Westside Barbell Chains | The Ultimate Guide!


The Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses many different training methods to get stronger on the squat, bench press and deadlift.

One of their oldest and most effective tools is called powerlifting chains!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Chains For The Squat / Deadlift
  • Part 2: Chains For The Bench Press

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how the Westside Barbell powerlifting team uses powerlifting chains in their upper body and lower body workouts.

The Westside team uses chains by hanging them from both sides of a barbell on exercises like the squat and the bench press.

The chains fall on the floor as you lower the bar down and come up off the ground as you lift the barbell back up. The chains make any exercise feel lighter in the bottom position and heavier in the top position.

Here is the Westside team demonstrating the chain squat. Check it out:

Westside Chain Squat

As you can see the chains are hanging from both sides of the barbell. As the powerlifter squats down the chains fall on the ground.

The chains make the feel much heavier in the top half of the exercise but add very little weight in the bottom half. The chains force you to explode out of the bottom position of the squat all the way to lockout. If you get lazy and slow down then the chains will pull you right back down to the ground!

The chains do a few other cool things including lowering the center of gravity of the exercise and creating a more chaotic lifting environment. Your body has to recruit more muscle fibers to stabilize the bar because the chains like to swing all over the place!

The chains work in a very similar way on the bench press. Check it out:

Westside Chain Bench Press

The chains make the exercise much heavier in the top half of the bench press. If you don’t press the bar off your chest as hard as you can then the chains will eat you up and spit you out alive!

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team loves to use chains on the squat and the bench press. They also use chains at least some of the time on their max effort and dynamic effort exercises. They also use chains on some of their accessory exercises.

Chains are truly one of the most versatile tools that you can use in the gym.

Part 1: Chains For The Squat / Deadlift

Louie Simmons started experimenting with chains for the squat all the way back in the 1980s. Sense then chains have become one of his absolute favorite training tools to build a world record squat.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team trains the squat and the deadlift twice per week using max effort and dynamic effort workouts. 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 Westside team uses chains on both their max effort and dynamic effort workouts. The chains have unique advantages for both of these workouts.

On their max effort squat / deadlift day the Westside Barbell powerlifting team works up to a 1-rep max on some type of special exercise for the squat or deadlift. This can be a squat variation, deadlift variation or even a good morning variation.

The Westside team often uses chains when they max out on the squat because they let you overload your body with a heavier than normal weight.

Here is what a max effort squat workout with chains might look like. Check it out:

Westside ME Squat With Chains

As you can see the Westside athletes has to explode off the box if they want any chance of finishing the exercise. Chains are also great for other max effort exercises like the good morning.

The Westside team likes to use chain suspended good mornings where the bar is hanging from two sets of chains.

The Westside team likes these more than regular good mornings from pins because the chains swing forwards and backwards and make it easier for you to get in the proper starting position under the bar. Check it out:

Chains are great for max effort exercises but Louie Simmons says they are even more effective for your dynamic effort squats. In fact Louie Simmons says that chains and bands are so effective for improving your squat that he always uses at least one of these tools for his dynamic effort squats.

Sometimes he will use both chains and bands on the bar at the same time!

Here is what a speed squat workout with chains looks like. Check it out:

Westside Speed Squat With Chains

Louie Simmons believes it is extremely important to use a 3-week wave on your dynamic effort squat / deadlift workouts. You increase your training percentages over 3 weeks and then drop them back down and repeat the cycle on your 4th week.

Using a 3-week wave is critical for preventing your body from adapting to your routine and stagnating.

Here is what a 3-week wave of box squats with chains might look like. Check it out:

Westside 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

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team also likes to perform dynamic effort squats with chains AND bands on the bar. This is a very nasty combination!

The chains and bands both make the exercise lighter in the bottom position and heavier at the top. However, they also make the exercise feel more unstable and force your body to recruit more motor units to stabilize the bar.

Here is what a speed squat session with chains and bands looks like:

Westside Speed Squat With Chains And Bands

The Westside team still uses a 3-week wave for their dynamic effort squats with chains and bands. However, the percentages that they use are much lower. For example:

Westside Squat 3-Week Wave With Chains And Bands

  • 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

The lower percentages are necessary because you have so much tension coming from the chains and the bands on the bar.

Let’s put this all together by looking at a sample Westside dynamic effort squat workout with chains. Check it out:

Westside Dynamic Effort Squat Workout

  • Exercise #1: Speed foam box squat squat with chains and bands, 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Exercise #2: Speed foam deadlift with bands, 5 sets of 1 rep
  • Exercise #3: Reverse hyperextension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Glute ham raise, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

The Westside team usually performs their dynamic effort squats and deadlifts followed by 2-3 posterior chain accessory exercises.

The max effort squat / deadlift workout is very similar except they only perform 1 exercise for the squat and deadlift. The rest of their workout is just accessory work.

