Written by Team Juggernaut
By Team Juggernaut
Bands and Chains are among the most trendy tools in the modern training toolbox. They are also in my opinion, among the most misunderstood and misused. I could cite numerous YouTube videos that show coaches (including MAJOR D-1 coaches) having their athlete bench or squat with chains, where the chains are setup in a manner that will render barely any training effect (ie. Only a few links deloading on the floor). The other day I asked our Facebook fans their opinions on training with bands or chains and found a wide variety of opinions, check them out here. In reading the responses I saw a lot of great answers and I also saw a lot of answers that made me think if people were saying why they utilize bands and chains in their training, or why they think they are supposed to use them and trust me there is a BIG difference. Let’s take a look at how some Team Juggernaut members, some of the strongest athletes in the World, utilize these powerful and controversial modalities into their training…
When I started powerlifting I was in awe of all the new bars, and gadgets we could use, specifically the bands and chains. Now over time I have found many ways to use them and ways not to use them, here is the best 3 week waves for each lift using bands and chains that I have found.
Week 1 50% Bar Weight with 80 lbs of chain for 6 sets of 3
Week 2 50% Bar Weight with 150 lbs of band for 8 sets of 1
Week 3 Straight Weight up to Max off of 2″ Block then recycle and pull from the floor next rotation.
Week 1 Speed use 45% bar weight, 25% band weight 5 sets of 5
Week 2 Speed 50% bar weight, 25% chain weight
Week 3 Speed 70% Bar Weight 5 x 5
I like to use Reverse bands only. I use only Dbl Minis, or the singled light bands when doing so. I do all my required work sets then 1 to 2 reverse band sets to feel really heavy weight on my back without having to worry so much about that load in the hole. Reverse bands allow for a more natural squat movement than bands from the floor, and I never use a box unless injured.
All in all bands and chains can be a great addition to a workout regimen, but you can also get very strong without them. Do your very best to do movements that carryover to your meet lifts… Because if it doesn’t do that what’s the point?
I generally do very little lifting with bands at this point. I did much more when I tried to mimic the various westside training ideas I had read. But I’m not really sure I benefited from it much.
As a raw lifter I find that focusing mainly on the bottom of the lift by training with straight bar weight and lift variations that use extended ranges of motion and/or pauses are most helpful. Bands tend to be effective at overloading the top of a lift.
For bench I will say that I don’t use bands but will sometimes use a slingshot. For deads I occasionally use them for sumo, but they are very stressful and I’m not convinced they are very effective. For conventional pulls I like them, however, and this is because they teach you how to pull the weight past your knees using your glutes and hips and hamstrings. Pulling off blocks can be awkward conventional as you can start in an unrealistic position. For sumo I find blocks very helpful because the position in the back is fairly similar to a full range pull. For squats I just squat straight weight. For added strengthening, I front squat or squat high bar with a narrowed stance.
I believe bands and chains certainly have their place in training. But they are not a major factor in my program. If I have enough time for a 16 week cycle before a meet I will use bands for one 4 week cycle (3 weeks heavy/1 week light). I don’t use chains because I haven’t lifted at a gym with chains heavy enough to serve their purpose and since I travel a lot it is easier to pack my bands around. The main reason I don’t use bands is because when training raw – there are other manipulations of the lifts I like to do instead of accommodating resistance. And when training in gear – I’m too focused on adapting to the gear and free weight. With that being said; I have had very good results with bands but people tend to overcomplicate them. Here is the cycle I use for my 4 week band cycle.
3 Reps (2 reps left in tank)
Red bands on assistance
2 Reps (1 rep left in tank)
Blue + Green Bands
Purple bands on assistance
1 Rep (max but do not miss)
Blue + Green + Purple Bands
Green bands on assistance
5 Reps (50% – use as deload)
On my band weeks I will also use bands on literally EVERY exercise. There is not an exercise known to man where you cannot creatively engineer it to accommodate bands as added resistance.
