Bands, Chains, and Overhead Strength
Most lifters use accommodating resistance techniques (bands and chains) for the big three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. But this technique is just as effective when applied to the overhead press. It allows you to handle more weight in the top portion of the lift where you're strongest, while de-loading the bottom phase where you're weaker.
The net result is increased strength and hypertrophy throughout the upper body: delts, triceps, upper back, core, upper chest, and shoulder stabilizers. Here are five effective ways to use accommodating resistance on overhead presses.
1 – Band-Assisted Overhead Barbell Press
In this kneeling variation, the bottom of the movement involves assistance, but about midway through the lift the bands totally release, placing 100% of the load on the muscles.
As an added bonus, learning to control a heavy overhead load from a kneeling position will teach your body more about core stability and postural alignment than any other exercise. This has a big impact on nearly every other lift, particularly heavy barbell movements that involve axial loading.
2 – Band-Resisted Overhead Press
Most coaches tend to group band-resisted movements and chain resistance together because they're both forms of accommodating resistance. But band resistance is actually a more difficult progression. It requires more stabilization, motor control, and oftentimes greater levels of strength because the amount of tension increases near lockout.
That's why you need to be prepared to tighten up every muscle in your body when you do band-resisted overheard presses, especially at the top and during the eccentric (lifting) phase. If you do these right, the bands will feel like a sling shot trying to launch the bar back into your body. This produces a strong deceleration force on the eccentric phase of the lift, ultimately triggering a significant neuromuscular potentiation effect.
The kneeling variation is also a great option for lifters that aren't strong enough to use bands that are being fully stretched in the overhead standing position. Green Bay cornerback Josh Hawkins shows how it's done in the video above.
3 – Band-Resisted Unilateral and Isolateral Overhead Press
Isolateral and unilateral exercises such as those involving dumbbells and kettlebells can also be modified to incorporate accommodating resistance. By looping a band around the foot (if using a standing position) or around the knee (if using a kneeling variation) and then placing the opposite end of the band around the hand, you can then press the weight overhead and experience additional tension.
For most people, kneeling variations work better because standing variations involve excessive band tension (unless you use a thin exercise band with handles). Although overhead dumbbell variations and standard kettlebell pressing variations are both incredibly effective, bottoms-up variations are particularly useful.
That's because most people lack the appropriate grip strength to handle significant loads during bottoms-up exercises, oftentimes resulting in their grip strength failing before their shoulder does. By applying bands to bottoms-up kettlebell presses, you can use relatively light loads that won't be enough to cause the grip to give out, but will still provide extreme tension to the shoulders and upper-body pressing muscles.
Bands will also help you master bottoms-up pressing mechanics. The bands force you to keep your elbows tucked and use controlled technique. If you've had trouble getting enough shoulder activation and upper body stimulation on bottoms-up presses, give these a go.
You might also try placing a knot somewhere in the middle of the band. This keeps the bands from running into your crotch.
4 – Standing Military Press with Chains
Be prepared to accelerate through the movement or you'll feel as though you hit a brick wall, as NFL athlete Jake Banta experienced in the video.
Chains help match the strength curve of your muscles to the exercise you're doing. As you lift the weight, more of the chain comes off the floor, placing greater loading at the top where you're strongest. Similarly, as you approach the bottom position, which is where most lifters are weakest, more of the chains reach the floor, de-loading the barbell.
As an added benefit, once you complete about 75% of the pressing phase and begin to lock the weight out overhead, the chains will fully de-load off the floor. Besides forcing you to handle the entire load without any assistance, the free hanging nature of the chains creates additional oscillations and sway to the barbell.
This forces you to stabilize the load by activating nearly every muscle fiber from the hips up. Learning to control such a volatile load in the overhead position improves motor control, strength, and neuromuscular efficiency.
5 – Isolateral Seated Overhead Chain Press
Most forms of accommodating resistance involve bilateral movements in the form of barbells as each side is dependent on the other. However, the same concept can be applied to isolateral variations (both sides working separately, yet independently) by attaching chains to individual straps and handles.
If you're looking to reap the benefits of accommodating resistance yet looking for an overhead movement that works each side individually, this is your go-to lift.