I’ve had a few people ask me recently about the benefits of training with chains. I think chains are a great tool for developing strength and power, and not only because it looks cool. For those that have spent some significant time on solid weight training programs using strictly straight weight, incorporating chains into their regimen can help push their performance to another level.
A Teaching Tool
I think chains are a great teaching tool, but not necessarily for technique purposes (If technique is an issue, make that the priority and reserve the chains for another week, month, or year). I’m talking about teaching people how to be FAST and accelerate the load through the range of motion. Adding chains to barbell movements is one of many forms of accommodating resistance. This basically means that throughout the concentric portion of the movement, as the leverages improve, the resistance increases. Take benching with chains for example.
When the bar is touching the chest the weight is deloaded because most of the chain weight is sitting on the floor. As you press the weight towards lockout the links come off the floor, making the load heavier with each inch of concentric range. So imagine that the weight on the bar is 135 pounds, and we added 80 pounds of chain weight. At the bottom of the bench press, if you used the minimal amount of effort needed to press 135 pounds, the chains will reveal themselves to you during the lift as if to say, “nope.” This is when the learning occurs, and you know that you need to drive hard and fast into that 135 pound bar touching your chest because it is going to grow into a 215 pound load at lockout.
The chains as accommodating resistance will also allow you to use greater loads than you may be used to at the end range of a movement. You can get a similar overload stimulus by using partial movements, such as rack pulls for deadlifts, but with chains you can overload while still practicing the full range of the exercise.
Recovering from an Injury
Often times the bottom of a movement is when some of the joints are the most vulnerable. Those who are recovering from a grouchy lower back can benefit from the decreased load at the bottom of squats and deadlifts while building their strength back up. Similarly, those making a comeback from a shoulder issue can start progressing into bench and board press variations with chains to add a little more security.
Chains are also an extremely useful mode of resistance for more than just barbell movements. Throw them across your hips during glute bridges, drape them across your back for push-ups and planks, or around your neck for pull-ups, dips, and lunges. Obviously it’s of the upmost importance to look hardcore and throw a bunch of chalk covered chains onto a barbell, but they should not be used haphazardly.
If you don't have access to chains don't stress it, straight weight should make up the meat and potatoes of your program anyway. However if you have been training for a while and have access to them they can be a great addition to your toolbox and provide you with a cool new stimulus. Try them out!