Chains, Bands, and Crap


Chains, Bands, and Crap

By Ricky Frausto, search co-owner, drugs CrossFit Omaha

Now that I have your attention, I will explain. While I was a strength coach at Nebraska-Omaha, I learned about all kinds of things in the strength game to improve sports performance. I was a nerd when it came to biomechanics and programming. I always wanted to learn new things and apply them. I felt the quickest way to know if something was worth keeping around was by trial and error. I would use it on myself and on my sports teams. I never overhauled my philosophy, just tweaked it from time to time. I strongly believe everything works for awhile and nothing works forever when it comes to programming for human performance. I will take an athlete or coach who buys into learning how to move correctly over someone who is always looking for the latest, greatest. You can have the best strength and conditioning program on the planet, but if your athletes don’t buy into it or if they have poor movement, it won’t mean shit. On the other hand, I can produce some great athletes with determination and desire on a less-than-stellar program. It’s the tried and true that gets results. That’s why it’s referred to as such.

One area that I became intrigued with during my stint as a college strength coach, was accommodating resistance. This type of training involves the accommodating of resistance throughout a full range of movement. For instance, there is a reason why members of certain global gyms only squat to a certain depth with heavy weight. It’s easier not to go all the way down. It’s all about leverage. The deeper you squat, the less leverage you have, making the movement harder. By that same account, that leverage comes more into your favor as you stand up. This is biomechanics and how you’ll become a better, more efficient lifter. Accommodating resistance comes into play when trying to change the strength curve so that the top of the movement is harder than the bottom. The idea is to improve your speed-strength. If you want to improve your bench press or your squat, for example, you will have to get stronger by lifting heavier and heavier loads but that’s the obvious. What happens when you are strong but slow? How do you get faster? How can you continue to increase intensity?

I’m talking about speed-strength training. There are three ways we can increase intensity. We can increase overall force production, increase the duration of the force production, or we can address the rate of force production (or how fast we can get to full force production). These are also referred to max effort, repeated effort, and dynamic effort, and these provide the foundation for the conjugate method of periodization. Most notably, increasing the rate of force production is a very real and useful means of helping us get stronger and thus why you should consider speed-strength training.
Focusing on moving lighter loads (roughly 50% to 70% of your 1 rep max) faster is just as effective as moving heavy loads (90% and above) slower. The problem lies in decelerating the bar  to prevent injury. The Olympic lifts are a form of dynamic effort and address the RFD (rate of force development). So are loaded squat jumps and bench press throws. Unfortunately, loaded squat jumps and bench press throws are not as safe as the Olympic lifts but they’re great at improving speed-strength. So what’s the answer? We can accommodate the resistance by adding chains and/or bands. 

The use of chains and bands is not new. Louie Simmons has been advocating their use for a long time now. They are the most widely known tool for accommodating resistance. You throw them on your barbells and as the leverage in a movement comes more into your favor, the bands stretch out or you carry more of the chain weight. This will cause you to increase how fast you apply force into the ground because you know that you are going to have to overcome the added resistance at the top (but now you don’t have to worry about decelerating the bar as the bands or chains do that for you). This sudden increase in force production is referred to as compensatory acceleration and is how you specifically address the rate of force production within the force-velocity curve. 

If you’ve never used bands and/or chains before, you probably won’t be able to reach some of your PR’s in the squat and/or bench with them attached to your bar since the compensatory acceleration needed to overcome the band tension or chain weight is too much. This is why they are better used with lighter loads as you will have the means necessary to produce the force and speed needed to get the weight up. This will ultimately improve your 1RM’s without bands or chains because you will now have access to your current strength levels but earlier in the movement. Your response time will be so much faster. This doesn’t mean that loads in excess of 90% will move any faster, it just means that you will be able to call on a higher percentage of your strength earlier in the movement than before. 

?As you can see, you don’t always have to use significant loads in the core lifts in order to get stronger. You can use lighter loads and make them feel heavier by trying to move them as fast as you can. This will make you stronger just as moving heavy loads will and you should employ both methods in your never ending quest for strength.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of bands and chains, for two reasons. The first reason is that bands and chains do not follow the strength curve that you, I, or the regular raw lifter follows. Athletes, who squat, bench, press, and dead-lift, are weakest at the bottom and strongest at the top. As I mentioned before, you won’t be able to move the same loads you are used to moving when bands and/or chains are attached to your bar, leaving you with weights you can lift with ease when they’re removed. This is a problem because you need that heavy weight at the bottom of your squat where you have the least leverage. Bands and chains screw up your firing patterns because you now are used to the weight being heavier at the top and not at the bottom which is not how life exists. Your performance responds optimally by following the strength curve. Bands and chains were meant for lifters who use gear. This is because gear provides assistance at the bottom and none at the top which is in line with how bands and chains work, the opposite of the strength curve.

The second reason I don’t like the use of bands and chains is because most people don’t know how to squat, press, bench, and dead-lift properly. Everyone thinks they’re an expert, they want to use the most advanced programming because feel they’re at that level, and because it’s the popular thing at the moment. That’s the difference between CrossFit Omaha and a lot of other CrossFit’s out there trying to incorporate bands and chains into their programming. I can get someone really strong just using a barbell and some bumpers. The reason is because almost everyone needs technique improvement and this alone will increase your 1RM’s significantly. There is no reason anyone that can’t squat over 500 to 600 pounds, press over 200 pounds, bench over 300 to 400 pounds, and dead-lift over 600 to 700 pounds should be using bands and/or chains significantly in their programming. Exhaust all other means of getting stronger that are less advanced than chains and/or bands before moving to chains and bands. Keep it simple. Use it till it doesn’t work anymore then move forward. There are other ways of improving your rate of force production that are more in line with the CrossFitter or raw lifter. These include med ball throws, jumps, and the Olympic lifts. Remember, your 1 rep max clean will always be a percentage of your 1 rep max dead-lift. This is the reason clean pulls can be used for dynamic effort.

In conclusion, if you are going to insist on using bands and/or chains in your programming, at least do me a favor and learn how to use them properly and within a sound program. If you ask me, I would rather see them used for assistance work and conditioning where there are a million ways they can help improve sports performance.

This is just a glimpse into accommodating resistance and compensatory acceleration topics and by no means the go to resource. If anything, I hope it has intrigued you a bit into educating yourself about concepts in programming. The more educated you become within the realm of sports performance, the more you realize that advanced programming and concepts are your ace cards. Don’t use them if you don’t have to. It’s easy to take a 100 pound squatter to 200 or even 300 but you will need that ace card when accepting the task of taking a 700 pound squatter to a 715 pound squatter, if you’re ever lucky enough to have that opportunity.