I typically have always trained with just straight free weight and never really thought of using Chains or
Bands in my training before because of the great success I had made without them. I decided to try out Chains for one short training cycle on my Squats and Deadlifts just to try it out because I wanted to work the top portion of the lift harder and make my lock out stronger on them both. The most we ever used was 50lbs of chains (25lbs per side) so that when you fully stood up with the bar out of the rack, the chains were all the way off the ground hovering about an inch above it, and when you locked out the deadlift they were about half inch to an inch above the ground as well so that the full amount of weight from the Chains was loaded at the top. I did about a 6 week training cycle with them both (3 heavy squats, 3 heavy pulls, alternated every other week) and by the end of the training session I could tell my lockouts were a lot more powerful than they were before and ever since then my lock out on the pull has felt very strong and same with lockout out the squat. The chains definitely helped build some stability on the squat especially if you’re not used to having hanging weight from the bar. I know that a lot of guys like using heavier amounts of chains (100lbs and up) but I figured i’d have the majority of the weight from free weight and just enough weight in chains so that when I hit the bottom of the squat, maybe only 20-30lbs was taken off of the bar when the chains were hitting the ground and for the deadlifts so that the extra Chain weight loaded up fast as soon as you got it to knee level. I would definitely recommend using Chains in your training if you feel like your lockout on the deadlift has slowed down and same with the top portion of your squat. I will probably end up using Chains again in my training at some point whenever I feel like I need them again!
I believe bands and chains are a great tool for geared and raw lifters. I really like using them for novice lifters all the way to elite lifters, but for different reasons. With novice lifters it teaches to keep your body tight and how to fire the right muscles as the band tension grows towards the top. For more experienced lifters, it teaches explosion and really works stability in a way that straight weight does not. I also really like a reverse band set up for all three lifts. I realized that the weeks when I was wearing a bench shirt and using 8- 900 pounds, my Raw bench would increase. Overloading the top end of the lift will make weight feel much lighter. For me confidence is everything in this sport and when weight feels light, I become ultra confident.
My favorite 3 week wave with bands and chains would be completely overloading the top on squat for 2 weeks followed by squatting against 2 chain/side for a week. So, week one would be 4 doubles against blue/green band working on exploding through to the top. Use about 70% of your one rep max. Week 2 would be 4 doubles with a 2 blues and a green. I would use 55-60% of your max. Anyone that has ever trained with me knows I’m a fan of heavier speed work with less sets. My body doesn’t respond to light weight. I want my hamstrings and back firing in unison, and my body isn’t going to do that with light weight. Week three would be a heavy single against 2 chains/side. Just work up with explosive singles until you are happy and shut it down. The weight should feel light on your back and a heavy weight should move fast.
I have a love/hate relationship with bands and chains. I still think that bands and chains are great training tool, but that is it. I do not believe it impossible to become extremely strong without these tools. Bill Kazmaier, Ed Coan, Kirk Karwoski, Larry Pacifico, and many more of the greatest of all time never used these tools. I feel that far too often kids jump into this sport and for whatever reason think that the only way to become a real powerlifter is to use band tension and varying chain weights, I was one of these kids 3 years ago.
Since becoming more advanced I have gotten further and further away from this way of training and have realized straight weight and differing rep ranges work far better for me. I became a better lifter because I took a step backward and trained with a more primitive method. I feel that if people try to milk using straight weight with a power bar more and more, and stay away from these tool their strength will only improve because if it. That being said I do still train from time to time with bench and chains.
One of my favorite band squat cycles would have to be green band squats. I prefer using a power or squat bar; I am also not a huge fan of specialty bars. This should be done in a 3 week wave. The first week should be a fairly light percentage (50-60%) of your one rep max. 8-10 doubles should be hit with this weight with very little breaks. The second week should consist 2-3 doubles in the 65-70% range. During the third week a new once rep max should be tested. A box should not be used at all during this cycle.
I train deadlifts with bands even less often. The most useful method of deadlifting with bands would have to be using doubled mini-bands for speed work, this adds about 100lbs of tension at the bottom, and 220lbs up top. I will say, though that I do prefer speed work with straight weight to this method. I do use chains slightly more often for deadlifting than bands, although it is still a very small amount. I find that 40-70lbs of chains is perfect, this may sound crazy to some people but I simply do not think a huge deadlift is built with a large variation in weight from the bottom of the movement, to the top of the movement on a heavy training day.
