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Over the past ten years, a style of resistance has been developed that simultaneously improves training with heavy loads and training at high velocities. This is known as accommodating resistance and it’s typically done by using bands and chains. Alissa and I love the variety training with bands and chains provides. And even more, we LOVE the RESULTS it delivers for greater gains in both strength and muscle hypertrophy. To truly understand the benefits of training with chains, it’s important to understand strength curves and what exercises fit into each category.

Strength curves

A strength curve is a mathematical model that represents how much force can be produced at specific joint angles. In other words, it’s the amount of force produced over a range of motion. Strength curves are further broken down into ascending strength curves and descending strength curves. Every exercise fits into the ascending or descending category.

Ascending strength curve:

Exercises that represent an ascending strength curve are those that are easiest at the top ranges of motion (i.e. squatting). An overload set on squats will overload the top half—your strongest half—of the movement. Think about the guys you see in the gym who’s idea of training legs is to throw three plates on the bar and do a few sets of quarter squats. They might not realize this, but they are using the ascending strength curve in their favor, creating a misconception as to how much they can truly squat.

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

Descending strength curve:

Exercises that represent a descending strength curve are those that are hardest at the top range of motion (i.e. pull-ups). Think about the last time you did a high amount of reps of pull-ups. Unless you defy the laws of strength or were doing kipping pull-ups (relies on momentum from swinging), it became harder and harder for you to get your chin up to the bar as you fatigued. This is the descending strength curve working against you.

Exercises that fit into this category 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.

What causes the difference in the two strength curves? The difference in the two strength curves is dependent on muscle strength tension relationships. The muscle strength tension relationship states that the amount of force a muscle fiber can produce is related to the degree of overlap between the actin and myosin filaments. If the fiber is stretched or shortened too much, the number of actomyosin complexes that can be formed is limited, resulting in restricted force production.

To sum it up, exercises that have an ascending strength curve (training the bottom range of motion) limit your strength potential in the top ranges of motion. If your views of training are similar to mine, you want to get the most out of each rep, maintaining overload in the top half of motion while still overloading the bottom half. In order to do this, you would need to have varying loads on the bar or, in this case, have a load on the bar that will vary throughout the range of motion. How can you do this? Apply chains to the bar!

Enter the lifting chains…the effect of lifting chains works due to the concept of accommodating resistance. Accommodating resistance means that the load on the bar accommodates the varying strengths of your body throughout the entire range of motion rather than at a certain point. Again, let’s look at the back squat. Based on differences in joint angles, you can squat a lot more in a quarter squat than you can in a full squat.

There are certainly different ways to train with accommodating resistance. You can use different style cams and fancy machines that will run you thousands of dollars. You can train using overload sets/lockout sets, or you can outsmart the machines, maintain specificity of the movement, and apply bands and chains to the bar!

Benefits of lifting with chains

Training with chains and bands, when applied properly, has the potential to improve the velocity on the bar by enhancing the force-velocity relationship. This will improve your stability under the bar and your ability to blast through the sticking point you face while training.IMG_6765

Improving the force-velocity relationship

The force-velocity relationship states that the speed at which a muscle changes length also changes the force it can generate. External load and speed of the bar play a significant role in changing the force-velocity relationship. Obviously, increasing the load on the bar will change the velocity at which the bar is moving. Training with chains and bands has the ability to improve the force-velocity relationship at a given load over time.

For the athletes of the training world who are using bands and chains on the bar, it is important to remember that accommodating resistance places a larger emphasis on the concentric phase of the lift rather than the eccentric phase. This means that the antagonist muscles and those responsible for decelerating aren’t trained to the same extent. Being able to decelerate properly and efficiently will save you from a lot of injuries. This doesn’t mean that you should eliminate the use of chains and bands if you are an athlete. Just remember to consider the demands of the sport. Bands don’t need to be used with every exercise that fits into the ascending strength category. So load your body appropriately.

Science of using chains

Overall, science appears to support the benefits of training with chains. When looped around the bar instead of hung straight down, they have been shown to have positive effects on bar velocity and stability.

