How The Reverse Band Method Works
Bands are one of the single most underutilized tools in strength and performance training. Simply put, athletes and lifters that have neglected the unique and powerful benefits of banded barbell work are leaving a huge amount of performance on the table. This couldn’t be any more true than the rare lightened band method aka the reverse banding method for moving supramaximal loads with more explosive and pristine execution.
The reverse banding method starts by choking circular resistance bands to the top of the power rack and attaching them to the bar below. While traditional banding with anchors to the ground add additional resistance to the bar as the load is being moved away from the ground, the reverse band method actually deloads and lightens the bar at the bottom of the range, hence the name. This means that the external weight and resistance on the bar will be able to be more when utilizing this method instead of less with traditional banding.
Though this setup is pretty simple, fine tuning the band tension takes time, practice and patience. Ideally, the reverse bands should be nearly on slack at the top end of the range of motion for lift while only deloading around 10-15% of the bars external weight at the bottom of the range off the floor. This means that depending on the exercise, setup and loading, different bands that vary in thickness and resistance should be utilized to adhere to the proper deloading parameters mentioned above.
Since the setup and execution of the big foundational movement patterns including the bench press, deadlift and squat variations all present with unique characteristics and challenges, lets go through some of the major reverse banded exercises, how to set them up, which bands to use and executional cues to get the most out of the reverse band method.
*The JRx LIGT Blue & MEDIUM Black Bands are the preferred tools for the reverse band method and will be featured throughout this article.
The Reverse Band Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press has gained the notorious reputation as being an injurious shoulder killer. But while the success and longevity of this staple lift is largely dependent on fine tuning technique and mastering the skill which is pressing, intelligent loading tools and schemes also go a long way in bulletproofing your shoulders for the long run.
The reverse band method is one of my favorites for placing heavy loads through the horizontal push movement pattern at higher volumes and relative intensities. By choking bands to the top of a squat rack (or around pins or high setting safety bars if you have them) we can target greater muscular actions across the board due to the unique loading benefits in which the reverse bands place on the pattern.
By deloading the bottom portion of the bench press where the bar approximates the chest, we can help keep the shoulders in a more advantageous position to gain and maintain tension and torque while also minimizing external load placed on the body in this more extended and internally rotated shoulder position. This setup also allows more natural acceleration and speed out of the hole, which can potentiate the CNS while also helping drive heavier loading through the top of the lift into lockout.
As the bar is pressed up, external weight on the bar is ramped up as the band becomes less stretched. This means that the heaviest part of this lift will be at lockout, where the triceps are most active. This is one hell of a way to train at supra-maximal loads to simultaneously develop speed of the chest and strong and stable lockouts at the top.
To ensure safety with this lift, I highly recommend using spotters, even at lower loads and during ramp ups. Since the bar in the hooks is attached to the rack, stabilizing it out of the hooks will be a challenge. We want to ensure that we are strong, stable and in position to press, and this is best done initially with the assistance of a spotter.
Control the eccentric lowering moment with smooth and active tension, pause for a split second and drive up hard into the bar upon the concentric raising. As load will be increased as the bar moves away from the chest, exploding into the bar and accelerating maximally through the entire range of motion will provide the biggest mechanical and neurological benefits to this setup.
The Reverse Band Barbell RDL
The most authentic way to train and load the hip hinge foundational movement pattern is through the Romanian deadlift, also known as the RDL. The RDL differentiates itself from it’s counterpart, the traditional deadlift from the ground, in it’s starting position. While the deadlift is trained by raising a load off the floor as the first phase of the lift, the RDL starts by lowering the load through a hinge based movement from an anatomically neutral starting point.
Stabilizing and bracing with a top down approach with the RDL proves very effective for training the true hip hinge through all three phases of the hinge (eccentric, concentric and amortization) while also allowing the opportunity to implement the reverse band method for supra-maximal loading through full range and phases of motion.
Similar to the reverse band barbell bench press, you’ll be first choking bands around the top of the rack or on stabilized pins and attaching the bands to the collars of the barbell on each side. While you can choose to deadlift the bar up off the floor to position it for RDL’s, my preferred setup is off of rack hooks due to the ease of loading weight onto the bar and again, training the true hinge with the top down approach.
Upon walk back of the bar, ensure that you move deliberately with short steps backwards to get your feet into position for the RDL. The bands attached to the top of the squat rack will swing you back and be very challenging to stabilize when getting setup, so take your time and ensure that you are positioned ideally with the bands oriented vertically to the ground. *Note that the bands will NOT be vertical when in the rack (but rather at an angle), which is what creates the instability on the walk back.
As you lower into the RDL, drive your hips back and maintain a neutral spine. As you lower the bar down, the bands will become more stretched and deload more and more of the weight, making your bottom position the least amount of resistance. Control the eccentric lowering slowly with tension throughout the chain and reach a bottom position which is dictated by the inability to go any further WHILE maintaining a neutral spinal position.
From the bottom position, a neutral split second pause will occur. From that pause, drive your hips forward explosively and drive up into the hinge to lock out the top position, which will be the heaviest loading in this range of motion. Since the overloading is happening upon lockout, this reverse band hinge variation is an amazing glute builder, as the glutes become highly active upon terminal lockout in this foundational pattern. Tension hard at the top of the range on each rep, and maintain your spinal positions at all times for pain-free success.
The Reverse Band Trap Bar Deadlift
When it comes to the deadlift, most lifters are never able to intelligently explore their loading limits through various ranges of motions and positions due to their sticking point (weakest position in a lift) occurring with the weights still in contact with the ground. While it’s true that lifters are only as strong as their weakest link, there are specific methods that can help break through these sticking points while loading stronger aspects of the lift as well. The use of the reverse band method for deadlifting off the ground is one of these tools, and it can be an absolute game changer for those struggling to accelerate the deadlift off the floor.
