Bench Press Overloading – Rack Presses vs Board Presses

Bench Press LockoutsOverloading your bench press weight is an important step in building a bigger bench press. You are probably familiar with the two most common methods, Board Presses and Rack Presses (also called lockouts), but what are the differences between these two effective training approaches, and how do you program them into your training plan? Here are a few pointers to help you use them effectively.


Board Presses

Board presses are exactly as the name implies: lay a board or boards on your chest, lower the bar to the board(s) and press back up.

What are the advantages to board pressing?

  • The Partial Range of Motion (ROM) allows you to overload the weight lifted. The more boards you use (typically between 1 and 3 boards), the more weight you can lift.
  • Unlike Rack Presses, Board Presses mimic bench pressing lifting pattern. Board presses have an eccentric (descent) and concentric (ascent) component. This allows you to practice your proper bench press technique with board presses.
  • Because board presses have an eccentric component, board presses take advantage of the body’s stretch reflex to give you more starting power at the beginning of the press.
  • Regardless of the gym or bench you use, you will always have a specific starting point for board presses, based on how many boards you use.

How can you use board presses?

  • Use as a primary exercise: Because board presses use basic bench pressing patterns, you can use board presses as a primary benching lift. You can use them to train the bench press at heavier weights than you use for full ROM bench presses.
  • Train for heavier weight: Using more boards, train your bench press weights above your current one rep max (1RM). As your training progresses train that heavier weight with fewer boards until you can press it from your chest.
  • Equipped/bench shirt training: If you’re an equipped bencher boards are a particularly useful tool. When using a new or very tight shirt, using boards helps you break the shirt in. As you are working up to a weight heavy enough to touch the chest, use a decreasing number of boards as the weight increases, bringing the bar closer to your chest.

Rack Presses (also called Bench Press Lockouts)

Rack Presses are performed in a power cage. Set a bench inside the cage and set the safety pins to the desired height and press the bar directly off the pins.

  • Because you’re using a partial ROM, Rack Presses allow you to overload the weight pressed. Note that for low pin positions (at or below your natural sticking point) you may not be able to press as much weight as you could press in a full ROM bench press. This is because (at least on your first rep) you do not have the use of the stretch reflex to assist in starting the press. Second and subsequent reps are typically easier than the first because of assistance from the stretch reflex.
  • Because you start Rack Presses from the safety pins there is no eccentric phase (of the first rep). You must start the first rep from a dead stop with no assistance from the body’s stretch reflex. This makes the first rep much more difficult than a board press, or full ROM bench press, and will build greater strength at that point.
  • Because you’re training in the power cage, you need very little assistance to perform Rack Presses. You don’t need spotter assistance – if you fail you simply return the bar to the pins. You don’t need assistance to hold the boards in place as with board presses.

How can you use Rack Presses?

  • Supplemental Lift: Because Rack Presses technique is not the same as bench press technique, they are used more effectively as a supplemental lift than in place of a full ROM bench press.
  • Single rep sets/Dead Bench Presses: Performing all sets of Rack Presses with a single rep forces you to start each set and rep from a dead stop without the aid of a stretch reflex. This can help build starting strength at that point in your bench’s ROM.
  • Train your sticking point: Setting the pins at the weak point in your bench press (typically the mid-point, where your pec strength declines and your triceps strength takes over) allows you to build strength at that point. Use them to overcome this weakness and lockout heavier weights.
  • Overload the top-end lock out: Training the top two inches of your bench press with a weight far above your full ROM 1RM prepares your body and central nervous system to handle heavier weights. You will find that it gives you much greater control and strength when lifting your full ROM 1RM.

Other Partial ROM Presses

Properly programming these overloading techniques at the appropriate point in your program can help you bust through plateaus, and let’s be honest, piling on a whole bunch of plates for theses presses is just plain cool!

Big Bench Tip #3 – Leg Drive

This is more of a pet peeve than a tip, really. Watching poor form drives me crazy, particularly when a bencher completely ignores half their muscle mass when benching: legs hanging limply off the bench, feet dancing around as the reps get tough, feet up in the air during the press.

Ok, that last example actually has a useful function. However if you’re 5’9”, weigh 155lbs, and are pressing 135lbs with your feet in the air, you’re wasting your time. Learn to bench properly first, add some muscle, build some strength, and then start playing with isolation techniques.

