a) they will make you more explosive
b) they will make you freakin strong
c) it is an easy way to switch up your training
d) they will make you look like a badass
Chains are used to add a form of accommodating resistance to improve the force output at specific joint angles throughout the range of motion of specific lifts. For those who do not know what accommodating resistance is, accommodating resistance is a load which changes throughout the different phases of the lift to accommodate the natural strength curve. Chains are primarily used with the bench press, squat, and deadlift. The purpose of usage is to accrue strength and velocity gains during strength training.
Chains require a specific set up depending on the lift they are being used for. An example setup could include one 5/8” chain placed on each sleeve of the barbell attached to a smaller, looped 3/8” chain with a carabineer to ensure that the chains do not fall off the barbell during the lift. During set up, the lifter should also be aware of properly balancing out each side of the resistance being added by the chains. This incorporates making sure that an equal amount of chain links are on the ground on each side as well as that an equal amount of resistance from the chains is being dropped off on the floor during the eccentric portion of the lift and an equal amount of resistance is being picked up during the concentric portion of the lift. This will ensure that equal gains are being made on both sides and there is no formation of unilateral imbalances. Another consideration to take into account is to make sure that the chains are placed evenly on the sleeves of the barbell before adding any weight plates. This will help ensure that the chains do not slide off either side during the middle of the lift providing an unsafe environment for the lifter. Chains can be used as often as desired; however, progression and overload should be kept in mind when using chains and should be cycled in and out of an individual’s training regimen in order to see optimal gains without regression or plateau.
As mentioned previously, chains are used to elicit an accommodating resistance to a specific lift. Chains act as an added system of mass to the actual weight being loaded on the bar. The physiological rationale behind the usage of chains is to maximize strength gains and force outputs at specific joint angles throughout the range of motion of the bench press, squat, and deadlift. At the top of a bench press, squat, or deadlift, the chains are lifted off of the ground adding extra mass to the weight loaded on the bar. Through the eccentric phase of the lift, the links of the chains are unloaded onto the floor decreasing the amount of total mass on the bar/being lifted by the lifter. As the lift progresses through the concentric phase, additional links are continually lifted off the floor as the concentric displacement of the bar increases. For example, a lifter has 100Ibs loaded on the bar plus an additional 40Ibs of chains. As the bar is un-racked during a bench press, the bars mass is equivalent to the 100Ibs plus the 40Ibs of chains. As the bar moves eccentrically (down to the chest), links of the chain are continually unloaded onto the ground decreasing the total mass the lifter is lifting. So, the total mass may be 130Ibs at the middle of the eccentric phase and 125Ibs at the end of the eccentric phase. Thus, as the lifter begins the concentric phase (pressing) of the lift, the links are continually lifted off the ground, progressively increasing the amount of resistance the lifter experiences. The addition will help increase neuromuscular activation of type II muscle fibers, increase rate of force development, and shift the force-velocity curve upward to the right. At the bottom of the eccentric phase, the lifter will experience a lighter load allowing for greater amounts of velocity and a greater “starting strength” to be produced on the bar. The greater amount of resistance at the top will also allow for a greater amount of neuromuscular activation throughout the rest of the lift. For example, as the bar moves concentrically during a normal lift, the mechanical advantage increases due to a greater effort moment arm and becomes easier to lockout. Therefore, with chains, as the amount of resistance increases through the concentric phase, a greater amount of peak force is required to overcome the added resistance. Therefore, more force is required to overcome the resistance and the activation of type II fibers is required. When training with a normal resistance, the previous training with chains may improve the rate of force development to overcome the resistance as the concentric phase progresses. In addition, greater velocities can be achieved requiring less force needed to complete each lift.
Using chains can help anyone interested in competing in powerlifting, any athlete, or any individual just simply looking to obtain a better physique or get stronger. When implementing accommodating resistance into your programs you will see a great deal of improvement in velocity at the bottom of your lifts and an increase in strength while locking out.
Chains can also be a great tool to use with athletes who spend a lot of time in a unilateral position (pitchers, skaters, runners,etc.). These people are generally weakest when they are sitting at about 90 or below. So, with the accommodating resistance, exercises can be loaded much heavier while the load drops off and is the lightest at the bottom. I have also utilized chains and bands with my athletes and have seen incredible gains in their overall strength and numbers.