Written by: Kevin Cann
The use of accommodating resistance was made popular by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. Now a days accommodating resistance is not only used by powerlifters, but by high school and college strength and conditioning programs, as well as the general public. When I was an intern at Harvard University, many of the coaches used bands and chains in their programs.
You definitely do not need to use bands and chains to get stronger. Plenty of people have put up huge totals without the use of accommodating resistance. However, a recent meta-analysis shows that the use of bands and chains can lead to faster gains in strength when compared to conventional training (1).
I don’t know about you, but if there is the chance I can put up bigger numbers faster, I am going to incorporate it into my training. Accommodating resistance goes beyond building strength as well. They even serve a purpose with novice lifters.
Having chains hanging from a bar will teach that novice lifter to stay tight because the chains are constantly swinging back and forth. With that said, we want to make sure we have a link or two on the ground at lockout so that we do not have too much swinging happening. Bands and chains also teach novice lifters how to accelerate throughout the range of motion.
Also, it can help maximize technique because the weight deloads in places we tend to see technique breakdown. For example, many beginners will have the hips pop up out of the hole turning the squat into a good morning. Deloading some weight at the bottom can help them keep their chest up while getting some higher intensity work.
So why would using accommodating resistance make you stronger in the big three lifts? For one, we can quarter squat much more weight than we can take below parallel and come back up with. This is due to the various joint angles of each of the movements. Accommodating resistance can match the strength curves of each of these lifts.
The chains or bands deload at the bottom and increase in weight or tension as the lift approaches lockout. This matches the strength curve of the lift, as it is most difficult at the bottom portion and easiest as we get closer to lockout.
With that said, we all have weak spots within that ROM. We call these our sticking points. As a raw lifter, the sticking points will be the same for everyone, as there are more disadvantageous joint angles in each lift. For the squat below parallel is not the problem, but actually a couple of inches above parallel is where the bar will slow down. So don’t cut your squats high! The bench press tends to be a couple of inches off of the chest, and the deadlift has a sticking point right below the knee.
Will some people struggle with locking out the bench press at the top, or the deadlift at the top? Absolutely, but this is an individual weakness. For the bench you need to add in more triceps work, and the glute work for the deadlift. Oftentimes lifters missing at the top of the pull miss the lift because of technical breakdown. They do not use enough legs and the back cannot handle the weight to lock it out.
If everyone has these same sticking points how do we strengthen them to keep our numbers moving in the right direction? We learn to accelerate the bar faster. The more speed the bar reaches those sticking points with, the better chance we have of it moving beyond that sticking point.
Even if you have those personal weaknesses we discussed earlier, bands and chains can help you overcome them. You need to keep accelerating the weight throughout the ROM. If you miss at the top, the bands and chains are constantly adding more tension and weight throughout the movement and forcing you to accelerate the bar through that weakness.
Not only do bands and chains teach us to accelerate the weight, they also teach us how to decelerate the weight. This may be where accommodating resistance has its biggest positive effects on field athletes, as change of direction requires us to decelerate our bodyweight and accelerate in another direction.
More advanced lifters have a slower, more controlled eccentric portion of the lift and a faster concentric portion of the lift when compared to novice lifters (2). Bands and chains are forcing you to learn how to do this. You need to stabilize against the bands and chains when the weight is heaviest at the top. This leads to a slower and more controlled eccentric portion, and due to the deload at the bottom, it teaches you to move the weight faster throughout the concentric.
Now that we know that bands and chains are an important tool to add into our training, here is how I use them. I am a raw powerlifter and I train raw powerlifters. How single ply and multi-ply lifters use bands and chains will differ quite a bit. Geared lifters need to focus on overloading the top portion of the lift a lot more than raw lifters.
A geared lifer may have a 600lb raw squat, but can squat over 800lbs in briefs and a suit. The gear will help pop them out of the bottom of the squat, so they need to be really strong at the top and really good at accelerating the weight throughout the ROM. Technique is critically important here as well. Less bar weight and more accommodating resistance makes sense for them.
As a raw lifter you need to be strong enough to accelerate the weight out of the bottom, but will never have to overload the top of the lift like a geared lifter. We need just enough accommodating resistance to achieve that acceleration, but not so much that it changes the movement and decreases intensity too much at the difficult portions of the lift.
If I squat 600lbs and use 200lbs of straight weight with 400lbs of band tension, the overload at the bottom of the squat is not enough to strengthen that position. It would only be 33% of 1RM. If I am weak at the bottom as a raw lifter, it does not matter how much I can lockout at the top, because I will never even get past that first sticking point.
Looking at the force velocity curve you can see what I am talking about. Maximal strength is at the left end and speed is all the way down to the right. Force makes up the vertical axis and velocity makes up the horizontal axis. As force decreases, velocity increases and vice versa. If we only strength train (blue line) our speed will go down and if we just focus on speed (green line) our maximal strength will decrease. We want to train in a way that allows us to shift this chart to the right.
We want to work with weights that provide adequate velocity and force. Weights that are too light will move fast, but hinder our maximal strength. Weights that are too heavy will move too slowly for us to be able to accelerate that weight through our sticking points. According to this curve we want to stick to weights that are no lighter than 65% and no heavier than 82% of 1RM. This is where the ideal spot is on that curve to develop the biggest total.
We want to develop maximal intent to move the weight fast and not just move the weight fast. If our aim is just bar speed, we run the risk of using intensities that are too low to get stronger. Remember that the overload principle applies here. Speed days for Westside are lighter and allow the lifters to recover from the very intense max effort days that they have, because if they are in their gear, they are lifting more than they are capable raw. This wrecks the nervous system, and light days are critical.
How I utilize chains is that I mimic how Sheiko has used them with me. Mimic those that have done it best, understand why they do it that way, and then make the changes necessary to maximize it. I will program accommodating resistance with straight weight between 65% and 75% of 1RM. The accommodating resistance never exceeds roughly 20% of the total weight on the bar.
When using chains, use one 15lb to 20lb chain per side. The chain should fully deload at the bottom, and finish at the top with one to two links on the floor. I use bands and chains for both deadlifts and bench press, but only chains for squats. Squats with bands can be a little rough on the hips. With all of the volume that I am programmed, and that I program, it is best not to risk it. Chains work just fine for the squats. When using bands, EliteFTS has a chart of approximate resistance for the bands. Make sure that the weight is 20% or less of the total weight on the bar.
Load variation is also important if we want to progress as much as possible as fast as possible. Accommodating resistance allows us to vary the load. It also allows enough of a variation to technique to keep adaptive resistance at bay. In a prep cycle I like to utilize 20% competition lifts and 60% variation. This changes closer to a meet. Within that 60% I will use pauses and accommodating resistance. The goal is to strengthen those sticking points and learn to accelerate through them. You can get stronger without the use of accommodating resistance, but science has shown you can get stronger, faster with it.