Try Using Chains For Strength and Power Gains

If you do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. I am sure many of you have heard this expression in some fashion. Well as a trainer I am always looking for ways to mix things up and provide my clients and I new ways to train. One of the newest forms of challenge has been to use chains. Lifting with chains is not new by any stretch. Louis Simmons of West Side barbell is credited with really bringing chain training to the forefront.  It has been around for at least the last thirteen years.

As with anything these are tools in the arsenal. They can be another piece of the training puzzle. I have really enjoyed (if one can say that since they sure make it hard.) using them in my training recently. Below I will share some reasons and benefits that lead me to really like using chains. I also put in a link to a Total Body Workout. I have done this using chains.

Before we get to my reasons I want quickly explain something so the first two make sense. A strength curve is a model or a representation that displays how much force the body can generate at joint angles throughout a range of motion. This will help you to understand the first two points.

1)      They challenge you through the Ascending Force Curve. Take a squat or a bench press for example. The lower you are in your squat or the lower the bar is to your chest on the bench press the harder it is to push it. As you rise out of your squat or push the bar off your chest the easier the movement becomes. That makes using chains great for exercises where force is created through extension. Some extension exercises I have used it for are fronts squats, Romanian Deadlifts, push-ups and dips.

2)      They can also be used to train the Descending Force Curve. These are exercises that the top portion of the movement is the hardest, think pull-ups and chin-ups, bicep curls of various types, shoulder raises. Instead of creating force through extension these exercises create force using flexion. In these cases the chains serve to add extra load. They are used here for drop sets. I do X amount of chin-ups and when I can no longer complete a rep I drop one set of chains. Then I do more reps until failure. I then remove the second set of chains and finish with only my bodyweight. Be careful with using drop sets not to do too many. It can be pretty intense if done right which is why I personally do not use more than two drop sets within a set.

3)      It can challenge your core and stability. It definitely can challenge your core as when you are at lifting the bar as more and more of the chains are lifted off the floor. They begin to swing a little which does increase the difficulty of the exercise a bit. You can see this in one of the videos I posted. It was my first time lifting with the chains. You can see it threw me off balance a bit. I was able to save the lift though.

4)      Chains can help you become more explosive1. Since you are supporting more of the chains as they lift off the floor they create more of a challenge at the end range of motion. This helps create neuromuscular changes that are needed to move the bar faster. We all need that as we get older.

 5)      It is just plan bada$$- It just looks cool seeing people training with chains. How much cooler to know that it has real benefits as well? C’mon even with chains she is intimidating!

Here is a Total Body Workout I have used incorporating the chains.

References and Notes:

*Chains should be looped over the ends of the bar as demonstrated in in the videos.

  1. Baker DG, Newton RU (2009) Effect of Kinetically Altering a Repetition Via the Use of Chain Resistance on Velocity During the Bench Press. J Strength Cond Res 27:(7)1941–46.
  2. Neely KR, Terry JG, Morris MJ. A Mechanical Comparison of Linear and Double Looped Hung Supplemental Heavy Chain Resistance to the Back Squat: A Case Study. J Strength Cond Res 24:(1)278–81.

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