Many strength coaches have
been adding bands and chains to their
lifting protocols to help improve their athletesâ€™ rate of force
development. This author explains the why and the how.
By Bryan Dermody
CSCS, is an Assistant Strength and
Conditioning Coach for football at the University of Iowa.
currently working toward his Masterâ€™s degree in kinesiology.
Training & Conditioning,
13.6, September 2003,
Strength and speed are among
the most sought-after physical
qualities in athletics. Many athletes and coaches have come to believe
that strength and speed are independent athletic qualities and should
thus be trained separate from each other. These two qualities, however,
are intimately related.
has been defined as the ability to produce force, or more accurately,
the highest force attained at a given speed of movement. Another
important basic point relating to strength is that, according to
Newtonâ€™s second law of motion, for every action an action equal
force and opposite in direction will occur.
As a result, the
amount of force that an athlete is able to apply to the ground will
determine how fast he or she can run and how efficiently he or she can
change direction (i.e., run laterally). Thus, speed is, in effect,
determined by strength. So if one wants to become faster, one simply
has to train to become stronger, correct?
While they are
related, it is not quite that simple. Athletes do not have the luxury
of an abundance of time to recruit what strength levels they do
possess. It has been shown that 0.3-0.4 seconds or more are required to
reach maximum force levels. Further, during maximum lifts in the
traditional squat and deadlift movements, 0.6 seconds elapse before the
movement is completed.
These may seem like relatively
periods of time. However, the time available to produce force in
athletics is much less. For example, in explosive movements, such as
running and jumping, force has to be produced in less than 0.3 seconds.
In fact, it is usually closer to 0.1-0.2 seconds. It is critical to
athletic success that athletes are able to recruit their strength in a
very short period of time. This becomes more apparent the higher the
level of play and the greater the speed of the game.
becomes clear that strength is not the sole determinant of optimal
force output. The rate of force development (RFD) is much more
important than strength alone.
Several different types of
strength have been distinguished, among them absolute strength. This
type of strength can be defined as the ability to produce force without
regard for oneâ€™s bodyweight (relative strength), how fast the
being produced (explosive strength), how fast the external resistance
is accelerated from a static position to initiate movement (starting
strength), and how fast the external resistance is being accelerated
during the beginning of the movement (acceleration strength). Most
traditional resistance training programs address absolute strength.
will seldom be argued that absolute strength cannot aid in the athletic
success of the athlete. However, an athlete can possess great strength
and still be deficient in the ability to generate force quickly. As the
training maturity of the athlete increases, it is RFD rather than
absolute strength that becomes the limiting factor in the improvement
Solving the Problem
The strength and
conditioning coach is thus left seeking an effective training method to
improve RFD in the athlete. A common solution is to simply move the
external resistance as fast as possible. However, this is easier said
The amount of strength that
involved muscle(s) can
generate during a certain movement is determined, to a large extent, by
the joint angles throughout the movement. For example, during the
traditional squat and bench press movements, much more force can be
generated at the middle to end ranges of motion because of the
mechanically advantageous joint angles created.
However, if an
athlete were to attempt to accelerate a load through the entire range
of motion with sub-maximal weights, injury to the involved joints
and/or musculotendinous unit would likely occur. The load has to be
decelerated, and we do this naturally when lifting any object.
the other hand, if a much higher load was used in order to ensure that
the motor units were stimulated maximally through the end ranges of
motion, the movement would be of only partial range. The joint angles
would be at a so-called â€śmechanical disadvantageâ€ť in
the early phases
of the movement and would not be able to generate enough force to move
A final area that needs to be
clarified before a
solution to our training dilemma is solved is that of training
specificity. It has been said that the more the specific training is,
the better the carryover will be to sport performance. Many coaches and
athletes erroneously believe that the term
â€śsport-specificâ€ť refers to
movements in the weightroom that mimic actual sports movements such as
tackling and blocking. A distinction must be made between true
specificity and mimicking sport tasks.
