The Top Rack Method


I was recently caught in a conversation with a friend over different training methods. Purposes ranged as far as breaking through plateaus to increasing endurance through circuits. One thought involving dumbbell work got me thinking about variations and methods that could be used to not only increase your strength, but also help push through physical and mental barriers.

The Top Rack Method

First off, I’m in no way saying that this method is proven to work through a sample size of “x” amount of people. This is just a method that was conjured between a friend and myself. I can say, however, that this method has worked for me and some friends over the past several weeks. Consider this your disclaimer.

The Breakdown

Walk into any gym and it’s almost guaranteed to have a dumbbell rack. This rack usually has two, maybe three separate heights per rack, one upper and one lower. If you’re gym is similar to mine, the “Re-rack Your Weights” sign is taken more as a suggestion than a house rule. Some are put back and some are left on the floor. In consequence, most of the dumbbells are scattered and unorganized. The heavier ones are more popularly seen on the top rack compared to the bottom. In the cases with three heights, the top two can be used. This is where we find the derivation to this method.

Choosing weights from the top rack only limits the options of weights to use. Doing this allows you to skip past the weight you know you can move and catalyzes that state of mind to push past your old limits, physically and mentally.

I know this sounds odd and I can already hear the laughter, skepticism and “Snap City” this and “Snap City” that, but it’s worked for me. Not only me, but my buddy and his cousin have both improved their bench press by moving through a plateau with dumbbell work.

The Mentality 

The main point behind this method is to push yourself out of your comfort zone. You don’t even need to do many repetitions, just enough movement to get the all three muscle fibers firing as well as shock your nervous system. It’s a combination of these characteristics that will help the body react to the sudden stress.


Limit yourself to weight that is 10, maybe even 30 pounds heavier than what you’re used to for certain exercises. Doing this can help you achieve some decent gains. I’m not saying to jump from a 60 pound shoulder press to a 120 in one set, but at least try to move some weight that you haven’t touched that’s reasonable.

Use spotters when you’re doing these movements. Considering most pressing movements involve an overhead motion, having someone there to help toss the weights away from your body is never a bad idea.

You can also have the spotter help you with negatives. Yes, you read that right. Doing negatives with dumbbells helps with stability as well as strength considering you’re using two weights opposed to one barbell. Doing negatives with heavier weight than normal has the same benefits.

Warm up adequately prior to exercise. Yes, I’m beating a dead horse here from previous posts, but this can really help prevent serious injury on these heavy sets. I’d recommend adding 1-2 warm up sets to your normal routine just to make sure the joints are warm. Plus it’ll increase your pump, too.

Final Thoughts

Don’t knock it until you try it. I cannot say that enough. It may not seem full proof but you may surprise yourself with progression over time. GIve it a chance, push yourself, and strive to be better.


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