Majid Koozehchian, M.S.
In recent years, strength training with unconventional objects has become popular (1). One unconventional method that has gained recognition by elite athletes is adding chains to the end of conventional barbells. There are many claims that this type of training can improve strength and power above those achieved by traditional free weights (2). In addition, chain-loaded resistance training is also believed to reduce joint stress resistance training during exercises such as bench press, squatting, and deadlifting (3). Some coaches claim that the use of chains assists greatly in the development of explosive power, improved stability, motor control, and neurological adaptation. They believe that chains can be used in any type of training that involves a barbell. However, athletes use it primarily in core strength movements (4). Enhanced strength with chain-loaded resistance has been hypothesized to result from an improved amount of force development because loads are lighter near the bottom of the bench press, resulting in greater bar acceleration. Improved strength may also result from greater coordination of agonist and synergist muscle groups to control the chain-loaded resistance (5).
Rationale for using chains
One reason to use chains involves variation in force. When athletes lift free weights, the selected weight remains constant throughout the exercise; however, the force exerted by muscles varies with the mechanical advantage of the joints involved in the movement (6). Many companies have tried to design variable resistance equipment to allow a muscle to exert maximal force throughout its range of motion. But since muscle force production varies dependent upon the type of exercise performed, no single type of variable resistance machine can adequately meet all strength curves and therefore work with all types of training. Furthermore, weight machines are usually expensive and need a large space. Free weights, rather than machines, are often used by strength coaches or athletes to maximize strength and power performance. Since the load is fixed in machines, there is no change in resistance in the range of motion. By adding chains to the end of a barbell, free weights take on the form of a variable weight. When chains are attached to the end of a barbell and hang to the floor, the part of the chain that is hanging creates a given resistance for the lifter. As the bar moves upward away from the floor, additional chain links leave the surface and increasingly add resistance during the lift. Conversely, when the bar is lowered, the chain links accumulate on the floor, and the total weight of the bar decreases. This technique continuously increases and decreases resistance during a movement (1,6).
Despite inadequate scientific evidence, there is growing anecdotal support for using chains for strength and power improvement. The safe and supervised use of chains creates a low-cost, supplementary method of training that can efficiently be incorporated into various conditionings and lifts. However, more research must be conducted to determine the effectiveness and transfer specificity of this training method.
- Berning J, Coker C, Adams K. Using chains for strength and conditioning. Strength Cond J. 2004;26(5):80-4.
- McCurdy K, Langford G, Jenkerson D, Doscher M. The validity and reliability of the 1RM bench press using chain-loaded resistance. Journal of strength and conditioning research 2008 May;22(3):678-83. PubMed PMID: 18438254. Epub 2008/04/29. eng.
- Simmons LP. Chain reactions: accommodating leverages. Powerlifting USA, 19:26-27, 1999.
- McCurdy K, Langford G, Ernest J, Jenkerson D, Doscher M. Comparison of chain- and plate-loaded bench press training on strength, joint pain, and muscle soreness in Division II baseball players. Journal of strength and conditioning research. 2009 Jan;23(1):187-95. PubMed PMID: 19050650. Epub 2008/12/04. eng.
- Fleck S, Kraemer W. Designing resistance training programs. 3rd ed ed: Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publisher; 2004. p. 21-31, 149-86.