The hanging band method is one of the best ways to improve your bench press and build a bigger, stronger upper body. The idea is simple: you dangle weights on either side of a barbell using large resistance bands.
Here is an excellent video example of the hanging band bench press:
In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you the science behind the hanging band bench press, the best specialty bars for the hanging band method and the best ways to incorporate this training method into your training routines to build size and strength.
Now let’s take a closer look at the science behind this superior training method!
The Science Behind The Hanging Band Method
The hanging band method is actually a form of stability training. Most stability training methods are absolutely useless. Just think of someone squatting on a bosu ball – what in the world is that supposed to accomplish!?
The problem with most stability training methods is they actually reduce the tension on your muscles because the amount of weight you can use is so pathetic.
The hanging band method has the complete opposite effect: it actually makes your muscles work WAY harder than traditional sets!
The hanging band bench press works for three primary reasons:
- It increases the neurological demands of the exercise
- It strengthens the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder joint
- It acts as a form of eccentric training
First of all the hanging band bench press is more neurologically demanding than a regular bench press. It recruits more muscle fibers in all of the primary muscle groups and it forces your body to work harder to maintain perfect technique.
As the weights bounce around in different directions your body has to rapidly recruit new motor units to stabilize the load. The smaller stabilizing muscle of the shoulder also have to work MUCH harder to stabilize the load. In particular your rotator cuff muscles have to work much harder.
The rotator cuff is a family of 4 small muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint. These muscles have to work way harder than normal during the hanging band bench press to stabilize the load. This is a good thing because the rotator cuff is very weak in most trainees.
In fact the Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin believes that a weak rotator cuff is the biggest limiting factor in most trainee’s bench pressing strength.
Finally the hanging band bench press also acts as a form of eccentric training. The hanging weights are bouncing up and down throughout the exercise.
When the weights bounce up the bar “feels” lighter. However, when the weights fall down the bar “feels” heavier. When the weights fall down during the lowering phase of the exercise your muscles have to fire eccentrically to stabilize the weight. These eccentric contractions are very beneficial for building both size and strength gains.
Louie Simmons (the founder of the Westside Barbell powerlifting team) has had a lot of success using the bamboo bar bench press to rehabilitate his shoulders and improve his bench press. Here is a great interview where he talks about the science and benefits of this bar:
“How does the bamboo bar work?”
“It’s helped me rehab, it works all the stabilizers and also with heavier weights it actually makes me stronger. I used a bar like this when I had shoulder socket surgery and 3 months later I benched 300 pounds. My surgeon says hardly anyone else can even touch a weight 3 months out.”
“I have a fellow here right now that uses this bar exclusively. He tore his triceps tendon right off the bone. His therapist told him in 4 months he can handle 2 pounds. In 2 months he’s benching 135 pounds for sets of 20 basically because this bar works the stabilizer muscles of the triceps.”
How has the bamboo bar impacted your training?
“I could never do upright rows but with this bar I can do upright rows because it’s easier on my shoulders. We don’t really know why it works scientifically, we never had a person come in to study this bar from a physiological standpoint.”
“I have a physics professor who says it’s a pendulum chaotic oscillating effect is what it does for strength. What it does to the body, truly I don’t know until I get someone with a high knowledge of physiology to come in.”
This is some priceless information from the world’s greatest powerlifting coach! Now let’s take a look at some of the best ways to use the hanging band bench press in your training.
3 Different Hanging Band Method Barbells
There are three different barbells that you can perform the hanging band bench press with:
- Standard 45 pound barbell
- Bamboo bar
- Earthquake bar
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Option #1: The Standard 45 Pound Barbell
This is the easiest option for most people. You just take a standard 45 pound barbell and hang weights on either side of it using large resistance bands. For example here is the hanging band bench press using a regular barbell:
This option works extremely well for most trainees and can be used on almost any type of routine.
Option #2: The Bamboo Bar
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! The bamboo bar is a “specialty barbell” that was designed for the hanging band method. This barbell is literally made out of bamboo! It is extremely light and bends in all sorts of directions as you perform the bench press.
Here is John Meadows demonstrating the bamboo bar bench press:
The bamboo bar is like the hanging band method on steroids! You have to stabilize both the bar and the weights as they move in all sorts of different directions.
All of the benefits of the hanging band method such as increased motor unit recruitment, improved joint stability, improved technique etc. are enhanced when using this bar.
Option #3: The Earthquake Bar
The earthquake bar is very similar to the bamboo bar. It is also made out of bamboo and is just as flexible. The big difference between the earthquake bar and the bamboo bar is there are three “grooves” on either end of the bar where you can hang bands from.
For example here is Marc Bell demonstrating the earthquake bar bench press:
These three grooves make it much easier to add weight to the bar. You never have to worry about the hanging bands being asymmetrical from one side to the other. Other than that the bamboo bar and the earthquake bar offer the same major benefits.
