From the outside, the reverse band squat may look like a human-sized slingshot and appear to give a lifter too much assistance to be of any benefit, but it’s actually a great variation to your squat when done correctly.
What is the reverse band squat? The reverse band squat is used to assist the lifter with bands pulling on the bar upward. At the bottom of the squat, the bands are stretched to pull on the bar to make the load lighter. As the bar moves upward, the bands offer less assistance, making the load progressively heavier toward the top.
Similar to using chains or resistance bands (anchored below the bar to pull against the weight as it moves up), reverse bands dynamically change the total load on the lifter, allowing them to overload portions of the lift, target sticking points or weak spots, and train how much force they exert throughout the lift.
The Purpose Of The Reverse Band Squat
To really know the value of the reverse band squat (or any lift with accommodating resistance), understanding the strength curve will be key.
What Is 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.
In the squat, some lifters may find difficulty turning the weight around at the very bottom of their lift – they get stuck “in the hole” and can’t stand it back up. This portion of the lift needs to be strengthened and developed in order to put enough force into the bar to move it up.
Another lifter may do just fine turning the weight around and get it up a few inches from the bottom of their squat, but fail in the mid-point of their lift and never reach lockout. Regardless of their success moving it from the bottom of the squat to the middle, the lifter is unable to exert the necessary force required at this point in the strength curve, and fails the lift.
In each of these cases, the lifter shows where the strength curve works against them and improvement is needed. This is where the reverse bands come in to help.
Using Bands To Manipulate The Strength Curve
Imagine squatting 315lbs.
From the time the barbell is in the rack, to unracking it onto your back, from the bottom of the squat to the top, the load is 315lbs all the time. It never changes.
Now imagine you’ve set up your squat inside a power rack. You have 315 loaded up, but now you’ve also rigged bands to the outside of the barbell sleeve that extend upward to the top of the power rack where they are anchored.
With the barbell in the rack, the bands are mostly slack, maybe only are slightly tense against the barbell.
Now as you unrack the barbell, it weighs 315lbs as you would expect, because the bands are mostly slack and aren’t pulling on the bar.
As you begin you squat and descend downward, the bands begin to stretch. With every inch you descend toward the bottom of your squat, the bands stretch more and more, offering exponentially increasing assistance, making the load lighter and lighter the further you go. This is also referred to as the Dynamic Effort Method.
At the bottom of the lift, the bands are full stretched, like pulling back on a slingshot. As you turn the weight around to begin squatting it back upward, the bands are pulling on the barbell, making it much lighter than the 315-pound load you started with.
Now with every inch you move the bar upward, the bands slacken, and you get less and less help from them, making the load heavier (exponentially) with every inch upward you move the bar.
How Does This Relate To Lifters Areas Of Weakness In The Squat?
Now think back to the lifter we described above that has a hard time getting back out of the bottom of their squat after descending. With the help of the bands, he or she can now exert all their force from the bottom of the squat with the assistance of the bands to complete the lift.
As they train this over time and reduce the tension on the bands or increase the weight on the bar, their ability to produce enough force from the bottom of the squat will be increased.
The second lifter who struggles to get through the middle of their squat will similarly benefit by having assistance from the bands, but also added momentum from the bottom of the squat to get through that mid-point where they’ve had trouble before.
As with the first lifter, by progressively reducing the amount of band tension and/or increasing the weight on the bar, the lifter will strengthen the muscles and improve their force output necessary for that portion of the lift.
A third lifter might get a huge confidence boost by using reverse bands to perform reps with their max, or get a feel for a much heavier weight than their max without having to perform a rep with that weight on the bar without assistance from the bands.
By getting assistance from the bands, lifters can get a few benefits discussed below.
3 Benefits of Doing Reverse Band Squat
There are three main benefits to training your deadlift with reverse bands:
- Target sticking points in your squat
- Safely overload your squat to acclimate to higher weights
- Train force production in your squat
1. Target Sticking Points In Your Squat
As we described above, by changing the strength curve with reverse bands, you can add or remove difficulty in various stages of the lift.
