Why deadlift with bands
Deadlifting with bands will especially address shortcomings in the lifters bar speed. The focus is on speed and not on maximum strength. They are programmed in once a week for 5 - 8 sets by 2 repetitions at 50 - 80% of one repetition maximum. Most gyms do not have the necessary facilities to perform the banded deadlift. Be prepared to bring the necessary equipment yourself. This is an exercise most suited to advanced lifters.
Why should you deadlift with bands
Bands can be a great addition to your strength training when you know how to do it. Whilst first being perceived as tacky and cheap Louie Simmons ushered in the new era of band training. Westside barbell used bands extensively in what is now known as the west side method. Simmons managed to create one of the strongest communities in his gym worldwide by extensive use of bands.
Users of bands report increases of their squat from 500 to 700 pounds in 1.5 years. This is achieved by manipulating the strength curve in training. Even the smallest bands can add 50 pounds at the bottom of the deadlift going to 200 pounds at the top. Bands can be a way to train harder, for longer with a less injury risk. The proper use of bands needs a good coach or experienced lifter.
My experience with bands
Personally, I incorporated bands too early in my training. My Wendler 531 training went very well and I got greedy. So I combined the west side method with Wendler 531 to make gains faster. Putting myself on a program that was too demanding for my experience resulted in a lower back injury. My deadlift plummeted from 190kg to 120kg. I had to rebuild from scratch. In this period of time, I was a beginner. As a beginner, I overused supporting equipment like belts, bands, and supplements.
Within this period I was able to set a new record for my bench press at 140kg. Comparatively, this is my most advanced lift. This reflects my general impression that bands are most suitable for advanced lifters. Beginners should stick to the basics of building muscle and strength. Once the foundation is laid in the first 2 - 3 years of training bands can be looked at.
Benefits of bands
There are not a lot of peer-reviewed studies out there. Here are the benefits I found in several articles
- Increase strength
- Develop explosiveness
- Improve lockout
- Improve speed of ground
The increasing strength argument mainly goe back to the assumption that you can do more repetitions with less fatigue. This is at the core of the West Side philosophy of training. You can train more and heavier with less risk as you are manipulating the impact the weight has during the movement.
Developing explosiveness relates to the fact that the resistance of bands during a banded deadlift steadily increases. Many lifters find that on the way up the speed of the bar decreases. This is also due to physics and biomechanics. The higher you pull the bar the more force is needed to keep it in place. The longer your muscles are under tension the more fatigued they become. As long as you have not locked out your knees and hips you can not make use of the mechanical leverages these points give you. You will see that most deadlifts are failed around the knees or hips, once they move off the ground. Bands will help the lifter in training to keep accelerating through the entire lift. In turn, they will find it easier to push through these sticking points in a competition.
Improving lockout can be looked at as a direct result of increased explosiveness and therefore bar speed during the lift. The faster you pull the more likely you hit the lockout. Bands can add extra resistance in this portion of the lift for targeted training.
Improving speed off the ground can also be a result of using bands. Especially for sumo deadlifters, it is important to develop strength in the lowest part of the deadlift. Adding bands to the movement can help to make breaking ground easier once the bands are removed. This assumes that the load on the barbell stays the same.
- Aid in rehab
- Recovery from surgery
- Less stress on connective tissue
- Minimizing pec tear and shoulder injury
If you have gone through rehab it is likely that you will have used bands. The increasing resistance from bands during the movement has been popular to help in these scenarios. Many powerlifters also report that the use of bands helped them to ease themselves into the deadlift after a major injury.
Bands are most often mentioned in recovery from hip surgery for heavy squatters. In this scenario, they are used in combination with box squats. This especially helps when the lifter can not squat below parallel. There is not a lot of information on how bands help in the recovery process for deadlifts. This can be also due to the fact that the reverse band deadlift is not used as much as the banded deadlift.
There is also an argument being made for less stress on the connective tissue when using bands for the deadlift. In these scenarios, you use the reverse banded deadlift to make the exercise easier. While this makes intuitive sense, there is little information to confirm this benefit.
Minimizing pec tear and shoulder injury is related to the use of bands for the bench press. This is not a common injury resulting from the deadlift. During the deadlift, you will most likely tear a biceps or injure your lower back. Bands do not provide a lot of protection here. For the bench press, there are more reports that bands help to avoid shoulder injury and pec tears. This is due to the fact that the risk of injury is highest at the lowest point of the movement. Bands can help by lowering the resistance on this part of the lift. However, based on my own experience, this comes at the cost of a higher injury risk for the elbows. To push through the added band resistance I felt a lot more fatigue and pain in my elbow joints than during normal bench presses.
- Mentally prepares for heavier loads
- Helps to push through plateaus
There are many reports that bands help to get used to heavier loads on the deadlift. It also helps to get through plateaus. Imagine your current three repetition maximum is 140kg. You are stuck at this number now for a half a year. Your ten repetition maximum is moving forward. Your five repetition maximum too. Somehow you just can not get past these three plates on each side for reps. This is a scenario where adding bands to build confidence and volume to push through the plateau can be useful.
Disadvantages of bands
This is a summary of the disadvantages I found in articles and experienced myself when using bands.
- Cheap, tacky
- Harder to set up
Colorful bands do not sit well with the macho image that comes with lifting. While it has gained more acceptance you still might feel that others are laughing at you. In a commercial gym, you might even find that you are not allowed to use a banded set up for your lifts.
In addition, it also takes more time and experience to set the lift up. You have to know how to knot the bands and where to tie them to the rack. The same goes for looping them around the barbell. This takes extra time and material for your training. The added gear you have to bring to the gym and the cost of the bands makes it one of the less convenient training options. Most gyms I know do not provide the proper equipment.