Hanging Band Bench Press For Powerlifting
Now let’s look at some ways that you can incorporate the hanging band bench press into your training routines to build strength and size. If you are a powerlifter then you may want to use the hanging band bench press as a primary assistance exercise.
The Westside Barbell powerlifters often use the earthquake bar in their bench press workouts. Here is what a typical Westside Barbell max effort workout might look like. Check it out:
Westside Barbell max effort bench press workout
- A1: Floor press with chains (wide grip), 3 x 1**, 1/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Earthquake bar bench press (wide grip), 2 x 20-30***, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Earthquake bar lying triceps extensions (to forehead), 4 x 10-12, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Cable pulldowns (narrow / neutral grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Reverse pec dec machine, 3 x 20-25, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
For this workout the earthquake bar is used as a supplemental bench press exercise and as a triceps accessory exercise. If you have never used the hanging band method for lying triceps extensions then you don’t know what you are missing out on! The soreness you will get in your triceps the following day is out of this world.
The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant is also a big fan of the hanging band bench press. Josh trains a lot of his powerlifters with 2 bench press workouts per week. For example:
- Monday: Heavy bench press day
- Friday: Bench press assistance day
Of course they would also train their squat and deadlift during the week. Josh often uses the hanging band bench press as a key assistance exercise on the bench press assistance day. Here is what a typical Josh Bryant style bench press assistance workout might look like. Check it out:
Josh Bryant bench press assistance day
- A1: Seated Poliquin DB lateral raise, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Seated band pull-apart, 3 x 12-15, 1/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Seated machine row, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Bamboo bar bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 15, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Standing cable rope hammer curls, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
This type of workout is mostly focused on the shoulders and back although there are exercises included for pretty much the entire upper body.
For this workout the bamboo bar bench press is included towards the end of the workout for 5 sets of 15 reps. This is a great way to get some extra volume in for the pressing muscles without negatively impacting your performance on the primary bench press day.
Josh uses a TON of volume on his primary bench press days so you need all the rest and recovery you can get during the week!
Hanging Band Bench Press For Bodybuilding
The hanging band bench press is also a great tool for adding mass to your chest and triceps. The bodybuilding coach John Meadows sometimes uses it in his chest and triceps routines. For example here is how John might organize a chest workout using the hanging band bench press. Check it out:
Mountain Dog Training Hanging Band Chest Workout
- A1: Flat hammer strength machine press, 4 x 8-10**, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6***, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bamboo bar bench press, 3 x 10****, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Standing cable crossover (arms pulling down), 3 x 15****, 1/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
**Perform 4 working sets at 70, 80, 90 and 100% of your estimated 8-10 rep max for that day.
***Perform 4 working sets at 70, 80, 90 and 100% of your estimated 6 rep max for that day
****Perform 3 working sets with the same weight. On your last set hold the weight in the lockout position for 10 seconds after performing your last rep.
*****On your last set perform a double drop set with all three attempts performed to failure.
John Meadows likes to structure his chest workouts so that he performs big barbell exercises like flat bench presses or incline bench presses a little later in his routine. This is why you see the hanging band bench press performed third rather than first in this routine. This is a great strategy to build muscle while staying healthy and avoiding injuries.
Another great strategy for building muscle mass is to perform the hanging band method as part of a tri-set. Tri-sets are exercise circuits where you perform three exercises in a row for the same muscle group with only 10 seconds rest between exercises.
Tri-sets are so effective for building muscle mass because they prolong the time under tension of the set and recruit many different muscle fibers in a very short period of time.
Here is a chest tri-set featuring the hanging band bench press that you may want to try. Check it out:
Chest Tri-Set Featuring The Hanging Band Bench Press
- A1: V-bar dips against bands (forward leaning torso), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 45 degree incline DB press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Earthquake bar bench press (medium grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
This chest tri-set features three completely different angles that will recruit different motor units in the chest motor unit pool. The earthquake bar is performed at the end of the routine to exhaust any remaining muscle fibers that were not fatigued by the previous 2 exercises.
If you perform this tri-set with any amount of intensity then three sets per exercise will be more than enough. Just don’t blame me if your chest is so sore the next day that you can’t reach across your body!
The hanging band bench press is an incredible training method. It is one of the only “stability training” methods that actually produces results. Many of the world’s biggest and strongest athletes use the hanging band method to rehabilitate their shoulders and to build size and strength in their upper bodies.
If you have access to an earthquake bar or a bamboo bar then I strongly recommend you give them a shot. If not then you will still get excellent results with a standard 45 pound barbell.
So what are you waiting for? Go purchase some resistance bands and start taking advantage of this superior training method!
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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