Failing to involve your lower body in the lift is a common error. How exactly do you involve your lower body in the lift? Leg Drive!

What does leg drive do for you?

Driving through your feet creates muscle tension from your toes all the way up to your traps. It helps you maintain stability throughout the lift, and helps you maintain your back arch and keep your chest up. Put together, these lead to a bigger bench.

How do you incorporate leg drive into your bench?

  • Plant your feet flat on the floor. You may have to try different foot positions to find what works for you, but start with your feet underneath your hips.
  • Keep your shoulders firmly planted on the bench (you may need to chalk them so they don’t slide on the bench), drive though the balls of your feet and push your hips toward your shoulders. This will push your torso up into a tight arch.
  • Continue pushing through your legs maintaining the drive throughout the full range of your bench press. Your entire lower body should be tight, from the balls of your feet through your thighs.
  • If your legs are too short to plant them firmly on the floor and drive hard, try placing a plate underneath them as you bench.

If you are maintaining proper leg drive and tension, the only noticeable motion in your bench is the bar moving up and down. Your feet, legs, hips, abdomen, and chest should remain stable and motionless.

Deadlift Setup – The Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is much more than a conventional deadlift with a wide stance. When setup properly you may find that the sumo deadlift allows you to get more leg drive into your pulls, and reduces tension on your lower back given the more upright starting position. Sumo deadlifts also can favor certain body mechanics (longer femurs, shorter arms) and strengths (dominant hip strength).

To leverage the sumo’s advantages, you need to set up properly for your sumo pull.

Lift Setup

  • Foot Position:
    • You are going to take a very wide stance for sumo deadlifts. Although there are not set starting points for sumo as for conventional pulls, try starting with your shins at the rings on the bar and move in or out from there, depending on the length of your legs.
    • Point your toes outward sharply. As your knees should track in the direction of your toes, with a wide stance you want your toes pointed out.
    • Keep the bar very close, within an inch of your shins.
    • Create a solid base. When the lift is completed, your legs angled outward form the base of a solid pyramid.

Notice the base created by the leg angle

    • Since you do have a wide stance and there can be significant lateral force on your feet, you will want to make sure that you perform sumo deadlifts on a non-skid surface, and that your shoes are clean and free of any materials that may make them slip.
  • Hand Position:
    • In most cases your sumo hand position should be identical to your conventional hand position. Your arms should hang straight down to the bar giving you the maximum distance between your shoulders to the bar. This creates an advantageous starting position by further reducing the the lift’s range of motion (ROM). It also reduces non-productive lateral forces created by taking a wider than shoulder width grip.
  • Grip: Your grip will be the same for sumo deadlifts as for conventional deadlifts
    • Double overhand grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated (overhand). This is the toughest way to grip the bar. As the bar weight increases, the bar will begin to roll out of your hands. It can, however, further lengthen your arm span shortening the deadlift ROM.
    • Alternating over/under grip – Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
    • Hook grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.

  • Setting up for the pull: I promote a three step setup for sumo deadlifts, as I do for conventional deadlifts. This allows you to tighten up before the pull and create muscle tension that will help with your pulls.
    • Hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades downward to tighten your back. Think about tucking them into your back pockets. Take a deep breath into your lungs and abdomen, and force it downward to create a very tight and stable core.
    • Bring your hips down and chest up. Drive your knees out so you can push your hips forward toward the bar – try and drop your sack on the bar [a reference I stole from Dave Tate]. When you are set for the pull, your torso should be more erect than for a conventional pull, allowing you to drive straight up.
      • Notice from the videos below that you will drop your hips much lower than you do for conventional deadlifts.
    • Drive the bar straight up to lock out. Shove your knees out, and push against the outside edge of your shoes.
    • Sumo deadlifts are notorious for coming off the floor very slowly. Don’t get discouraged and quit on the lift if it is stubborn off the floor. Keep pulling and you’ll find the lockouts to be stronger.

Wrap up

The deadlift is a technical lift whether you pull conventional or sumo. To be successful pay as much attention to your setup as you do to your weight, sets, and reps. Simple corrections to your setup and technique can add a lot of additional lbs to the bar.

