The Most Difficult Training Method You’ve Never Used: Hanging Band Isolateral Barbell Method
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
I’m a huge fan of periodically incorporating highly difficult and advanced variations of traditional exercises. That’s because they not only expose any and all forms of movement dysfunction, they also help address and correct many of these movement aberrations by enhancing motor control, stability, neuromuscular efficiency and many other biomotor qualities. As many of you know I’ve written multiple articles on the hanging band technique as well as the barbell javelin press protocol including several articles for T-Nation and Bodybuilding.com. Both of these represent two of my favorite unstable training methods.
However, I’ve recently been experimenting with a novel training stimulus that involves combining both the hanging band technique and the barbell javelin press into the hanging band isolateral and unilateral barbell method. And while I’ve yet to see the new Star Wars film, I think it’s safe to say this method of training is on par with master Jedi movement mastery that Yoda, proud of, he would be.
While this is a highly advanced training method that should only be used by experienced athletes and competent lifters alike, the hanging band isolateral barbell method is one of the single most brutal yet highly effective lifting methods I’ve ever used. It may also be the single most difficult unstable training technique I’ve employed as the combination of the oscillating kinetic energy produced by the hanging band technique combined with the tilting, twisting, and rotational forces produced by the isolateral barbell protocol make this one incredibly challenging stimulus. However, this isn’t just some circus act that’s meant for your local talent show. Instead, periodically incorporating this into your routine is sure to expose even the most subtle movement aberrations and form issues that you normally wouldn’t detect with the naked eye.
In addition, the level of proprioception, sensory feedback, and kinesthetic awareness both needed and gained from these variations is difficult to replicate with any form of exercise. Paired with eccentric isometrics as shown in many of the following videos the combination truly maximizes muscle function, and takes kinesthetic awareness to another level. It should also be noted that the eccentric isometric protocol is performed almost out of pure necessity as neglecting to incorporate the EI technique into the hanging band isolateral barbell method will cause the weights to move out of control. In reality, the only way to maintain control of the volatile loads is to incorporate eccentric isometrics as they’re the most effective lifting protocol not only for maximizing body mechanics but for producing rock solid motor control. With that said, if you can learn to dial in your form with the hanging band isolateral barbell method and control the movement on a variety of eccentric isometric exercises, chances are you’ve learned to master your body mechanics and movement efficiency to unprecedented levels. Here’s a breakdown of a variety of exercises incorporating unilateral and isolateral versions of the hanging band barbell protocol.
If I had to make a list of all the form mistakes I frequently notice on chest pressing exercises it would be a very long and extensive list as most individuals including advanced lifters often perform horizontal presses incorrectly. With that said a few of the most common problems on horizontal presses include, poor stability, lack of elbow tuck, lack of shoulder depression and retraction, overcrowding the shoulder joint in the stretched position, excessive range of motion in the bottom position, over-protraction in the top position, lack of motor control particularly in the eccentric phase, and lack of full body tightness throughout the lift. Fortunately the hanging band isolateral and unilateral barbell chest presses helps address each of these issues.
Although there are numerous chest presses that can be performed in conjunction with the hanging band isolateral barbell method, the incline version is my go-to choice as it allows room to press without the weights hitting the floor. In the video you’ll notice I’m preforming the single arm incline version with a head-off protocol which also requires significant core and rotary stability. The head off technique helps to ensure optimal cervical elongation which ensures ample t-spine extension and shoulder retraction.
In the second exercise Ben is performing the isolateral version using two barbells. This is incredibly challenging as the amount of focus, mental concentration, and overall kinesthetic awareness needed to dial in 2 unstable barbells at once is inordinately high. In the last exercise of the chest compilation I have Leslie performing a unique t-bench version of the unilateral hanging band barbell method. Besides providing less full body support, the level of glute, hamstrings, and hip activation needed to lock the body in under such intense conditions is unusually high throughout. As a result the movement becomes a full body chest exercise.
Besides crushing the chest, shoulders, and triceps, these variations will provide an immediate fix for cleaning up horizontal pressing form and mechanics as even the slightest deviation in form will cause the volatile barbells to bounce, shift, tilt, or rotate in an almost uncontrollable fashion. Once you learn to master this movement, be prepared for a nice boost in strength when returning to traditional bench press variations as you’ll most likely have gained a substantial increase in functional strength and size not to mention improved neuromuscular efficiency during horizontal pressing movements.
Squats, Deadlifts, and Lunges
If you’re looking for a training protocol that teaches proper squat mechanics, deadlift technique, and lunge form, look no further than the hanging band isolateral barbell protocol. Besides requiring perfectly smooth mechanics with absolutely no momentum, it also provides immediate feedback. Simply, if you lean forward excessively or allow your bodyweight and knees to shift forward the bars will begin to tilt forward. Similarly if your shoulders begin to round the bars will also tilt forward. In contrast if you have a tendency to hyperextend your low back and lumbar spine or tilt your head up excessively the bars will tilt back.
It also helps promote optimal range of motion as going significantly beyond 90 degrees will place the body into a biomechanically unsound position which will show up by various deviations to the barbells and hanging weights making the movement become almost uncontrollable. Simply put, this hanging band isolateral barbell method provides immediate feedback about form and body mechanics, helping to clean up both squat and deadlift form as well as split squat and lunge technique. As an added bonus these are some of the best forearm and grip exercises you’ll ever attempt.
