Olympic Weightlifting with Bands

Use Accommodating Resistance And Reverse Bands on Olympic Lifts

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


I can hear it now, “iron game heresy”, “weightlifting treason”, “strength training blasphemy”, you name it.  Yep I’m sure these are some of the phrases that will inevitably come to people’s minds when reading this post as I’m advocating the use of accommodating resistance on Olympic lifts. Yes you read that correctly. Specifically, I’m advocating the use of reverse bands on cleans and snatches.

Here are few examples of how to apply this technique as demonstrated by myself as well as several of my athletes including NFL defensive end Lawrence Virgil, Vantrell McMillan, and powerlifter/bodybuilder Ben Lai.

Yes I realize I’m risking my life (as well as the lives of the athletes in this video) by posting this as what I’m about to discuss will probably spark a fair share of death threats and hate comments from the Olympic weightlifting purists.  But before you start throwing stones/weight plates or hire an international weightlifting assassin to take me out, allow me to explain why performing cleans and snatches (as well as front squats) with accommodating resistance in the form of reverse bands is an incredibly effective training technique.  In fact there are 10 benefits for incorporating this band-assisted technique on Olympic lifts.  However, before examining these I feel it’s important to point out a few disclaimers


Why I Use Olympic Lifts

Before we examine the 10 benefits, I should point out that a majority of the athletes I train are not competitive Olympic weightlifters.  Instead they are professional and collegiate athletes in sports such as football, baseball, basketball, track and field, soccer, and many other sports as well as a several bodybuilders and powerlifters.  With that said I don’t use Olympic lifts to turn my athletes into professional weightlifters.  I use Olympic lifts to improve athletic performance and explosive power, plain and simple.   In other words Olympic lifts are just another tool in the tool box to enhance various biomotor capabilities in my athletes.  The reverse band technique applied to Olympic lifts is simply another unique but effective variation of how we can apply some of these quality tools (clean and snatch variations to be specific) to enhance performance.

Oh and before you set yourself into an uncontrollable fit of rage and start shooting me nasty hate comments, just remember we’re talking strength training techniques not national security issues dealing with life and death.  With that said I’m happy to debate this issue but lets do so in a civil manner.   And please analyze this training technique before you comment out of uncontrollable emotion and ignorance.  Once you read this article, analyze the technique, assess its value, and actually try it out for yourself, I’m sure you’ll see the benefits.     

So lets begin shall we.


10 Reasons To Use Band Assistance on Olympic Lifts


1. Maximize the strength and hypertrophy stimulus of cleans and snatches by overloading the top/catch position.   The very nature of accommodating resistance is that the bottom position of the exercise (typically where you’re weakest) is deloaded while the top position (typically where you’re strongest) is overloaded.   Although performing Olympic lifts for the sake of maximizing strength and hypertrophy is not typically the primary reason for performing these (explosive power in the hips is the main reason to incorporate them), incorporating accommodating resistance allows the lifter to receive and catch heavier loads.  This creates an incredibly strong hypertrophy stimulus to the entire upper torso including the upper back, traps, shoulders, neck, core, spinal stabilizers, and shoulder stabilizers as the lifter can incorporate loads 10-20% greater than their 1RM. 

For instance many of my athletes typically use loads of 225-275 on hang cleans.  However by incorporating band assistance in the form of reverse bands we can load the bar with loads well in excess of 315.  Although the bottom position is deloaded to be approximately the same weight they would typically handle (225-275 pounds), the top catch or rack position is 315 lbs. as the bands are no longer providing assistance.  This creates a similar stimulus as rack walkouts or lockouts (with supramaximal loads) that many powerlifters use on squats and front squats.  Besides doing wonders for upper body strength, the growth to the upper body is significant as your body is forced to gain functional size to support these inordinately heavy loads.


2. Provides low back friendly Olympic lifting variations.  Low back pain is a common issue many lifters struggle with on axial loaded movements.  Olympic lifts are no different.   By deloading the bottom position with the reverse band technique this can be the appropriate modification needed to allow the lifter to still perform relatively heavy cleans and snatches yet with less tension on the low back and spine.
 

