Everything Works: You Just Need to Ask the Right Questions

Written by: Kevin Cann

There was a post written yesterday by a relatively popular coach on Instagram that demonized bands and chains.  He then followed this up with a TikTok video of him making fun of what seems to be Westside max effort variations.

This is sadly the age we live in.  I am all for having some fun, but an attitude like this is what leads to the stalling of progress in the field.  Progress does not come from deconstructing the past and starting over.  It comes from learning from those that did it at a high level and building off of that.

This post said that bands and chains do not work for raw lifters because the weakest spot of the raw lifts would be where the accommodating resistance deloads, making the lift the lightest where the lifter needs the most strength.  

There are some problems with this statement.  At face value people will jump on it because it logically makes sense and fits their bias.  I know, because I did this at one point.  You can probably find an article from me years ago saying this same exact thing.  However, my willingness is to learn and be the best is greater than my wanting to be right.

Almost every program performs the lifts multiple times in each week.  This example forgets about that context.  It is humorous in one way because this coach makes fun of max effort variations, which would most certainly be heavy enough at the bottom of the lifts to transfer strength.  Like I said before, this is ore to deconstruct Westside than it is to supply good solid training material.

There is no reason why one heavy day, and one day with bands and chains would not be effective.  This is why Westside is so popular.  It has worked for so many over the years.  In this case the deloading of accommodating resistance in the bottom positions would be welcomed.

Those positions are where the greatest recovery costs are built up because at those angles, we have the least amount of leverage, which is why it requires the most amount of force.  We can use bands and chains to allow those angles to recover while still getting high levels of force output.

At the end of the day this sport is about how much force we can put into the bar.  We need to be able to generate max force in a very small window of time.  This means we need to increase the rate of force development.

Bands are an essential piece of this.  Even more so than chains.  To develop greater rate of force production, we need to develop greater neural drive at the beginning of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).  We know we cannot just use near max weights here and recover.  So how else can we do this?

That is right, with bands and to a lesser extent chains.  Bands pull the bar down faster than gravity.  This creates an overspeed eccentric.  The lifter must then overcome a greater eccentric force to reverse directions.  This will increase the neural drive in the beginning of the SSC. 

This is also training the part of the lift that the post says is most important.  It is just training a different aspect of it.  It is training how quickly a lifter can get to max force.  This is a critical skill to have to increase your max strength.

Also, what is too light?  In another TikTok video, this coach uses the term “exceedingly light” to explain dynamic effort day at Westside.  He then says that Westside is too difficult to recover from.  If it was so light, wouldn’t it be easy to recover from?  He also says the frequency is too low.  Wouldn’t that make it easier to recover from?

He uses an example in his post of a lifter capable of producing 200lbs of force off of his chest benching with 175lbs straight weight and 100lbs of chain weight.  87.5% of 1RM is not heavy enough on the chest? 

Also, a 200lb bencher is not using 100lbs of chain.  They are using around 40lbs of chain, or 1 chain per side.  In that case they will often get a minimum of 160lbs bar weight for a max effort single.  It usually ends up falling between 85% and 92% of 1RM, most definitely heavy enough to elicit a training effect at those angles.

On a dynamic effort day, using Westside’s recommendations, the bar weight would be 120-140lbs plus the chains.  That is between 60% to 70% of 1RM plus the chains.  This is most certainly heavy enough to elicit a training stimulus.  Especially for a 5×5 completed in a short amount of time.

Our programs do not use a dynamic effort day.  Sometimes we do if that is what I want the lifter to improve upon.  Everything has its place; you just need to be asking the right questions.  Max effort variations are specific to strain more than they are to movement.  The goal is to develop that strain.  Again, it is looking at it in terms of developing force production.

This same coach will program singles at extremely low RPEs.  This may be specific to the movement, but it is not specific to the required strain of max effort lifts on the platform.  At some point you need to practice with heavy weights.  Doing so with the competition lifts can be extremely costly recovery wise.

This is why some coaches choose to use comp singles around an RPE 8, which translates to around 92% of 1RM.  They sacrifice some strain for recovery.  There is nothing wrong with this, but I choose to use similar weights (85% to 92%) and get more strain.  We can do this with max effort variations.  

Because the loads are less, it seems people recover a bit easier.  We challenge ourselves and compete in the gym.  This is developing the skill of competition.  The variations allow you to do it more often.  

Variations make the lifter pay attention in training.  After a while the competition lift can become mindless practice.  The lifter will just do it to do it.  This is true if we keep the same variation in for too long as well.

Anders Ericcson has researched the theory of deliberate practice.  His research shows that when a person is more engaged in training, they develop skills to a higher level.  This means paying attention and focusing on the task at hand.  Variation forces the lifter to pay attention.  They typically will struggle at first, learn from their mistakes, and improve performance on the exercise.

This is why we use variations in 3 week waves.  Week 1 feel it out and mess up a little bit.  See what breaks down and analyze it.  Week 2 focus on the biggest area of breakdown with lighter rep work.  Week 3 beat week 1’s number.  This is how we program deliberate practice.  It forces them to be engaged.

Bands and chains also are a learning tool.  Raw bench press and squat is explode and coast.  It is nearly impossible to accelerate throughout the entire concentric ROM without using bands and chains.  This same coach has preached concentric velocity as being key to improving performance.  Only way you can really do that is with bands and chains.

The change of force distribution makes the lifter pay attention as well.  Training is learning.  The goal of training is to supply problems to the lifter, where skilled movement is the solution.  Bands and chains will teach a specific skill.  One that is preached by this same coach.

A good coach understands the pros, cons, and tradeoffs, of all of their tools and knows how to construct a program accordingly.  It is not a matter of what is good or bad.  It is all a matter of acceptable tradeoff.  Oftentimes you can account for the tradeoff in another day within the same program to get the benefits of an exercise without as much of the drawback.

Elite coaches understand this and do not go on TikTok to explain it.

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