The reverse band deadlift may look like a lot of work to set up from the outside, but it’s a great variation to a powerlifter’s deadlift program.
What is the reverse band deadlift? The reverse band deadlift is an effective variation for strength athletes to overload their deadlift. By rigging up bands above the barbell, the bands give instant assistance to the lifter to break the weight off the floor and decrease in their assistance as the barbell moves upward into lockout.
You may think you’ll be better off just lifting the weight on the bar yourself, but the help of the resistance bands has a specific purpose in a powerlifting program.
The Purpose Of The Reverse Band Deadlift
As with the use of any accommodating resistance movements (chains, bands, reverse bands, weight releasers, anything that makes the weight on the bar change throughout the lift), understanding the strength curve is key.
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 deadlift, some lifters may find it more challenging to get the bar off the floor at the bottom of the movement than locking it out once they get it past their knees. This stage of the lift requires them to build more tension and force from a cold start than utilizing upward momentum to finish the lift.
Other lifters may have great technique and hamstring strength to get the barbell to break off the floor, but have difficulty locking it out due to a weaker lower back or glute muscles to push their hips forward and get upright at the end of the lift.
In each of these cases, the lifter shows a deficit in their strength that needs assistance and improvement. This is where the reverse bands come in to help. This is also referred to as the Dynamic Effort Method.
Using bands to manipulate the strength curve
Imagine you have 405lbs loaded up onto a barbell to deadlift.
As you start to pull the bar, bring it past your knees, and eventually lock it out at the top, the bar weighs 405lbs in every stage of that lift. The weight never changes.
Now imagine you’ve set up your deadlift inside a power rack. You have 405lbs loaded up, but on the outside of the plates, long elastic bands extend from the top of the power rack down to the outside of the plates on the barbell’s sleeve on each side.
The bands are completely tense, as they are stretched all the way to the floor from where they are looped over the power rack at the top, about 8 or 9 feet above the barbell.
Now as you pick up that barbell, you are not starting to lift 405lbs. You have two fully stretched bands helping you lift it up from the start.
The higher to lift the bar as you pull it upward, the less tension you get from the bands to help you, leaving you and your own strength to finish the lift. The total load on the bar changes dynamically (exponentially, actually) as you move it upward.
When you set the bar back down, the load is progressively lighter as you get more and more tension and more and more assistance from the reverse bands.
The lifter with a weak start to his or her lift will be able to train that initial pull with some assistance, like training wheels, until they can progressively work up to using less and less band assistance, or adding more bar weight to the same band tension.
The lifter who struggles to lockout can get assistance from the bottom of the rep to help have more momentum going into the sticking point of their lift, allowing them to get more reps at the lockout without taxing themselves by pulling the full load bottom to top for every rep.
Using the bands this way, the lifter locks out a full 405 at the top where no tension from the bands is assisting but can do so by starting to pull something much lighter from the floor with great tension and assistance from the bands.
By getting assistance from the bands, lifters can get a few benefits discussed below.
Check out my other article discussing the banded deadlift (a different variation using accommodating bands not reverse bands).
3 Benefits of Doing Reverse Band Deadlift
There are three main benefits to training your deadlift with reverse bands:
- Target sticking points in your deadlift
- Safely overload your deadlift to acclimate to higher weights
- Train force production in your deadlift
As we described above, by changing the strength curve with reverse bands, you can add or remove difficulty in various stages of the lift.
Imagine a pole vaulter struggles with their landing on the pad and they need to practice it over and over again to get it right. They have to do the full vault to train that portion of the movement. They have to run, stick the pole into the anchor point, clear the bar, and THEN practice their landing/crash into the pad. They can’t isolate that piece of the movement on its own.
That’s what training with reverse bands does. If you struggle to lockout a deadlift, don’t worry about exerting all the energy to get the bar off the floor just to train your lockout – set up reverse bands to get assistance off the floor so you can lockout that weight over and over again without doing the whole lift.