For a full review of the sumo deadlift, check out Brute Force Strength Book of Techniques:  Sumo Deadlift.


Overloading Your Training – Part 2: Overloading Weight

Part 1 of my overloading series discusses strategies for overloading volume in your training to increase the number of total reps lifted in your program. In this session, we’ll discuss overloading weight, and increase the amount of weight you move in a given lift. The goal is to train your musculature, supporting structure, and CNS to move weights above your current 1 rep max (1RM). This will prepare you to move heavier and heavier loads.


The first strategy, negatives, is the simplest. Load up the bar with more than you can lift and get to work. This approach focuses on the eccentric portion of the lift. With a spotter’s help if necessary, unrack the weight and bring it down slowly maintaining complete control of the weight throughout the range of motion (ROM). Once you’ve bottomed out the lift, your spotter helps you lift it back up. Tips on negatives:

  • Keep the weight at a heavy, near-max to maximum effort. Try 80-105% as a starting point.
  • Repetitions should be kept relatively low range – 3-5 reps.
  • Your spotter should keep his hands on the bar throughout full ROM for each rep. During the eccentric, your spotter should stay with the weight and help guide the bar down if necessary. Once you complete the eccentric your spotter will help you bring the bar back up to the starting position. Your spotter should be lifting a significant amount of the bar weight so the bar comes up quickly.

Note: Your strength will be depleted after performing the negative eccentric and you shouldn’t expect to lift as much as you can fresh. Make sure your spotter is capable of handling the weight you’re lifting.

  • The negative eccentric should move as slowly as you can maintain control of the weight. At near-max weight, start with half the speed of a normal rep and adjust from there.
  • To add effectiveness and train your sticking point, as you tire on later sets/reps try and come to a complete stop at the sticking point and hold the bar there.
  • If the weight is more than your spotter can easily handle adequately during the concentric lift, consider having side spotters assist as well.

Partial Reps:

There are a number of strategies to perform partial repetitions. Used properly, partial reps can be used effectively to overload with more weight than you would normally use. This will carry over to greater weight for the full ROM as well.

Board presses: Board presses are a strategy that allows you to overload the weight on your bench press. Have a (second) spotter hold a set of boards on your chest. Bring the bar down to the boards and press. Boards typically range from 1 board to 3 boards. Use proper bench press technique throughout the limited ROM.

A couple of strategies for using boards to increase your bench press 1RM include:

  • Start with a slight personal record (PR) and press to 3 boards for sets of 3-5 reps. In subsequent bench training sessions, remove 1 board per session and reduce the reps you complete per set. By the end of the mini-cycle you should press the new PR from your chest for singles.
  • Start with a significant PR and press to 3 boards. Rep range will be lower with the heavier weight. In subsequent weeks reduce the weight and remove a board. By the end of the mini-cycle you should again press a new PR from your chest for singles.

Pin Presses: Pin presses are similar to board presses in that they limit the ROM on your bench press and allow you to overload the weight used. They also allow you to perform the lift without assistance from spotters. They are limited, however, in the number pin settings you can use depending on the configuration of your squat cage.

Set up a flat bench in the squat cage. Set the safety pins so that when you lie on the bench the bar will not come all the way to your chest. Because of the limitation in settings of the safety pins, I generally use pin presses as a supplemental lift, not as a primary. Some strategies you can use with your pin presses:

  • Set the pins at the midway point in your bench. Lift for a slight rep PR with a low rep range.
  • Set the pins at the top end of your bench and practice lockouts at a significant PR weight. Pause at the top for a static hold (4-10 seconds).

Pin Squats: Similar to pin presses, pin squats allow you to limit the ROM for the squat, and overload your squat training. As with pin presses, pin squats shouldn’t be considered a primary squat exercise, you should not train to squat above parallel. When squatting, don’t anticipate the pins. Squat with normal squat technique until you hit the pins. Let the bar come to a complete stop on the pins and then drive straight back up.

Rack Pulls: Rack pulls are the ‘pin’ lifts for deadlifts. Typically you perform them in the squat cage, but you can also do them by placing blocks under the weights. Typical pin height can range from slightly below to slightly above the knee.

