Bench press with chains or bands ?
If you have not trained for more than two years do not use bands or chains at all. In short chains are more suited for maximum efforts while bands are the better choice for developing explosiveness based on my experiences. The following articles provides you with knowledge for conjugated periodisation, how to setup bands and chains correctly and when to choose one over the other. Feel free to share your questions and experiences in the comments to make this article better.
First of all a little detour into what conjugated periodisation actually means as there are some misconceptions out there and this is most likely the topic which made you look into chains and bands. Many lifters come into contact with chains and bands for the first time as supporting tools for strength training via the west side method which was pioneered and marketed by strength coach Louie Simmons. The west side method is a program which is a special application of conjugated periodisation. In its essence this way of training means that you program your schedule in a way that you pursue multiple goals at the same time. The most popular strength goals are:
- Maximum Strength
Why use chains and bands at all ?
Chains and bands influence the strength curve of the lifts you apply them to. There are:
- Ascending Strength curves (Bench Press, Squat)
- Descending Strength curves (Row, Leg Curl)
- Parabolic Srength curves (Arm Curl)
- More volume with less risk for the lifter
- Overcoming sticking points
- Increasing explosiveness
The first point of increasing volume is an advanced method for very experienced lifters. The stresses on your joints increase the further you progress in your career as a lifter as tendons and bones remain the same size while the muscles around it grow and and produce more force in a shorter amount of time. This can lead to injuries like torn muscles and tissue being pulled of thepoints on which they attach to bones. Chains and bands can enable the lifter to train for longer at high loads by manipulating the strength curve and avoiding exposure to full stress at all times.
Depending on how you combine the chain and bands with the load on the bar you can also target your sticking points in the lift. A sticking point occurs when the weight feels heaviest in a certain area for the range of motion. By choosing the load between the chains and bands and what you put on the bar in a way that most of the resistance kicks in at your sticking point you can work to improve the weakest part of the lift.
Explosiveness as a function of how fast the bar moves during the exercise is also measured in velocity. The concept of velocity is gaining more and more popularity amongst strength coaches recently with new devices like the push band or beast sensor to measure it. Bands and chains can be used to stimulate agressiveness and muscle fiber twitching with the aim of developing more eplosive movement patterns for the athlete.
Who should use chains and bands ?
Chains and bands are accessories which are more complex to set up and to use than their "ungeared" alternatives. Therefore the use of chains and bands should be considered by more experienced lifters who have mastered the basics of the movements which they want to load with accomodating resistance. To keep it simple, if you are one of the strongest people in your commercial gym, staff starts approaching you that you should be less noisy when you lift, you get annoyed by people who chat too much and the facility does not have a GHD machine you probably have reached the stage to consider to sign up for a different place in which you can change up your routine including bands and chains.
As long as you can progress without using chains and bands, stay away from them. Do not make your own live harder and more complex by complicating your training regime unecessarily.
How to setup bands and chains
Setting up chains and bands takes more time than going straight in without them. From a setup perspective chains take more time than bands in my experience. Chains can be set up in any gym which allows them without any special equipment (aslong as you have chains) while bands need special racks with pins to make the setup easy. If there are no racks with pins you can still use heavy dumbbells to setup bands, but that makes it very awkward and space intense.
For the band setup simply loop the bands onto the pins and from there onto the barbell. Same applies for a setup with dumbbells as shown in the picture for the deadlift setup in this post. Make sure that the bands stay under full tension during the entire lift. You should be able to pull the band like a string of a guitar before you start exercising. If the band is sagging during any part of the movement you did not set it up correctly. Also pay close attention that the resistance being provided by the bands is equal on both sides of the barbell. For this, make sure that you pick the same bands for each side and mirror the setup as closely as possible on both sides.
Avoid setups in which the bands extent to different lengths or have anchor points which differ in any way from each other regarding the weight of the dumbbell they are attached to. Keep in mind that if the band slips off it might hit your face while you work with a heavy, now unbalanced, weight. Also treat this as an exercise that you are starting to learn even if you are experienced. Refer to my first time video with bands on the bench press to get an idea why.