3. Allows the lifter to master their power/bottom position.  One common issue many lifters have when performing Olympic lifts is they tend to rush out of the bottom due to the significant tension on the low back and posterior chain.  As a result they sacrifice their bottom position, which is pivotal for reinforcing proper hip hinge mechanics.  In fact if the bottom position (whether from the floor or hang position) is sound then mechanics on the first pull, second pull, and catch will inevitably be somewhat locked in.  By slightly deloading the bottom position this provides just enough tension release for the lifter to lock in and focus on this all important bottom hip flexion position. 

In addition, I often have my athletes perform eccentric isometrics on hang cleans and hang snatches for the purposes of fine-tuning their body mechanics on the eccentric phase of the lift.  The band assisted/accommodating resistance variation is very conducive for this as the bottom is deloaded just enough to allow the lifter to feel comfortable honing in on this power position.  In fact the lifter can experience this phenomenon even by strategically implementing moderate supramaximal loads as a lifter who typically uses 275 on hang cleans could load the bar with 300 pounds.  Under this scenario the bottom position would be relatively light in comparison (roughly 250 lbs.) thereby providing just enough tension release to dial in their eccentric body mechanics before performing the explosive hip extension phase of the movement.


4. Produces a unique eccentric potentiation response.  Because the top is so heavy in comparison to the bottom position this allows the lifter to experience slight yet almost immediate post activation potentiation from each subsequent repetition and eccentric phase.  For instance if a lifter is performing hang cleans, the top hang position (with the bar near their upper thighs) before lowering into the bottom of the hang clean or snatch may be roughly 250 pounds.  However by the time they reach the bottom the load may be 20-40 pounds lighter in comparison due to the reverse bands.  Because the nervous system will be hyper-activated from the prior top position, the bottom power position will feel relativity light due to the post activation potentiation response. As a result the lifter will be able to produce greater hip speed and power on the concentric lifting phase not to mention the ability to handle heavier loads than normal.


5. Produces a unique potentiation response from the top racked/catch position.  Because the top or catch position of the lift will be 10-20% heavier than the bottom position, each time the lifter performs an additional repetition, the nervous system will be hyper-activated from having to catch such inordinately heavy loads at the top.  In essence the entire upper torso including the upper back, shoulders, core, and spinal stabilizers will be ultra potentiated from the heavy catch making the weight in the bottom power position feel unusually light.  As a result the lifter will produce greater speed and power even with heavier loads.
 

6. Requires more explosive hip power.  Because the weight gets heavier the higher the weight is pulled to, this requires the lifter to produce more violent triple extension (in the hips, knees, and ankles) in order to overcome the higher positions and blast through the overloaded phase of the lift.  In fact this is one of the main reasons lifters use accommodating resistance in the first place (on any movement) to teach the lifter to accelerate through the entire lift rather than just relying on bottom-phase momentum.

In fact one of the most common problems on Olympic lifts is that individuals rely on incomplete yet quick hip extension by producing a mini hop or jump to jolt the weight up into the catch position.   Instead of jumping using a partial hop, the lifter should be trying to drive into the floor for as long as possible in order to maximize hip extension forces.  Although many strength coaches erroneously advocate faulty mini-jump mechanics (using incomplete hip extension) which emphasizes knee and ankle extension rather than hip extension, the reverse band technique helps to eliminate this for two reasons:

First with this the weight is so heavy at the top you’re forced to finish with the hips as the weight will stall out on the second pull of the lift (once the bar reaches mid torso height).  Simply put you’ll be forced to accelerate the load with the hips.  Second, because the catch phase of the lift typically involves supramaximal loads, jumping and catching with such heavy weights feels incredibly jarring and unnatural to the body not to mention that it’s both dangerous and ineffective.  Simply put if you have an athlete that needs to eliminate the common faulty jump clean or jump snatch mechanics (rather than full hip extension) the reverse band technique will immediately help resolve this as it punishes this common error yet rewards proper hip extension patterns.  


7. Conducive for catching free-falling weights. Unless you lift in an actual Olympic weightlifting facility, chances are you’ll have to become comfortable dropping and catching the bar once you’ve completed each repetition on hang cleans and hang snatches.  Even if you lift in a gym setting that allows the lifter to drop the weight to the floor, learning how to catch the load once you’ve completed a rep can produce incredible gains in the traps and upper back due to the massive eccentric jolting forces produced from having to decelerate a falling load.  Unfortunately this can also be quite damaging on the shoulders and joints.  However, the reverse bands provides assistance/deloading at the bottom making it much more conducive for catching the freefalling barbell with significantly less stress on the joints. 
 

