Bands and chains are two of the most effective tools for building size and strength. These tools were popularized by Louie Simmons in the 1980s and 1990s. Louie’s idea was to use bands and chains as an extra form of resistance on different barbell exercises like the squat, bench press and deadlift.
In other words Louie Simmons invented a training method called “accommodating resistance.”
Accommodating resistance is an advanced training method where you use bands and chains to increase the resistance on the top half of an exercise. Accommodating resistance is so effective because it overloads the bottom, middle and top part of an exercise equally and it forces you to accelerate the barbell all the way to lockout.
Let’s take a look at some sample training videos. Here is a perfect demonstration of the bench press with chains:
As you can see the chains are hanging down from either side of the barbell. As the athlete lowers the bar to his chest the chains drop down on the floor. This means that the bar feels lighter in the bottom half of the exercise and heavier in the top half of the exercise.
Bands are similar to chains but also very different. Here is a perfect demonstration of the bench press with bands:
Weight lifting bands are like giant rubber bands that you can attach to barbells and other exercises. The bands pull the weight down to the ground and get stronger as they are stretched more.
Bands are another form of accommodating resistance because they make the top half of the bench press and other exercises tougher than the bottom half.
Accommodating resistance has many advantages for bodybuilders and powerlifters looking to build bigger, stronger muscles. It lets you overload different parts of the range of motion of an exercise and it forces you to lift explosively and recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Accommodating resistance can also be applied to smaller isolation and machine exercises to stimulate muscle growth while avoiding injuries. Many of the world’s best strength and physique coaches including Louie Simmons, Josh Bryant, Charles Poliquin and John Meadows use accommodating resistance to help their world-class athletes blast through training plateaus.
In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you the best ways to use accommodating resistance in your workouts to build size and strength. Here is an outline for the rest of this article:
- Part 1: Chains
- Part 2: Bands
- Part 3: Reverse Bands
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Chains
Louie Simmons began experimenting with chains as a form of accommodating resistance back in the 1980s. His powerlifting team thought he was nuts when told them to start squatting and bench pressing with chains on the bar. However, once they started using them their progress shot through the roof!
The powerlifting coach Dave Tate says that squatting with chains helped many Westside Barbell athletes break through the 800 pound squat barrier.
Let’s take another look at chains as a form of accommodating resistance. Here is Chad Wesley Smith squatting with chains on both sides of the bar:
As you can see the chains partially fall on the ground in the bottom position and lift up off the ground in the top position. This makes the top part of the movement heavier than the bottom half. Chains force you to explode the weight up all the way to lockout. If you don’t explode the weight up then the chains will start to drag you down to the starting position.
However, the chains also have 2 other big advantages:
- They swing back and forth while you lift
- They lower the center of gravity of the exercise
Anytime you use chains on an exercise they wobble all over the place while you lift. This means your body has to recruit extra muscle fibers to stabilize the weight as you lift. This is obviously a good thing if you are trying to get bigger and stronger.
The chains also lower the center of gravity of the exercise. The chains are dangling below the barbell which means the center of mass of the exercise is actually below the barbell. This gives the exercise a completely different feel which is great for stimulating size and strength gains.
One of the easiest ways to use chains is to use them on the big barbell exercises like the squat, bench press and deadlift. Louie Simmons believes that chains are especially effective for speed work on the squat. For example:
The chains force you to explode the weight as fast as you can all the way to lockout. This is a good thing because explosive muscular contractions force you to recruit as many fast-twitch muscle fibers as possible and are much better for strength gains. If you get lazy and stop accelerating the bar then the chains will pull you right back down to the ground!
Louie Simmons likes his athletes to perform about 8-10 sets of squats with the chains on their speed days. Here is a sample dynamic effort squat workout with chains that you may want to try. Check it out:
Westside Barbell Dynamic Effort Squat Workout
- A1: Dynamic effort box squat with chains, 8 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Dynamic effort deadlift, 5 x 1, X/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Reverse hyperextension, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Glute ham raise, 4 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
Chains can also be used for speed work on the deadlift. The world-class powerlifting coach Josh Bryant likes to use a training method called “lightning deadlifts.” Here’s how it works. You are going to perform 2 speed reps on the deadlift with about 50-60% of your 1-rep max. Your goal is to perform both of these reps as explosively as you can.
