The Benefits of Weight Lifting Chains


Weight Lifting Chains and the Power of the Linear Variable Resistance

Free weight strength training equipment involves using weights that are not fixed in a movement pattern by a machine. These include barbells and dumbbells. Also included in this group are kettlebells, medicine balls, ankle and wrist weights, and weight lifting chains. In this post you will find out all the benefits of using lifting chains in strength training.

Although widespread use of chains for weight training is a recent practice, chains have been around since the early days of modem resistance train­ing. Over 40 years ago Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones wrote about experimenting with lifting chains. Jones didn’t pursue chains, deciding instead to use a shell-shaped cam to vary resistance on his machines.

What are weight lifting chains?

We all know very well what are chains. We see them all the time on many different places. They’re used to  lift steel beams, tow boats, and pull trailers. You name it and they can lift it. In the world of strength and conditioning, chains have a totally different function. Instead of doing the lifting and handling of the load, they are the things being lifted and they actually become the load.

Pros and cons of using weight lifting chainsYou can add weight lifting chains to an Olympic bar, E-Z bar, triceps bar or hex bar in addition to the standard weight plates or even instead of them.

How lifting chains work (mechanism of action)?

Connecting chains means that as you lift, the weight of the chain progressively increases as more and more of the chain lifts off the floor. The weight you are lifting progressively becomes heavier, providing maximum muscular stimulation throughout the entire range of motion. Your muscles therefore work as hard as possible during the entire lift.

This con­stantly changing resistance has been titled accom­modating resistance or variable resistance. Accommodating or variable resistance is defined as variations in the amount of resistance encountered at various points in the resisted range of motion. Only chains and resistance bands provide this special type of resistance.

Practical Example: Back squat using chains

For example, as you perform a back squat with a barbell and plates, the exercise is hardest in bottom range of motion, and gets easier in the final phase of the exercise.

Squatting with chains

Squatting with chains

Using chains with this exercise means that the end range can be overloaded sufficiently to improve strength with more load than is needed to overload the body in the bottom position. Lifting chains gradually make the bar heavier as you lift the weight (stand up). The bar is the heaviest in the moment when you are standing completely upright because all the chain links are lifted from the floor. However, weight lifting chains will not overload the most difficult part of the exercise – when your upper legs are (nearly) parallel with the floor and you have to stand up. Why? When you are in the weakest position (at the bottom) the most of the chain links will be lying on the floor. The same logic applies on exercises such as bench press, deadlit, barbell shoulder press, dips, and even barbell biceps curls.

Exercises appropriate for the use of chains

Lifting chains are best used for exercises that involve ascending strength curves so that the weight feels lighter as you get close to the end range of the exercise.

Exercises that fit into this category are those that create force through extension (i.e. squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses).

Exercises that represent a descending strength curve are those that are hardest at the top range of motion (i.e. pull-ups).

Descending strength curve exercises are those that create force through flexion (i.e. a bicep curl, pull-up, upright row, standing lateral raise). Using chains in exercises that fit into this category don’t enhance your strength throughout a full range of motion. Instead, they act solely as a heavier load.

Bench press with chains

Bench press with chains

Benefits of training with chains

  • Excellent tool for developing explosive strength and power.
  • They will help you to increase muscle size.
  • The resistance increases gradually making the bar heavier as you lift the weight.
  • Chains do an excellent job of matching your leverage. The bar is lightest when your leverage is at its weakest, and the bar gradually increases in weight as leverage improves.
  • They help match the resistance curve of an exercise with the strength curve of a muscle.
  • You will have to use far more fast twitch muscle fibers.
  • Chains are able to stimulate the body in unusual and unique ways. For example, performing overhead barbell walks with chains causes the chains to swing (if off the floor) or drag (if long enough to touch the floor) which stimulates the core muscles to have to stabilise more than if simply walking with just a weighted barbell.

Drawbacks of using chains

  • Weight lifting chains are very heavy and expensive.
  • You’ll need two different set of chains. First of all, you’ll need smaller adjustment chains and two medium sized carabiners to adjust the chain links. Finally, you will have to purchase another set of big chains that will serve as the weight chains and two large carabiners to attach the weight chains to the adjustment chains.
  • This type of training equipment is very rare in most gyms.
  • They are very impractical for carrying.
  • Most gyms won’t even allow you to bring them in with you.
  • Chains are very loud.
  • They will slip from the barbell if you lose balance.
  • Weight lifting chains are not versatile like bands. You can use them to perform only a few exercises: bench presses, squats, deadlifts, and dips.

If you encounter one or more of these drawbacks you can substitute chains with resistance bands. Resistance bands also form part of the system of LVRT  (linear variable resistance training) alongside weight lifting chains.

Closing Thoughts

Weight lifting chains make a great tool for increasing strength and power at exercises like the bench press or squats. That’s because chains provide the type of resistance known as the linear variable resistance (LVRT). Linear variable resistance means that the weight or resistance increases throughout the range of motion. With chains this happens due to the fact that as you lift the chains from the floor link by link, the weight they provide increases.

Using chains with free weights (such as loaded barbell) has been shown in numerous studies to increase strength and power better than using typical free weights alone. One reason for this is the fact that the linear variable resistance forces you to use more fast twitch muscle fibers. In addition to boosting muscle strength and power, chains can also help you increase muscle size, especially on single joint exercises like the barbell curl. However, before you start to use chains, make sure you have good technique and have built some strength using less advanced methods.


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