I’m one of our resident Exercise Physiologists, and also an accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach, Personal Trainer and Level 1 Weightlifting Instructor. Outside of the gym, I tend to go in search of good food and great coffee. And yes, Dan’s Shoulder Stretch is mine.
They look tough. They feel tough. They are tough. They’re fun to use. And they work. Brilliantly.
If you’ve used bands and chains before, you’ll know how much they change the feel of an exercise. It gives the body something new to adapt to, without greatly changing the actual pattern of an exercise. This means that a chain squat will still look like a squat, and train the muscles exactly like a squat, but feel different to a regular squat.
How Do Bands and Chains Work?
Bands and chains can work for you in a couple of different ways.
The first is they challenge you to accelerate the bar. This is different to what we’d normally do, which is put more weight on the bar to make it heavier. When the chains are on the bar, they get heavier the higher you lift, so you can’t slack off during the “easier” part of the lift.
For example, the bottom range of the squat is the hardest to lift from, whereas the top range of the squat is the easiest. When you’re using chains, most of the chain is on the floor at the bottom position, so it doesn’t contribute much weight. As you move toward the top range of the squat, more chain is off the floor and the bar becomes heavier. More chains or heavier chains equal a bigger difference between the bottom and the top of the squat. If you slack off towards the top of the squat, the extra weight of the chains will squish you! You must keep accelerating until you get to the top of the lift!
The second way they work is by changing the strength curve of a lift. Take for example the standing biceps curl. When you just put weights on the bar, the hardest part of the lift is when the forearms are parallel to the ground. Add a set of chains and since we know the bar gets heavier the higher it gets, the hardest part of the curl is now the top quarter of the movement. Not only does this challenge a different part of the muscle, it can also be used to overcome weaknesses in other lifts (namely chin ups in this example).
How Do You Use Them In A Program?
When doing a lift twice a week:
For many people, squatting, bench pressing or deadlifting heavy twice a week can be hard on the joints and nervous system (too much fatigue with not enough recovery). So instead of a second day of heavy lifting, use the second day to train fast. Lighter weights (often no more than 50-60%) with some bands or chains to reinforce speed and acceleration. Heavy day one, speed day two.
For example, training bench press using bands might look like –
Paused bench press 6×2-3 @85%
Bench lockouts 2×5 @100%
Bench press @55% w/orange bands 8×2; rest 1:00
DB flyes 3×10-12; rest 1:30
When trying to overcome a sticking point:
Lots of people get stuck in a chin up 75% of the way up. They can look over the bar, but can’t get the chin over! Barbell biceps curls with some chains emphasizes strength in that final 25% of range. Get stronger in these and the chin ups should get easier.
For example, a week of training for improving chin ups might look like –
Monday and Thursday:
Chin ups (4-6s down) 10 x 1; rest 1:00
BB chain curls 4×4-6; rest 2:00
Tips For Maximising Gains With Chains and Bands
Only use them for 2-4 weeks. This is just long enough to adapt to them before moving to something else.
Harder chains and bands mean more acceleration. The heavier they are, the bigger the difference is between the bottom and top of a lift. I personally like bigger differences where possible.
You must try to move the weight as fast as possible in good form. No such thing as accelerating slowly.
Try them out, even if only for a session or two to keep you mentally fresh! They’re fun and they work!