For the first rep you are going to have chains on the bar. After your first rep your training partners strip the chains off the bar and you immediately perform your 2nd rep.
Here is a perfect video demonstration of lightning deadlifts:
The powerlifter performs one speed deadlift with the chains on the bar and one speed deadlift without the chains. So why does this training method work? Lightning deadlifts are a way to trick your body into being more explosive with straight weight.
During the first rep your body realizes it has to pull the weight as explosively as possible to finish the lift. Then on the second rep your brain still “thinks” that the chains are on the bar so you continue firing all of your muscles as fast as possible. Lightning deadlifts are a great training method to use in the last 2-4 weeks leading up to a powerlifting meet.
Here is what one of Chad Wesley Smith’s lightning deadlift workouts looked like:
Chad Wesley Smith Lightning Deadlift Workout
- A1: Conventional deadlift (competition stance), 1 x 1**, X/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Conventional deadlift speed sets (competition stance), 3 x 2***, X/2/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Lightening deadlifts (competition stance), 4 x 2****, X/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 3 x 1*****, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (competition stance), 3 x 1******, 1/0/X/6, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Glute ham raise (holding weight behind head), 3 x 8, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Wide leg sit ups (weight behind head), 3 x 8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed at 96% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max
***Performed at 81% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max
****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max with 2 pairs of chains per side
*****Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches above the floor.
******Performed at 54% of your anticipated competition 1-rep max. Safety pins set 2 inches below lockout.
Of course chains aren’t just for speed work. Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team perform “max effort” exercises with chains all the time. In other words they work up to a 1-rep max on an exercise that is similar to the squat, bench press or deadlift to boost their strength.
One of the most popular exercises in the Westside gym is the chain floor press. For example:
One of the nice things about the chain floor press is you can just drape the chains over the barbell. The chains make the exercise much lighter in the bottom position and much heavier in the top position. This is a great way to overload your triceps and your lockout strength to build up your bench press strength.
Here is what a typical max effort chain floor press workout might look like:
Westside Barbell Max Effort Floor Press Workout
- A1: Floor press against chains, 3 x 1**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bamboo bar bench press, 2 x 10-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Flat rolling DB extension, 8 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
- D1: Cable pull down (wide / pronated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Front DB raises, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed at 90%, 95%, and 100% of your estimated 1-rep max strength for that day.
Of course you don’t have to perform a 1-rep max to get the benefits of chains. You can use chains with any set / rep scheme such as cluster sets, 5 sets of 5, Advanced German Volume Training and so on.
Many bodybuilders use chains on the big compound exercises to reduce the weight in the bottom part of the strength curve. Here is a great video of John Meadows performing high-rep chain deadlifts at the end of his Mountain Dog back workout. Check it out:
John is using a TON of chains on the bar which makes the exercise way harder at the top part of the range of motion and way easier at the bottom part. This is a great strategy for taking some of the pressure off your back in the bottom position while still overloading your entire upper back really hard.
John likes to perform these all-out sets of deadlifts towards the end of his back workouts rather than at the start. In other words he pre-fatigues his back with rows, pulldowns, pullovers etc. before deadlifting. This forces his back to work much harder during the deadlifts even though he is using less overall weight.
Speaking of bodybuilding, there are a TON of great ways to use chains in a bodybuilding style workout. One of the best ways to use chains is to use them on different isolation exercises. IFBB professional bodybuilders Branch Warren and Johnnie Jackson have used the chain fly and the chain triceps extension to help build their upper bodies.
Here is a great video of the chain fly:
If you have never performed this exercise then you don’t know what you’re missing! Normally a dumbbell fly puts a ton of tension on your chest in the bottom position and very little tension on your chest in the top position.
With chain flys there is a MASSIVE amount of tension on your chest during the entire range of motion! This includes the very bottom part of the movement when your chest is fully stretched and at the top when your chest is fully contracted. For many bodybuilders the chain fly beats the crap out of the dumbbell fly.