While it’s not possible to isolate a portion of a pole vault this way, we break down compound lifts this way to train strength all the time.
Overloading, or steadily increasing your working weights, is a key strategy to building strength. Reverse bands allow a lifter to overload more than they would be able to do with bar weight alone.
Think of the reverse band deadlift as a method for sampling heavier weights. With the help of reverse bands, you can feel the full weight of 500lbs in your hands at the top of a deadlift without actually doing a 500lb deadlift start to finish.
The bands gave you a spring at the start, built some momentum, but by the time you lock it out, the bands have slackened and the weight is completely in your hands. With this setup, you can likely perform multiple reps with a weight you’ve never been able to hit for a single.
Sure, it’s not the same as doing the weight by itself without assistance, but you can absolutely use it to build your lockout muscles to be prepared for that weight when you do attempt it conventionally.
Read our full guide to what muscles are used in the deadlift, which will explain how to know which muscles are being used at different stages of the lift.
We wrote a separate guide to training with chains, and there 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.
The simple explanation is that the chains allowed the researchers to manipulate the lifts to be more difficult at the top of the rep, making the lifters use more force to complete the deadlift.
When they measured the lifters performing the normal deadlift without the chains later, they found the athletes exhibited greater force throughout the lift than they had before training with chains.
The same principle is true when reverse bands are used for accommodating resistance – as the bar moves upward, the bands offer less and less assistance, making the load heavier, and the lifter has to exert more of their own force to complete the lift.
With chains, the load on the barbell gets heavier with each inch it moves upward, picking up a few more links as it goes, making the 18”-24” difference in chain hanging at the top much heavier than it was at the bottom when it was sitting on the floor.
With reverse bands, we’re doing it backwards – giving you assistance from the bottom and removing that assistance at the top. In both scenarios, the lift gets more difficult as it moves upward, but for different reasons.
The difference that I like with bands is that the tension builds and decreases exponentially with each inch of range of motion, while a chain loads in a linear scale.
At the end of the day, training with a reverse band on your deadlift will acclimate you to exerting more consistent force throughout your lift.
Need to get a pair of reverse bands? I recommend getting the entire set from WOD Nation (click to check today’s price on Amazon). You can use the different band thicknesses to get more or less assistance from the movement, which you can use to progress into heavier weights.
How To Set Up The Reverse Band Deadlift (7 Steps)
You’ll need to set up your deadlift in a power rack or some kind of overhead rack. There may be some exceptions you find in your gym, but this won’t typically work outside of a power rack.
- Step #1: Place the barbell 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 adjust the safety bars somewhere between your eye level and the highest notch in the power rack and attach the bands there to manipulate how much tension they provide to your deadlift (the higher the band is anchored, the more stretch it’ll have at the bottom of your deadlift and the more help you’ll get from it). This will be a really helpful hack if you don’t have a set of bands with varying thickness and tension and you can only adjust their setup week to week.
- 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’s sleeve
You can do this on the outside of the plates, or on the inside, your preference.
Note that if you load the bands FIRST before putting any weight on it, the barbell will likely hang from the rack and not touch the floor. You’ll need to add a plate to each side (or more) to get it all the way to the floor. For this reason, you might consider warming up to a certain weight, then adding the bands to the outside of the plates after.
- 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 deadlift. Perform a few reps with lighter weight to make sure the bands are straight over the barbell.
- Step # 7: Add plates to the bar and work up to your working set.
However you choose to set it up, get someone to help you add and remove plates from each side of the barbell at the same time so the bar doesn’t tip instantly to the right or left. Unlike unloading plates from a bar in a rack, a few lbs on or off the bar will make it unbalanced instantly and can hurt you or someone else if it’s a surprise.
Struggling in the mid-range? Take a look at my article on what to do if you’re weak in the middle of the deadlift.
Reverse Band Deadlift Technique (How-To)
The technique to perform a reverse band deadlift is the same as a standard deadlift (sumo or conventional) without the help of reverse bands. Here are the steps to a clean rep:
- Step up to the bar with your shins against or right up to the barbell
- Bend down and grip the bar tight with both hands.
