version movements for 2 sets of 15 on each side. For the proversion continue to drive the elbow away from the anchor point to turn the distraction into a banded lat pulldown. Here’s a demo video if you need it:

Banded Hip Distraction - Next, we can use banded distraction on the legs. Secure the band to a sturdy anchor point, and then to the ankle. Move away from the anchor point until you have enough tension so the band holds your leg off of the floor. From this position, you can squeeze the glutes to encourage additional release or turn the body diagonally for additional ranges. Pro Tip: You can turn this into an incredible and underused strength exercise using a smaller band. The setup is the same, but once in position drive the banded leg’s knee to your chest. Hold for 3 seconds, extend, and repeat. 

Personal trainer doing a hip stretch

Athlete using a resistance band to relieve hip and low back pain


-Easy: 2 Sets of Distractions per side, 60 seconds each 

-Medium (incorporate retractions and Glute Squeezes): 3 Sets per side, 45 seconds each 

-Hard: Perform the Pro version movements for 2 sets of 15 on each side 

So there's traction for you! This technique all by itself may leave you feeling like a million bucks. But don’t stop now, we have a couple more steps left for a full recovery, and it's just a few short clicks away! CLICK HERE to download your free copy of Train Away Your Pain!

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