By Ben Pollack
Ever found yourself halfway through a set of lat pulldowns after some hard benching or deadlifting wondering something along the lines of, “Why the hell am I doing this?” You’re not alone. Oftentimes, powerlifters think of assistance work as boring, or struggle to understand how a lat pulldown is going to carry over to the heavier compound lifts. And if it’s only occasionally that you find yourself zoning out during your assistance work, that’s okay. But if it becomes a regular thing, it’s time to crank it up.
I think that most BarBend readers will be familiar with the idea of accommodating resistance using bands and chains for strengthening the competition lifts (the bench press, squat, and deadlift). In case you’re not, here’s a crash course:
- Bands are typically anchored to something on the ground and looped around the bar. When the bar is lifted, the band stretches, and as it stretches, it provides more resistance. Chains are set up so that at the bottom of the lift, the chain is resting on the ground. As the bar is lifted, the chains rise, too, providing incrementally more resistance as they do.
- Most lifters will struggle most through one specific part of a lift’s range of motion. For example, it’s usually much harder to get out of the hole on a heavy squat than it is to lock out your knees at the very end of the lift. Adding bands and/or chains to the weight on the bar can add resistance just to that part of the ROM, making the lift harder, and, therefore, more effective.
- Some lifters find training for speed beneficial. Using bands and chains can be helpful for speed work, because if the bar is lifted very quickly, the momentum from the easier part of the range of motion (before the bands or chains kick in) transfers to the heavier part.
Check out this article for some more info on using bands and chains in various strength sports.
Bands and Chains for Accessory Work
While they’re traditionally used for the squat, bench, and deadlift, there’s virtually no limit to the ways you can incorporate bands and chains into your training. In fact, they can be particularly effective when used to make assistance exercises harder and more productive. Here are some of my favorite assistance exercises making use of bands and chains.
Bands are great when used with most plate-loaded pulldown or rowing machines. Simply loop one end of the band around the machine’s base, and the other around the “bar,” and use the machine as you normally would. You can even do this with a chest-supported row!
You can hang chains around your neck to add weight to chins and pull-ups. Because the weight will be on your upper body, rather than dangling from your waist, it’s typically a little easier to balance. Try using a band without any other resistance to perform upper back exercises like face pulls.
Exercises to Try: Chest Supported T-Bar Rows, Chin-Ups, Pull-Ups, Face Pulls
Chest + Shoulders
Chains can be used to add weight to dips in the same way as they can be used on chins and pullups. You can attached chains to pulley handles to perform flyes that are harder at the (when your pecs are in a stronger position) and easier in the stretched position, allowing you to get a great pump without straining your shoulders. Try looping a band around your back to add resistance to pushups.
Exercises to Try: Dips and Flyes
Pushdowns and curls can be performed using bands with no added resistance. For a real challenge, try doing this with ultra-high reps. Adding bands or chains to virtually any pressing exercise will work the triceps really hard, as the movement will be harder at lockout.
Exercises to Try: Pushdowns, Tricep Pressing Movements
You can make the leg press absolutely brutal using heavy bands attached behind the sled and back rest. Perform reps without locking out your knees. Try looping a band around your knees as a kinesthetic cue to activate your glutes when performing variations of the squat and deadlift.
Exercises to Try: Leg Press and Movements With Bands Around the Knees
Why You Should Give Bands a Try
Bands and chains are just another tool in your strength toolbox, but they’re particularly effective, because they allow you to create variations on virtually any lift – and variation is a key to long-term progression. You can’t just train every lift every day: you’ll burn out physically and mentally.
Instead, by changing things up just a little bit by adding bands or chains, you get a mental break from training the same old squat, bench press, and deadlift – or from the same old lat pulldowns, curls, and extensions.
Second, variations of those lifts can help you to tackle weaknesses, imbalances, and sticking points. For example, if I’m really weak coming out of the bottom of a squat, maybe I use pause squats to strengthen that part of the range of motion. If my outer tricep is lagging, I can use a band to emphasize just the end range of motion on my extensions, putting the most emphasis on that part of the muscle.
This can be an extremely effective and rewarding strategy over the long term, whether you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter. Give it a shot – but be prepared for a killer workout!