8. Rewards dropping under the barbell.  Because the weight will be lighter the lower the lifter drops when catching the barbell, they’ll be rewarded for moving under the bar.  I’ve seen this do wonders for teaching my athletes to drop under the bar (even if it’s just slightly) to receive and catch the load.  Besides reinforcing proper Olympic lifting technique this ultimately allows them to handle greater loads.  On a similar note, the reverse band technique is incredibly effective when incorporated with front squats making them even more potent for building mass and strength in the legs as well as the upper torso. 
 

9. Teaches better force absorption.  Olympic lifts provide just as much benefit for teaching force absorption as they do for reinforcing force production and explosive hip power.  That’s because the lifter must learn to receive heavy loads by strategically positioning and activating their body, essentially bracing their entire neuromuscular system to catch the heavy barbell.  Incorporating band assistance using the reverse band technique further magnifies the benefits associated with force absorption and deceleration both of which are critical for performance and function.  As an added bonus the core strength produced from teaching your body to stabilize the spine when catching these unusually heavy loads in the front racked (for the clean) or overhead position (for snatches) is unparalleled.
 

10. Improves the mental component of Olympic lifting.  Olympic weightlifting can be very mental when trying to progress as even the most advanced weightlifters can experience plateaus and periods of stagnation that can be very difficult to break through.  Handling supramaximal loads can be incredibly beneficial not only for the neuromuscular system but also for the mind as the lifter gets accustomed to both feeling and seeing heavier weight on the barbell. 

In addition, prior lifting history can produce a unique effect on the mind during any form of strength training particularly on high power movements such as cleans and snatches.  Simply put, using accommodating resistance in the form of reverse bands allows the lifter to train the Olympic lifts intensely without having to compare their performance with their typical numbers produced from their prior years of extensive training history. 

Unfortunately, most lifters focus excessively on prior weightlifting numbers which can play mind games and mental tricks as the lifters feel overly compelled to reach or excel above their numbers even if it means sacrificing form and technique.  Reverse bands help to resolve this issue as it represents a unique and novel way to load the bar and perform Olympic lifts without having to compare the numbers to previous performance.


Note On Band Tension

Having experimented with a number of band tensions and combinations I’ve found that light to medium bands of 30-70 pounds of assistance are ideal.  For shorter individuals as well as those using lighter loads, less band assistance/thinner bands should be used.  For taller individuals as well as those handling heavier loads, greater band assistance/thicker bands are more suitable. 


NotE On Frequency

As previously discussed, this technique allows the use of heavier loads than normal.  If the individual is going to be using the reverse band technique on Olympic lifts to handle significantly greater loads than he or she would typically use, then the accommodating resistance protocol should be used sparingly.  Approximately every third or fourth Olympic lifting training session would be a suitable frequency.


Variations

Accommodating resistance in the form of reverse bands is very versatile when applied to Olympic lifts and can be applied to most variations including hang variations above knee, hang variations below knee, from blocks, and from the floor etc.  In fact using these from the floor teaches smooth pulling mechanics because it’s deloaded at the bottom.  As a result this eliminates the need to try to yank or jerk the weight out of the starting position (off the floor or blocks) as is commonly seen in many lifters.
 

Other Forms of Accommodating Resistance

Can other forms accommodating resistance such as band resistance or chains be effectively applied to Olympic lifts?  Up until recently I would have said no.  However Louie Simmons periodically uses band resistance on cleans with great success (See More Here).  However band resistance does slightly change the feel of the lift as the timing and nature of the catch feel somewhat different.  In addition the bands tend to keep the bar from flipping over as seamlessly as it should.  The reverse band technique does not have these issues as the bands let off just at the right spot (right before the flip and catch usually once the bar reaches upper torso height).  However if Louie Simmons incorporates band resistance then it's definitely worth trying particularly with lighter loads.


Does it Work?

Other than in my own training scenarios as well as that of my athletes I’ve never seen accommodating resistance applied to Olympic lifts so I cannot speak for other coaches or lifters.  However, I only starting implementing these several weeks ago and I’m already seeing huge improvements not only in numbers from my athletes but also great enhancements in technique, hip power, and full body strength.