You’ll notice several different squat and deadlift variations in the video. The first one which I’m demonstrating is a basic eccentric isometric deadlift squat variation that looks and feels almost identical to an eccentric isometric trap bar variation. You’ll also notice that I’m using significant loading of 115 pounds per arm. While this amount of load typically wouldn’t be enough to challenge my lower body with traditional loading methods, when applied to the hanging band isolateral barbell technique, this provides more than enough stimulation to my legs.
The second one demonstrated by Leslie Petch involves additional loading in the form of chains around her neck. The purpose of this is that many lifters will notice that their grip gives out before their legs do. Adding resistance in the form of chains or weighted vest to the torso helps minimize grip fatigue while maximizing lower body overload. The last two deadlift squat variations demonstrated by Ben Lai and Todd Weiland involve a constant tension eccentric isometric position as the lifter simply stays in the bottom half of the movement. This is a particularly effective means of creating significant mechanical tension and metabolic stress that absolutely pulverizes the quads, glutes, and hamstrings not to mention the entire upper body.
The Ultimate Javelin Press
The javelin press represents one of the most physically and mentally demanding overhead pressing variations there is. Combine the hanging band technique with the javelin press and this is sure to be one of the most challenging overhead pressing variation you’ll ever perform.
Besides absolutely annihilating your shoulders, upper back, triceps, core, forearms, and traps, this may be the single most effective vertical pressing variation I’ve ever used for reinforcing proper t-spine extension, scapular retraction, and shoulder depression on overhead presses. Most individuals fail to implement these cues correctly. However, the hanging band unilateral barbell method literally forces the lifter to apply these previously mentioned cues as failing to do so will literally make the bar, bounce, shift, and wobble, out of control.
And yes this represents proper t-spine extension as most of the recommendations in the fitness industry regarding overhead pressing mechanics involve an overly upright torso position that fails to include proper shoulder packing and lat activation as the individuals don’t implement optimal thoracic extension. If it still doesn’t make sense check out this video.
You’ll also notice the range of motion is slightly more compact than what’s typically preached. However, this also represents ideal range of motion for the shoulder joint during overhead presses as going significantly deeper requires the lifter to collapse to varying degrees, lose intramuscular tightness, minimize core activation, forfeit spinal rigidity, and place undue stress on the shoulder joint.
Bent Over Rows
Both single and double arm suitcase barbell rows are some of my favorite horizontal pulling exercises as the intensity of stimulation to the entire upper back and lats is exceptionally high. However, applying the hanging band protocol to these variations takes these rows to another level. In essence the hanging band isolateral barbell rows teach the lifter quite a bit about their rowing mechanics as even the slightest bit of over-rowing at the top position (allowing the tricep to move significantly past the plane of the torso) or over-stretching in the bottom position (allowing the shoulders to round) will cause the shoulders to destabilize and move out of optimal alignment thereby causing the barbells to tilt and bounce.
To keep the bars completely parallel to the floor as well as parallel to each other throughout the set, the lifter will be required to maintain optimal spinal alignment and shoulder positioning throughout by performing rowing motions that involve smooth 90 degree joint angles. And yes the forearms and grip get absolutely pummeled not to mention the biceps, rear delts, glutes, and hamstrings.
If you really want to increase the intensity of this movement and master full body motor control, try performing this hanging band isolateral barbell row in a single leg RDL position as I show in the first portion of the video. Besides annihilating the entire posterior chain, this represents the epitome of mastering your body mechanics and horizontal pulling technique as there is literally no room for error. And yes if you over-row at the top, over-stretch at the bottom, abandon optimal hip hinge mechanics, or simply lose your form for even a split second you’ll create double instability resulting in loss of balance. Simply put you’ll not only destabilize your body but you’ll also destabilize the bars. This is without a doubt the most difficult bent over row variation I’ve ever performed.
For most individuals the more basic version that involves double leg support and two barbells, as demonstrated by my client Todd Weiland will suffice.
You’ll also notice I have Leslie and Ben performing single arm variations of the hanging band barbell row. While these are slightly less challenging than the double barbell version, it’s much easier to overload the back and lats as all of the neural drive can be focused to one side of the torso. The single arm versions also provide intense stimulation to the musculature of the core and abs as the lifter is required to stabilize the spine and resist rotational forces that the offset loading protocol produces.
Learn to lock your body and the barbells into position throughout the duration of these rows and I can just about guarantee you’ll notice improved muscle function throughout your entire body on every movement pattern.
Loaded carries including farmers walks, suitcase carries, and overhead waiter walks are some of the most effective full body strength builders and core stabilization drills you can perform. Unfortunately many individuals fail to create maximal full body tension and spinal rigidity when performing these oftentimes allowing the weights to drift, bounce, flail, and shift in a very chaotic fashion.
By implementing oscillating kinetic energy via the hanging band unilateral barbell method and applying it to loaded carries as demonstrated by my clients Todd Weiland and Ben Lai, not only is the lifter required to maximize their full body stability and motor control, but the targeted muscles throughout the entire body get hammered quite intensely. Any postural deviations, gait aberrations, shoulder instability, core weakness, lapse in mental focus, or dysfunctional activation patterns will be met with almost immediate and uncontrollable oscillations to the barbell. Oh yes, the forearms and grip also get crushed quite brutally.
To learn more about implementing and programming unique exercises such as hanging band isolateral barbell exercises into your training routine check out my Complete Series Templates.