You may have seen videos or even witnessed in-person a lifter doing a bench press with elastic bands rigged up above them and attached to the barbell. There are several reasons and benefits to this method of training.
What is the reverse band bench press? The reverse band bench press is an effective method for strength athletes to overload the bench press. By rigging up bands above the barbell, the bands give increasing assistance to the lifter as the bar descends to its lowest point (contact on the chest) to aid in pressing the barbell back upward.
Whether you’ve hit a plateau, have a sticking point to work through, or just want some variation in your bench press, there are a few scenarios a lifter or coach would want to incorporate this method into their training plan. Let’s dive into the details.
The Purpose Of The Reverse Band Bench Press
In order to really understand the purpose of this variation, you should first understand the strength curve.
The Strength Curve
The strength curve explains the amount of force required to complete the full range of motion (ROM) of a lift. At certain stages of a lift, a greater force will be required to move the weight than at other stages.
With the bench press, some lifters may find greater difficulty getting the bar off of their chest after lowering it. This portion of the lift or strength curve requires greater force from their pecs and back for them to get it moving the other direction.
Some lifters may have no trouble getting the bar a few inches off their chest, but as the lift transitions from their pecs to their triceps as the bar moves upward, greater force is required from these smaller muscles to finish the lift.
In both of these scenarios, the lifter needs to develop strength in a specific stage of the lift in order to progress. This is where the reverse bands come in to help.
Using Bands To Manipulate The Strength Curve
Imagine you have 315lbs loaded onto a barbell for your bench press.
As you lower the bar to your chest and then press it upward, the weight of the bar is 315lbs the whole time, no matter what stage of the lift you are in.
315lbs is 315lbs all the time.
Now imagine you’ve set up your bench press in a power rack and you’ve choked a long elastic band around the top of the rack on each side of the barbell. You have 315lbs loaded onto the bar, but the bar now has an elastic band on each side.
There’s no tension on the bands when it’s in the rack – they’re just looped under the barbell.
As you unrack the barbell and pull the bar to your chest, the lower the bar gets, the more tension builds on the bands, like drawing back on a slingshot. At the bottom of the rep, as the bar hits your chest, the bands are stretched to offer the greatest tension or support.
Using our example, when the barbell is on the chest, the bands might take ~50lbs of load from the barbell (depending on the band size). So the 315lbs gets reduced to 265lbs while the barbell is on the chest.
When you press that bar back around, not only are your muscles pushing the bar upward, but the bands are pulling on it too, assisting you to get the bar moving upward off your chest.
By getting assistance from the bands, lifters can get a few benefits discussed below
Don’t have a reverse band set up? Check out my article on the best reverse band bench press alternatives.
3 Benefits Of Doing Reverse Band Bench Press
There are three main benefits to training your bench press with reverse bands:
- Target sticking points in your bench press
- Safely overload your bench press to acclimate to higher weights
- Train force production in your bench press
By using reverse bands to assist you in the more difficult portions of the strength curve, you can train yourself to get better at that portion of the lift, without exhausting yourself doing a full rep, with the full load.
Imagine if a pole vaulter struggles with her technique at the moment she needs to let go of the pole and clear the bar. What if she was able to train her abilities only during that stage of the vault. No running, no sticking the pole into the anchor, no landing. Just that single stage of the jump that was giving her trouble.
That’s what training with reverse bands does. If your lockout is struggling, don’t worry about exerting all the energy to get the bar off your chest every rep just to train your lockout – rig up reverse bands and let the bands help you off your chest, so you can train the lockout over and over again until it’s stronger.
It’s impossible to break down a pole vault this way, but we break down lifts this way all the time.
Overloading is an important element to increasing strength, and reverse band setups are the perfect way to overload your training with more than you could handle alone.
Think of the reverse band bench press as a way to let yourself preview or sample heavier weights. By getting assistance from the bands at the bottom of the rep, you can feel what benching more than your max is like, without just attempting more than your max.
By the time you are locking out your bench, the assistance from the bands should be minimal, letting you do all the work of locking it out yourself.
