Bands and chains are two of the most effective training tools you can use to build strength and size.
Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym started using these tools in the 1980’s and now every serious powerlifting team in the world uses them as well.
If you want to learn how Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses bands and chains then this article is for you!
- Part 1: Max Effort Work
- Part 2: Dynamic Effort Work
- Part 3: Repetition Effort Work
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use bands and chains on the Westside Barbell powerlifting program.
Bands and chains make the top half of these exercises feel heavier and the bottom half of these exercises feel lighter. This is called “accommodating resistance” and it is a great way to build maximal strength.
Here is a great video of Larry Wheels squatting with 200 pounds of chains:
The chains are added to both sides of the barbell. At the top of the movement the chains are all dangling above the ground. This means Larry feels the full weight of the 200 pounds of chains on his back.
Then when Larry squats down to the bottom position of the exercise the chains start unloading on the ground. This means the bar feels 200 pounds heavier in the top position of the exercise than the bottom position!
Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team love to use chains on their max effort and dynamic effort workouts for the squat and bench press.
The chains force you to lift explosively and accelerate the bar all the way to lockout. They also force you to recruit more muscle fibers to stabilize the weight.
Here is a great video of the Westside Barbell powerlifting team performing heavy deadlifts with bands:
The bands are literally like giant rubber bands. They are literally pulling the bar down to the ground faster than the speed of gravity!
Louie Simmons says that bands are more effective than chains because they have over-speed eccentric properties. Check it out:
“Jump-Stretch bands can produce much greater acceleration properties by pulling the bar down by means of great tension. This causes overspeed eccentrics, adding to kinetic energy.”
The bands increase the strength of your stretch reflex, build your connective tissue and build more muscle mass than straight weight or chains.
The downside to bands is that they are very difficult to recover from. You have to be very careful about how you cycle bands in and out of your training.
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses bands on their squat, bench press and deadlift for their max effort workouts and their dynamic effort workouts.
They also use bands on a ton of different accessory exercises like triceps extensions, triceps pushdowns, the belt squat machine and the back attack machine.
In this guide I will show you every single way the Westside Barbell powerlifting uses bands and chains to get freaky strong.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information!
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Max Effort Work
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team trains 4 days per week using an upper body / lower body split.
They have 2 max effort workouts and 2 dynamic effort workouts each week. Check it out:
The Westside Barbell Training Split
- Sunday: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
- Monday: Max Effort Squat / Deadlift
- Wednesday: Max Effort Bench Press
- Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat / Deadlift
The max effort workouts are all about lifting heavy and building maximal strength.
At the start of your max effort workouts you are going to work up to a 1-rep max on a special exercise for the squat, bench press or deadlift. The special exercise should be similar to the competition lift but slightly different.
Louie Simmons loves to add bands and chains to his max effort exercises to mix things up and overload his body in a different way.
Here are some of his favorite options:
Max Effort Exercises With Bands And Chains
- Option #1: Bench press with chains
- Option #2: Bench press with bands
- Option #3: Bench press with reverse bands
- Option #4: Squat with chains
- Option #5: Squat with bands
- Option #6: Deadlift with bands
- Option #7: Rack deadlift with bands
One of Louie Simmons’ favorite ways to mix things up is to add bands or chains to the bar. Let’s start by looking at special exercises for the bench press.
Here is a perfect demonstration of the max effort bench press with chains:
The Chain Bench Press
Now that is a ton of chain weight! The chains do a number of things.
First of all they make the exercise heavier at the top of the exercise and lighter at the bottom. This lets you overload a different part of the exercise and forces you to lift explosively throughout the entire range of motion.
The chains also lower the center of gravity of the exercise.
Normally the center of gravity on the bench press is above your hands. When you add chains to the bar the center of gravity is actually *below* your hands.
This small change gives the exercise a completely different feel.
Another one of Louie Simmons’ favorite max effort bench press exercises is the band bench press. Check it out:
The Band Bench Press
The bands make the exercise unbelievably hard. The bands are literally pulling the bar down faster than the speed of gravity. This creates a ton of eccentric stress on your muscles and forces you to explode the weight all the way to lockout.
If you get lazy and stop accelerating halfway up then the bands will rip the bar right back down to your chest!
In this video the bands are pulling down on the bar. The truth is you can use bands where they are pulling the weight up off your chest.
Louie Simmons calls this method “reverse bands” or the “future method” and he loves to use it on the bench press.