Neelly and colleagues (5) compared the mechanical effect of double looped chains to chains hung straight during the back squat. Results showed nearly twice as much variable resistance at the top of the squat compared to the bottom with the double looped chains compared to the linear looped chains. In other words, you must pay attention to the way the chains are hung. To get the full effect of accommodating resistance, chains should be double looped instead of hung in a straight line.

Baker and colleagues (1) compared the difference of bar velocity during two bench press conditions. The first condition was two sets of three reps at 75 percent 1RM plate loaded while the second condition was also two sets of three. However, the 75 percent 1RM was broken down to 60 percent plate loaded and 15 percent chain loaded. Results of the study found that the plate and chain loaded condition increased bar velocity by a mean of 10 percent on both sets. The reason for the increased velocity could be explained by the eccentric unloading of the chains. Baker explains that eccentric unloading will result in a more rapid stretch shortening cycle and possibly a repetition post-activation potentiation.

The final study by Coker and colleagues (2) compared the biomechanical and perceptual influence of chain resistance while completing one rep at 85 percent 1RM on the snatch. The first snatch condition was 85 percent plate loaded with the second being 80 percent plate loaded and 5 percent chain loaded. There wasn’t any significant biomechanical difference between the chain and plate loaded conditions. However, subjects did perceive there to be a significant difference between the two conditions. The chains require greater force during the initial pull and a greater amount of stability within the shoulders, core, and back during the catch.

The benefit of lifting with chains could have been overshadowed by the high load the lifters were tested with. Because Olympic lifting is such a technically demanding lift, training with bands and chains could have a more profound effect when there are lighter loads on the bar.

Summary

When all is said and done, accommodating resistance, which is accomplished by training with bands and chains, has the ability to take your training to the next level. The benefits of lifting with bands and chains are most effectively realized during exercises that have an ascending strength curve, meaning exercises that require a large amount of force to be produced during extension.

Applying chains to exercises that have a descending strength curve will apply a greater amount of instability to the bar, which has its own benefits separate from the topic of this article. However, this doesn’t fit the accommodating strength model. Applying chains or bands to exercises that fit into the descending strength curve category wouldn’t provide the same benefits.

IMG_6770Research on training with chains has shown that chains should be looped rather than hung linearly from the bar. Training with chains improves the speed of the bar during the bench press, and although research didn’t show improved bar speed during the snatch, anecdotal evidence suggests a potential improvement in shoulder, core, and back stability.

In conclusion, training with bands and chains allows athletes, coaches, trainers and experienced gym goers a way to improve their totals through accommodating resistance. As we know, gaining strength is a vital component to gaining muscle. Applying this modality to your training is a surefire way to improve your strength and speed throughout the entire range of motion of any lift that fits into the ascending strength curve.

References

  1. Baker DG, Newton RU (2009) Effect of Kinetically Altering a Repetition Via the Use of Chain Resistance on Velocity During the Bench Press. J Strength Cond Res 27:(7)1941–46.
  2. Ebben WP, Jensen RL (2002) Electromyographic and kinetic analysis of traditional, chain, and elastic band squats. J Strength Cond Res 16:547–50.
  3. Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ (2012) Exercise Physiology: Integrating Theory and Application. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: Baltimore, MD.
  4. McMaster TD, Croning J, McGuigan MR. Quanitificant of Rubber and Chain Based Resistance Modes. J Strength Cond Res 24:(8)2056–64.
  5. Neely KR, Terry JG, Morris MJ. A Mechanical Comparison of Linear and Double Looped Hung Supplemental Heavy Chain Resistance to the Back Squat: A Case Study. J Strength Cond Res 24:(1)278–81.
  6. Siff M (2003) Supertraining. 6th edition. Denver.

