Sunday Edition Article
First published on August 12, 2003

A lot has been written as to how to set up the bands and chains and how to include them in your training but not much has been written about how they work and how they change the barbell or their effect on the muscles. To my knowledge their have only been three studies that have looked at the use of bands and only one that looked at chains that have been published to this point. I know that several are being worked on now. This is kind of surprising to me because Eugene Sandow was selling a home exercise device in the early 1900’s that used rubber tubing for resistance. In the 1970’s elastic bands were promoted and sold by one company as a cheap method of accomplishing the same things as isokinetic machines.

Yuri Verkhoshansky included a little bit about elastic bands in his 1977 book (Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport), which at times can be difficult to read but is a incredible resource. Dick Hartzell invented Jump Stretch bands in the 1970’s and recommended them for stretching, rehab and to be used as the resistance in strength training. Louie Simmons started using them and writing about them in addition to the barbell in the early 1990’s. This has lead to their increase in popularity due to his articles, videos and the success of the lifters at Westside barbell. Chains have also been around since the early 1900’s, they were draped over the bar during deadlifts. Arthur Jones welded a hook on to the bar and hung chains from it in his first step of perfecting the barbell in 1939 and he later added them to his Nautilus machines (Szmanski 2003). Their are at least 4 different brands of bands that are being sold and 3 different companies selling chains specifically for lifting and another that sells a collar that chains can be attached to.

I do not know why there have been so few studies on the use of chains and bands. It could be that exercise scientists see no reason to do studies because the results speak for themselves. The more likely answer is that the serious strength training is light years ahead of exercise science. Most sports are all about speed and power. Numerous studies have been done in an attempt to figure out what the best training method is. Some coaches say high speed is best. Others believe low speed and some say heavy weights. There are plenty of studies that support each coaches idea. Behm and Sale (1993) found that maximal isometric work was equal to high-speed isokinetics for gains in speed strength. Their conclusion was that it is the intention to move fast and not the actual movement speed that leads to gains in speed strength. Other studies have been done that have compared isometrics to isokinetics. It was found that the isokinetics to be superior but they did not have their subjects push as hard as possible from the start of the isometric contraction. This kind of reinforces Behm and Sales conclusion that it is all about the effort and attempting to move the weight as fast as possible. This is what bands are all about. They force the lifter to push as hard as they can throughout the range of motion, pushing as hard as you can creates maximum tension in the muscle. The bands prevent you from coasting to the finish. If you have read any of the old Soviet weight training manuals you know maximum muscle tension is required to get stronger.

There is also a big disparity in studies that attempt to figure out at which percent of a maximum lift that maximum power output occurs at. If you were to just quickly read through the abstracts of various studies you would find some say as low as 30% and others will say high as 80%. The reason for the difference is that different exercises and different subjects were used and the measurements were taken at different spots in the range of motion. Maximum power output in the snatch increased up to 66% and than dropped off. In the jump squat it is 30%, bench press in the 40-60% range, and squat 80%. Power output of various weight classes is different. 82.5 kg lifters had the highest power output, followed by the 60 kg lifters and than the heavy weights. Baker (2001) found the athletes with the highest level of absolute strength had the highest power output in the bench press in the 46-49% range of their maximum, the not so strong lifters had the highest power output in 64-69% range. This backs up the stronger bench pressers training with a lower percent than the weaker lifters.

Siegal et al. (2002) used the squat on a smith machine with from 30- 90% of maximum and looked at power output at three spots along the movement. The highest power outputs were with 60% at the first marker and with 80% at the third marker. Power output with 30% was double what it was with 90% at the first marker but it was higher at the 2nd and 3rd spots with 90% than 30%. Think about this for a bit, if your objective is to improve speed strength and the highest power output occur with light weights at the start of the lift and heavy weights at the top, and it is best to train as close as possible to the performance. Bands will allow you to do this, you could start with less than 50% in the bottom of the lift and finish with 100% at the top of the lift and be working at close to maximal power output through the entire range of motion. The power output wound not be quit as high as with the bands because the velocity is slower.

The strength curve is a graph of force production at various points along the range of motion. It changes because of changes in the joint angle, muscle length, and the involvement of other muscles. Elliot et al 1989 studied the strength curve of the bench press. When using maximal weights they found the bar is accelerated of the chest till it reached the sticking point at about 40% completion of the lift. After the sticking point the bar then accelerates again reaching peak force at 60% of the lift and slows down until lockout. With 80% of maximum the bar speeds up for 48.3% of the movement and slows down for 51.7% of the movement. Thus, the lighter the weight the longer the deceleration period. Everyone knows that they can lift much more weight at the top than off the chest. But the upper part of the range of motion is the bar slowing down. This means less force is being applied to the bar. In the bench press you have to do this because your arm is only so long and the bar must return to zero velocity.