Here is the Westside team using reverse bands and Marc Bell’s slingshot on the bench press:
Reverse Band Bench Press With Slingshot
With the reverse band method you attach the bands to the top of a power rack and loop them around the barbell. The bands are literally lifting the weight off your chest rather than pulling the weight back down.
Reverse bands feel completely different from regular straight weight or even regular bands. It feels like the weight is floating in your hands.
Reverse bands are also extremely easy on your shoulders. If your shoulders are feeling beat up from lots of heavy bench pressing then using reverse bands is a great way to get in your max effort exercise without beating yourself up even more.
Now let’s look at the squat. One of Louie Simmons favorite max effort exercises is the chain box squat. Check it out:
The Chain Box Squat
The chain box squat is a fantastic max effort lower body exercise.
Louie Simmons actually uses chains for his max effort squat exercises FAR more often than bands. The issue is the Westside Barbell powerlifting team performs heavy band squats almost every week on the dynamic effort squat / deadlift day.
Louie Simmons doesn’t want his team to overtrain on the bands so he often has his team use chains or straight weight for their max effort squat variations.
About the only time his team does use bands for the max effort squat variation is when they do their “circa-max” phase right before their competitions. Check it out:
The Band Box Squat
The bands used in this video add over 500 pounds of tension at the top of the lift. That is enough band tension to make your head explode!
Bands really are a double-edged sword. They are a great way to build maximal strength but it is very easy to overtrain with them.
For this reason Louie Simmons only has his athletes perform max effort squats with bands twice per year before their powerlifting competitions.
Now let’s look at the deadlift. The Westside Barbell powerlifting team almost never uses chains on the deadlift. It is just too difficult getting the chains to sit on the bar correctly.
Instead they use bands for their max effort deadlifts. Here is a great video of the band deadlift:
The Band Deadlift
The band deadlift is an extremely effective exercise. Many powerlifters find they get really good carryover from the band deadlift to the regular deadlift with straight weight.
The band deadlift also takes some of the pressure off your lower back in the bottom position where you are most vulnerable.
Think about it: an advanced powerlifter might perform a band deadlift with 500 pounds of tension in the bottom position and 700 pounds of tension in the top position.
Your lower back is most vulnerable in the bottom part of the lift so anything you can do to make that part of the exercise easier will reduce your risk for injury.
Another great option is the band rack pull. Check it out:
The Band Rack Pull
Louie Simmons likes to quadruple up the bands to perform this exercise.
Quadrupling the bands creates a ridiculous amount of band tension in the top part of the exercise. Check it out:
Band Tension For Rack Deadlifts
- Quadrupled Mini Bands: 220 Pounds At Lockout
- Quadrupled Monster-Mini Bands: 280 Pounds At Lockout
- Quadrupled Light Bands: 400 Pounds At Lockout
Louie Simmons says you should set personal records with all three of these bands. That way you can constantly overload your body with a different type of training stimulus to make even faster progress.
The bottom line is the Westside Barbell powerlifting team loves to use bands and chains for their max effort squat / bench press / deadlift exercises.
Part 2: Dynamic Effort Work
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team has 2 workouts per week devoted to the dynamic effort method. They use these workouts to build explosive strength and to perfect his technique on the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Louie Simmons says he always uses bands or chains for his dynamic effort workouts. These tools teach you to lift explosively which is the whole point of the dynamic effort method!
Let’s start by looking at the bench press. Here is what the dynamic effort bench press with chains looks like. Check it out:
The Chain Bench Press
The chains force you to explode all the way to lockout. If you slow down at all the chains will throw the bar back down to your chest!
Louie Simmons likes to use a 3-week wave for all of his dynamic effort bench press workouts. Here is what a 3-week wave could look like for the bench press with chains:
Bench Press 3-Week Wave With Chains
- Week #1: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 55% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 60% of your 1-rep max
The chains aren’t super heavy so you can use weights around 50-60% of your 1-rep max.
If you are using bands on the bar then you probably want to keep the percentages lower. The bands add much more tension and are harder on your body than bands.
Here is what the speed bench press with chains looks like:
The Band Bench Press
Louie Simmons says that he usually uses bands for his speed bench press workouts.
The bands are a better tool for speed work because they have overspeed eccentric properties. This means that the bands are pulling the weight down faster than the speed of gravity.
This increases the strength of your stretch reflex and helps you to explode the weight up to lockout faster than normal.
