Chains and Bands for Explosive Power
By: Darryn Fiske
The next big thing in weight training today seems to be the use of chains and bands in collegiate and professional strength programs. While the use of these implements in weight training has been going on for quite some time; mostly in the sport of powerlifting, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time until the value of these implements would be seen in many collegiate and professional strength and conditioning programs across the country regardless of sport.
Chains and bands are used in all of our training at St. Bonaventure University. After listening to Louie Simmons, owner of Westside Barbell in Ohio and one of the most sought after speakers on the concept of strength training in the world, his presentation on the concept of using chains and bands to help build explosive power in our athletes’ lifts struck a major chord with us. Since cycling in chains and bands, we can honestly state that none of our athletes have ever hit a real “plateau” in terms of gaining strength, speed, and acceleration. We may do it a little bit different than the monsters at Westside Barbell, but we think our results using chains and bands speak for themselves.
We tend to cycle them in for about a 3 to 4 week rotation and use them on our speed/dynamic days to help our athletes develop speed strength and acceleration, as well as on our maximum effort days to help our athletes develop absolute strength. While we do not train our athletes to be powerlifters, we do use these implements when we get close to testing our athletes in the weight room or to peak our athletes for their respective competitive seasons and the results we have seen using these implements in the squat, bench, and deadlift exercises has been quite dramatic.
On our dynamic or speed days we will do 8-10 sets of 3 repetitions on a core complex exercise; we’ll use the squat exercise for an example. We loop our “loading chain”, which is a ¼ inch chain with a hook around each end of the squat bar. We then hook either a ½ inch or 5/8 inch (5 foot) chain to each loading chain depending on the athlete’s 1 repetition max on the squat exercise. We usually start our athletes off at 60-65% of their 1 rep max in the squat exercise. For example, if an athlete squats 400 pounds then we would put 240 pounds on the bar, plus the weight of the chains (if using 5/8 chains would be approximately 50 pounds of chain or more depending on the number of chains). So when the athlete is at the bottom with thighs parallel to the floor, the weight is 240 pounds. As the athlete continues to come out of the squat from the bottom and as the chains come off the floor the bar weight increases to approximately 290 pounds (or more if more chains are being used) at the top of the exercise. We “coach” our athletes to accelerate out of the bottom and to “move the bar” as fast as possible. We suggest that you experiment on your own, but remember we are trying to build speed and acceleration and your bar speed should always be at a maximum level.
On our maximum effort day, we will have our athletes warm up to a heavy single of approximately 250 pounds in the squat (assuming same 400 lb squat max). Next we will have our athletes add a 5/8 inch chain on each side and do a single. On the next set, we’ll use two sets of chain, then three sets, and so forth until we reach an all-time maximum for that athlete. Again the weight is less at the bottom, about 250 pounds, but as we keep adding chains most of our athletes whose 1 rep max is 400 pounds end up actually training above this weight. The chains not only build acceleration, but a more forceful lock out at the top. We end up getting up (excluding warm-up sets) to about 10 sets for 1 repetition with the chains attached.
With the use of these methods, we have had many athletes reach all time highs in our core exercises. We had a 6’11” center on our basketball team who squatted 600 pounds. Now in the world of powerlifting, 600 pounds is probably what most people would open with, but then again not many powerlifters are 6’11” and have to run the basketball floor for 40 minutes. At 6’11”, that is a long way to squat 600 pounds!
Bands are different animal all together. We don’t really use them on dynamic days because of the added eccentric stressors they place on the athlete. We have found if you overdue the bands, our athletes have complained of extreme soreness, so be careful. Plus depending on the leverage of the athlete, a 6’11” center will have a totally different advantage/disadvantage as opposed to a 5’10” baseball player. Remember, the bands are pulling down on you.
We use bands primarily on our maximum effort days. Again the goal is not necessarily to produce 500 pound bench pressers or 1000 pound squatters, but the benefits we have seen cannot be denied. Using the bench press as an example, we generally do no try to “max out” every week on the bench. We will use a similar type of movement and work up to a maximum. Case in point we will use the board bench press exercise on max effort days instead of the regular bench exercise. We will loop the bands around the bottom of the power rack and the other ends around the sleeve of the bar. Generally we use two 2×6’s with our athletes and build up to four 2×6’s. Using four 2×6’s with bands is very difficult as the tension never really lets up. We have found that an explosive start off the boards is nearly impossible and the lockout is extremely hard. Again experiment on your own, but as a general rule if you bench press more than 300 pounds we use the green bands, if our athletes bench less than 300 we will use the black or purple mini-bands.
As you can see the use of chains and bands can be very useful in aiding the body in training to generate speed, acceleration, and explosive power. While we do not train with these implements exclusively, we do supplement our regular workouts with these exercises for about 3 to 4 weeks and return to our regular training program. We do these cycles throughout the training year as it helps our athletes stay strong for competition throughout the year. We encourage you to read up on the topic if you are interested in using chains and bands, and if you see a need for speed and acceleration in your training program experiment with these implements of strength. We feel you and your athletes will benefit tremendously as ours have in their training.
Recommended Athletes' Acceleration
About the Author:
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach
St. Bonaventure University