For example, you can work and staying tight in your position as you unrack a reverse band bench press that has little to no assistance at the top, perform a rep 10-15% above your max with the help of the bands, and you might even be able to do reps, depending on the load compared to your max.
Sure, it’s not the same as doing the weight without bands, but you can start to get a feel for that weight for part of the lift so that it’s familiar when you attempt it for a rep without assistance bands.
In another article, we wrote about training with chains, we cited a study that showed hanging chains from the barbell was effective in helping lifters exert greater force during the stages of the deadlift where they had previously not exerted as much force.
In plain terms, the chains allowed the researchers to make the lifts harder at the top of the rep, forcing the lifters to exert greater force to finish the rep. This is also referred to as the Dynamic Effort Method.
When the lifters reverted back to lifting only the barbell weight without chains, they exhibited greater force throughout the entire lift.
The same principle is true with reverse bands on bench press, but we’re applying assistance from bands instead of resistance from chains.
With chains, you add additional weight to the bar every inch the bar rises up, as it lifts additional links of chain off the floor. There’s less weight pulling on the bar at the low point of the rep when most of the chain is lying on the floor, and the bar is heavier at the top as the chain is picked up off the floor.
With reverse bands, you’re simply giving yourself more assistance at the bottom of the rep, and are left to your own strength near the top of the rep as the band has less tension against the barbell.
The advantage with bands is that the tension builds and decreases exponentially, whereas a chain loads in a linear increment.
The bottom line: Train with a reverse band bench, and you can increase how much force you exert into the bar in your weakest points in the lift.
Struggling with the mid-portion of the bench press? Check out my article on Try These 6 Things If You’re Weak In the Middle Of The Bench Press.
How To Set Up The Reverse Band Bench Press (7 Steps)
To set up a reverse bands bench press, you’ll need to set up your bench in a power rack. There may be some exceptions you find in your gym, but this won’t typically work in a combo rack, stand-alone bench press, or Westside Bench.
- Step #1: Place the bench on the INSIDE the four posts of the power rack, not in front of it.
- Step #2: Choke a band on each side of the barbell around the top sides of the power rack.
“Choking” the band means laying it over the top, then pulling one end of the band through the loop on the other side.
Alternatively, you can place the safety bars somewhere between your eye level and the highest notch in the power rack and loop the bands there to manipulate how much tension they provide to your bench (the higher the band is attached, the more tension it’ll have at the bottom of your bench and the more assistance you’ll get from it). This will be particularly helpful if you don’t have a variety of bands with varied tension and you can only adjust their setup.
- Step #3: Adjust the two bands so that each knot is as close to identical as possible
This is important – make sure your bands have even tension on each side. If you have a fatter/tighter knot on one, they won’t be even.
- Step #4: Place the bottom of the band around the bottom of the barbell.
You can do this on the outside of the plates, or on the inside, your preference.
- Step #5: Ensure that each band provides about the same amount of tension on each side of your barbell.
The last thing you want is uneven assistance on each side!
- Step #6: Adjust the knots above to make sure they aren’t pulling back or forward on your bench press. Perform a few reps with the empty bar to feel where the bands will be pulling against you and adjust it to match your ideal bar path.
Note that some bands will be strong enough your empty bar will hang from them instead of sitting in the rack. This is fine, just make sure it sits in the rack as you add weight to the bar.
- Step # 7: Add plates to the bar and work up to your working set.
Reverse Band Bench Press Technique (6 Tips)
The technique to perform a reverse band bench press is the same as a conventional bench press without the assistance of bands. Here are the steps to a clean rep:
- Unrack the barbell to your starting point
- Pull against the reverse bands down to your touchpoint on your chest (typically around your sternum) to get maximal tension on the bands. Depending on your bar weight to reverse band tension, you may have to legitimately pull the bar down to hit your chest.
- Press the barbell upward again as hard as you can, utilizing the assistance from the bands
- Continue to exert maximal force into the bar as you press upward to the lockout
- The tension from the bands will diminish exponentially with each inch that you press upward, so keep pressing hard as the assistance reduces.
- Repeat, return the bar to the rack after your last rep.
