Why Bands and Chains are Necessary for Strength Development

Written by: Kevin Cann

I have been seeing a lot of posts on social media that highlight the idea that you do not need bands or chains to get strong.  They will point to many people that do not use them that have elite totals in powerlifting as proof.  They will also argue that bands and chains are not for raw lifters, but instead only appropriate for equipped lifters.

When Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell began competing in the 1970s it was raw.  You weren’t even allowed to wear wrist wraps at the time.  When the equipment started to come in it was very panful and most people were getting 10lbs to 20lbs out of it.  It didn’t get crazy until many years later.  This idea that Westside isn’t for raw lifting makes zero sense.  Those that use it that did not find success were probably choosing the wrong exercises or making lifestyle choices that were not conducive to success.  Every program based on principles works and Westside is based on principles.

Tudor Bompa stated that all strengths come back to absolute strength.  This is true up to a point.  After about 2 to 3 years of training, improving absolute strength will not improve your explosiveness.  In fact, you will begin to get slower.  We want to be good athletes under a bar and being slow is not the quality of a good athlete.

The goal of powerlifting is rather simple.  We want to apply as much force as possible into a barbell.  The goal of training is to increase our ability to deliver force into that barbell.  Simple as that.

We are limited by time to be able to complete a max lift.  We reach maximal force in about .3 to .4 seconds, but a max lift can take around 3 seconds to complete.  The ability to reach peak forces faster and strain for longer is a learned skill and must be trained.

When we place chains on the bar, we can increase the ability to apply more force over a longer period of time.  The peak contraction principle states that we can perform a lift, peak contraction will occur with the greatest amount of muscular tension.  This is at the sticking point where leverages are at their worst.  As leverages improve, deceleration occurs to reach a velocity of 0 at the top.  The chains add weight as leverages improve which will increase the time of peak contraction.  

Bands bring all the same stuff, but a different component as well.  The bands will pull the bar down faster than gravity.  Due to this, at the start of the lift the bar with bands has potential energy.  The equation for potential energy is:

PE = mass of the object x height of the fall x the acceleration due to gravity

This potential energy is then converted to kinetic energy (thanks Sara) when we reverse directions in a squat or bench press.  This utilizes the body’s stretch reflex, and if it exists may limit CNS inhibition.  The forces are very high at this reversal point and can create tremendous strength and speed coming out of the bottom position.  

The lifter will also learn to hit that peak force faster because they will need to outrun the bands to complete the lift.  So, more force for longer is applied, but also getting that force there more quickly.  This is an important piece to building high levels of strength.

The only way to increase peak contraction time is through the use of bands and chains.  Bands have the added component of converting potential energy into kinetic energy because they are pulling the bar down faster than gravity.  This builds reversal strength in the bench and squat. 

The argument that raw lifters do not need to be stronger at the top is an incorrect argument for this concept.  We are training a neurological adaptation of creating more force.  The other half of that argument is the weight is less in the bottom, where raw lifters need to be stronger.  The lighter weights allow for greater forces to be delivered into the barbell, especially when the barbell is accelerating downward faster than gravity.  Thinking a banded squat and a straight weight squat are pound for pound the same weight is a complete misunderstanding of force.

Do you need to use bands and chains to get stronger?  No, but you should.

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