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Chain Training for Bigger Muscles

In this example we've used a string on the bar with a hook on the chain.
In this example, we've used a string on
bar with a hook on the chain.

Close-up picture of the hook attaching the string to the chain.

Close-up picture of the clip
attaching the string to the chain.

Adding chains to your workout program may help you push past training plateaus. It's all about how muscles work.

When you lift a weight, your muscles move through a range of motion. You're strongest in the middle part of that range because of the number of cross-sectional fibers in the muscle belly. Let's look at the bench press for an example.

You start weak at the beginning of the exercise, when the bar is close to your chest. As you move the weight up, more and more muscles are engaged until you're at your strongest, in the middle of the lift. From the midpoint to the top of the exercise, you get progressively weaker until your arms are almost locked out.

With a standard bar and some weight plates, there's no way to make adjustments as you're moving through the exercise. Just adding more weight to the bar can make it too heavy to push off the chest without assistance or relying on "cheating" movements that could cause injury. That's where the chain comes in.

When you attach a chain, the first part of the move is easier because the chains start on the floor. As you move the weight up and away from your chest, the links (and weight) are slowly being lifted off the floor while more and more of your muscles are engaged.

The technical term for this type of exercise is Linear Variable Resistance Training (LVRT). The higher you lift the weight, the heavier it becomes. As the weight increases, your body calls on more muscle fibers to help, ultimately increasing your strength.

Here's how to set it up.

Purchase a couple of 5-foot segments of 5/8-inch chain. Each one of them will weigh about 20 pounds. Get some rope and a couple of clips for the chain as well.

Put a loop in the end of the rope so you can attach it easily to your workout bar. Then tie a loop in the rope about once every foot. You'll use the clips to attach the chain to whichever loop on the rope you want. If you want more weight, attach the chain to a higher loop. If you want less weight, clip it to a lower loop.

Of course, you aren't restricted to just using chains. Elastic resistance bands are also effective. You start by attaching one end of the band to something secure that rests on the floor. Heavy sets of dumbbells work nicely. Then attach the other end to the bar you're going to lift.

There are four important things to consider if you're choosing between chains and bands.

  • As you move the bar through your rep range with bands attached, the tension grows increasingly stronger as the bands tighten. There's no way to "dial back" the tension during the exercise. With chains, you can limit how much weight gets added by increasing or decreasing the chain's length.

  • With bands, there's also the "rebound" to consider. During the negative part of your exercise, when you're moving the weight back down, you have to be careful you don't allow the bands to pull back too quickly. You must always maintain a careful and controlled movement.

  • Then there's convenience. Depending on the type of band you use, it may be more difficult to attach a band to the bar each time than slipping a rope on through a loop.

  • Finally, there's portability. If you travel a lot, bands are much easier to transport. They're lighter, fit in a suitcase and can be used for other resistance exercises when a gym isn't available.

No matter which one you use, exercise caution. Make sure they're attached firmly and inspect them regularly for wear or defects. You don't want them coming off, snapping or breaking and unbalancing the weight in the middle of an exercise.

If you've been having a hard time increasing weight or moving onto the next level, consider chain training for that extra boost.

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beginning any diet or exercise program.