Accommodating resistance means lifting with bands or chains for more resistance near the top of the lift. Learn how & why to use this advanced, fun training method, including practical tips for setting up the bands or chains by lift.

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What is Accommodating Resistance?

Accommodating resistance is a training method that uses bands or chains to increase the resistance as the concentric portion of the lift progresses.

How does this happen?

Let’s start with chains. The chain begins on the floor or on a similar surface (e.g. a box) and as the lifter presses or deadlifts or squats the bar, more of the chain comes up off the ground, increasing the weight the athlete is lifting.

Bands can be used two ways: either increasing resistance or with decreasing assistance (reverse bands).

Similar to chains, bands provide greater tension and thus more resistance closer to the top of the lift.

Reverse bands do not add resistance but add assistance. Attach the bands near the top of a power rack. The bands come under more tension and are thus providing more assistance in the bottom. This essentially deloads the lift in the bottom.

As the lifter squats or presses or deadlifts the bar, the band loosens, providing less assistance, so the effective load increases as the bar moves up toward lockout.

Why Train with Bands and Chains?

Why might you consider using accommodating resistance as part of your training program?

Let’s be honest, bands and chains look cool and scream “advanced lifter.” While we love simple, hard, effective training, after a long period of consistent, difficult training, greater complication is needed, and bands or chains are one option here.

So, one is reason is for the fun and novelty of a new method of complexity.

Because the resistance increases toward the top, it also stresses the muscles that extend the joint(s) that are contributing to overcoming gravity more toward the top.

This means on the bench press and press, the triceps and elbow come under greater stress. For the deadlift and squat, the hamstrings and especially the glutes come under greater stress.

This increased resistance near the top of the lift also forces the lifter to finish focused on continuing to provide maximal force near the top of the lift. It can be easy to slow down near the top of the lift without accommodating resistance, as that portion of the lift is easy to complete.

This is one reason why bands and chains are often used for dynamic lifts, where the lifter completes something like 10 sets of 2 or 8 sets of 3 lifts at a light weight but done quickly and with minimal rest time between sets (typically 1 minute).

Comparing Bands & Chains for Lifting

Let us first begin with Matt’s general recommendation, that you’re looking for the bands or chains to provide about 33% of the resistance (maybe up to 50%) and the barbell and plates providing 67% down to 50%.

Chains continue to provide only the straight down force of gravity (as long as some chains remain on the ground). You want some of the chains to remain on the floor, as swinging chains change the nature of the movement.

Bands, on the other hand, provide forces in directions other than straight down. Because of this, bands encourage the lifter to focus on the bar path more throughout the performance of the lift. Bands also beat up the joints a bit more than chains.

Because of these factors, Matt argues that chains are probably better for raw lifters and bands are better for geared lifters. Because most people lift raw, they should start with chains.

Of course, chains are more expensive and difficult to get. If you train in a public gym that does not have chains, your best option is probably buying a set of chains for the gym that you can use (and leaving them at the gym).

Better options are training in a gym that has chains or purchasing them for your home gym.

Ultimately, either option works.

Buying and Using Chains

Chains are more expensive, especially if you buy them online, as they will need to be shipped to you, and they weight a lot.

A good option is to buy some chains at a hardware store. 5/8″ chains are ideal, but they are difficult to find. If you live near a location where boats exist, especially the ocean coast, you can often buy 5/8″ chain.

For most of us, however, you’ll have to buy 3/8″ chain. Smaller chain means, especially for bigger, stronger lifts, that you will likely need multiple pairs of chains, potentially 3 or 4 pairs of chains.

To save money, you should get thinner leader chains for the squat and bench press. This chain loops down. This prevents the heavy, more expensive chains from having to come all the way up to the barbell.

Thus, the heavy chain connect to the leader chains, so that near the bottom of the lift all or most of the heavy chains are touching the ground.

At the top of the lift, you want 1 or 2 chains (at least) still in contact with the ground. You do not want the chains to swing, as this becomes more like a bamboo lift or similar lift where balance is challenged, but the weight on the bar decreases.

Don’t use a leader chain for the deadlift. You may put the chains through something like Spud straps, or even put the chains directly over the barbell.

Buying and Using Bands

Watch the below video on setting up bands for your lifts.

Bands are cheaper, especially to buy online. They’re less durable and will, over time, be stretched out.

You should probably have 3 bands for any bands you use in accommodating resistance, and keep the pair of bands you use separate from the other band. That way, the accommodating resistance pair gets stretched out evenly whereas the other band can be used for single band exercises, like banded chin-ups or prehab work.

It is best to loop the band onto the collar, not the barbell, as the knurling will chew up and rip the band, so you’ll have to replace them sooner.

Start your first warm up with the bands looped on.

Loop bands differently for different lifts.

Bands are typically doubled up for the bench press. For squats, they might be choked. On deadlifts, if you’re not using mini-bands, they might be quadrupled up.

Aim to have the bands directly below (or above for reverse bands) the barbell near the top of the lift, where they provide the most resistance (or the decreased assistance for reverse bands provides the least assistance).

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