Without seeing dynamic movement of the bar moving off from the ground in the deadlift, a load that is just a few pounds too heavy to move essentially looks and feels the same as a load that may be a few hundred pounds too heavy. Without moving the loaded object, an athletes is essentially creating isometric force at maximal levels, which can be very misleading when it comes to judging and programming other movement patterns or exercises that target varying ranges of motion during the lift.
By using the reverse band method, we can essentially lighten the load straight off the floor, helping accelerate and power through that sticking point in the range of motion while also loading stronger aspects of the range (closer to the top of the range) upon lockout with heavier loads. Since we know that isometric loading irradiates into around 10-20 degrees above and below the trained isometric position in the range of motion, we can help strengthen the starting position by getting the bar moving and loading heavier through other aspects of the lift.
If you are training in a power rack, you’ll be choking bands around the top of the rack again to get setup. Since the starting distance from the top of the rack to the bar down on the ground is FAR greater than in the bench press, RDL or squat, a lighter band is a preferred tool here. As a band becomes more stretched, it offers more resistance in an accommodating manner. This is why even hundreds of pounds moved off the ground with the reverse band method is best done with a light band as opposed to a medium or heavy band.
When reverse banding the deadlift, it is imperative that your intentions over the bar are explosive. Once again, we are working on blasting through a bottom range of motion sticking point, so explosion straight off the floor needs to be the focus. Get tight, brace hard and accelerate the bar off the ground and continue to explode up as more and more weight will be put through your system upon lockout.
While you can of course control the eccentric lowering aspect of this lift, we are working on acceleration and explosion in the concentric raising, so prioritize that over accentuating the eccentric (which the RDL would be your better reverse band hinge based variation in that case).
The Reverse Band Barbell Back Squat
The squat is one of the toughest foundational movement patterns to both master and maintain due to it’s multi-joint requisites and huge loading capacity. Once you’ve nailed your foot and bar placement while exploring your perfect torso angle from a biomechanical perspective, it’s time to turn up the the internal tension and torque that can support heavy external loading through this pattern. As we say, everything can be spot on in terms of biomechanics, but if the neural-dynamics are off, you’ll continue to struggle with a movement pattern and place a glass ceiling on your strength, power and overall performance.
Many lifters present with a squatting lynchpin of pain and dysfunction around the bottom aspect of this lift. Simply put, the inability to maintain braced and stable positions throughout the shoulders, hips and spinal complex during the terminal aspects of the squat’s range of motion cause ugly compensations that pigeon hole performance while placing the body in an non-ideal position to repeat load in terms of injury risk. From my experience, a vast majority of athletes and lifters begin to really compensate and struggle to maintain optimal positions around 10-15 degrees above parallel, getting exponentially worse as that bottom range is extended down.
But interestingly enough, taking load off of these athletes and having them execute the squat with minimal weight in the same bar setups and positions looks radically different than a near max effort load on their back. Why? As load increases, so do the requites to stay tight and maintain positions of stability and contraption. Loading is one of the most effective diagnostic tools to identify weak links in a kinetic chain or movement pattern.
But it is not acceptable to just limit the load used in a movement, or to cut the range of motion of a movement (as we commonly see with all the half repping squatters) in order to maintain “good form” or something of the sort. Instead, this is where the use of reverse banding REALLY shines through as one of the most effective training tools you’ll ever use to clean up your squat pattern, extended your authentic bottom end range depth while also loading safely and appropriately in the strength and power schemes.
Though reverse banding with the bench press, RDL and deadlift work extremely well, the squat is the pattern where we utilize the lightening band method the most (as many are clearly in need). The first reason we implement it is to create better stability at the hips sequencing with the shoulders and core (referred to as the pillar complex). As the bands anchored to the top of the rack are angled on the hooks in the rack, the walk back is very challenging. As the athlete steps out the squat, it needs to be done slowly and under control, or it won’t be done at all. Speed hides need, and adding instability via reverse banding is a great way to slow down all those fast compensators.
Secondly, we use the reverse band squat to extend the bottom range of motion for our athletes. While anyone can flop over, flex hard at the spine and dump their pelvis with butt-winking, it takes a fine tuned athlete to maintain an authentic neutral spinal position into deeper ranges of motion. Since the loading is the least at the bottom of the range, our athletes are able to more naturally extend their squat depth.
We also love to use this method to develop brutal power with supra-maximal loads. Moving explosively through this movement patterns with heavier loads on the bar than they’d be able to use without the bands is a method that when sprinkled and waved into loading and programming can be a huge spark for neural efficiency and unlocking potential of the CNS and mechanical systems. With all of these benefits, you can clearly see why this reverse band squat is a staple in our programming.
Don’t just limit yourself to the barbell back squat with the reverse band method. Implement it with the box squat, the front squat, the front squat to box and every other bar based squat variation out there! The body thrives in slight variation, so hit it with some with bands, positions and loading schemes.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and sports performance expert. Dr. John has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes, including multiple Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pros, MLB All-Stars, Professional Bodybuilders, World-Record Holding Powerlifters, National Level Olympic Lifters and All-World IronMan Triathletes.
Dr. Rusin is the leading pioneer in the fitness and sports performance industries in intelligent pain-free performance programming that achieves world class results while preventing injuries in the process. Dr. John’s methods are showcased in his 12-Week FHT Program that combines the best from athletic performance training, powerlifting, bodybuilding and preventative therapy to produce world-class results without pain and injuries.