Although rack pulls shorten the ROM of the deadlift, when starting at or below the knee you may find that removing the initial leg drive from the pull can make them even more difficult than full ROM deadlifts.

It is important to maintain proper deadlift form when performing rack pulls. Grip the bar, rock back bringing your hips down and chest up before starting the pull.

Static Holds:

Static hold is a strategy to allow you to handle significantly more weight than your 1RM. You don’t perform any of the lifts ROM. You unrack it, lock it out, hold for 5-10 seconds, then rerack. The strategy is to train your body and CNS to handle greater workloads.

Squat walkouts: Walkouts train you to handle weights significantly above your squat 1RM. Load the bar with 105-110% of your 1RM. Unrack and walk out the weight using perfect squat setup technique. Lock the bar out and hold for 5-10 seconds, then rerack. I usually add walkouts toward the end of a heavy training cycle.

Wrap Up

Adding weight overloading strategies to your training program can train your body and CNS to handle heavier loads. Build them into your training programs wisely to spur strength gains.

  • Handling near-max to max weight loads can take a toll on the body and CNS. Learn when to back off the workload to limit overtraining.
  • Use limited ROM lifts sparingly as primary lifts. Don’t train your lifting patterns to limit your ROM when performing the full lifts.
  • The goal is to overload the weight you are lifting; if you haven’t used weight overloading strategies learn what your limits are. Start conservatively and build the weight up.
  • Learn and perfect proper technique for your primary lifts before implementing overloading strategies that modify the lift.

Overloading Your Training – Part 1: Overloading Volume

Overloading your training volume: the strategies discussed here are designed to push you past your limits in total volume for a particular lift. Simply put, the purpose is to help you get more total reps in a workout than you typically would for a given lift and weight. These strategies take the intensity level of your training up a notch.

Failure Sets:

You don’t have to train to failure on every set of every lift, or even in your primary lifts in every session to make progress. For most of my training I use Prilepin’s Table to plan my primary lift’s weight, sets and reps. On my supplemental and assistance lifts I generally target a training range that ends within 1-3 reps of failure. You can make consistent gains stopping just short of failure; however taking your sets for a particular lift to failure can increase the intensity of your workout.

The rest of the strategies in this article will help you take your sets past your failure point. This will force your body to recruit more muscle fibers than would normally be used for the given lift, and help you get stronger and bigger. That is the goal, right?

Forced Reps:

Having your spotter help you complete additional reps at the end of the set is the simplest way to increase your training volume. Just because your spotter helps you with some reps does not diminish the effectiveness of the set. Quite the contrary, the increased volume past failure can make for a highly effective training session.

The strategy is simple. Take the set to failure and continue lifting for additional reps using assistance from your spotter. For a given set target 2-3 forced reps at most per set. More than that and your spotter will end up lifting the weight for you, and will likely not be pleased.

Your spotter should give you just enough assistance to get past the sticking point enabling you to complete the rep unassisted. If you are at complete failure and cannot lock out the lift, your spotter should give you enough assistance to keep the bar moving at near your normal tempo for that lift, but should not take the weight away from you. You should be forced to press with all of your remaining strength as the spotter helps you lock out the lift. Maintain strict lifting technique and continue driving. Let your spotter give you just the boost you need to complete the reps.

Total Rep Sets:

In terms of complexity, the total rep sets scheme is also relatively simple. If you cannot complete the target reps in your lifting sets, simply add sets until you hit your target reps for the lift. For example, at 70% of my max on a given lift, using Prilepin’s Table I typically plan to complete 5×4 reps. If I miss some reps I continue lifting until I complete all 20 reps (example, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 1).

I typically only use this approach for my primary lifts. Supplemental and assistance work can be greatly affected by the primary lift’s volume and intensity. If I have to adjust weight or reps on supplemental lifts in an individual session I usually don’t sweat it too much.

Cluster Sets:

Cluster sets can help you get more reps per set than you typically could in a particular set. Complete the target reps for the set, rack the weight, pause, and then continue to failure. Using the 70% example above, each set would go something like this:

  • Complete 4 reps
  • Rack the weight, pause 10 seconds
  • Unrack and continue lifting to failure

If the number of reps you get in the second part of the cluster is equal to or greater than the target reps in the primary component the weight is too light. In the 70% example your target range would be 4 reps in the primary part and 2-3 reps in the second portion of the lift.