Another great chain isolation exercise is the lying chain triceps extension. For example:
This exercise is a favorite of the bodybuilding / powerlifting coach Josh Bryant. Josh likes this exercise because it overloads the triceps when they are fully stretched and fully shortened. It also creates an unbelievable mind-muscle connection in your triceps. You can really feel your triceps working overtime to lockout the weight in the top position.
As you can see there are a TON of different ways to use chains in your program to build size and strength. They are easily one of the best accommodating resistance tools that you can use.
Part 2: Bands
Strength training bands are the next evolution in accommodating resistance. Bands are basically giant rubber bands or resistance bands that can be used to make exercises more challenging.
Here is a perfect demonstration of the bench press with bands:
As you can see the athlete is bench pressing with bands pulling the weight down to the ground. The bands themselves barely weigh anything but they create extra tension by pulling the weight down to the ground faster than the normal speed of gravity.
On the one hand bands are very similar to chains. Bands accommodate resistance by making the exercise easier in the bottom position and harder in the top. However, bands and chains are also wildly different! The bands have a completely different feel. They pull the weight down faster than the speed of gravity which creates a TON of eccentric stress on your muscles.
Bands are a very “high-risk, high-reward” training method. They can boost your strength extremely fast but they can also be difficult to recover from if you are not careful.
The Westside Barbell team is very fond of using bands for all kinds of max effort and dynamic effort exercises. One of their favorite band exercises is the band rack pull. For example:
Louie Simmons says that the band rack pull is one of the best max effort exercises you can perform to increase your deadlift. The bands make the exercise extremely difficult throughout the entire range of motion rather than hard off the pins and easier at the top.
The Westside powerlifters like to perform rack pulls with the weight 2-6 inches off the floor to avoid overtraining their lower backs with full range of motion deadlifts.
Bands can also be used for speed sets for the squat, bench press and deadlift. Here is what a typical Westside Barbell speed squat / deadlift day looks like:
Westside Barbell Speed Squat / Deadlift Workout
- A1: Dynamic effort box squat against bands**, 8 x 2, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Dynamic effort deadlift against bands****, 6 x 1, X/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Reverse hyperextensions, 3 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Glute ham raise, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed with 70% of your 1-rep max at lockout
****Performed with 70% of your 1-rep max at lockout
Here is a perfect training video for this workout:
Of course you don’t have to use the Westside Barbell program in order to use bands in your workouts. Many powerlifting coaches like Josh Bryant will sometimes use bands in their clients’ workouts to overload the top part of the squat, bench press or deadlift.
Let’s take a look at a bench press workout that Jonathon Irizarry performed while working with Josh Bryant. Check it out:
Jonathan Irizarry Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 6 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree incline chest supported DB row, 6 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press full-range functional isometrics (competition grip)**, 2 x 5, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Bench press with bands (competition grip), 2 x 1, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: DB floor fly, 3 x 8-12, 1/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Unilateral cable pushdown (underhand grip), 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
For this workout Jonathon is performing the band bench press as a key supplementary exercise. He performs it right after his speed bench press sets to strengthen his triceps and his lockout strength.
Some people like to use board press and pin presses to overload their triceps and their lockout strength. In my experience accommodating resistance exercises like band bench presses have one big advantage over partial range of motion exercises: you get to train the exercise through a full range of motion.
With the band bench press you get to overload your lockout strength while using the same range of motion as a regular bench press. This is very important in terms of “teaching” your body to transfer the strength gains to the regular compound movement.
This is one of the reasons why Josh Bryant has Jonathon Irizarry perform the band bench press after all of his sets of the regular bench press: he wants the strength gains to carry over to the regular competition lift.
Of course there are many ways for bodybuilders to use bands to build more muscle mass. One of the great things about bands is they really overload the eccentric phase of your reps. Josh Bryant often has his bodybuilders perform 5 second lowering phases with bands to eccentrically overload their muscles.
Just check out this video of the band Romanian deadlift:
This is an absolutely AWESOME exercise for overloading your hamstrings. The hamstrings are a fast-twitch muscle and respond really well to different types of eccentric training methods. The combination of the band tension and the 5-second lowering phase does a great job of overloading the lowering phase of the exercise.
