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Training With Chains Can Improve Your Strength Gains

Have you ever seen a gym where people are not only squatting with free weights, but chains attached to the bar as well? I didn't take it too seriously for a long time. I thought it was just a way to look cool and hardcore, but there is a lot more too it than I thought.

The purpose of adding chains, or resistance bands, to a free weight bar is to change the strength curve. When you perform a bench press, it is the hardest at the bottom of the lift, and easiest at the top. When you add a long chain to the bar, this changes things. At the bottom, half of the chain will be on the ground and as you lift the bar to the top, less of the chain is on the ground, meaning you're lifting the most weight at the top of the lift.

You can also use resistance bands to do the same thing. I do this a lot at my gym, which can be seen in the image below. I'm doing a chest press with 50 pounds of free weights on each side, and a small resistance band. As I extend my arms, the band gets stretched out more, increasing the total resistance.

Two studies looked at "accommodation training" in comparison to traditional training. In 2014, a study looked at 24 athletes who were randomly assigned to either an accommodation training group or traditional training group for four weeks. There was a significant increase in lower body strength, tested by the athletes one rep max, after the four weeks were up.

Another study at the beginning of this year was very similar, but this time they trained for 8 weeks and included a control group. Of all the things they tested, the important differences were in the bench press 1RM and the squat endurance test.

In the traditional training group, they saw a 19% increase in their bench press 1RM, which is really good! But, the chain group saw a 28% increase. The squat endurance test was where the trainees did 65% of their squat 1RM to failure. For example, if a person's max was 100 pounds, they would squat with 65 pounds as many times as possible. The chain group saw an 8% increase in this test, and the traditional group saw a 2% increase.

While the results are good, I certainly wouldn't consider this ground breaking news. It's enough to make me think this is something everyone should be doing in their programming, but not necessarily for every set of every workout. I will definitely be doing at least 4-5 sets per workout using resistance bands or chains to modify the strength curve.


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