The biggest technique tip I can share with this variation is to use the bands to your advantage!
Train yourself to lower the bar quickly to your touchpoint and fire it back up quickly so that you can really use the assistance of the band, like a slingshot.
You’re missing the benefits if you don’t bring the bar all the way to your chest and maximizing the band’s stretch, or if you don’t press it back up as explosively as you can and miss out on the added momentum you can get from the bands.
I’m not talking about recklessly dropping the bar to your chest and carelessly firing it up. Do each warm-up rep the same way so that as you add plate weight, it’s a speed you are comfortable with.
Muscles Worked In The Reverse Band Bench Press
As with a conventional bench press setup, the reverse band bench press will work your pecs, shoulders, triceps, and lats.
By manipulating the placement and tension of the reverse band, you can exaggerate or downplay which muscles are being relied on to complete the lift.
For example, reverse bands can help your pecs at the bottom of the rep with their added assistance as they are at full stretch when the bar touches your touchpoint on your chest.
The bands offer little to no assistance at the top of a rep, allowing you to train your triceps more effectively by doing all the work themselves, but having the momentum from the bands to get the bar to that point.
Read my full article on the muscles used in the bench press.
How To Program The Reverse Band Bench Press
Similar to any lifting program, a reverse band bench press needs to progress in volume or intensity week to week. You can do that 3 ways with reverse bands:
- Increase bar/plate weight
- Adjust band tension
- Adjust reverse band length or setup
My recommendation is to limit the number of variables week to week so you can see what’s working and what’s not. If you change the thickness of bands, you rig them up differently, and change the weight on the bar each week, you’ll never have any clarity in which factor is helping progress the lift.
The easiest programming changes will be to increase the bar weight/reps/sets week to week as you would with a normal program.
Assuming the lifter rigs up the same thickness of bands the same way every time, you can effectively program a progressive overload with the same set of bands. Each week, the bands will offer less and less assistance as the bar weight increases.
If you have access to a full set of bands with varying lengths and strengths, you could also leave the bar weight static week to week and decrease the band tension. This also assumes it is rigged up the same each week.
Lastly, if a lifter only has one set of bands, and you have a power rack that allows you to adjust the safety bars up or down a few inches each week, you can change the height that you rig up the bands so they offer less tension and assistance to the lifter each week as the rigging gets lower and lower and allows the bands to stretch less and less.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is a reverse band bench press different than a resistance band bench press?
- A reverse band bench press uses bands rigged above the barbell to assist the lifter in moving the weight upward. A resistance band bench press rigs up bands BELOW the barbell to add resistance and tension to the barbell as it moves upward.
How is a reverse band bench press different than a standard bench press?
- A reverse band bench press uses bands rigged above the barbell to assist the lifter in moving the weight upward. A standard bench press relies on the lifter to push the barbell upward without any assistance.
Why is it helpful to get assistance from reverse bands?
- Resistance bands allow the lifter to make the bench press easier or harder in different stages of the lift with resistance bands to target weak points and overload their lift.
How does a reverse band bench press affect my form?
- If reverse bands are improperly set up, they can negatively affect a lifter’s form by making them push or pull the bar away form their body differently than they need to with a normal barbell and no bands.
How are chains on a bench press different from the reverse bands bench press?
- Chains can only be rigged up below the barbell, making the weight heavier as the barbell moves upward. Every inch upward lifts another link of chain off the floor, adding weight to the bar in a linear increase. Reverse bands are rigged above the barbell and offer exponential increases in assistance as the bar moves downward, and exponential decreases in assistance as the bar moves back upward. Both are effective methods in overloading the bench press.
The reverse band bench press is a great way to overload your bench press, train sticking points, and add variety to your bench program. While it takes time and knowledge to set it up right for your workout, it’s often worth the tradeoff to safely add weight to the bar without being reckless or unsafe.
A word of warning: don’t fool yourself into thinking the weight you move with the help of a resistance band is the weight you can move on your own. Use the reverse band bench press as a tool, progress it with added weight/less band tension, and then get back to your conventional bench press to see the benefits. You’ll never progress if you let the band lift 25% of the weight for you week after week.