Here is what a 3-week wave looks like with the band bench press:
Bench Press 3-Week Wave With Bands
- Week #1: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 45% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
With the band bench press you really have to be careful with how much weight you use. Louie sometimes uses even less than 40% on the bar to keep the bar speed as high as possible.
One of Louie Simmons’ best kept secrets is performing the speed bench press with bands AND chains on the bar at the same time. Check it out:
The Chain / Band Bench Press
The bench press with bands and chains is like the best of both worlds.
You have the benefits of overspeed eccentrics from the bands. However, you also have the instability factor from the chains which forces your muscles to work harder to stabilize the weight.
The powerlifter Stan Efferding scoffs at the idea of using bands and chains at the same time:
“I don’t know how anyone ever got strong with regular weight before bands and chains?”
I say you should just ignore Stan Efferding. I don’t care how many powerlifting world records he has… you can never trust a powerlifter who’s jacked and tan! You need to be fat and bloated to have any credibility in this sport!
If you want to perform the speed bench press with bands and chains then you have to lower your training percentages. For example:
Bench Press 3-Week Wave With Bands And Chains
- Week #1: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 10 sets of 3 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
Matt Wenning has a raw 600 pound bench press and he says he rarely uses more than 185 pounds on the bar when using bands and chains at the same time. That is definitely something to think about!
Now let’s look at the squat. Louie Simmons started using chains on his dynamic effort squat workouts way back in the 1980s.
Here is what the speed chain squat looks like:
The chains do a great job of forcing you to accelerate off the box using your glutes and hamstrings. Here is what a 3-week dynamic effort squat wave looks like with chains:
Squat 3-Week Wave With Chains
- Week #1: 10-12 sets of 2 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 10-12 sets of 2 reps @ 55% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 10-12 sets of 2 reps @ 60% of your 1-rep max
Louie Simmons says that you can perform as many as 10-12 sets of doubles when you are using chains on the bar.
Louie really likes the chain squat but he says the dynamic effort squat with bands is a much better tool for building explosive and maximal strength.
Here is what the speed squat with bands looks like:
The Band Box Squat
The band box squat is a much tougher exercise than it looks. The bands create a horrific amount of eccentric stress as you are lowering yourself down to the box.
Louie uses many different types of bands for this exercise and he often works up to relatively heavy weights for his speed workouts.
If you are new to the Westside Barbell powerlifting program then you are probably better off sticking with the classic 3-week wave. Check it out:
Squat 3-Week Wave With Bands And Chains
- Week #1: 8-10 sets of 2 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 8-10 sets of 2 reps @ 45% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 8-10 sets of 2 reps @ 50% of your 1-rep max
Just remember that these percentages are only rough guidelines. The most important thing is that you are lifting the weight explosively all the way to lockout.
If you using lots of band tension then the percentages would be lower than 40-50%. On the other hand if you are using minimal band tension then the percentages could be much higher.
Louie Simmons is also a big fan of using bands and chains at the same time for his dynamic effort squat workouts. Check it out:
The Chain Band Squat
Using the bands and chains at the same time gives this exercise a completely different feel.
Matt Wenning has said many times that one of the reasons this exercise works so well is it’s different. It is a different type of training stimulus and it challenges your body in a different way.
If you have been training for a long time then you need many tools in your toolbox to stimulate further gains.
In this video the Westside team is using 5 sets of 5 reps rather than doubles for their speed sets. Here is what a 3-week wave with sets of 5 could look like:
Squat 3-Week Wave With Bands And Chains
- Week #1: 5 sets of 5 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 5 sets of 5 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 5 sets of 5 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
Louie Simmons says that the sets of 5 reps are used for anyone who needs to build muscle mass and jump up a weight class.
If you are trying to keep your weight down then you would stick with the usual 6-12 sets of doubles for your speed squats.
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team almost always performs speed deadlifts after their speed squats.
Louie believes that chains are a poor choice for the speed deadlift. Instead you should stick with using bands. Here is what the speed deadlift looks like:
The Band Deadlift
Talk about speed! Your goal is to rip the weight off the ground as fast as you can! Louie Simmons likes his athletes to perform speed deadlifts for singles.
Here is what a 3-week wave of speed deadlifts could look like:
Deadlift 3-Week Wave With Bands
- Week #1: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 40% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 45% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 4-6 sets of 1 rep @ 50% of your 1-rep max
The percentages only include the amount of weight on the bar. They do not include any extra tension provided from the bands. For example the total tension at the top of the lift could easily be 60-70% of your 1-rep max depending on how much band tension you use.