The goal of training
specificity is not to simulate any sporting activity, but rather to
adhere to the principle of â€śdynamic correspondence,â€ť a
term first used
by Russian sport scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky. According to this
principle, the aim of training specificity is to include in the
training movement the same biomechanical and motor characteristics that
are manifested in the sport task. The following are variables that
should be included when considering the specificity of any training
movement: type of muscle contraction, movement pattern, velocity and
acceleration of movement, RFD, force of contraction, and muscle fiber
recruitment. It should be noted that training specificity grows in
importance as the training maturity of the athlete increases.
we are left with the task of finding a training means that will result
in an increase in RFD, has a negligible deceleration phase, and meets
our criterion of specificity. The answer: variable resistance.
attaching chains and/or big rubber bands to the barbell during lifting,
a situation can be created where the resistance actually increases as
the athlete becomes biomechanically stronger through the movement. To
illustrate, imagine an athlete performing a back squat with 300 pounds
on the bar plus an additional 40 pounds of chain hanging on each side.
At the top of the lift the athlete has 380 pounds on his or her back.
As the athlete descends, the chains gather onto the ground. Thus, at
the bottom of the lift, the athlete has 300 pounds on the bar, and as
he or she ascends, the chains will come off of the ground and the
resistance will continue to increase as mechanically advantageous joint
angles are created.
The same principle applies to
bands. The tension in the bands is greatest at the top and least at the
bottom of the movement.
you can see, the problem we faced earlier of dealing with large
deceleration phases is solved. In addition, since the resistance
increases throughout the movement, the athlete is forced to attempt to
move the load fast. (If the athlete attempts to move the resistance
without accelerating through the movement, it is likely that he or she
will be unable to complete the movement explosively.) Since movement
speed is critical when training to increase RFD, our goal is
Using bands has another
advantage because of the
tension they provide. As the athlete descends in a movement, this
tension is stored as potential energy in the stretched muscles and
tendons. This potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy
during the ascent of the movement. Since the bands force the tendons
and muscles to store potential energy and quickly transform it to
kinetic energy, they decrease the inhibitory mechanisms in the
neuromuscular system and lead to increases in the magnitude and speed
at which forces are achieved.
Many coaches will argue that
plyometrics will accomplish the same goal as training with variable
resistance. However, the resistance offered in plyometrics is only the
athleteâ€™s bodyweight, while the resistance when maximal power
achieved is much higher. (Maximal power is achieved at 30 percent of
maximal isometric strength.) Further, it has been shown that training
with heavy resistance, as many athletes do, actually increases the
athleteâ€™s ability to achieve maximal power.
Many coaches will
also argue that since running is largely a horizontal activity, a
movement performed in the vertical plane is not specific to running.
Research has demonstrated, however, that the forces that limit
sprinting speed are vertical forces, not horizontal ones. As a result,
our last training criterion of specificity is met.
How to Use
and bands can be used with a variety of movements. At the University of
Iowa, we mainly use them with squats and bench presses, but they can
also be used for incline presses, good mornings, and Romanian
In order to set up the chains
properly, you need
two chain lengths six feet long and a quarter-inch thick, and two chain
lengths five feet long and five-eighths-inch thick. The small chain is
looped through the ends of the larger chains. Carabiner hooks are also
needed to attach the two ends of the small chain and to be able to
adjust the length of the entire chain unit. After this, the small chain
is draped around the bar before the weight is put on so the large chain
hangs toward the ground. When the athlete is standing upright at the
beginning of the lift, just enough chain should be on the ground (about
two links) so it does not swing as the athlete performs the movement.
To set the chains up for the bench press, simply loop the small chain
through both ends of the large chain so as to decrease the large chain
length by one half.