- Tighten up and initiate the pull as you would a normal deadlift. You may be surprised at how quickly the barbell moves with the help of the bands. Use this added help to be explosive and build momentum as you move upward.
- Continue exerting maximal force as the band tension decreases
- As the bar moves past your knees, push your hips forward to lock out the deadlift.
- Lower the bar back down and repeat.
The biggest technique tip I can share with this variation is to use the help from the bands to your advantage!
Train yourself to build tension and force in your lift and explode off the floor with the help of the bands so that you have momentum to pass into the lockout.
Muscles Worked In The Reverse Band Deadlift
The muscles used in the reverse band deadlift are:
- Low back
- Upper back
As with a standard deadlift, a deadlift with reverse bands will work your hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back and upper back muscles. This will also depend on your stance, whether you use sumo or conventional, but the muscles worked won’t change simply by adding bands.
The setup and placement of the band will affect which muscles get help and which ones have to do more work on their own.
Since the bands help most at the bottom of the lift, the reverse band setup will primarily allow you to overload your lockout muscles (glutes and lower back) and your stabilization muscles (lats and other upper back muscles) by making them work alone once the band tension has worn off at the top of the lift.
A lifter struggling with breaking the weight off the floor can still use this method to train their hamstrings and quads to initiate the pull by making them pull a heavier weight than normal with just a little assistance from the bands to get it going.
How To Program The Reverse Band Deadlift
Similar to any lifting program, the reverse band deadlift can be progressed 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
Remember to limit the number of variables you adjust each workout so you can isolate what is and what isn’t effective. If you change out the bands you use, the weight on the barbell, and how you rig them up, you’ll never know what made the difference and what to adjust next week to make it more challenging and progress.
The simplest change to a program will be to increase the bar weight/reps/sets week to week as you would with a normal program.
If we plan to set up the same bands the same way every week, we can simply add weight to the barbell so that the load is harder and hard to pull from the bottom. The rest of the setup remains constant.
If you own or have access to a variety of bands with different thickness or tension, you can keep the weight on the bar constant, set it up the same each week, and then simply change out which bands you are using. You would likely start with a heavier band and progress to a lighter band, but your program will dictate which direction to go.
Finally, if you only have one set of bands to use, you can leave the bar weight constant, keep the band selection the same, but change how they are set up to make the lift harder or easier. For example, using the tips on setup we discussed above, you can attach the bands to safety bars in a power rack and adjust how high or low you set those safeties overhead to adjust the total stretch or tension on the bands.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is a reverse band deadlift different from a resistance band deadlift?
A reverse band deadlift uses band tension to assist the deadlift, making it easier the more the band is stretched, while a banded deadlift uses band tension to make the deadlift harder with more band tension.
How is a reverse band deadlift different from a standard deadlift?
A reverse band deadlift uses bands to assist the deadlift as you pull upward. A standard deadlift relies on the lifter’s strength to pull the barbell without assistance.
Why is it helpful to get assistance from reverse bands?
Reverse bands allow the lifter to make the deadlift 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 deadlift affect my form?
If reverse bands are improperly set up, they can pull the barbell away from your body or pull the barbell against your body, causing your form to break down. As long as they are set up properly (directly above the barbell), they won’t affect your form.
The reverse band deadlift is a great variation to overload your deadlift, get confidence in your lockout or off the floor, and increase your overall force output in the deadlift without overreaching by chasing bigger weights on the bar alone.
As with any variation that makes a lift easier, I would warn you not to let these weights get to your head. A reverse band deadlift of 600lbs, but with 200lbs of tension at the bottom doesn’t mean you can deadlift 600lbs straight – it means you can deadlift 600lbs with 200lbs of reverse band tension. Hold yourself accountable and use it as a tool to progress, or you may fall into a trap of fooling yourself to think you’re stronger than you are.
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.