Your lift is only as good as the weakest point of your lift (your sticking point where you fail consistently). For some it could be at the bottom of the squat, for others the middle, and for others the lockout. As you get stronger and add weight to the bar, your sticking point will also change from time to time.
In order to improve your overall lift, you need to improve that portion of the lift that is the weakest. You need to isolate that stage of the lift and make it stronger.
That’s what training with reverse bands does.
If you struggle to get through the mid-point of your squat standing it back up, don’t worry about performing a full rep with full weight. Throw on some reverse bands so that you aren’t expending all your energy to get out of the hole and you can perform reps strengthening your lower back to improve the mid-range of your squat.
The bands will do much of the work at the bottom, but you have less help from them by the time you reach your sticking point so your own muscles can be trained and developed to do the work.
Another great exercise for producing strength in the mid and top-end range of motion of the squat is the High Box Squat.
2. Safely Overload Your Squat To Acclimate To Higher Weights
Overloading, or progressively 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.
By rigging up the reverse bands, you can walk out 500lbs and feel all 500lbs on your back.
The bands begin to stretch as you sit into the squat, making the 500lb bar weight lighter and lighter on the way down. When you begin to squat the weight back up, you have the full stretch of the bands, so you’re not actually squatting 500lbs, but by the time you get back to the top, you still feel that full load and get an idea of what it’ll be like to take that weight for a full rep without the assistance of bands.
Of course it’s not the same as squatting the weight by itself without assistance, but that’s the point.
You can use the assistance in the portion of the squat you wouldn’t be able to do alone (likely the bottom of the rep) and still use 500lbs to train your lockout. You wouldn’t be able to train your lockout with 500lbs without the bands.
3. Train Force Production In Your Squat
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning research conducted 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 results come from reverse bands on a squat – 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.
When using chains, you’re making the load heavier every inch the squat moves upward, and the weight increases link by link.
When using reverse bands, we’re removing assistance as the bar goes up and the bands lose tension. The less assistance you have, the heavier the load gets, and the outcome is the same as with chains – the load gets harder and harder as it moves up, requiring more force output from the lifter.
The biggest difference with bands vs chains is that chains increase weight in a linear fashion (every inch the bar moves up lifts the same amount of chain, in most setups) while the bands increase and decrease tension/load in an exponential fashion (every additional inch the bar moves adds more tension than the last inch of motion).
At the end of the day, training with a reverse band on your squat will train you to exert consistent force throughout the entire 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 Squat (7 Steps)
You’ll need to set up your squat 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 with a combo rack or other squat uprights.
- 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.
Another option is to loop the bands on the safety bars and adjust how high you set the safety bars above the bar rack. The higher you set the bars, the more band tension you’ll get at the bottom of your squat. This is the best suggestion for lifters that only have one set of bands and can’t adjust which set of bands you use week to week.
- Step #3: Adjust the two bands so that each knot is as close to identical as possible, as well as their alignment.
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. Make sure they are aligned with one another so they aren’t making the bar sit crooked when you walk it out.
- 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 above the rack hooks. You’ll need to add a plate to each side (or more) to get it to sit in the rack. In this case, I’d recommend warming up to a weight that offsets the tension enough to sit in the rack, then adding the bands for the remainder of your warmups.
- 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 squat. Perform a few reps with lighter weight to make sure the bands are straight over the barbell. If the knots are in front of the bar or behind it, it will affect your balance.
- Step # 7: Add plates to the bar and work up to your working set.
However you choose to set it up, remember to remove the bands as soon as possible when unloading the bar. It’s not uncommon to start to remove plates (even small plates of 10-25lbs) and have the bar suddenly tip to one side from the band tension.
Get someone to help you unload the bar evenly from each side until you can remove the bands to avoid hurting yourself or others, or damaging gym equipment.
Reverse Band Squat Technique (How-To)
The technique to perform a reverse band squat is the same as a standard squat without the help of reverse bands. Here are the steps to a clean rep:
- Step under the barbell, pull it tight against your back, and unrack it by stepping up and backward a few steps. Take a read of other squat cues you should use prior to unracking the barbell.