Drop Sets:

I saved the best for last. And by best I mean horrific.

For best results use 2 spotters for drop sets, and leave collars off (if you can do so safely). The key to drop set pain is rapid weight changes between drops. To perform drop sets:

  • Unrack the weight and lift until failure
  • Rack the weight
  • Spotters quickly change the plates dropping to the next weight
  • Without resting unrack again and continue lifting to failure
  • Repeat the process until you hit the target number of subsets

A few tips to maximize the effectiveness of your drop sets:

  • Plan out your sets ahead and either load the bar with plates that can be easily stripped (for example if you’re squatting, you can easily drop a 45lb/20kg plate with each drop), or have the weights handy for your spotters if they must swap plates on and off
  • A good range is 3-5 subsets in a given drop set
  • Drop sets are most effective when your first weight is heavy enough to complete a reasonable number of reps – not less than 5 and not more than 8

Drop sets are exceptionally intense. Don’t try to use this strategy on all sets in a given lift. One or two drop sets is likely to do enough damage for the day.

Wrap Up:

Volume overloading will take you to failure and beyond. For safety and to maximize their effectiveness it is very important that you have a trusted spotter assisting you.

These strategies are a great way to crank up your training intensity. Use them in moderation, limit them to one lift in a session and don’t use more than one strategy in that session. Very high intensity strategies like drop sets shouldn’t be used for all sets in a session.

Try plugging volume overloading into your training program and crank up your training intensity.

Big Bench Tip #4 – Non-Bench Training

You all will love today’s tip. It results in larger ego muscles, a huge upper body, and most importantly, when these results cause people to ask ‘how much do you bench’, you actually can say ‘a lot’ (I don’t , however, recommend using that exact reply to customs agents…or other law enforcement agencies, they generally aren’t amused…so I’ve heard).

I call this the non-bench training to train your bench.

I generally don’t follow workouts you find in the literature. I don’t believe in one size fits all workouts, and feel a lot of them are posted to sell magazines or web site views. I also generally don’t believe in ‘workouts’. Notable exceptions are some of the proven strength training program templates you find out there and, of course, BWOW. That painfully long introduction is to say this isn’t going to be a workout plan. It is meant to tell you what to train to build a bigger bench.

Pectorals do not build a big bench. Your pectorals are simply one piece of the puzzle. A powerful bencher has learned how to turn their entire body into a bench pressing machine. Your pecs help you drive the bar off the chest, but they do not do it alone. If you do not have a powerful back, your press off the chest will be weak. Did I mention that if you do not have a powerful back, your press off the chest WILL be weak? A powerful back gives you stability at the chest. Working jointly with your biceps, it allows you to control the bar as you bring the bar to your chest. Pressing with a strong back is like pressing off a granite slab, it helps you thrust the bar explosively off your chest. A strong back is also responsible for a huge upper body, and the classic v-taper.

Strong pectorals do not help you with a strong lock out. Your pecs can help you press the bar, but as we discussed in Big Bench Tip #1, finishing the bench is about locking your elbows, not pressing the bar up. A strong lockout is created with powerful triceps. What is the sticking point in your bench? It’s the point where your pecs begin to weaken, and your triceps must begin to take over the lift. Your triceps play a major role in half of your bench press. They also play a major role in over half of your arm size…

How do you put this knowledge into action? A good training program balances upper body pushing with upper body pulling. You should have as many pulling sets in your weekly program as you do pressing sets. Given it is a smaller muscle group, your triceps don’t (necessarily) warrant as many weekly sets as pushing or pulling, but they do warrant more than the finishing isolation exercise on chest day (and they really should never be insulted with tricep kickbacks). Include at least 3-4 sets of a compound lift for the triceps, and then finish them off with the isolation exercises.

Including the right non-bench bench press training in your program will build an impressive bench press as well as an attention getting, balanced upper body build.

Big Bench Tip #1 – Tight Shoulder Blades

This tip is quite honestly the easiest way there is to add weight to your bench. It’s a relatively simple technique tweak, and doesn’t require any increase in strength (although a BWOW circuit will help considerably).

Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bench.

How can squeezing my shoulder blades together increase your bench press?

Whenever I’m helping someone new with the bench press, the first thing I watch is the shoulders. Most untrained benchers don’t pay attention to their shoulders as they bench.  They simply press the bar up haphazardly. Their shoulders remain loose throughout the lift and they often raise them off the bench with each rep. Even those who keep their shoulders on the bench for the easy reps begin lifting them as they tire to push the bar up.

Squeezing your shoulder blades together tightly keeps your shoulders on the bench and reduces the range of motion of the press. If a movement does not add to the power of your lift, or does not make you bigger or stronger it should be eliminated. The thing to realize is that the bench press is complete when your elbows lock, it does not matter how high you press the bar. Lifting your shoulders off the bench to raise the bar higher is wasted motion. It wastes energy and distracts you from completing the lift. Instead of pressing the bar up, concentrate on locking your elbows. This prevents you from lifting your shoulders and helps you engage your triceps decisively to finish the lift.


How do you maintain tight shoulders throughout your bench?

Plant your shoulders on the bench. Find your hand and foot position, and drive your CHEST UP. Once you have your lifting position on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades together and continue squeezing them throughout the full lift. Imagine you are trying to pinch a quarter between your shoulder blades, squeeze it and don’t let it go until your set is complete. As you lock your bench out, concentrate on locking your elbows, don’t press the bar up.

Practice this technique from your first warm-up to your heaviest set. Done correctly, it can add weight to the bar in your next bench session.

Big Bench Tip #2 – Chest Up

A few years back I was reffing a powerlifting meet, and a kid benching got crushed by his second attempt. He was going to pass on his 3d attempt, I wouldn’t let him. I made him put in his attempt, and gave him these CHEST UP tips, and he killed it on his third.

Chest Up

Keep your chest up throughout your bench, from the moment you unrack, until you lock out each repetition. Keeping your chest up does a number of things for your bench:

  1. It reduces the range of motion you’re lifting. As a powerlifter, a shorter range of motion increases the amount of weight you can lift. That being said, for most lifters keeping your chest up limits your range of motion to a useful range of motion. In other words, you could move the bar farther, but the additional motion is not effectively building power or mass.
  2. It increases the stability of your bench. Driving your chest up and keeping it there throughout your repetitions significantly increases the stability of your upper body. When done right (and in conjunction with my other Big Bench Tips), your entire upper body will be tight, you will control the weight to your chest, the bar touches your chest without sinking in, and drives explosively off your chest.
  3. Keeping your chest up expands the area over which your pecs stretch as the bar comes down. This can increase the power of the stretch reflex*, helping you drive the bar more powerfully off your chest. As a muscle stretches out, it has a reflex in which it tries to contract. You can take advantage of this stretch reflex by driving the bar up powerfully in conjunction with your pectoral and triceps muscles attempting to contract involuntarily giving you more explosive drive off your chest. If you let your chest collapse, you lose some of this energy with your chest sinking as you attempt to drive the bar up.

Driving your chest up and expanding the area over which your pectoral muscles must stretch can increase the power of the contraction, increasing the drive off your chest (this is purely my own observation, but check it out).

What does keep your chest up mean?

I’ve covered a bit of why you want to keep your chest up. Now how exactly do you do it?

  1. Chalk your shoulders and plant them firmly on the bench. This will help keep your shoulders from sliding as you drive your chest up.
  2. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Drive through the balls of your feet and push your hips towards your shoulders. This will result in an arch in your lower back. Maintain this pressure and arch throughout the lift.
  3. Take a huge breath of air before you start bringing the bar down and hold it – don’t breath in as the bar is coming down, this will prevent you from filling your lungs completely. Hold the air in your lungs until the bar passes your sticking point on the way back up, and exhale through lockout.

Keeping your chest up, a simple technique you can use to add pounds to your bench press even without increasing your upper body strength.

Squatting with Bands – Building Explosive Power

Why use resistance bands with your squats?

