The Best Trap Bar Modification: Accommodating Resistance
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Over the years I’ve posted quite a few unique modifications and variations of the trap bar including Reeves trap bar variations, longitudinal trap bar exercises, isolateral trap bar variations, landmine trap bar movements, hanging trap bar variations, cambered trap bar squats, RNT trap bar movements, BANA trap bar exercises, bottoms up trap bar presses, bodyweight trap bar movements, trap bar Zercher squats, hanging band trap bar variations, overcoming isometrics with the trap bar, pullover trap bar variations, and more. While each of them has its own place in a properly designed training program, perhaps the single most effective and simple modification is simply the addition of accommodating resistance particularly when applied to trap bar deadlifts, squats, hinges, and lunges.
Band Assistance with Reverse Band Technique
Here’s an example where I’m employing accommodating resistance in the form of band assistance via the reverse band protocol.
On a side note, for individuals who don’t have access to a squat cage with band hooks at the top, anchoring the bands between two cable pulleys or cable columns is a perfect substitute. You’ll also notice how I’m using a constant tension method here rather than placing the weight back down to the floor each rep. This helps maximize the functional hypertrophy stimulus due to increased eccentric muscle damage, continuous mechanical tension, and metabolic stress. It’s even more potent when combined with accommodating resistance. Here’s why.
When performing deadlifts, hinges, squats, lunges, and split squats, the trap bar is one of the most natural and safe loading methods there is. However, like any other free weight exercise, the trap bar deadlift still has a very unique sticking point typically near the bottom third of the movement. After the first half of the deadlift the weight tends to move relatively quickly. That’s because the lifter is typically at their weakest position in the bottom and at their strongest at the top due to the strength curve of our muscles and limbs. Unfortunately, the strength curve of most free weight movements including trap bar deadlifts is the reverse of our body’s strength curve. However, by employing accommodating resistance in the form of band assistance, band resistance, and chains we can deload this weaker bottom position and overload the stronger top position.
Besides allowing us to overload the movement while reducing stress on the spine, using accommodating resistance on trap bar deadlifts, squats, hinges, and lunges represents one of the most potent techniques I’ve seen for stimulating insane levels of functional strength and size throughout the entire body. That’s because trap bar movements already happen to be very conducive for overloading with heavier weights. Adding accommodating resistance allows the lifter to significantly overload the top half of the movement without having to substantially reduce the load at the bottom.
As a result, not only do the legs get hammered but the upper back, traps, forearms, and shoulders get absolutely crushed with inordinately heavy loads that are sure to spark newfound levels of myofibrillar hypertrophy and superhuman strength. Another way to think of this is that during the bottom half of a movement such as the deadlift the accommodating resistance variation will involve similar weight to what you would normally handle for standard trap bar deadlifts, yet the top will incorporate loads you would handle if you were performing rack pulls with the trap bar. As a result it’s a win-win for both your upper and lower body, not to mention your spinal stabilizers.
Although the same concept can be theoretically applied to normal barbell deadlifts the practical application doesn’t always carry over as seamlessly. That’s because it’s not uncommon for lifters to hit a wall towards the top of the deadlift where they’re unable to lock the movement out. The lifter won't run into this issue with the trap bar because the weight is loaded to the sides of the body and next to the center of gravity instead of to the front as in standard barbell deadlifts.
As previously stated a similar concept can be just as easily applied to lunges, split squats, and Bulgarian squats as shown here by my awesome client and national level figure competitor Leslie Petch. In fact, performing trap bar split squat and lunges with accommodating resistance in the form of reverse bands truly crushes the entire lower body (as well as the upper back and traps) more so than most lunging variations.
When performing lunges and split squats, the top position is typically where the lifter can momentarily relax as there’s less overall tension to the legs. When employing accommodating resistance, the top position is just as intense and overloaded as the bottom position due to the adjusting levels of accommodating resistance and band tension. As a result this make the movement much more conducive for building functional strength and hypertrophy not just in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings but also in the upper body as well.
