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Bands, Chains, Speed Work, Oh My!

What

I am going to preface this article by stating that it has the potential to cause a lot of ruffled jimmies, and because of this, I am going to be as gentle as I can. This is not going to be directed at any one person or gym, rather at the concept of bands, chains, and speed work in a Crossfit gym setting.

If you look around at different Crossfit gyms and other non-geared Powerlifting gyms, you will see an increasing use of bands and chains for squatting and deadlifting, all in the name of “speed work.” In my opinion, there are some huge errors in this style of training, specifically for raw lifters, and ESPECIALLY for brand new lifters.

The purpose of bands and chains is to increase the weight of the bar as the repetition gets closer to lockout. As the tension of the bands increase (or the weights of the chain increases, the higher off the ground it is), the lifter must continue acceleration throughout the lift to achieve a fast rep lockout. The theory is that this will have carryover to squats and deadlifts when bands and chains are not used. I feel that this is false, or at least faulty information.

I am going to paraphrase Chad Wesley Smith a bit here (If you don’t know who he is, change that). Chad has basically stated chains and bands are a bit silly for raw lifters, because unlike geared lifters, the most difficult part of the squat tends to be the “hole” (bottom of the squat), or the “sticking point” (roughly at parallel), not the top half of the lift. Since bands and chains are designed to increase the weight of the bar as it gets close to the top, how much carryover would this have to increasing power out of the hole? Not too much, really. In my opinion, it would make much more sense for Crossfitters to get rid of the bands and chains if they are actually trying to increase overall squat strength, instead of loading a light 135lb bar with 50lbs of chains.

What absolutely doesn’t make sense to me is having new CF clients (IE, males that can’t yet squat 200lbs) put 95lbs on the bar, and thin red bands, as if this will somehow make them stronger. It seems like bands and chains are added because they look sexy and new, and chains just make you feel more like a badass. Honestly though, it would make much more sense and get better results to just have new clients increase the weight of actual plates on the bar, to increase strength out of the hole, rather than adding lots of superfluous items to the bar.

In this same vein, is it really necessary to have new clients do “speed work” with 45-60% of their max? I do not think so. Simply put, anyone can move a weight quickly when it is light, because it is light. As we have stated before, if you want to move heavier weights quickly, you need to practice moving heavier weights quickly. Doing ten sets of three back squats with 50% of a new client’s max is not really going to do anything for their speed when they are under heavy weights. Crossfitters get PLENTY of speed work with the amount of metcons involved in that training style, 50% back squats are not the place for that kind of speed work, especially with new clients. If you really want to get stronger, you need to work on getting stronger. If you are technically deficient, you really have no need working with bands and chains unless you have been lifting for many many years: doing 95lb back squats with 50lbs of chains is not going to take your 300lb  to 405lbs, and it is not going to prepare you to handle heavier weights.

I understand that bands and chains have their place in proper training regimens, such as Powerlifting (especially geared Powerlifting).  However, I don’t feel that Crossfit is the appropriate place for bands and chains, simply because they strength carryover is not going to be present.

I could get into why bands and chains are a TERRIBLE idea when working on snatch and clean & jerk with new lifters, but I will save that for another time. What are your thoughts on the subject?

15 thoughts on “Bands, Chains, Speed Work, Oh My!

  1. Pretty much agree with all of this. When I first became aware of bands and chains, I wanted to “do” that so bad. Then I realized I had a hard time just squatting 225 properly. Maybe one day ill benefit from these tools, but for now linear periodization, 5×5, bodybuilding workouts, Cube method etc are bringing up my lifts just fine. This is especially true for beginners who use commercial gyms and train alone sometimes.

  2. awesome post. makes perfect sense for raw lifters. what about on the bench? chains beneficial or not? depending on your personal sticking point? mine is about 4 inches from my chest. ive recently introduced board presses to help with that portion. any info would be greatly appreciated

  3. I experimented with them and the only thing I found with Bands was for squats (both front and back), deads and benches and clean/snatch pulls they made me put the bar right in the groove/correct lifting path. And when I used them with Front squats it fixed my problem of dropping a front squat because of upperback rounding. But like you said for raw lifters who are trying to get better at LIFTING it’s nothing to lose sleep or get a boner over

  4. I disagree with you on multiple points you make in this article. For any lifter who has hit a sticking point there is need for variation. Does it have to be chains or bands, maybe. It depends on where the person is weak and what type of assistance work they are doing. I do agree that a lot of crossfitters do not know when chans/bands are applicable or how to incorporate them effectively to realize the gains. This does not make them useless. I tend to miss max effort lifts near the top in both my squat and deadlift so the chains and bands are applicable. I believe this to be the case for a lot of crossfitters since they tend to do a lot of pulling from the ground with little assistance exercises. Crossfitters as a whole do not do a lot of positional rack pulls either leaving them weak at the top. I also do not know how you argue that the band work/speed work is not relevant. Common sense would tell you that if you pull the same weight slower it will harder than if pull with greater speed. Your analogy on metcons is incorrect as well. A metcon would be closer to running a mile. The speed work/band work would be more equivalent to a 100 meter sprinter. You are not exerting maximal effort during the metcon because you are in a fatigued state throughout. Chad Wesley Smith spent a good amount of time doing Westside got strong and now says it does not work. At some point everything loses it effectiveness and something new needs to be tried to stimulate a different training response. Just my thoughts to each his own though.