If you are a bodybuilder this means rapid growth in your stubborn hamstrings. Bands can also be attached to different machine exercises to overload more of the top half of the strength curve. One of the best machine band exercises is the banded leg press.
Here is John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
Now that’s what I call accommodating resistance! The regular 45 degree leg press has 2 main disadvantages: it puts a lot of pressure on your knees in the bottom position and it puts very little tension on your quads in the top position. The banded leg press solves both of these problems!
This exercise feels so much better on your knees in the bottom position because this is where your legs are relaxed. IFBB pro Stan Efferding says that the banded leg press was his secret weapon for rehabilitating his knees after more than a decade of patellar tendinitis.
Here is what Stan’s quad workouts looked like while he was competing as a professional bodybuilder. Check it out:
Stan Efferding’s Bodybuilding Quadricep Routine
- A1: Single-leg leg extension, 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Leg press, 2 x 20, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Machine hack squat, 2 x 20, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Walking DB lunge, 2 x 20, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
Stan performed his banded leg presses for sets of 20 right after his leg extensions. This is a trick that Stan learned from IFBB pro Flex Wheeler and it worked like a charm for bringing up his lagging quads.
Of course bands can also be used by bodybuilders and powerlifters for various isolation exercises. One of the best band isolation exercises is the band pull-apart. Here is John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
The band pull apart is one of the best isolation exercises you can use to train your rear delts. All you have to do is grab a band with two hands (usually a “mini-band”) and pull your hands away from each other while keeping your arms straight.
If you perform the exercise correctly you will get an unbelievable contraction in your rear delts. Many powerlifters swear by this exercise for bringing up the rear delts.
I could go on and on about different band exercises for your upper and lower body. The point is bands are one of the most versatile training tools that you can use in the gym. They are a form of accommodating resistance and allow you to overload different points in the strength curve on many different exercises.
Part 3: Reverse Bands
Reverse bands are easily the most underrated form of accommodating resistance. Reverse bands are basically the opposite of regular band tension. They make the exercise easier instead of harder!
Here is a perfect demonstration of the reverse band bench press:
As you can see the bands are attached to the barbell and to the top of the squat rack. The bands are actually working to lift the weight up off your chest rather than pulling it down to the ground! So why would anyone want to train with reverse bands? That is a great question.
Reverse bands have many of the same benefits of regular bands and chains. They are a form of accommodating resistance which means they make the exercise heavier in the top half of the exercise and lighter in the bottom half of the exercise.
However, reverse bands have some unique advantages. They are actually easier on your muscles, joints and connective tissues than bands, chains or regular “straight weight.” Reverse bands work by slowing down the speed of gravity. This makes reverse bands very easy to recover from relative to other training methods.
One of the most popular ways to use reverse bands is with Westside-style “max effort” work. The basic idea is to work up to a 1-rep max on the squat, bench press or deadlift using reverse bands. Here is the powerlifting phenomenon Larry Wheels performing a heavy reverse band squat:
The reverse band squat is a great exercise to perform leading up to a powerlifting meet. It lets you get used to the feeling of an ultra-heavy weight on your back in the top position of the exercise. This is great for improving your confidence with heavy weights and for down-regulating the golgi tendon organ.
Another great option is to use reverse bands as a key supplementary exercise. The 700 pound bench presser James Strickland often uses the reverse band bench press to overload his lockout strength after performing lots of sets of regular bench presses.
Here is a workout that James performed while training for his 700 pound bench press. Check it out:
JAMES STRICKLAND BENCH PRESS WORKOUT REVERSE BAND
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3, 1/1/X/0, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 5 x 3, 1/1/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Reverse band bench press (competition grip), 1 x 5, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 6, 1/0/X/1, 2 minutes rest
- E1: Lat pulldown (wide / overhand grip), 3 x 10, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: DB floor flys (neutral grip), 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- G1: Standing rope cable pushdown, 3 x 10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
Here is the training video for this workout:
For this workout James uses the reverse band bench press and dips as his two core supplementary exercises. These are great exercises to use if you want to strengthen your triceps or the lockout portion of the bench press. Of course reverse bands can also be used on the deadlift.
