Use Accommodating Resistance To Boost Your Overhead Press

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Use Accommodating Resistance With Bands And Chains To Boost Your Overhead Press

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

Most lifters typically apply accommodating resistance (bands and chains) to the big three lifts such as squats, bench press, and deadlifts.  However this technique is also incredibly effective when applied to the overhead press as it allows the lifter to handle more weight in the top portion of the lift where they’re strongest while deloading the bottom phase where they are typically weakest. The net result is increased strength and functional hypertrophy throughout the upper body particularly of the delts, triceps, upper back, core, upper chest, and shoulder stabilizers.

Here are 5 effective ways to use accommodating resistance on overhead presses.

1. Standing Military Press with Chains

Chains represent a form of accommodating resistance that helps match the strength curve of your muscles to the exercise you are performing.   As you lift the weight more of the chain is elevated off the floor placing a greater load 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 essentially de-loading the barbell.  

 As an added benefit, once you complete approximately 75% of the pressing phase and begin to lock the weight out overhead, the chains will fully deload off the floor.  Besides forcing the lifter 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 the lifter 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 does wonders for motor control, strength, and neuromuscular efficiency that’s sure to have a significant impact on full body strength and performance.

Just be prepared to accelerate through the movement or you’ll feel as though you hit a brick wall as experienced here by one of my NFL athletes Jake Banta.

2. Band Assisted Overhead Barbell Press (Reverse Bands)

This is a highly effective kneeling variation of the overhead press that utilizes accommodating resistance in the form of band assistance (reverse bands).  The bottom of the movement involves assistance, however, midway through the lift the bands totally release placing 100% of the load on the musculature.  Unless you have very short bands the best way to perform band assisted overhead presses is to incorporate the kneeling variation as shown here otherwise the bands will do little if anything to change the strength curve of the lift.  This allows the ideal amount of assistance in the appropriate position while deloading the necessary portion of the lift in just the right fashion.

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 just about any exercise you can perform.  This has a tremendous impact on nearly every other lift particularly heavy barbell movements that involve axial loading.

3. Band Resisted Overhead Barbell Press

Most coaches tend to group band-resisted movements and chain resistance together simply because both represent forms of accommodating resistance.  However, band resistance actually represents a more difficult progression.  In reality band resistance requires increased stabilization, motor control, and often times greater levels of strength as the amount of tension can become increasingly large near lockout. 

Be prepared to tighten up every muscle in your body especially at the top and during the eccentric 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 an incredibly strong deceleration force on the eccentric phase of the lift ultimately eliciting a significant neuromuscular potentiation effect.

The kneeling variation is also a great option for individuals that are not strong enough to press the bands out when they're fully stretched in the overhead standing position.

Here’s another one of my NFL athletes and Green Bay corner back Josh Hawkins showing how it’s done.

4. Isolateral Seated Overhead Chain Press

Accommodating resistance is one of the most effective training tools a lifter can have in their arsenal.  Not only does it force the lifter to increase intramuscular tension and overall motor unit recruitment but the slight instability of the load combined with ever-increasing tension throughout the movement produces incredible gains in strength, size, stability, power, and lifting mechanics.

Unfortunately 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 simply attaching chains to individual straps and handles. 

If you’re looking to reap the benefits associated with accommodating resistance yet searching for an overhead movement that works each side individually you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this challenging yet highly worthwhile overhead pressing variation.

5. Band Resisted Unilateral and Isolateral Overhead Presses

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 around the hand, this allows the lifter to hold a weight in the same hand while experiencing increased tension as they press the weight overhead.

For most individuals kneeling variations will be ideal as standing variations will involve excessive band tension unless a thin exercise band with handles is used.  Although overhead dumbbell variations and standard kettlebell pressing variations are both incredibly effective when using this protocol, bottoms up variations are particularly useful.  That’s because most individuals lack the appropriate grip strength to handle significant loads during bottoms up exercises oftentimes resulting in their grip strength failing before their shoulders do.   

By applying accommodating resistance in the form of bands to bottoms up kettlebell presses this allows the lifter to use relatively light loads which 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.  It also helps to master bottoms-up pressing mechanics as the bands force the lifter to keep their elbows tucked and use controlled technique.  If you’ve had trouble getting enough shoulder activation and upper body stimulation on bottoms-up presses you’ll definitely want to give these a go. 

On a side note I recommend placing a knot somewhere in the middle of the band.  After experimenting with ideal placement I found this to be the perfect solution for keeping the bands from running into your crotch/sensitive regions.