In order to properly set up
loop the bands under the very bottom of a power rack and put one end
through the other one so the band is securely affixed to the power
rack. Loop the free end of the band around the bar before you put the
weight on. There should always be slight tension in the bands at the
bottom of the movement. The bands we use are two inches wide by 20
inches long and offer 20-35 pounds of resistance at the top of the
movement. (The band tensions will vary slightly with the height of the
Typically, five to eight sets
of two to three
repetitions are performed with 45-60 seconds rest between sets. The
reps are kept low because the nervous system component of the movement
is so high when high speed is used. We do not want the neural drive of
the fast twitch fibers to be affected by fatigue. However, the rest
periods are relatively short because the neuromuscular system recovers
faster from movements aimed at increasing rate of force development as
opposed to maximal strength movements. We want nervous system
excitement to remain high throughout the five to eight sets in order to
ensure that the greatest intent to move the bar fast is used with every
The chain and band resistance
is not kept the same
for all strength levels, nor is it kept the same for every cycle of
variable resistance training. Each strength level has a base resistance
and an advanced resistance. If the strength level is such that 1.5
chains of resistance are required on each side of the bar, make sure
half of one chain is on the ground in the start position. The same
bands are not used for squat and bench simply because of the large
difference in range of motion of each movement.
prerequisites should be met before training with variable resistance.
At the University of Iowa, athletes must complete 16 weeks of base
strength training in a developmental program emphasizing ground-based,
three-dimensional, multi-joint movements. Torso training, including
torso stabilization, flexion, rotation, and hip extension, should be
emphasized during this and all other phases. After the 16-week
developmental phase, lower-body strength and torso strength are
re-evaluated. Under normal circumstances the athlete then progresses to
variable resistance training.
The first eight to 10 weeks of
variable resistance training should be done with chains only. The
reason for this is that a high degree of torso strength is required to
stabilize oneself when using bands. Further, when using chains only,
the force of gravity is providing resistance. With bands, however,
there is added resistance with the tension in the bands.
form of training is not the only way to increase an athleteâ€™s
does, however, have sound scientific backing. Further, we have found
great success with it at the University of Iowa.
wishes to extend a special thanks to Chris Doyle, Head Football
Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Iowa, for his
valuable mentoring over the past four years.
References for this article
can be found on our Web site. Please log onto:
Hatfield, PhD, is credited with coining the term â€ścompensatory
accelerationâ€ť in the United States, also called variable
used this term to describe a method of training that he postulated
would accomplish the goal of increasing the rate of force development
of the athlete. According to Hatfield, the athlete must push against a
sub-maximal external resistance as hard as possible through the entire
range of motion. It sounds simple and effective.
In fact, the
intent to move the load may be more important, or just as important, as
the actual speed of the load being lifted. In other words, the
contraction speed of the muscle(s) involved in the movement must be
fast, but the load itself doesnâ€™t necessarily have to move
order to elicit an increase in rate of force development (RFD).
is, however, a major shortcoming to this methodology. Empirical as well
as laboratory findings have proven that when the compensatory
acceleration training method is used, a large portion of the movement
range is spent decelerating the resistance. If the muscles involved are
decelerating the load, the motor units of these muscles, in particular
the fast twitch units, are not undergoing the proper training stimulus
and thus will not adapt accordingly. The result is that the goal of
recruiting strength faster is not accomplished most effectively.
year, a study by William Ebben, MS, MSSW, CSCS*D, and Randall Jensen,
PhD, FACSM, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research (Vol. 16, No. 4), evaluated characteristics such as rate of
force development (RFD), muscle activation of the quadriceps and
hamstrings, and peak force development while using bands and chains.
The researchers concluded that squats with chains and bands offer no
advantages over traditional barbell squats. However, I believe there
were some serious flaws in the design of this study.
amount of chain and band resistance that was used accounted for 10
percent of the total bar weight. This is hardly enough resistance to
negate the deceleration phase. The athlete would not be able to
accelerate through the entire movement, and thus not receive the
training benefit of increased RFD.
Further, the intensity of
the load was not listed in the article. It could have been too light or
too heavy to achieve the desired training effect.
length of the study was one training session. It is extremely unlikely
one would see profound results from any method of training after only
one training session. The overload from one training session would
unlikely be high enough in magnitude to stimulate adaptation within the
involved motor units.
Aagaard, P. Training induced
changes in neural function. Exercise and Sport Science Review. 31(2):
David G. Neuromuscular implications and applications of resistance
training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 9(4): 264-274.
Behm, David G. and Digby G.
Sale. Intended rather than
actual movement velocity determines velocity-specific training
response. Journal of Applied Physiology. 74: 359-368. 1993.