Claxton 2001 compared the bench press, bench press throws and the bench press with bands kinematically. The subjects used 30% of there maximum plus mini bands. He found peak power output was highest in the bench press throw, than the bench press and lowest in bench press with bands. The bench press throw peaked before 50% of the lift was completed, the bench press reached peak power output at 60% and than fell off. The bench press with bands reached its peak at 80% and than had very little fall off until lockout. This shows that if your objective was to demonstrate power you would use the bench press throw. But in training you are trying to increase power and with the bands the muscle is working harder for a longer period of time and the longer the muscle works maximumally the greater the strength gains. Lander et al 1985 found force output was greater at slower speeds on the isokinetic bench press. Rosentsweig et al 1975 found muscle activation and strength gains were greater when the concentric portion of the bench press on an isokinteic machine was performed at 3.5 seconds as compared to 2.0 and 1.5 seconds. This could be called time under maximal tension. Ballistic movements have very little time under tension meaning although the load on the muscle is high it only occurs for a very short period of time like the bench press throws and bench press with light weight from the Claxton Study. I am not talking about Arthur Jones recommendation of doing reps to failure or the Super Slow Guilds concept of performing each repetition at a cadence to ensure the muscle is being worked for 50-70 seconds in order to become stronger. This go back to Behm and Sales (1993) conclusion that it is the effort and the intent to move fast and not the actual movement speed that determines strength gains.

The maximal effort for the increased time period can lead to increased muscle fatigue. Rosentsweig et al 1975 reported the subjects that worked at the slower speed complained of being tired and sore more often towards the end of the study than the other subjects. This is why it is important to decrease training volume and make changes in your training at least every 3-4 weeks when you use bands.

Berry et al 2001 showed the effect bands have on the deceleration at the top. They compared 2 groups that did 4 weeks of lifting with bands and 4 weeks of compensatory acceleration. The group that did bands second had significantly greater increases in their squat, bench press and vertical jump over the bands first group. The important test here was the seated medicine ball throw. The bands second group improved by 17.4 inches, 15.4 of these inches from the bands. The bands first group had a net loss of 2 inches after a gain of 8 inches following the bands. Why? The seated medicine ball throw is an explosive movement and to throw it for distance the ball must be accelerated through the entire movement. In compensatory acceleration the movement starts off explosively but must slow down and than stop when the end of the arm is reached. When the bands are used the bar is slowed by the increasing load and the lifter can accelerate thought the entire movement and it only comes to a stop because of running out of arm. The medicine ball is the same as sports movements. How effective would a boxer be if they purposely slowed the punch or if the football player decelerated prior to making contact. The effect is not as big on the squat or vertical jump because the acceleration can continue. The lifter can come up on his toes or the bar can come off the back. But the lifter can not come off the bench and letting the bar fly upward at the end of the bench press would only be an injury waiting to happen.

Eccentric movements have shown to involve a lower number of muscle fibers than the concentric movement with the same weight. Brandenberg and Docherty (2002) found strength gains were greater when 110-120% of concentric maximum was lowered and 75% lifted as compared to just lifting 75% of concentric maximum which was in agreement with previous research. Doan et al. (2002) found that the average bench press of the their subjects increased from 97.44 to 100.57 kg with the addition of 5% on the weight releaser. Their conclusion was that the increased eccentric load increased the muscle activation and the stretch of the connective tissue and was what was responsible for the increased bench presses. Louie Simmons has stated in articles and on the Reactive Method video that bands pull you down faster than gravity, which means an increased eccentric load and leads to gains in strength. Anybody that has ever squatted with heavy band tension can tell you that as soon as you start the decent it feels as if you are being pulled to the floor. Eccentric work has been associated with muscle soreness so this is another reason why decreasing training volume when bands are used is important.

Added resistance or old school "bling"?

Chains simply serve as a form of accommodating resistance to the strength curve. As the bar is elevated more links of chain come off the floor increasing the load and forcing the lifter the push harder to keep the bar moving. The only study that looked at the effects of chains is Ebben and Jensen (2002) who also looked at bands. They had their subjects perform a 5 RM set and the measured the power output and electrical activity in the muscle on the third repetition. They replaced 10% of the bar weight with bands or chains without saying how much band tension or chain was added. They found their were no significant differences in EMG or ground reaction forces between the three lifts but the chains did have a slightly greater EMG readings and lower ground reaction forces than the bands or the regular lift. Their subjects did say the bands and chains made the squat feel different. Their conclusion was that bands and chains offer no benefit and they are hard to set up. What is hard about anchoring the bands with a heavy dumbbell and slipping the other end of the band over the end of the bar? The chains only require a loop of light chain around the bar and another loop on the floor with the heavy chain lying through it. This does not seem hard to figure out for me. Bands and chains are not used for repetition maximum work in major lifts, they are used for speed or maximum effort work which is done for sets of 1-3 repetitions. If they had really been interested in making comparisons they would have set them up like those that use them.

To sum it up bands increase the time of maximal or near maximal force and increase the eccentric load which lead to increased strength. They also decrease deceleration so the movements are more like the movements in sports and allow you to work at close to maximum power output throughout the entire range of motion.

Is the use of bands and chains some magical tool that will create supermen? No, the process of getting stronger is slow and takes years of hard work, bands make the work harder not easier. The bands and chains are just a way of stimulating the muscle in a different way and changing the strength curve and the force velocity curve.


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