The hanging band method is one of the craziest training methods of all time. The idea is simple: you are going to hang weights from a barbell using large resistance bands.
Here is a perfect demonstration:
Many of the world’s strongest athletes such as the bench press world record holder Julius Maddox use the hanging band method as a core part of their training program.
The powerlifting guru Louie Simmons is another big believer in this training method. He has used the hanging band method to rehabilitate his shoulders following a shoulder replacement surgery.
The first time you perform this method it will feel almost impossible to stabilize the bar. It will feel like the hanging weights are bullying you around! Don’t worry – that is perfectly normal. As you gain more experience with this method you will be able to stabilize the bar as you press.
The hanging band method has several advantages over traditional “straight weight”:
- Increased muscle fiber recruitment
- Increased neurological adaptations
- Improved joint stability during dynamic movement
Let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages.
Advantage #1: Increased Muscle Fiber Recruitment
Research and real-world experience show that the hanging band method helps you to recruit more muscle fibers than regular sets. There are many reasons for this.
First of all the hanging bands create a chaotic environment where the center of mass of the exercise moves all over the place. Your body is forced to recruit more muscle fibers in order to stabilize the load and maintain the proper bar path during the exercise.
The hanging bands also change how heavy the weight feels in your hands as you press the weight.
Just take a look at the following video of the Westside Barbell powerlifting team performing the hanging band bench press:
What do you see? The weights are bouncing up and down throughout the set! When the weights shoot upwards they are applying less downwards force on the bands and on the barbell. In other words the bar feels lighter in your hands!
The exact opposite happens when the weights shoot downwards: they are applying extra downwards force onto the barbell which makes the weight feel heavier in your hands!
Let’s say that you are bench pressing 200 pounds using the hanging band method. Here is what the weight will feel like in your hands at different points in the movement:
- Weights are shooting upwards: 250 pounds
- Weights are neutral: 200 pounds
- Weights are shooting downwards: 150 pounds
In other words if you are bench pressing 200 pounds using the hanging band method then the bar will feel like it is anywhere from 150-250 pounds as the weights move up and down! Your muscles have to adapt to this rapid change in resistance by rapidly recruiting additional motor units to stabilize the load.
Advantage #2: Increased Neurological Adaptations
The hanging band method is more stressful to your central nervous system than regular training methods. This is a good thing if you are trying to get stronger and build functional hypertrophy! There are at least 2 reasons for this.
First of all the bands force your body to constantly fire new motor units to maintain perfect technique on the exercise.
OK, I want you to think of a 1-year old baby just learning how to walk for the first time. When the baby walks he is wobbling all over the place and can barely maintain his balance! This is because his nervous system has not learned how to coordinate his muscles in the correct sequence to walk without falling.
As the baby walks his nervous system has to make countless micro-adjustments to maintain proper technique.
The exact same thing happens when you use the hanging band method! Your body has to learn how to make micro-adjustments in your form as you press the weight in order to maintain perfect technique as you press the weight.
Just take a look at the following video:
This athlete is very experienced with using the hanging band method. Despite that he is having one hell of a time stabilizing the weight as he presses! His nervous system is working overtime because he has to make an endless number of micro-adjustments during the set to maintain good form.
If he relaxes for even half a second the weight is going to fall down and smack him in the face!
The other reason the hanging band method places more stress on your nervous system is because the center of gravity of the movement is below your hands!
OK, I want you to think about a regular bench press. The center of gravity for the barbell is, you guessed it, right in the middle of the barbell! The center of the barbell is actually above your hands so the center of gravity of a bench press is slightly above the point where you apply force.
With the hanging band method it is the total opposite: the center of gravity of the exercise is below your hands! In fact it is way below your hands! This gives the exercise a completely different feel. It just one of those things that you have to feel to believe.
Christian Thibadeau and John Meadows are also big fans of movements where the center of gravity is below your hands. John loves exercises like kettlebell tricep extensions and kettlebell rows for this very reason.
Advantage #3: Improved Joint Stability During Dynamic Movement
The hanging band method is by far one of the best tools that you can use to increase the stability of your shoulder joint. In my experience most people have extremely weak rotator cuff muscles.
It does not matter if they are a patient complaining of shoulder pain or an elite level bodybuilder / powerlifter – almost everyone could use more rotator cuff strength!