One of the cool things about using reverse bands on the deadlift is you can set them up so that the bands completely stop helping you about halfway through the exercise. In other words the bands give you some assistance with lifting the weight off the floor but completely stop helping once the bar reaches your knees.
This is a cool way to get your body used to having a heavier-than-normal weight in your hands.
Here is a reverse band deadlift workout that Chad Wesley Smith performed while training for an 800 pound deadlift. Check it out:
CHAD WESLEY SMITH REVERSE BAND DEADLIFT WORKOUT
- A1: Conventional deadlift, 1 x 2, X/2/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Reverse band deadlift, 3 x 1, X/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Speed deadlift, 5 x 3, X/2/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- D1: Deficit deadlift, 2 x 4, 1/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- E1: Barbell bent over rows, 3 x 8-12, 1/0/X/0, 1 minute rest
- F1: Glute ham raise, 3 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
- G1: Barbell shrugs, 3 x 8-12, 1/0/1/0, 1 minute rest
Here is the training video for this workout:
Chad uses the reverse band deadlift after his heavy set and speed sets on the regular deadlift. This is a great strategy for making sure that your strength gains on the reverse band deadlift carry over to the regular movement.
It should be obvious by now that reverse bands are a great choice for powerlifters. They let you overload the top half of the squat, bench press and deadlift while reducing the overall stress on your muscles and connective tissues. But what if you are a bodybuilder? Are reverse bands good for building muscle? According to bodybuilding experts like John Meadows the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
One of John’s all-time favorite exercises to use reverse bands is the machine hack squat. Here is a perfect video demonstration of this exercise:
John likes the machine hack squat but he believes that it can be very hard on your knees in the bottom position. John loves using reverse bands on this exercise because the bands reduce the amount of weight in the bottom position which makes the exercise much safer on your knees. This gives you the confidence to train all-out without worrying about how your knees will feel the next morning.
Here is a sample quadriceps workout that John Meadows performed with Evan Centopani featuring the reverse band squat:
JOHN MEADOWS EVAN CENTOPANI REVERSE BAND SQUAT
- A1: Lying leg curl, 3-5 x 10-12**, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: Bulgarian split squat, 3 x 10***, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Spider bar squat (medium stance / heels flat), 3 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Reverse band hack squat, 3 x 10-12, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Machine leg extension, 1 x 15-20****, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- F1: Glute ham raise, 3 x AMRAP*****, 1/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
**On your last set only: perform a double drop set, followed by 20 partials in the bottom position, followed by an iso-hold in a power position. All of this is done back-to-back with no rest.
***On your last set only: perform a triple drop set with iso-holds after each attempt. Perform 10 reps, then a 10-second iso-hold, then drop the weight. Repeat this sequence 3 more times with no rest between attempts.
****Perform 1 set to failure.
*****Perform 3 working sets to failure.
One of the downsides to the reverse band method is it is less versatile than regular bands or even chains. The only real way to perform reverse bands is with a barbell exercise in a power rack. This makes it much harder to perform reverse bands on most machine or isolation exercises.
However, if you can get over this one drawback then reverse bands are an awesome tool to use in your training program. They work awesome for powerlifters on the squat, bench press and deadlift and they are a great choice on some machine exercises like the machine hack squat.
Many powerlifting legends like Andy Bolton use reverse bands as a core part of their powerlifting training program.
Accommodating resistance is an incredibly powerful training method for building size and strength. The basic idea is to use bands and chains to overload the top half of the strength curve on your favorite powerlifting and bodybuilding exercises.
Many world-famous strength coaches like Charles Poliquin believe that overloading different points in the strength curve is one of the keys for maximizing your progress and minimizing your risk of injury. If you have access to accommodating resistance tools such as bands and chains then I strongly recommend you use them in your training program. You won’t be disappointed!
Here’s a great quote by the powerlifting guru Louie Simmons on the importance of being open to new ideas:
“The hardest thing for a human being to do is change. You have to be willing to change.”
Keep that in mind before you try bands and chains in your own training program. As always, thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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