There is nothing more fun than debating the use of bands and chains for the Big 3 Powerlifting Movements (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift). I competed in an era where almost everyone used bands and chains in some form or the other because we all followed Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell crew. Yes, we probably applied accommodating resistance incorrectly and for the wrong reasons, but heck, they were cool. The “cool factor” is a thing.
Then there was the era where most people stopped using them, which ushered in the era of coaches and athletes hating on accommodating resistance online, in gyms, and clinics. The truth is that both sides are wrong. Absolutes in general are a big red flag for lack of knowledge and understanding. Are bands and chains the answer for all things strength? Well, just like anything else, it depends, but they have their place.
Before we get into the next powerlifting debate, don’t forget Stronger Experts is planning their inaugural clinic at Rise Indoor Sports in Advance, NC right outside of Winston-Salem and one hour north of Charlotte and STREAMING LIVE AROUND THE GLOBE. We are going to discuss the sport of powerlifting:
Here we will discuss the topics of:
Advantages of Bands and Chains:
Improved Rate of High Threshold Motor Unit Recruitment-
When using bands and chains, especially bands, the athlete will experience an improvement in motor unit rate coding and synchronization. However, there is one requirement of the athlete to realize this adaptation, and that is maximum effort. The barbell must reach a maximum velocity relative to the load. This is where compensatory acceleration comes into play meaning the athlete is applying maximum force throughout the range of motion leading to maximum acceleration. This same maximum effort will also ensure that the maximum number of high threshold motor units are recruited.
When pushing a barbell at the highest possible velocity with a maximum effort, the body will adapt to the high speeds by increasing rate coding in response to actin and myosin filaments unable to form maximum crossbridges at such high speeds.
These adaptations lead to:
This group of adaptations are the reasons that I believe Olympic weightlifters, football players, and basketball players to name just a few should mainly squat and pull with bands, aka improving their ability to produce maximum force at a maximum rate of time. To be clear, it’s wise to focus on improving absolute strength for the first two years because Dr. Bryan Mann’s work shows that absolute strength improves all qualities of strength for the first couple of years. After the first two years, it’s imperative to focus on the qualities that are most important for the individual and that individual’s sport.
For all of you powerlifters, this is where Louie had it right for some of you and wrong for others. If an athlete already has a solid ability to produce force at a high rate, they don’t really need accommodating resistance for this reason. Hold on though, there are other reasons that bands and chains still might help. As always, it depends.
Strengthening the Lockout-
If a powerlifting athlete is struggling to lockout weights, it only makes sense to incorporate accommodating resistance. Straight weight will probably not do the job because each of the Big 3 Lifts place the least amount of stress on the joints in motion at the lockout portion of the lift due to a decrease in moment arm (distance of the line of force created by the gravitational pull on the barbell to the axis of rotation of the joint). Bands and chains increase the load on the barbell during the lockout portion placing maximal strength on the joints in motion.
Figure 1 Changes in Moment Arm via Fitness Pollenator
Bands Increase the Eccentric Velocity-
With chains, just like with normal weighted plates added to the bar, it’s the mass of the weight multiplied by the acceleration caused from gravity at a rate of 9.81m/s² that is responsible for the force to be overcome at the bottom of a squat or bench. Bands on the other hand add to the rate of acceleration with their elastic energy creating a faster eccentric velocity. Momentum is equal to mass multiplied by the velocity. If you understand the relationship between impulse and momentum, then you know that a greater force is now needed to create a change in momentum. If you read or watched my presentation on the different adaptations from the various muscular contractions, then you know that overloading the eccentric contraction is related to strengthening connective tissue, titin protein filaments, and all physiological components responsible for resisting stretch. This increased eccentric velocity is also responsible for neural improvements within the stretch shortening cycle, and a greater prevalence for Type II muscle fiber hypertrophy (Arantes, V.H.F., da Silva, D.P., de Alvarenga, R.L. et al., 2020).
I am not saying that bands and chains are the answer to all things. If you want to improve your max squat, bench, and deadlift, you will need to use straight weight due to the principle of specificity. Obviously, bands aren’t going to strengthen the joints at the end range of motion due to both bands and chains being at their lightened loads. The point is understanding when accommodating resistance is necessary and when it is not.
P.S. If you want to learn more about Accommodating Resistance, don’t forget Stronger Experts is planning their inaugural clinic at Rise Indoor Sports in Advance, NC right outside of Winston-Salem and one hour north of Charlotte. We are going to discuss the sport of powerlifting and how those lifts can be applied to athletic performance and fitness:
⇒ Powerlifting: The Age of Science
I promise that you will learn new truths about the Big 3 Lifts that we all love. The information will apply to powerlifting, strength and conditioning, and even weightlifting, so get signed up and come hang out
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