  5. I use bands for mobility and the occasional assist for a clients pull up. I don’t use chains, I agree with putting more plates on the bar. Be smart about it they have their purpose. To increase your capacity to carry more weight you just need to work with more weight… great article. Peace.

  6. If you’ve never tried banded cleans, you are missing out. I struggled maintaining tension on the bar through a fast third pull. Having a light clean all of a sudden get super heavy right at the point when I need to launch it off my hips and get under it was pure magic for helping me focus on getting under it fast AND in the proper position. I teach and olympic weightlifting class and have made limited use of this concept with some of those more advanced lifters too. I won’t do it for snatch or jerk b/c bands plus a naturally less stable bar is potentially disastrous. But working the clean this way carries over into the other lifts as well.

  7. what about using them for reverse banded squats? I agree for beginners probably a no-no but for a relatively experienced lifter would overloading the barbell and then using reverse bands or bands from the top help in the “hole” where like you said would be the sticking point? It would kind of be the equivalent of getting a little assistance on a squat but you can measure that assistance with band choice and make better calculated attempts at a max effort right?

  8. I agree with you mayne with beginner lifters: ditch the fancy shit and put weight on your back. I also agree that having 95 on your back with little red band…..pointless. One point I’d like to add in is 90% of the the time I see people not event using the bands or chains correctly!!!! That shit pisses me off so much because I personally like using chains for my squats and dead (150bs+ of chain) for me…a short guy in the sport of strongman i am NEVER in a full deep squat position so therefore a lot of my training focus is building hip power and drive thru my lock out….do i full squat yes as everyone should but I find (for me) that using heavy chains has help me more then with out them. as for bands…..don’t really use them much only because its hard to really pin point how much tension in lbs that take off or add on depending on how you set them up and since most of the time I work out by myself the last thing I need to to have a freaky set up and crash and burn with no one around.

  9. As a RAW lifter I found your opinion to be helpful. I train 5/3/1 and do lots of front squats for assistance. I used to throw on chains during warm up. But have switched over to pause squats on warmup sets. So far so good. Sounds to me like I am on the right track. Appreciate the article.

  10. As a Raw powerlifter I agree with you position on banded/chained squats, they are not as necessary as getting out of the hole is the hardest. However, for deadlifts, using bands to add tension at the top is a great way to increase your lift. It also is a great variation to get away from pulling straight weight from the floor week after week. Same with bench, as with the press most lifters have different weak points that can be addressed through bands/chains/boards depending on where they struggle.

  11. Interesting take on bands and chains. I don’t see anything wrong with mixing it up from time to time but only for…short periods of time. The majority of the time, I think you’re right, stick with strict lifts. There’s also the argument that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, also.

  12. I like to use bands on my deadlift work for 3-6 weeks at a time, then switch to deficit. This has the effect of making the bar feel lighter when I take the bands off. But I agree they are overused, especially for reverse band work, which I feel is nothing more than an ego boost as it allows you to load the bar much more than normal. And I completely agree with your thoughts on speed work. Useless. Get stronger, and you get faster with lighter weights. Simple.

  13. I agree that bands or chains will not improve your lift out of the hole. But I don’t think that’s what they’re meant for. When chains are set up in a squat or bench and your “in the hole” no links should be off the ground anyway. It comes to applying force through the whole movement. Yes squats get easier at the top as does bench. Why not train to push hard from bottom to top? Sports specific: a sprinter is fast because of the force he applies through the strike of his foot. A sprinter, however, pushes all the way through until full leg extension before his other foot strikes. So training strength from the hole to full extension, by applying continually increased tension, sounds reasonable.

  14. 13 week Smolov Squat cycle (no bands or chains)= 465 squat PR

    VS

    9 Week Westside Cycle ( Nothing but bands and chains)= 495 Squat PR

    Proof is in the pudding for me. But I agree 100% that “noobs” should learn how to squat and dead properly first before attempting these techniques, but that leads back to “mechanics-consistancy-intensity” which any gym owner should know and live by! But for expirenced “excersisers” I think bands and chains are a welcomed step away from the norm of training.

  15. I agree with you on not being beneficial to beginners,but I have found band and chain work on my deads,OHP,and squats has a very nice carry over to my weightlifting giving me a lil extra umph in my 2nd & 3rd pulls and locking out overhead

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