Impossible-It always seems until its doneIt always seems impossible until it’s done… I need to set seemingly impossible goals to experience the excitement that fuels my motivation. Without a challenge I’m unmotivated to commit to what I need to do for exercise and nutrition. However, for me there’s also a fine line between setting a goal that’s big enough to paralyze me with fear, and an even BIGGER GOAL where there’s so much excitement that it overcomes any fear. I’ve come to learn that if I find myself lacking in ambition, drive or motivation with anything it’s because I have not set a big enough goal. DREAM BIG or GO HOME!

The last time I competed at the Canadian Natural Championships in April, 2012 (where I placed 5th) I was 188lbs at about 6% body fat with a lean mass of 177lbs. My goal this time is to compete at a weight of 198lbs with 6% body fat (or less) and a lean mass of 186lbs. Currently, I’m sitting at 198lbs with 13.5% body fat and a lean mass of 171.3lbs.

Transformation99In 18 weeks I need to build 14.9lbs of muscle while dropping 7.5% body fat (14.9lbs). Is this really possible? It always seems impossible until it’s done! This is where sharing a little bit of my transformation history is helpful. In this “before” and “after” pic from 1999 I built 18lbs of muscle while losing 20lbs of fat within 18 weeks. However, I was also quite a bit younger (29 years old vs 45 today) and my lifestyle was much simpler with no kids and a low stress job with regular hours. Now having two young kids and being self-employed working from home presents both challenges and opportunities. An edge I never had before though is the nutritional cleansing lifestyle we follow as part of our contest prep along with what’s proving to be a uniquely effective line of new high performance nutrition products. Alissa and I made the commitment from our first competition to avoid the use of any fat-burners or high stimulant pre-workout drinks and nutritional products of any kind containing artificial sweeteners or colours. That really cuts out A LOT of products out there! So we are very excited about having access to a completely natural line of products for enhancing performance and recovery.

It’s been 7 weeks since I started my prep and I could not be more pleased with my progress so far. Here are my results to date:

Body Weight = 196lbs to 198lbs (+2lbs)

Body Fat = 16.5% or 32.3lbs to 13.5% or 26.7lbs (-5.6lbs)

Lean Body Mass = 163.7lbs to 171.3lbs (+7.6lbs)

If you believe the sky’s the limit, you probably won’t break through the atmosphere. But if you aim for the stars you’re much more likely to land on the moon!

Cndn National Championships-WorldQualifier-June2016

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When I hit the gym I hold NOTHING back. I’m often asked, “What are you training for?…What sport do you play?…Why are you training so hard?” My answers used to be, “For the joy of it…Life is my sport…How you do one thing is how you do everything, and I’m one who believes we are here to give 100% (whatever that may be in this moment).”

Now, I’m training for something BIGGER. Something I never thought I’d be training for…In honour and for the love of my brother, and using the sport of bodybuilding as my vehicle. With only 1 week away from my next competition (IFBB World Naturals Qualifier) there’s a fine line between maximizing results and risking illness or injury when your’re giving every you’ve got.

A couple of days ago I strained a muscle in the left side of my lower back, to the point where it had me immobilized for most of the day yesterday. BUT with lots of rest, massage and stretching throughout the day my recovery process accelerated enough that I could hit the gym today for one of my last critical workouts. Although I knew I would have to be very careful and be prepared to modify my routine.

Exercising with a heightened sense of body awareness I began with the first exercise. I could tell the muscle strain was there but through extra attention given to the most perfect technique that involved consciously recruiting the muscles contributing as synergists and stabilizers I was not only able to avoid further stressing the injured muscle BUT better isolated the target muscles of the exercise AND at an increased load!

As I progressed through my routine I approached every exercise with this same strategy. By the end of the routine I could no longer feel my strained muscle! Rather than giving in to injury, I was able to apply “intelligent intensity” to training the “movement” of each exercise in such a way as to better isolate the target muscles and help the strained muscle recover.