Band resistance can just as easily be applied to trap bar exercises as band assistance can. This can be done via two methods. The first, as shown here by my NFL athlete Virgil Lawrence, involves anchoring the bands under pins or weights then placing the trap bar underneath it.
While this variation tends to feel the most natural for the lifter it’s also a bit less practical as many gyms simply don’t have easy access to this particular setup.
The second option involves looping a single band through a trap bar then standing on the bands throughout the duration of the set to create increased band tension and accommodating resistance. Here’s one of my NFL athletes Ike Inokie demonstrating a band resisted trap bar RDL with this particular setup.
Although this method is more simple, some individuals find that it feels somewhat awkward as the band tension want’s to pull their feet up particularly the outsides of the feet. However, this can actually be quite beneficial as it requires the lifter to resist valgus forces attempting to pull their knees and ankle inwards. As result they're forced to push their knees and ankles out while screwing their feet aggressively into the floor. This can do wonders not only for improving squat, hinge, and deadlift strength but also for improving foot and ankle mechanics – a highly undervalued component of strength training.
Both trap bar band setups can also be employed on lunges and split squats as shown here by Leslie.
Chains can also be applied to the trap bar similar to any other lift. However, many trap bars don’t provide enough room to amply overload the movement with multiple plates and chains particularly for stronger lifters. That being said I often incorporate chains into trap bar deadlifts on dynamic speed and power days as the added resistance of the chains forces the lifter to accelerate through the top of the movement rather than inadvertently decelerating at the top. Here’s one of my awesome clients Matt Jordan showing how it’s done.
This is also a very effective method for improving jumping performance as the trap bar position is very similar to an athletic stance and jumping maneuver seen in most sports. Practicing high speed deadlifts with aggressive acceleration does wonders for increasing both vertical jump and broad jump performance.
As an added bonus, high speed trap bar deadlifts with accommodating resistance provide an efficient way to work on power output and movement mechanics while still overloading the upper body musculature at the top of the exercise. If you’re in a need of a lower body stimulus that deloads the musculature of the legs, taxes the upper torso, and improves neuromuscular efficiency, trap bar chain variations are it.
Unilateral and Other Variations
Kickstand variations and single leg trap bar variations are also very conducive for overloading with accommodating resistance. That’s because the bottom position of unilateral lower body variations tends to be even weaker relatively speaking than the bottom bilateral versions due to balance, motor control, and stabilization components. Here’s one of my bodybuilders Ben Lai demonstrating how it’s done performing an eccentric isometric band resisted trap bar kickstand deadlift.
Notice how he maintains constant tension throughout by pausing in the bottom position rather than letting it settle back down to the floor. This combination is incredible potent for stimulating functional hypertrophy throughout the entire body due to the constant nature of high-level tension.
Additional Notes on Strength Curves and Accommodating Resistance
The concept of strength curves simply describes how much force the muscles are able to produce (i.e. the amount of load they can handle) at different angles throughout a movement. During most larger compound movements such as squats and presses our muscles operate and function under a specific strength curve known as the ascending strength curve where the muscles can produce the greatest force output and handle the greatest loads as the joint is more extended or closer to the contracted position (top of the squat or bench press). Unfortunately, when you look at the actual strength/resistance curve of the load placed against the body and joints (in terms of resistance), most larger compound movements operate under a descending strength curve where the movement is hardest in the bottom position (where we are typically weaker) and easiest in the top position (where we are typically stronger).
In essence, the resistance curve of the load/weight is the opposite or reverse of the strength curve of the muscles during those particular exercises. In fact, this is why variable resistance machines (such as the weight machines we see in fitness centers) were initially developed by Nautilus back in the 1970’s by Nautilus, as Arthur Jones, the creator of Nautilus equipment, was a big proponent of matching the strength curve of the weight to that of our muscles. It’s also one of the main reasons powerlifters apply chains and bands to barbell movements not to mention the fact that it helps with explosive power training and acceleration.
If you’re looking for a program that teaches you how to incorporate unique exercises such as these accommodating resistance trap bar movements into your routine, check out my Complete Templates Series.