In addition, the deadlift is the hardest lift to set up properly with bands. MOst racks in gyms do not provide the needed drillings at ground floor. Also deadlifting in a rack can be annoying as the barbell can touch of the beams slightly above the ground. A solution is a special deadlift platform, which most gyms do not invest in.
- Additional material
- Higher injury risk
The additional material leaves you open to more equipment failing during the lift. This can be due to a wrong setup or use and abuse. Barbells and plates are relatively safe
While advanced lifters will strive to add complexity to their routine, beginners should avoid it like the plague. Especially for beginners who have not mastered the basic deadlift movement pattern yet, bands should be avoided. The added complexity to the movement and setup exponentially increases the risk of injury. This starts with bruising your eye by getting hit in the face by the band. It ends with a ripped biceps during a stupid one repetition maximum attempt where the band slips off on one side.
- Hard to measure, repeat
- Less specific than the competition
Another challenge with bands is measuring progression. Because the set up will always slightly vary it becomes harder to measure whether you make progress or not. It is still possible, but a lot harder to implement a protocol for. Louie Simmons promotes "constant variation" to address this. Chad Wesley Smith counters that "constant variation" will lead to a lack of focus in training. Both coaches make valid points and I encourage you to read up on both of them. If your main goal is to stay injury free for decades "constant variation" can be a good way. It is not ideal when you want to produce a certain result on a certain movement 12 weeks from now.
The last disadvantage of deadlifts with bands is the lack of specificity. A banded is a less specific movement than a deadlift. As there is no competition that I know of where you compete in banded deadlifts your time is better spent on regular deadlifts. If in total your program provides more banded than normal deadlifts you should look at specificity and reprogram.
Variations of deadlifts with bands
There are different variations for the banded deadlift. Here are the four most common from most to least known:
- Banded deadlift
- Reverse banded deadlift
- Front banded deadlift
- Solo band deadlift
Banded deadlifts are deadlifts where you anchor the bands below the barbell and put the bands over it. By doing this you make the lift the easiest on the ground and the hardest at lockout. This setup is especially good for lifters who have challenges with their lockout and bar speed during the lift. The easiest way to set this up is with a specially made platform. Another option is to use the lower beams of a rack. Avoid setups with dumbbells and kettlebells if you can. They are more likely to move during the lift and you might fall over them.
Reverse banded deadlifts are lesser known and used. Here you anchor the bands above the barbell and put them under it. This setup makes the lift the easiest from the ground and the hardest at the top. It is different from the banded deadlift as you get the most help for breaking the ground and the least for your lockout. This is a good variation for deadlifters who struggle more with breaking ground and less with the lockout.
Front banded deadlifts are a very interesting variation for beginners. The bands are anchored at the same height as the barbell. You will attach them to the rack and pull the barbell away. The bands will pull the barbell away from you during the deadlift. This is especially good to teach beginners how to activate their lats and keep the barbell close to their shins. This variation does not need to be heavily loaded.
Solo banded deadlifts are deadlifts with the band only. This is a variation when you are traveling. Just stand on the band and perform a deadlift. This helps with back pain that can develop from not doing enough training.
How to set up bands for the deadlift
Find a good anchor. Ideally, the rack in the gym already has some specifically provided. If not, use pins at the floor beams to create an anchor. Use a slipknot to tie the band to the anchor. Do not leave an open loop as this generates more risk of the band popping off during the lift. Take care that the band stays under tension during the entire deadlift. Otherwise, you increase injury risk when the band resistance suddenly disappears. You do not need collars if you attach the bands to the sleeve of the barbell.
Ease into using bands. Start light. Try different setups until you are satisfied. When lifters change, change the setup for individual differences. Stay away from one repetition maximum sets. You should work with 50%- 80% of your one rep max including the bands. The main focus is speed and power, not maximum strength.
Here some guidelines which bands to use based on your maximum:
How to program your band training
Band training is an accessory exercise to increase bar speed. It is not the main staple of your training. At the core of your programming should be a hypertrophy or strength program based on your experience. Possible candidates are Wendler 5/3/1, Juggernaut method and German Volume training. Beginners on Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting strength should stay away from band training. The template for band work from the west side is:
- 8 - 12 sets of 2 reps
- 5 - 8 sets with deadlifts
- once a week
Focus on speed on these reps. Rest between sets is short from 30 seconds to one minute. This should be a quick day at the gym.
Who benefits the most from band training
This is a list of people who benefit the most to the least from deadlifting with bands. This is completely based on my own impressions and if you have other ideas, please place them in the comments:
- Geared powerlifters
- Raw powerlifters
Bands are most specific to geared powerlifters. They can use single and multi-ply suits in competition. The effect these have are similar to bands in training. The benefit this has for geared powerlifters is that they do not have to get in and out a suit each training session which is near to impossible.
Raw powerlifters will benefit from banded deadlifts by incorporating a speed day into their weekly training. This is the place to go when the basics of hypertrophy, technique, and strength on the big three lifts are already addressed. I would be interested in opinions from more experienced lifters whether paused deadlifts or banded deadlifts have more benefits.
Banded deadlifts are an excellent tool to improve your bar speed. Once you master the basics of lifting and have packed some muscle on your frame, speed becomes another level to address. If you have the right equipment bands are a good tool to spice up a routine that has become stale. Beginners should stay away while advanced lifters should take care to be laser-focused about what they want to get out of bands. To use bands it might be necessary to change your gym depending on your needs.
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