I also have to admit that going into my workout I sent out a little prayer to Steve to help me get through this training session successfully. Thanks little Bro for whatever role you played in this 🙂

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It’s amazing what quality nutrition you can throw together, especially something quick and easy to eat when there’s little time in your day to even eat it! Today I was booked back-to-back performing practical assessments on my university students for their CPTN personal training certification. The 4 meals pictured here took me a total of 10min to prepare. Then before beginning each of the scheduled practicals I simply took 5min out to fuel my body’s health, performance and recovery needs!

Meal #1 = IsaLean Shake* & Rice Cakes (morning post-workout)
Meal #2 = Cottage Cheese & Apple
Meal #3 = Tuna & Raw Veggies
Meal #4 = Chicken (leftovers) & Raw Veggies
Meal #5 = IsaLean Shake* (late afternoon pre-workout)
Meal #6 = Chicken, Beef or Eggs & Cooked Veggies & Brown Rice or Pasta
Meal #7 = Yogurt + whey protein + chia seed + almonds

Meals 1 to 4 are pictured as what I packed for my day.

*Note: The IsaLean shake is a whole-food total meal replacement with the nutrient equivalent to 4 balanced meals.

After my practicals I hit the gym, and after my workout I will consume my post-exercise recovery IsaLean Shake and then an hour later my largest meal of the day. This will consist of some source of protein (chicken, beef or eggs), some veggies and either pasta or brown rice for tonight.

Train Smart. Eat Smarter. Transform!

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Yes, I can train and eat my cookies too! This is my post-workout meal combining the highest quality protein and a high glycemic carb. (No, I’m not going to eat ALL these cookies, just two 🙂 The RESULTS from exercise are enhanced because of how this takes full advantage of the unique physiological state the body is in immediately following exercise. The combination of exercise, the Isagenix Nutritional Cleansing Lifestyle and proper nutrient timing still allows me to enjoy my food even when training for a bodybuilding competition!

Train Smart. Eat Smarter. Transform!

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First workout for today. Shoulders and calves to follow later this afternoon. CAUTION: I would never train with this intensity or volume without supporting every cell in my body with the proper nutrition plan guaranteeing my cells receive sufficient high quality protein and ALL the essential nutrients in a whole-food form complemented with synergistic supplementation. To attempt this kind of training with anything less is inviting INJURY, DISEASE and even ACCELERATED AGING with a SHORTENED LIFESPAN!

Train Smart, Eat Smarter!

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As promised, after sharing my morning training session here is workout number two for today. Tomorrow I’ll be engaging in some ACTIVE RECOVERY and FAT-BURNING with a single session of a cardio-based KETTLEBELL CIRCUIT for 20-30min.

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Just 7 weeks to the IFBB WORLD NATURAL QUALIFIER in Winnipeg on April 28th! This week I continue into my second week of increasing workout frequency by accelerating RECOVERY through NUTRITION. The combination of consistent meal timing (every 2.5-3hrs), increased protein intake (1.25g/lb of LBM), pre/post-exercise IsaLean Shakes and Product B Telomere Health & Antioxidant Support (6/day) is allowing me to achieve the otherwise impossible! I am able to reduce recovery time by up to 2 full days. For example, I train my arms 3x/week versus what I normally do at 2x/week. My chest and back are ready for more on the third or fourth day instead of the fifth day. In order to accommodate the ideal rest period for ALL muscle groups (as they all have different rates of recovery) and keep my workouts under 60min I will sometimes schedule 2 workouts per day for 2 different muscle groups.

Here is this morning’s workout for Chest and Back. For each workout I know EXACTLY what exercises I will be doing, how many sets and at what speed, how long my rest between sets to the second and with SPECIFIC goals for a certain number of reps at a pre-determined weight. However, I also fine tune this in real time during the workout to ensure my efforts are maximized…and so are my RESULTS!

This morning I was approached by another gym member who said “I’ve seen you training and you definitely look like you know what you’re doing. I have a question…” This happens quite often whether I’m at the gym, waiting in line at the grocery store, or enjoying time with my family at the beach. Outside of referrals, this is how I get most of my new clients, simply “Living by Example”.

As I post this I am just about to start my second workout for the day which I’ll be posting soon.