Part 2: Chains For The Bench Press

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team started using chains on the bench press back in the 1980s right after they started using them on the squat. Louie Simmons says that chains are slightly less effective than bands for building the bench press but they are still a very effective training tool.

The Westside team trains the bench press twice per week using a combination of “max effort” and “dynamic effort” workouts. 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 day is all about building maximal strength and teaching the body how to strain against heavy weights. Each week the Westisde team works up to a 1-rep max on a different special exercise for the bench press including the floor press, incline press, board press and so on.

On at least some of their workouts the Westside team will add chains to the bar to make the max effort exercise more challenging. The chains help you overload the top half of the exercise and they add an instability factor which helps you to recruit more motor units.

Here is what the bench press with chains looks like. Check it out:

Chain Bench Press

In this video the Westside team is maxing out with 5 pairs of chains on either side of the barbell. They like to set personal records with as many different combinations of chain weight as possible.

For example you could set a record with 1, 2, 3, 4 or even 5 chains on the bar. Each of these counts as a different exercise that you can break your old record on.

This is one of the reasons the Westside team is able to break their personal records 52 weeks per year… they rotate through an enormous number of max effort exercises so it is many months before they repeat an exercise!

Another one of their favorite max effort bench press exercises is the floor press with chains. Check it out:

Chain Floor Press

The floor press is almost exactly like the bench press. The main difference is you are laying down on the floor instead of laying down on a bench press station.

The floor press with chains does a tremendous job of overloading your triceps and lockout strength because your range of motion is limited.

Here is what a max effort upper body workout might look like using the floor press with chains as the main exercise of the day. Check it out:

Westside Barbell Max Effort Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise #1: Chain floor press, 2 sets of 1 / 8 reps
  • Exercise #2: Flat machine press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #3: Football bar JM press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Exercise #4: Rolling DB extension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps

This is the exact workout that was performed in the above video. Now let’s look at the dynamic effort bench press with chains. Check it out:

Westside Speed Bench Chains

Chains are a great choice for the dynamic effort bench press because they force you to explode the weight off your chest and all the way to lockout. If you get lazy then the chains will slow the bar down to a complete stop!

The Westside team likes to perform about 8-10 sets of 3 reps for the dynamic effort bench press. If you are using chains on the bar then you can use anywhere from 40-60% of your 1-rep max for your sets.

Here is what a sample 3-week wave might look like:

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 important thing is to make sure that you can lift the weight explosively all the way to lockout. If you find that the bar is slowing down too much then you have to take some weight off the bar and try again.

The Westside team also likes to perform their speed bench workouts with chains AND bands on the bar at the same time. Here is a perfect demonstration:

Westside Speed Bench With Chains And Bands

Using chains and bands on the bar is an advanced training method. Many Westside gurus like Matt Wenning are big fans of this approach. If you are going to use chains and bands at the same time then you really need to be careful with how much weight you use on the bar at a time.

Here are Louie Simmons’ recommendations:

Bench Press 3-Week Wave With Chains And Bands

  • 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 is a 600 pound raw bench presser and he says that he rarely uses more than 185 pounds on the bar for his speed sets when he is using chains and bands. Food for thought!

Now let’s look at a full dynamic effort bench press workout where the Westide crew decided to use chains on the bar. Check it out:

Westside Dynamic Effort Bench Press Workout

  • Exercise A1: Floor press with chains, 10 sets of 3 reps, 3 minutes rest
  • Exercise B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise C1: Rolling DB extensions, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 10 seconds rest
  • Exercise C2: Band pushdowns, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 2 minutes rest
  • Exercise D1: Cable rope face pull, 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 1 minute rest
  • Exercise E1: Standing DB curls (hammer grip), 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 1 minute rest

Here is the training video:

The Westside team almost never uses chains on their accessory exercises. That doesn’t mean that chains are worthless for your accessory work.

Many powerlifting coaches like Josh Bryant have found ways to use chains to make certain isolation exercises more effective. For example here is one of Josh’s favorite triceps exercises, the lying tricep extension with chains:

Josh Bryant Chain Triceps Extensions

The chains perfectly match the strength curve of the triceps. This makes the exercise extremely challenging in the bottom third, middle third and top third of the exercise.

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Conclusion

The Westside Barbell powerlifting team loves to use chains on different exercises like the squat and bench press and it is easy to see why.

Chains are fantastic tools for building maximal strength and for teaching you to be more explosive on your sets.

If you have access to powerlifting chains then I strongly recommend you use them with your Westside Barbell powerlifting program. If you don’t then what are you waiting for? Sign up for a serious powerlifting gym and start training like you mean it!

“When you can’t do it, just break your limits, ignore the voices inside your head and push your body to the limit!”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

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