Around the year 2010 Louie Simmons started to experiment with speed rack deadlifts with bands in his workouts. Today the entire Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses speed rack deadlifts with bands as a core part of their training program. Here is what this exercise looks like:
The Band Rack Pull
Louie Simmons likes his athletes to perform 8-10 sets of triples on this exercise.
To be honest with you I am not sure why Louie has his team perform triples instead of singles on this exercise. I imagine it has something to do with accumulating more volume and building more muscle. If you want the truth then you have to visit the Westside Barbell powerlifting gym and ask Louie yourself!
Here is what your 3-week wave could look like:
Rack Deadlift 3-Week Wave With Bands
- Week #1: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 8-10 sets of 3 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
The quadrupled mini bands or monster mini bands add a tremendous amount of band tension at the top of the exercise. For this reason you want to be very careful with how much weight you use on the bar.
Part 3: Repetition Effort Work
Bands and chains aren’t just for the squat, bench press and deadlift!
The truth is the Westside Barbell powerlifting team loves to use bands for different accessory exercises. Here are some of their favorites:
Westside Barbell Accessory Exercises With Bands
- Option #1: The Bamboo Bar Bench Press
- Option #2: The Band Rolling DB Extension
- Option #3: Band Pushdowns
- Option #4: Band Back Attack
- Option #5: Band Belt Squat
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Option #1: The Bamboo Bar Bench Press
The bamboo bar bench press is an unbelievable exercise for improving your bench press.
With the bamboo bar you actually hang weights on either side of the barbell using resistance bands. You can hang regular 25 pound plates or kettlebells.
The weights bounce around as you perform the bench press. Your body is forced to recruit more motor units to stabilize the bar and perform the exercise correctly.
If you have access to an earthquake bar then I highly recommend you use it. It is THE best specialty barbell you can use to build up your bench press!
Option #2: The Band Rolling DB Extension
Louie Simmons loves to use bands with different triceps exercises. One of his favorite is the rolling dumbbell extension with bands.
Louie says that the rolling dumbbell extension is one of the best exercises you can use to target the medial head of the triceps. This exercise is almost like a hybrid between a triceps extension and a neutral-grip dumbbell press.
Using bands on this exercise forces the triceps to work even harder. This is one of the best exercises you can perform to build your triceps for a huge bench press.
Option #3: Band Pushdowns
Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting team loves to use band pushdowns to build their tricep strength.
This exercise is very simple: you just loop a band over a power rack and then perform triceps pushdowns with it. Louie uses this exercise many different ways.
One of his favorite strategies is to superset rolling dumbbell extensions with band pushdowns. He will perform rolling dumbbell extensions, rest 10 seconds and perform band pushdowns.
Another one of his strategies is to perform “burnout sets” at the end of your workout for 50-100 reps. This helps to build your connective tissue in your arms.
Option #4: Band Back Attack
The back attack is one of Louie Simmons’ favorite exercises for building the lower back. Louie likes to make this exercise even more challenging by adding bands to the exercise.
The bands make the exercise much harder at lockout and increase the eccentric stress of the exercise.
The 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw is also a huge fan of this exercise.
Option #5: Band Belt Squat
Louie Simmons is a huge fan of the belt squat machine. He says it strengthens your legs while providing traction to your lower back. Louie has a couple of different ways he adds band tension to this exercise.
One way is to loop a band under your feet and over your neck. The band tension almost feels like a good morning. The other way is to add the band tension to the machine itself.
The bands pull the loaded weights down faster than the speed of gravity and make the exercise much more challenging.
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team started using bands and chains in the 1980s and they haven’t looked back.
Bands and chains are two of the best tools you can use to increase your squat, bench press and deadlift.
Louie Simmons mostly uses these tools for his max effort and dynamic effort exercises. However, if you are creative enough you can also use bands for many of your accessory exercises.
If you are not using bands and chains in your training program then you are living in the powerlifting dark ages! It’s time for you to pull your head out of the sand and use the best tools available for building strength.
If you learn how to use these tools in your Westside Barbell training program then you are almost guaranteed to make much faster progress.
If you want to get your own bands and chains then here are my top recommendations:
Here is one more quote by Louie Simmons to pump you up even more:
“Everything has to be connected. This is the conjugate system. If there is one break in the chain, you fail.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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