Remember the ‘functional training’ craze when people were squatting and pressing on all kinds of unstable surfaces? Barbell squats on Swiss balls? The thought was they achieved better muscle activation and being unstable was more ‘functional’.
The idea of adding instability to lifts is sound, but in some cases it is poorly executed and dangerous. Some of these attempts at instability training belonged more in the circus than the gym.
But there is a better way. A way that gives you all the instability you can handle while improving your strength and technique at the powerlifts.
It’s the hanging band technique.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
What Is Hanging Band Technique?
The hanging band technique is hanging plates or kettlebells from a barbell using looped bands. The hanging weights create instability due to the weight bouncing and moving around while lifting.
This method works for most barbell exercises except for the Olympic lifts.
The Benefits of Hanging Band Technique
Why would you consider such a ridiculous exercise? First off, look, it’s not ridiculous. Be nice. Also,
- Strength and hypertrophy gains due to the larger motor unit recruitment and increased time under tension.
- Performing these lifts fast will make the lift difficult. Slowing down (which you will need to do) will make you more aware of deviations in form and help improve your technique.
- They make for great transition exercises from rehab due to the instability and increased motor recruitment of your stabilizer muscles.
- They can be easier on your joints because the instability and unpredictable movements of the barbell force you to tighten up every muscle and maintain good form throughout the set.
Programming And Form Suggestions
Spreading the same load between more bands will cause smaller and more frequent movements back and forth. Loading the same weight onto a single band creates fewer yet larger movements back and forth.
The more on point your form is, the less the bar will move, allowing you to handle greater resistance with more control.
You should be able to handle 80-90% of the load you can normally handle on a given lift (for the prescribed reps, of course, not your 1RM). But don’t overdo this method, as it is taxing on the nervous system. For instance, if you squat twice per week, then consider doing HBT once every two weeks.
This is an advanced technique, but it is effective for reinforcing better form to beginners. Lightening the load and doing more reps is advisable here. There is no need for fancy programming with HBT, anywhere from 3-5 sets and 4-8 reps as part of your accessory routine works well.
Incorporate these four exercises into your accessory routine to build more strength and reinforce technique. Brush off the weird looks you’re going to get when people are wondering what you’re doing.
Hanging Band Back Squat
To get stronger at squatting you need to put some serious weight on the bar and grind. Sometimes the grind makes your lower back and knees wear down. Plus, at times good technique goes by the wayside when chasing more weight. (I know you’re guilty of this, don’t pretend.)
The hanging bar back squat lightens your load on your spine and knees but there is no loss of intensity due to the instability of the barbell and the increased time under tension.
You’re forced to use strict and controlled squat mechanics and to keep the weights from moving in an uncontrollable fashion. This gives you a challenging stimulus to your lower body at a lighter weight. A win-win for your back, knees, and gains.
Tall Kneeling Overhead Hanging KB
The big 3 require hip, ankle, and shoulder mobility as well as plenty of core and shoulder stability. If you have problems in any of these areas, this exercise will help.
The tall kneeling improves hip mobility and core stability, while isometrically holding the hanging kettlebells over head gives you a large dose of shoulder stability while increasing your proprioception demands.
If you have any shoulder issues that don’t require surgery this can be an excellent injury rehab exercise for problems related to shoulder instability and it’s a great balance exercise. (But check with your doctor or physical therapist before trying new exercises.)
Holding for 30-60 seconds will be a challenge you’ll enjoy.
Bench Press with Hanging Band Technique
Tightness, tension, strength, and control are always required for powerlifting and the HBT technique can proide this in spades. The HBT bench press can do great things to improve your technique, stability, strength, and joint health.
Like the squat and deadlift, you cannot always add more weight and reps to your bench without repercussions. The HBT is another method to improve your technique and strength without losing any intensity.
HBT bench press helps improve your body positioning and movement mechanics by making you more aware of deviations in form due to the movement of the weights. Plus, the increased time under tension does wonders for your pump.
RDL With Hanging Band Technique
For this exercise to be effective, you should perform it on an elevated surface.
The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic accessory exercise to improve your hip mobility, upper back strength, grip strength, and the strength and size of your hamstrings. The HBT takes this to a new level for reasons already explained.
Any slight deviations in your hip hinge technique and you’ll receive instant feedback because when hinging, sometimes you are not aware you are favoring one side over the other, or you’re going too quickly, or you’re losing upper back tightness. Think of HBT as a trainer, making sure you’re doing it right.
Hanging band technique is one more tool in your toolbox to help improve your powerlifts. Reducing the weight while maintaining intensity gives your joints a break and makes you more aware of any flaws in your technique.
Plus, you’ll be the coolest powerlifter in the gym.
Featured image via Dr. Joel Seedman on YouTube.