You may have heard of the “crazy bell” bench press exercise where plates are attached to a barbell with bands. Instead of having the weight slide on to the barbell like in a typical bench press exercise, the weight is suspended by bands. This suspended weight bench press method is excellent for training stability in the upper body and shoulders. The weight bounces, creating pull in different parts of the motion and making for a very challenging exercise. A light bar or PVC pipe has higher modulus of elasticity than the standard Olympic bar, meaning it has greater flex to it, which causes the bar to be more challenging to stabilize through the range of motion required for the exercise.

Now that you understand what the “crazy bell” bench press is and how it works, I’m going to introduce you to a range of exercises for the lower body using this same method. There isn’t any reason why this excellent stability method can’t be transferred to the lower body as long as it’s done properly with safe technique. This method doesn’t require expensive kettlebells or fancy bars. It can be performed using standard plates and barbells.

Intermediate lifts

I have intermediate athletes perform both the Zercher squat and Zercher good morning from pins or a “racked position” to give them stability at the bottom of the lift. It may be difficult for an intermediate athlete to maintain proper technique and perform these lifts safely with the band suspended weight through the full range of motion without putting his knees and/or back at risk of injury.

Zercher squat from pins:This exercise is excellent for building core strength in an athlete. I found that performing this exercise forced me to engage my core more than I normally would have when I rigged up the weight using red bands and 35-lb plates, which provided minimal bounce. I used this exercise on my dynamic lower body day for three sets of ten. I think this movement makes a good supplemental exercise during a max effort lower body workout because it helps you focus on the core and gives the legs a little extra work after performing a max effort lift.

I experienced the effects of the exercise immediately after I racked the bar—I felt swelling throughout my entire core. The next day I felt minimal soreness in my legs. This is an excellent supplemental exercise for core training on a leg day.

Zercher good morning from pins: With this exercise,I experienced results similar to the Zercher squat from pins. The weight I used didn’t have an overwhelming amount of bounce to it—35-lb plates with red bands. However, it did create enough instability to engage my core more than if I hadn’t used the band suspended weight. I performed the exercise for three sets of ten as a supplemental exercise for my core and posterior chain on my dynamic leg day.

Advanced lifts

For a more advanced and stable athlete, I’ve found that the full squat from both the front and back position with band suspended weights makes for a fun and challenging exercise. With the front and back squat, I observed that it was easier to load up the weight on the bar before adding the band suspended weight. Whereas the intermediate lifts from pins focused more on the core, I was able to focus more on leg strength with these exercises.

Full back squat: When performing this exercise, the most challenging aspect was getting into position to perform the squat. While taking a step back and setting up my feet, the weight wanted to move around quite a bit, which forced me to keep a tight core the entire time. Using a monolift would definitely eliminate this issue if desired. I found that the difficulty of the exercise varied depending on the speed of the squat and the amount of weight suspended by the bands. The faster the squat, the more the weight bounced, creating a unique squatting experience. The more the weight bounced, the more difficult the squat became due to the drop of the weight, which created a strong pull on the bar in slightly unpredictable ways—the heavier the weight, the stronger the pull on the bar. This exercise forces your entire body to stay tight in order to stay stable throughout the movement.

Full front squat: In essence, this is similar to the back squat in terms of what to expect from the exercise. The major difference I found in the lift was that it was more difficult to hold on to the bar when the weight started to bounce. Nevertheless, this is an excellent supplemental exercise for advanced athletes on a leg day and contributes to superior total body stability.

Bulgarian split squat: This exercise can be difficult without the band suspended weight, so I strongly recommend staying away from this lift unless you demonstrate superior balance and stability. For those who can handle it, the Bulgarian split squat is an exceptional supplemental exercise that can be used following a max effort lift or on a dynamic effort leg day. The band suspended weights add an edge to the exercise and make it a little more challenging for those with excellent balance and core strength. It is also an excellent way to keep your workouts from becoming boring because it provides a fun challenge.

Training in unstable conditions is necessary for all athletes! It isn’t often that an athlete is stable on both feet in any sport. As such, it is extremely important to develop excellent balance and stability through the full range of motion of several different postures. This is why those who are knowledgeable about training athletes strongly believe in unilateral exercises. Although the exercises I have described are not all unilateral movements, the principle of training for stability in an unstable environment stands strong. Not only will stability training improve an athlete’s presence on the playing field, but it will also help improve an athlete’s abdominal, oblique, and erector spinae strength, all of which will directly correlate to improved posture and strength in essentially all other lifts.

Imagine making the core concrete instead of foam. When squatting, there is a lot of weight and stress placed on the body, shooting from the bar straight down your spine through your legs to the ground. If your core is “foam” (i.e. weak), it won’t be able to maintain proper posture through the range of motion of the exercise, which will almost certainly lead to injury and a weaker lift. However, if your core is “concrete” (i.e. strong), it’s able to handle that weight with much less stress, allowing you to move through the full range of motion strong and stable.