Jun 12 2012
If you’re a power lifter you’re probably used to hanging chains off of your barbell, but if you’re new to working out exercising with chains might seem pretty intimidating and a little scary. Fear usually comes from the unknown, right? Let me break down the reasons why chains are seriously bad ass.
Working Out with Chains – Why Chains are Bad Ass
Get Your Gear
If you already know you’re ready to just get the chains and go for it, you have two options. You can buy chains specifically designed for working out, or you can just go to your local hardware store (like Home Depot or Lowe’s) and make your own lifting chains to started.
Buy Your Chains
Get your equipment here
Make Your Own Chains Like Me
If you are planning to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s to buy your chains you will save yourself quite a bit of money.
When you go, make sure to bring your own scale. At Home Depot, I was surprised to find that there was not once piece of equipment throughout the whole warehouse that was able to measure in pound increments.
If you forget your scale, or are just a little embarrassed to bring a scale into a hardware store to measure and cut chains, this information might help:
I found that 80 inches of this particular brand, grade, thickness and type of chain weighs about 10 lbs.
I found that 50 inches of this particular brand, grade, thickness and type of chain weighs about 10 lbs.
There are all sorts of additional accessories you could buy, like a pipe to make a barbell for your chains, metal handles and carabiners to make dumbbells or kettlebells. You could buy clamps, hooks and more. To start with, I recommend just buying the chains to see how you like them.
Why Chains are Bad Ass – The Research
This is the part where I explain why working out with chains is seriously awesome. First of all, there is science behind working out with chains. If you are the type of person that likes to have well documented research behind your workouts, you don’t have to just listen to me ramble on. You can check out the recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
I will warn you, the research article will really only make sense if you’re a total nerd. I say that in the best possible way. I’m a total nerd. I read it.
I’m offering to translate it for you and help you to apply the research to your actual, real life so you don’t have to read it and be a nerd like me.
Basically, this is the take away:
Chains are an inexpensive, low-tech way to make a variable resistance machine.
Does that sentence makes you go, “Huh?” Don’t worry. I will explain.
Second of all, working out with chains simply makes you feel like a super strong, hard core, bad ass. Doing pull ups is impressive. Doing pull ups while draped in chains is completely awe-inspiring.
Chains = Variable Resistance
What that means is when you lift properly with chains, the weight gets heavier at the top of the movement. Each time a chain link leaves the ground, you’re lifting the weight of that chain link, so you’re lifting a little more. Each time a chain link falls back to the ground, you’re no longer lifting the weight of that chain link, so you’re lifting a little less.
Lifting the full weight of the chain:
Lifting the full weight of the chain, but it is just about to return to the ground and the load will decrease:
About 3 links on each side are touching the ground, meaning I am not lifting the weight of those chain links while in this position:
In the lowest position I am lifting a considerably less amount of weight; see all the chain links on the ground:
You might say, “So what?”
Well, as you lift each of the chain links off the ground, the weight of the chains is released from the floor and increases your load. The increasing load of the chains makes it so you have to maintain the greater force (or at least a portion of the force) you produced during the initial lift. You have to keep exerting force to counteract the increasing load.
Usually, you exert the most force at the bottom of the movement. Here’s an example. Squat. Do it properly and hold it at the bottom of the movement for a second or two. Stand back up. You exerted the most force when you went from a dead stop, at the lowest squat position, to your initial movement up and out of the squat.
When you do a squat with chains, the load increases as you stand up since the chain links are leaving the floor.
You have to keep exerting force throughout the top of the movement, as the chain links leave the floor.
The load decreases as you squat down since the chain links are going back to the floor. You exert less force as you approach the bottom of the movement.
The load increases during the concentric movement and decreases during the negative movement.
Make sense? The weight gets heavier as you lift it. You have to work harder to keep lifting it. The load is the heaviest at the top of the lift.
The weight gets lighter as you bring it toward the ground. The load is the lightest at the bottom of the lift.
Chains – The Physics
If you ever took physics you may be having flashbacks right now. Remember these terms? Force. Work. Load. Power. Energy.
I personally hated physics. It explained things in detail that I already knew to be true by just doing and watching. I’m not really the kind of person that needs to know why something moves the way it does. I can just look at it and get it. I would rather just do it and make my own opinion of how it works rather than have it explained to me.
Why apply all those formulas and all that math to explain what you can see and feel is actually happening right in front of you?
But that’s just me and how I learn. Some people learn by formulas and explanations instead of by doing and watching. That’s OK too. For those of you out there that learn through explanations, the majority of this post is really for you.
People who learn like me would probably just see the pictures and videos of a chain workout, then try it themselves to understand how it works. If you’re up to it, feel free to skip all of this explanation, buy some chains and just do it.
If you never took physics, not to worry. You can watch this little video and understand the basic principles while also being entertained. Be forewarned, the video is made for kids. Even so, I couldn’t help but post it because it is absolutely hilarious, but probably only if you have a sense of humor like me.
In my opinion, the talking parrot and the funny accents are enough to make watching the video worthwhile. If you have kids, you may even want them to watch this to give them a jump start on understanding physics, or just to get a good laugh.
Work Force Energy for Kids – Videos for Kids by Make Me A Genius
Use Chains Additionally – Not Exclusively
If you’re brand new to exercising, or an ex-athlete that is just recently off the couch, do not use chains at all. Stick with just your own body weight. Learn to flex each muscle, control your body, have perfect form.
If you’re advanced and looking for more of a challenge, try adding a sandbag before you try adding chains.
If you have moved beyond a sandbag and want even more of a challenge, try adding chains to only some of your exercise routines. Do not add chains to all of your routines.
Why? A good program includes variable resistance, but doesn’t exclusively use variable resistance.
Remember how the chains allowed you to push harder through the finish of a movement? The flip side of that is that the chains also allow you to push yourself less at the beginning of the movement.
Increasing variable resistance will result in different biomechanical stimuli. It’s cool to give your body different stimuli sometimes to create a well rounded program of strength, power, growth and speed. Mixing things up can also help to break through plateaus.
But, doing only variable resistance workouts may end up resulting in a decrease in velocity, power, and rate of force development.
Add in chains like they’re a special treat, not your main course.
xoxo ~ Cori
Do you love your chains? Tell me in the comments!
Please share your own opinions, thoughts, and questions in the comments. Don’t be shy! Your comments may help another. Your questions may help someone else who has the exact same question, but is too shy to ask. I love hearing from you!