John B., P. J. McNair and R. N. Marshall. Force-velocity analysis of
strength training techniques and load: Implications for training
strategy and research. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
17(1): 148-155. 2003.
Ebben, William P. and Randal
Electromyographic and kinetic analysis of traditional, chain, and
elastic band squats. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
16(4): 547-550. 2002.
Elliot, B. C., G. J. Wilson
and G. K.
Kerr. A biomechanical analysis of the sticking region in the bench
press. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 21(4): 450-462.
Garhammer, J. A review pf
power output studies of
Olympic and powerlifting: Methodology, performance, and evaluation
tests. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 792): 76-89.
Giancoli, Douglas C. Physics
for Scientists and Engineers. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice
Hall, 2000. p. 80.
Gregory G., M. Stone, H. S. Oâ€™Bryant, E. Harman, C. Dinan, R.
and K. Han. Force-time dependent characteristics of dynamic and
isometric muscle actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research. 11(4): 269-272. 1997.
Hatfield, Fredrick C. Getting
the most from your training reps. NSCA Journal. 14(5): 28-29. 1982.
Hatfield, Fredrick C. Power: A
Scientific Approach. Chicago, IL. Contemporary Books, 1989. pp. 9-12,
K, G Hunter, G. Fleisig, R. Escamilla and L Lemak. The effects of
compensatory acceleration on upper-body strength and power in
collegiate football players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research. 13(2): 99-105. 1999.
Knuttgen, Howard, G. and P.V.
Komi. Basic considerations for exercise. In: Strength and Power in
Sport 4th ed. P. V. Komi ed. Oxford, UK. Blackwell Science, 2003. p. 6.
Linnamo, V., K. Hakkinen and
P.V. Komi. Neuromuscular fatigue
and recovery in maximal compared to explosive strength loading.
European Journal of Applied Physiology. 77: 176-181. 1998.
Jeffrey M., T. Triplett-McBride, A. Davie and R. U. Newton. A
comparison of strength and power characteristics between power lifters,
Olympic lifters, and sprinters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research. 13(1): 58-66. 1999.
McGinnis, Peter M.
Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics,
1999. p. 358.
Robert U. and William Kraemer. Developing explosive muscular power:
Implications for a mixed methods approach. Journal of Strength and
Conditioning. 16(5): 20-31. 1994.
Newton, Robert U., W. J.
Kraemer, K. Hakkinen, B. J. Humphries and A. J. Murphy. Kinematics,
kinetics, and muscle activation during explosive upper body movements:
implications for power development. Journal of Applied Biomechanics.
12: 31-43. 1996.
Plisk, Steven S. Where the
weight room meets the classroom. Coach and Athletic Director. August:
Digby G. Neural adaptation to strength training. In: strength and Power
in Sport. 4th ed. P.V. Komi ed. Oxford, UK. Blackwell Science, 2003.
Siff, Mel C. and Yuri V.
Verkoshansky. Supertraining. Denver, CO. Supertraining International,
1999. pp. 1-3, 88-90.
Verkoshansky, Yuri V.
Fundamental of Special Strength Training in Sport. Livonia, MI.
Sportivny Press, 1986. pp. 25-28, 181.
Yuri V. Principles of training high level track and field athletes.
Soviet Sports Review. M. Yessis ed. 17(1): 41-44. 1982.
P. G., D. B. Sternlight, M. J. Bellizi and S. Wright. Faster top
running speeds are achieved with greater ground force, not more rapid
leg movements. Journal of Applied Physiology. 89: 1991-1999. 2000.
Greg J., R. U. Newton, A. J. Murphy and B. J. Humphries. The optimal
training load for the development of dynamic athletic performance.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 25(11); 1279-1285. 1993.
Young, Warren. Training for
speed/strength: Heavy vs. light loads. NSCA Journal. 15(5): 34-42. 1993.
Valdimir M. Biomechanics of strength and strength training. In:
Strength and Power in Sport. 4th ed. P. V. Komi ed. Oxford, UK.
Blackwell Science, 2003. pp. 440-441.
Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M.
Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL. Human
Kinetics, 1995. 35-37, 202-205.