Accommodating resistance with bands or chains can help you make considerable strength gains. As you complete the concentric portion of your lift (come back up), your leverage improves making the lift easier. Your body’s mechanically advantage allows you to handle more weight at the top of the lift than you can in the hole. Both chains and bands increase in resistance as you near the top where you hit the stronger region of your lift. Although chains add a considerable cool factor – they look cool, they sound cool, and they are just all around cool – band tension increases at a considerably faster rate as you pass the sticking point and approach lockout. Chains increase in weight linearly as more chain is lifted from the floor.


Bands add a great deal of instability to the bar. Controlling the weight takes considerably more effort than walking out a regular squat bar. The effort required to control the weight forces you to strengthen your stabilizing muscles and will help develop greater core stability.

Who should do banded squats?

The more appropriate question is who should not do banded squats? Banded lifts are not for beginners. You should have a solid strength foundation, good control of the weight throughout the full range of motion, and sound technique before attempting banded squats. If you don’t have great technique and control, adding the instability created by the bands can increase your probability of injury. Until you have mastered them, stick with the basic lifts.

Banded squats, a quick walkthrough

  • Setting up your bands:
    • Best case, you have a squat rack with pegs built for bands. You can adjust the amount of tension created by the bands by adjusting the length of the bands you use in the setup.

  • If you don’t have band pegs on your squat rack, using dumbbells is an easy way to set up your bands, although adjusting the band length used in the setup isn’t quite as simple. A couple pointers for using dumbbells: make sure the weight of your dumbbells is greater than the tension the bands create at the top of the lift; set a small weight plate in front of and behind the dumbbells to keep them from rolling.

  • Squat Setup:Setting up for the squat is much like setting up for a normal squat with two major differences.
    • As soon as the bar comes out of the rack, the bands are going to pull you backwards. Instead of unracking with both feet directly under the bar, start with one foot slightly back so you can brace yourself and keep the bands from pulling you back (see video) below.


  • It is critical to set up so the bar is directly in line with the point the bands are anchored. If you set up ahead of or behind the anchor point, the bands will pull you forward or back, out of your groove. A trick I just picked up is to draw a chalk line on the floor aligned with your band anchor to help you position yourself correctly.

Follow the steps for a proper squat setup. Because of the instability created by bands, a solid setup is even more important when squatting with them.

  • Squatting with bands
    • The eccentric portion for banded squats is technically no different than a normal squat. It’s even more important with bands to remain very tight to prevent the bands from pulling you out of the proper bar path. If you do find the bands pulling you out of the proper path, check to make sure that you are aligned with the anchor points.
    • As the graphic above indicates, the band tension will be low at the bottom end of the squat, and will increase rapidly. It’s important to drive explosively out of the hole and build enough momentum to help you move past the sticking point and lock your squat out as band tension increases.
    • As you get to your sticking point, the bar may slow, and come to a near stop. Keep driving with all your power to overcome the tension – this will train you to grind through the tough lifts.

Whether you’re an equipped or raw lifter, whether you compete or just like being big, bad and strong, used correctly resistance bands can help you build new levels of strength.

Note: Gauging the tension added by bands is not an exact science. EliteFTS has, however, provided band calibrations you can use as a reference point.

Deadlift Mechanics: The Setup Position

A good deadlift, as with all over big lifts, starts with a good setup. There is more to the deadlift than grabbing the bar and standing up. Here are a few quick pointers to effectively find your setup position.


  • Feet should be hip width apart. Line up the outside of your feet with the outside of your hips. Your legs should be perpendicular to the floor.
  • Grip the bar just outside your hip width. If possible your arms should also be perpendicular to the floor. If you have relatively wide hips, your arms may angle out slightly.

Setup Position

When you drop into the setup position to begin your pull, here are a few markers you can use to find that good starting position for a strong pull.

  • Your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor. As you rock back into the starting position, rotation should be around your knees, bringing your hips down and your head and chest up.
  • Your shoulder blades should be directly over the bar. Keeping upward tension on the bar and your arms straight as your rock back, continue rocking back until your shoulder blades rotate back over the bar.
  • Keep your back straight and flat. You can do this by taking a deep breath into your lungs, tightening your core, and squeezing your shoulder blades tightly downward – try and tuck them into your back pockets.

Setup Hints:

Don’t waste time thinking about your setup. Once you get your grip on the bar immediately take your breath, tighten your back, and rock back into the starting position. As soon as you are in the starting position immediately begin your pull.