Power, Stability, & Hypertrophy: A Common Link
If you’re familiar with the world of strength training. You know who the Godfather of powerlifting, Louie Simmons is. Aside from producing 1,000 lb squatters and 500+ lb benchers, Louie is also known for popularizing the use of bands and chains in training. These tools allow for a vast increase in strength and explosiveness through an “accommodating resistance.” Now you may be thinking, I’m no athlete, what use are bands and chains to me? Well they can also be utilized to increase hypertrophy, stability, as well as many other variables. They are incredibly versatile tools that can help facilitate your exercise and performance goals.
Increasing Strength and Power
If bands and chains increase resistance, why not just put more weight on the bar? Standard bar weight or dumbbell weight is fine. They allow you to overload a muscle in a linear fashion. However, bands and chains allow you to overload muscles in specific positions, while deloading muscles in others. At the bottom of a lift, the band is not stretched, or the chain is resting on the floor so the weight feels normal. At the top of a life where we are normally stronger, there is an increased load from the chain being lifted off the ground, or the band being stretched. In addition, normally at the end range of a lift we decelerate so we can reverse the motion. In a sense, this reduces our force output. With accommodating resistance the band or chain forces us to keep accelerating and thus keep our force output high.
In sports we often see high forces being produced at high velocities, i.e sprinting, jumping, etc. And who are the best athletes we see? The ones who can produce more force, more quickly than others. They are the ones who get to the ball more quickly, get up higher for that rebound, can dive for a ground ball get up and laser it to first base for the out. Bands and chains are best utilized in a “dynamic” fashion to develop these qualities. Lower percentages of your one rep max (1RM) anywhere from 50-70% are used depending on the goal. Proper programming and periodization can allow for the best utilization of these tools.
Bands and Chains for Hypertrophy
Typical programming for size and muscle growth involves using high repetition schemes, and progressive overload. As we now know (and as I’ll post about later), muscle growth is more dependent on overall volume as opposed to repetition scheme. Meaning you can theoretically achieve the same amount of growth using sets of 3-5 repetitions as you would using sets of 15-20, as long as the volume was equated. That said, there are other factors such as load, time under tension, and mechanical stress that also affect hypertrophy. As such, bands and chains are great additions to your arsenal if you want to bust through a plateau or simply increase size! I’ve already talked about accommodating resistance, so we know we can overload and deload certain positions of our lift. This can be advantageous in certain exercises where we might not feel as much activation.
In the video I posted I demonstrate using chains for chest fly’s. This is a perfect example as we often see shoulder issues trying to increase range of motion and bringing are hands closer to the ground. But if we can’t go low enough then we’re sacrificing range of motion, or must reduce weight which in turns reduces volume. With the chains, we can get a bigger stretch because the chains are deloaded when you bring your arms down, but when you lift them up you start loading your pecs again while they’re in a more advantageous position. So essentially, you’re to go through the entire range of motion without cheating, and you’re increasing the weight which increases force production and volume while reducing chance of injury.
Like chains, bands make it harder to go through the entire range of motion and thus stressing the muscle to a larger degree. Bands do something chains don’t though. Once a chain is off the ground, the force you’re producing is enough to counteract the weight and the amount gravity is pulling on that weight. It’s basically as if you were just holding a weight in your hand. With a band though, the elastic component is continuously pulling down, on top of gravity. And as you start to reverse the motion, your muscles start being to be overloaded eccentrically which can induce greater muscle damage and thus greater gains. Think about doing bicep curls, many people often don’t fully extend their arms since this bottom position is hard to bust through, and then at the top they tend to almost rest. The band will cause you to contract through the entire range of motion.
You can also just use bands without a weight or barbell. For example do your set of whichever exercise lets say squats, then step on the band with both feet and lift the top of the band up over your shoulders and do a drop-set. This will intensify a simple bodyweight squat to a much larger degree. The possibilities are endless!
Try this with your exercise of choice:
- 3 sets with a band added to your weight
- After your last rep of your last set, remove the band, do another set with the same weight
- Do one more set with just the band. You can hate me now but you’ll thank me later.
Increase your stability
Bad news first, I’m not talking about financial stability. The good news, you’ll learn how to strengthen your joints and reduce injury. What you’ll notice is that as you move through the range of motion, the weight starts shaking. Due to the oscillations caused by the band, your body must stabilize rapidly to control that motion. It’s important to use proper body mechanics and aim to put yourself in a stable position while controlling the oscillations. These are great exercises to do while you’re fresh and can serve as a warmup and/or an injury prevention tool before your main lift.
- Take a barbell, and use a band to hang a kettlebell or weight plate on the ends of it
- Now take your pick of exercise to complete. Do a squat, an overhead press, a bench press, a row, again there are many possibilities
- Start with a light weight, lighter than you normally would use for the exercise you chose
- Go through the eccentric swiftly but with control, then pause for 1-2 seconds
- Go through the concentric swiftly but with control and pause again for 1-2 seconds
Let’s be real, you won’t find chains in any Planet Fitness gym. And while doable, it may not be practical to lug your own chains into a gym either. Bands are a little more common, but even then most facilities won’t provide them for you. That said I believe it is a worthy investment to buy a pair of bands. They are lightweight, portable, and can intensify any weighted movement, or act as a stand-alone tool for exercise. A simple Amazon search will help you find companies such as SKLZ, Rogue Fitness, Perform Better, and countless others make that their own bands. These unconventional tools have a wide array of benefits, and are highly underutilized, so if you need to liven up your training, or bust through a plateau, incorporating these in your programming might be what you need.