The rotator cuff is a family of 4 muscles that sit deep on the shoulder joint. Their primary job is to stabilize the shoulder joint during dynamic exercises like bench presses, overhead presses, chin ups and rows. If your rotator cuff is not strong enough to stabilize the shoulder joint then you will have decreased strength at best or something else at worst!
As you can see the hanging band method is a superior tool for building muscle mass / strength and preventing injuries!
If you are new to the hanging band technique then I recommend you start by hanging weights from a regular 45-pound barbell. However, if you are a more advanced bodybuilder or powerlifter then you may want to try out some of the more advanced specialty bars that have been developed specifically for the hanging band method.
There are four different types of barbells you can use with the hanging band method:
- A Regular Barbell
- The Bamboo Bar
- The Earthquake Bar
- A PVC Pipe
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Option #1: A Regular Barbell
This is by far the simplest option: you just hang weights from a regular barbell! There are some people out there who will say that the hanging band method is only worth using if you have access to a specialty bar like the bamboo bar or the earthquake bar. I completely disagree!
The hanging band method works AWESOME when paired with a regular barbell. You just hang the weights on either side of the barbell either alone or in combination with regular weights.
Here is a great demonstration:
I want you to take a close look at the video. Look at how much his shoulders and arms are shaking during the lift! They aren’t shaking because he has a weak upper body or anything like that. Oh no – they’re shaking because the hanging weights are oscillating all over the place!
I think you will be surprised at how sore you get after your first hanging band workout using a regular 45-pound barbell. It is a very good tool for building muscle mass and strength.
Option #2: The Bamboo Bar
The bamboo bar was literally designed from the ground up to be used for the hanging band method. Here is a perfect video demonstration:
This specialty barbell is pretty simple to use. You just hang the weights on either side of the barbell. The bamboo bar is actually made out of bamboo. This makes the bar extremely difficult to use.
The bar actually bends while you use it which means the hanging weights will “bully” you in every direction much harder than normal.
The bamboo bar also places significantly more tension on your muscle fibers than a regular barbell. You have to be very, very careful the first time you use this barbell. It takes you a while to get used to it where you can safely lift heavier weights.
Option #3: The Earthquake Bar
Finally we have the earthquake bar. This is my absolute favourite specialty bar to use with the hanging band technique.
The earthquake bar is almost exactly the same as the bamboo bar. The big difference is there are three grooves on either end of the barbell where you can hang your weights. These grooves make it easier to set up your weights and to make sure they are balanced on both sides of the barbell.
Here is a great video of the earthquake bar in action:
As you can see the bar whips around like crazy as you are using it. This forces your primary and secondary muscle groups to work much harder than normal. The big drawback to the earthquake bar is its price. It sells for over 300 dollars!
If you are a serious powerlifter then this will not be such a big deal. However, for the average trainee it is hard to justify the price tag. Actually the regular bamboo bar is also quite expensive. If you cannot afford these specialty bars then a regular 45-pound barbell will get the job done just fine.
Option #4: A PVC Pipe
If you really want to use a bamboo bar or earthquake bar but cannot afford one then consider building your own specialty bar! You can actually make an imitation earthquake bar using a regular-old PVC pipe.
For example here is a PVC pipe bench press in action:
The PVC pipe bends almost like a regular earthquake bar. If you are creative enough then there are ways of making sure that the bands do not fall off either side of the pipe.
The PVC pipe works well if you are not already super strong. However, if you are an elite-level powerlifter then you may run into trouble. The PVC pipe can only handle so much weight without breaking and you may push it over the limit!
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you use a regular 45-pound barbell over a PVC pipe. However, this can be a reasonable option if you are really on a budget.
Now let’s discuss some of the best ways to use the hanging band method to build strength and size. Check it out:
How To Use The Hanging Band Method To Build Strength
Did you know that many of the strongest bench pressers in the world use the hanging band method to build their upper body strength? It’s true! In fact the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox regularly uses the hanging band method in his training.
Here is Julius using hanging bands on the overhead press to bullet-proof his shoulders and strengthen his rotator cuff muscles:
Julius really likes to pair the hanging band technique together with the overhead press.