How to set up bands for the bench press
Me bench pressing with bands for the first time in 2015
Rogue R4 Powerrack example with pins to setup bands
If you want incorporate bands in your routine they come in various forms and shapes. For the bench press you are most likely to use bands in the range of 10 - 50 pounds each. Most of these you should double loop before attaching them to the bar for the bench press, because the setup is closer to the ground than for the squat. At rogue fitness you can buy bands in a price range of 6.50 to 18.50 USD to get you started.
For the setup with chains you will need to use a double loop setup. A study from 2010 came to the conclusion that the double looped setup yields better results than just hanging the chains from the bar. While this is only one data point with a small sample it can be easily challenged, but is in line with what most of the experienced lifters do. The three main pieces to set up chains for the bench press are:
- Cuff for barbell
Setting up the chains can be very time consuming if you have no idea how to do it. If you do something wrong, the chains will drop and you have to start everything all over again. This is very frustrating and I hope this will help you to avoid this.
- Attach the cuff to the barbell
- Attach a carabiner to the cuff
- Attach a carabiner to the middle of all the chains you want to use
- Attach all of these chains to one other chain
- Attach the "loop chain" to the carabiner on the cuff
- Adjust height by shortening the loop chain so that all chains are still touching the ground at the highest point of the lift
Get yourself a set of 10 carabiners ideally if you have one person at the same time using chains in your gym (multiply for multiple users). This will enable 4 chains each side + 1 carabiner to attach the loop chain to the cuff + one spare. The heavier the load your athletes work with the more important the setup with cuffs and carabiners becomes. You can also just use the loop chain and put it on the barbell, but this is not recommended as it is very unstable. Refer to the safety bar setup with chains picture in this post for your most experienced athletes.
Unstable setup of chains on Barbell
Better setup with cuffs. Replace chains with carabiners to enable double loop and quicker change of load
Example of placing carabiner in the middle of chains which provide load while utilising "Loop" chain
Note that chains still touch the ground on purpose
Make sure that the chains stay connected to the ground at all times of the lift. This will provide stability and less swaying action during the movement.
When to use chains and when to use bands ?
Going back to the main goals of lifting:
- Maximum Strength
I personally think there are clear areas where I would prefer one over the other.
For hypertrophy i would personally stay away from chains and bands. Here the concept of time under tension takes prevalence and therefore work more with how fast you exercise the movement and slow down down for better results rather than adding chains and bands.
If your goal is to maximise strength I think chains are the tool of choice to achieve this if you want to manipulate the strength curve. Two main reasons for this. First being that once you know how to setup chains it is easier to add just another chain to the double looped system rather than another band to the barbell. Esepcially if you already have a lot of plates on it. The second reason is how active the resistance is. Bands want to actively go back to their natural state, while the resistance which comes from chains is a lot more passive. To try this yourself do a set with band resistance and Immediately after do the same resiatance in chains. You will see my point then. When you are working close to your one repetition maximum you want accomodating resistance that is a bit more forgiving in case you fail the attempt. Chains do just that. Bands will pull you to the ground in a brutal and unforgiving way that will most certainly spell injury on a one or two repetition max effort to bust through some plateaus.
Bands are my go to option for developing more explosiveness. Here I usually work with 40 - 60% of my one repetition maximum + 15 kg of resistance on each side for the bench press. I have seen good results for improving my bar speed on regular lifts when mixing in this type of training.
Generally I also feel that chains are a good tool to address if an athlete has challenges with balancing a weight while bands are good for anyone lacking drive.
Incorporate one day a week which is dedicated to explosiveness for your bench press. Do this for six weeks.
- In week one use 40% + 30 kg of band resistance.
- In week two 50% + band resistance.
- In Week three you use 60% + band resistance.
- Repeat this process with chains for the other three weeks to provide some change to your routine.
Chains and bands have their use in different scenarios for experienced lifters. As there setup requires experience, extra resources and more money only consider these techniques after two years of training and if you have very ambitious goals. It is recommended that you use these training principles under guidance of a coach who has lkong term experience in strength coaching themselves. Possibly not the best fit for most commercial gyms and better done in a powerlifting / crossfit / rugby /football focused environment.
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