- Make sure you have stepped back directly underneath the knotted bands, not too far back, and not too far forward to prevent them from pulling the bar forward or backward out of your regular bar path.
- Tighten up and initiate the squat as you normally would down to the bottom of the squat where you break parallel.
- Squat the bar upward as hard as you can, relying on the reverse band tension to help you accelerate upward more than you would be able to without it.
- Push your glutes and hips forward as you lockout the squat.
- Repeat for additional reps, and return the bar to the rack.
The most important recommendation here is to take advantage of the assistance bands by standing the squat up as hard and fast as you can. In other words, applying max force at all times.
Use this lift to train yourself to explode out of the bottom of the squat so that as you return to programming a normal squat without the bands, you’ve developed additional force to pass into the bar.
Muscles Worked In The Reverse Band Squat
The muscles used in the reverse band squat are the same as a standard squat:
- Upper back
- Lower back
The way you set up the bands and the tension will affect how much each of these muscles are aided by the bands..
There’s two ways to think about this – first, you can emphasize the lockout muscles by making them work harder, since they don’t get as much assistance from the bands. This would be accomplished by adding more weight to the bar than you would be able to do without the bands, letting the bands help you out of the bottom of the squat, and then allowing your lockout muscles (glutes, lower back) to move a greater load over and over at the top of the lift.
The second approach would be to load the bar with a normal weight that you can perform for a single or double and use a lighter band to give some assistance at the bottom of a squat, but still making you do most of the work, helping you develop the muscles and force needed to get out of the hole after breaking parallel (quads, glutes).
In both scenarios, you can target specific muscles in each stage of the lift.
Check out my complete guide to the muscles used in the squat.
How To Program The Reverse Band Squat
Similar to any lifting program, the reverse band squat 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
Reminder: Only adjust one variable week over week. You’ll have no good information to work from if you change the bar weight, the band tension, and the band setup each week. Pick one variable to adjust at a time so you can see how it’s affecting you and progress it from there.
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.
As long as the other two variables remain the same (band selection and band setup), increasing the bar weight week over week will mean less assistance from the bands and more effort from the lifter.
Another great way to progress your lift is to reduce the thickness of the bands over the course of several weeks. You can start with a heavy band, leave the bar weight and the band setup the same, and simply move to a lighter band over time, making the lifter develop the strength to compensate for the reduced assistance.
The final option is to adjust the setup of the bands.
This is the most volatile of the three, since equipment and circumstances of the setup can vary so much.
The idea is to use the same bar weight and the same bands, but change the amount of tension you get by setting the bands higher or lower above the barbell.
You can do this with the safety bars in a power rack (described above in How to Set Up the Reverse Band Squat), you can double the bands under the bar, or add additional knots to increase the band’s overall tension.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is a reverse band squat different from a resistance band squat?
A reverse band squat uses band tension to assist the squat, making it easier the more the band is stretched toward the bottom of the lift, while a banded squat uses band tension to make the squat harder with more band tension as the bar moves upward.
How is a reverse band squat different from a standard squat?
A reverse band squat uses bands to assist the squat as you pull upward. A standard squat relies on the lifter’s strength to squat the barbell without assistance.
Why is it helpful to get assistance from reverse bands?
Reverse bands allow the lifter to make the squat 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 squat 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 squat is a great variation to overload your squat, get confidence in your squat, and increase your overall force output. Even though the bands can take on much of the work, there’s a real excitement and confidence boost that comes with adding an extra set of plates to the bar, putting it on your back, and squatting it. There’s nothing quite like doing 90lbs more than your max for 2 or 3 reps.
My warning is to not let that go to your head more than necessary. Use the bands to overload your lifts, but don’t rely on them and trick yourself into thinking you can suddenly do 90lbs more than your max when you remove the bands. Use the reverse band setup as a tool to overload, target sticking points, and improve your force output, and get back to progressing your standard squat to see the real results.