Are the big three lifts – the squat, deadlift and bench press – leaving you banged up? Or maybe your performance is just dwindling. There’s something that can help both.
It’s called the reverse method, and by doing it you’ll restructure your big lifts by training them backwards. Not sure what that even means? Think of starting the bench from the bottom position instead of the top with arms extended.
You can do it with all three big lifts to protect your shoulders, knees, and lower back. It’ll also unlock your potential to lift heavier and use more power than you knew you had. Here’s how it works.
The Banded Barbell Pin Press
Having shoulder pain while benching? Got a sticking point right off your chest? Erase that pain and weakness. One of the most effective ways to stabilize the shoulders, hips, and spine during heavy horizontal pressing is by training the bench press in reverse.
Start the bench press with the lifting phase of the lift, NOT the lowering. How? By pressing from pins.
Place light circular resistance bands on the collar of both sides of the barbell and anchor them to the rack. Focus on driving explosively from a dead stop each rep through the entire available range of motion, restabilizing at the bottom position. This will turn up activation and stability that will lead to pain-free shoulders.
By reversing the two phases of the lift, you can help stabilize the most challenging aspect of the movement, which tends to be about 0-3 inches off the chest. This will help you avoid functional pitfalls and blast through sticking points.
As the barbell approaches the chest, many lifters lose upper back tightness, rib cage position, and scapular stability against the bench. This in turn translates into unstable shoulders, which get cranked into unnatural internal rotation and elevation under heavy loads.
This whole scenario can create impingement and increased joint stress on the front side of the shoulders. For heavy pressing, the more stability your upper back can create, the stronger and more fluid your pressing will become.
Though the pin press can be set in a low enough position to have the bar start in contact with the chest, most lifters will be better off training the pin press just above the chest when in an arched and braced position. By setting the pins in a power rack 2-3 inches above the chest, we can limit the terminal end range of motion, making this lift more shoulder friendly while also working through common sticking points.
For lifters with poor lockouts, the pins can of course be raised further away from the chest anywhere within the available range of motion, so position according to your specific needs.
You’ll also have powerful starting strength from the dead-stop position. Remember, acceleration is needed to blast through sticking points.
The Reverse Band Romanian Deadlift
Today, everyone is battling lower back pain and injury at record rates. Even more shocking, the active population that takes part in a routine physical practice is getting hurt MORE than the couch potatoes sitting at home doing nothing.
Why? Because we’ve lost the ability to develop and maintain our foundational movement patterns, the ones every person on earth should be able to execute to some extent. And the most neglected pattern that’s been essentially deleted from our physical movement library is the hip hinge.
So if you’re not doing it, add those hip hinge movements back into your training. But don’t jump right into the standard barbell deadlift. First learn to stabilize, then groove and sequence the hip hinge from the top down using RDL (Romanian deadlift) variations.
Attach circular resistance bands to the top of a power rack and place them under both collars of the barbell. This creates deloading, accommodating resistance in addition to the bar weight itself. It will lighten the weight at the end range of motion where the bar is closest to the floor, and create the heaviest weight at the top upon lockout into neutral.
When relearning and ingraining new movement patterns, starting with the body in an neutral position (standing upright with a stacked posture in this case) is necessary. It’s the easiest way to generate tension and brace yourself. Position your body to activate and stabilize key musculature and master bracing before dynamic movement takes place.
This is the biggest limiting factor when training the deadlift from the ground: the inability to create proper stabilization throughout multiple segments of the body at once while bending over in the starting position.
While this skill is of course useful, I view the bottom-up deadlift (floor to lockout at top) as a progression of the RDL variations that train the top-down approach from neural.
Once you learn to stabilize the shoulders, core, and hips, the next step in relearning the hip hinge pattern is to grade the range of motion eccentrically according to the maintenance of stability and neutrality.
While the spine has natural curvatures through the neck, mid, and lower back, a “neutral” spine refers to keeping three distinct points of neutral position together moving as a unit: the back of the head, the mid back, and the tailbone. In order to maintain a neutral spine and avoid compensatory range of motion and movement that comes from the joints instead of the soft tissues you’re targeting, these three points must stay consistent.
This means you’re only hinging through a range of motion in which you can maintain a neutral spine, and no further. This is why the RDL is a better option for hinge retraining. You can avoid pushing through destabilized ranges of motion that cause compensation instead of muscular action.
Once you’ve got that down and you’re ready to add weight, one of the simplest ways to load the RDL is through reverse banding. This is a game-changer if you’re reintroducing loaded movements and want to gain strength and size in the process.
Squat From Pins
A strong and pain-free squat depends on the three S’s – sequencing, stability and skill – in order to maximize trainability.
Strength athletes usually run into trouble with the squat, not because they lack strength, but because of their problem with one of the three S’s. This can lead to pain at the lower back, shoulders, or knees. It’ll also limit the amount they’re able to lift.
Luckily, the squat can also be performed inversely by starting the bar from a set pin height and driving through the concentric (lifting) phase before descending into the eccentric (lowering) phase.
Using a squat rack with pins or safety bars in conjunction with a low box, you can optimize the bottom position, and set your brace, tension and torque output through your pillar before the bar ever moves off the pins. Remember, the bottom position is actually the most notoriously exacerbating range of the squat.
Sit on the low box, but sit below the bar (it should not be touching your back yet). Set the pins around 1-2 inches above or below a painful range of motion or sticking point in the lift. Depending on whether you’re above or below this specific range, you’ll be loading for specific goals.
Setting up lower for an extended range of motion can help improve your mobility with other lifts, but it needs to be loaded appropriately so you don’t cause more pain. This means that you’ll most likely need to sub-maximally load this lower position as compared to your traditional top-down free squats.
While the opposite potentially holds true for positioning over your sticking point, you may also find that you can supra-maximally load this starting position because of the shortened range of motion and essentially execute a partial rep.
The power of the pins depends on a 1-2 second isometric contraction against the bar no matter the pin height, as the angle of isometric hold irradiates and creates functional transference around 10-20 degrees above or below that position. That means we must train multiple pin positions with an eclectic loading and rep range for optimal long-term results in terms of performance and orthopedic health.
Sit on the box just as you would a box squat to position your feet, hips and torso angle. When you’re set, move up under the bar and tense the shoulders and core while maintaining hip position. You can hold this isometric tension for 1-2 seconds before driving up explosively.
The last variable that can help you increase strength under the bar and pins is the using bands to create accommodating resistance. Both the traditional band setup, where bands are anchored to the ground or bottom of the rack, or a reverse band setup, where the bands support the bar while hanging from the top of the rack, can work.
Both will allow you to use more acceleration and explosion with the available range of motion at the top of the squat before your body will naturally decelerate. Use this tool according to your needs, goals, and skills in combination with the other methods above.