Chad Wesley Smith
I have had periods of my training career where I used bands and chains constantly in my training and I have had periods where I barely ever touch them. During my shot putting career, I used bands and/or chains with almost all my primary exercises. Whether that was heavy squats with chains, speed squats with bands, heavy pressing with chains or speed benching with bands, they were a constant in my program and I often credited them with helping me build explosive strength. In hindsight, I would have rarely used them, as I rarely use them with my speed/power athletes that I train. While utilizing accommodating resistance like bands and chains, does enhance force production with barbell lifts, they are not nearly fast enough to improve speed qualities for athletes like throwers or football players. Athletes like this will be much better served to use sprinting, jumping and throwing to develop their speed and traditional barbell lifts (which aren’t as taxing to the CNS without the inclusion of bands/chains) to develop their strength.
My powerlifting/strongman career has featured very little training with bands or chains with over 90% of my primary work being devoted to straight weight exercises. Situations though where I have found bands/chains useful are squats with chains, reverse band deadlifts, lightening deadlifts with chains and closegrip benches with bands. Let’s take a look at how I incorporate each of these movements…
Squats with Chains
I used squats with chains when training for the 2011 SPF Ironman where I squatted 865, a 65 pound PR. During this time I was putting the majority of my training focus on the deadlift and bench and was able to PR in those by 85 and 53 pounds respectively. Since so much of my energy was going towards the other 2 lifts, I knew that I couldn’t squat heavy each week and recover fully, so I pulled heavy each Monday and followed this Squat progression on Fridays…
|Pause Squats-55/65/75%x5||Pause Squats-60/70/80%x3||Pause Squats-65%x5, 75%x3, 85%x1|
|Squats with Chains-10×2 at 55% w/ 160# of Chain, then 3 heavy singles wearing knee wraps||Squats with Chains-8×2 at 60% w/ 160# of Chain, then 2 heavy singles wearing knee wraps||Squats with Chains-6×2 at 65% w/ 160# of Chain, then 1 heavy single wearing knee wraps|
|Squats w/ Wraps-Up to 5rm||Squats w/ Wraps-Up to 3rm||Squats w/ Wraps-Up to 1rm|
Doing squats with chains in this manner allowed me to still feel heavy weight on my back without taxing my body as much as straight weight would. I put a ton of emphasis on bar speed in all my training, but would actually time each set of 2 with the chains and tried to always perform the 2 reps in under 3 seconds.
Reverse Band Deadlifts
Reverse Band Deads are a great way to build speed off the floor and to overload your lockout. Though reverse band deads make up only a small portion of my deadlift training I think they help train my CNS, as well as build confidence. I use reverse band deads during my final week of max double deadlifts. I will work up to a max (or near max) regular deadlift and then after that, add reverse strong bands and pull a max single that I would classify as a 9 difficulty wise. Each time I have done this, I have then pulled this or more weight, 1 month later as a new 1rm.
Lightening Deadlifts are a powerful peaking tool to utilize before a meet. Taught to me by my great friend and coach, Josh Bryant, lightening deads teach you to impart maximal velocity on the bar but because the weight is relatively light they aren’t too taxing to the CNS, making them a good option to use as you approach a competition and recovery is at a premium. Lightening deads exploit the idea of lowering a heavier weight than you are going to lift, which will prime your body to exert greater force than it would if it only recognized the lighter weight.
Lightening Deads require chains and 2 competent spotters. Load the bar with 40% of your 1rm and add chains to each side (draped over the collar of the bar, outside the weights) that equal ~10% of your 1rm. You will do 1 rep and as soon as that rep is back on the ground, your training partners will quickly pull the chains off each side and as soon as they are off, you will perform a 2nd rep. The 2nd rep will be extremely explosive because your body is primed for the weight of the chains to also be present, but when it isn’t there, the light bar will FLY up. I would do these for 3 sets of 2 reps for the final 2-3 weeks of heavy training before a meet. These should be done after your primary deadlift work from the ground with straight weight.
Bands and chains are a powerful tool, but some people would lead you to believe that they are an integral part of training (these are usually the people who sell the bands and chains) but my and my teammates’ strength, as well as the performances of all time greats like Kaz, Jon Cole and Don Reinhoudt, is a testament to the FACT that you don’t need them to get strong.