Compared to the bench press the overhead press does a much better job of strengthening the deltoids and the rotator cuff muscles. The overhead press also does more to improve the overall health of your shoulder joint.
Julius normally performs the hanging band overhead press on his bench press accessory day. Here is what one of his accessory workouts might look like:
Julius Maddox’s Bench Press Accessory Workout
- A1: Push ups, 10 x 25, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Flat DB press, 2 x 20, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Standing “ITY” raises, 3 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Overhead press w/ earthquake bar, 6 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
This is a great strategy to use if you want to improve your shoulder health so you can stabilize heavy bench presses more effectively. In case you were curious Julius alternates between a heavy bench press workout and a bench press accessory workout once every 5 days.
Another great option is to actually use the hanging band method as a core lift that you try to get stronger on. The Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin was a big fan of this method.
He regularly had his athletes train in the 3-5 rep range using the bamboo bar or earthquake bar. At one point he even posted a clip on his Facebook page of his wrestler Helen Maroulis overhead pressing heavy triples with the earthquake bar!
Here is a Helen Maroulis style upper body workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Helen Maroulis Shoulders / Back Workout
- A1: Standing military press with earthquake bar (shoulder-width grip), 8 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Chin up on rings (neutral grip), 8 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB press (neutral grip), 3 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable rope face pulls, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
So far in this article I’ve mainly focused on how to use the hanging band method with compound pressing exercises like the bench press, incline bench press and the overhead press. These are all great choices but they are not the only ones.
Many powerlifters have figured out that the hanging band method works AWESOME for a variety of accessory lifts. Here is a Westside Barbell powerlifter using the hanging band technique on “skull crushers.” Check it out:
If you have never performed this exercise then you don’t know what you are missing! This exercises absolutely DESTROYS the triceps! Just look at how much his arms are shaking as he lowers and lifts the weight. He is recruiting muscle fibers in his triceps that he didn’t even know he had!
This exercise is simply unbelievable for strengthening your triceps for a huge bench press. As an added bonus you don’t have to use a ton of weight so the exercise is very easy on your elbows.
How To Use The Hanging Band Method To Build Muscle Mass
The hanging band method is not just for powerlifters! It is also a great tool for building muscle mass.
When you are using the bamboo bar or earthquake bar you really don’t have to perform any high-intensity training techniques like drop sets, forced reps etc. The bar is so difficult to use that regular straight sets will get the job done.
I have to give credit where credit is due: John Meadows is the only bodybuilder in the world who understands how awesome this method is for building muscle mass. Here is John performing a bamboo bar bench press:
Talk about a brutal set! Even for someone like John this bar is incredibly difficult to use. If you are familiar with John’s Mountain Dog program then you know he likes to perform exercises like bench presses towards the end of his routine.
Here is a sample Mountain Dog style chest workout featuring the bamboo bar that you may want to try. Check it out:
Mountain Dog Chest Workout
- A1: Hammer strength incline press, 4 x 8-12**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press with bamboo bar (medium grip), 3 x 10***, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Pec-dec machine fly, 3 x 12-15****, 1/1/X/1, 60 seconds rest
**Perform your sets at approximately 70%, 80%, 90% and 100% of your estimated max for that rep range
***Perform 10 reps, then hold the weight at the lockout position for 20 seconds before racking the weight
****On your last set perform a double-drop set followed by a 30-second iso-hold in the stretched position of the exercise
I think you will be shocked at how sore your chest gets after performing some high-rep bamboo bar bench presses. Even if your chest never gets sore during regular bench presses this can be a great option. The oscillating weights force the muscle fibers of your chest to work much harder than normal.
John has even experimented with the bamboo bar on smaller exercises like standing barbell curls. For example:
Almost any accessory movement can be performed with the hanging band method if you are creative enough.
I highly recommend you give this method a shot if you want to break through a hypertrophy training plateau. If nothing else it is a novel training stimulus which you can use to “shock” your muscles.
The hanging band method is one of the best training methods in the world for building muscle mass and strength. Many of the world’s biggest and strongest athletes use this method as a regular part of their training.
I know some of you reading this will be afraid to use hanging bands because it looks weird or someone might make fun of you. In that case you have a choice to make:
- You can use the hanging band method and watch your progress skyrocket
- You can stay an über-dweeb forever and train for other people’s approval
The choice is yours!
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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