The squat with chains, or chain squat, is an advanced technique for increasing your overall squat strength and explosiveness. It adds a new layer of dynamic intensity to your squat training.
Squats with chains are different from traditional squats in that it makes the load heavier at the top of the rep and lighter at the bottom of the rep. Whereas, the load is static throughout the movement with regular squats.
Thus, you train explosiveness when doing squats with chains because the reduced weight at the bottom of the rep translates to the ability to squat up rapidly and powerfully. In fact, it forces you to squat up with great force since you need to generate enough momentum to counteract the increasing load as the chain is picked up.
Additionally, you emphasize the latter portion of the positive repetition – especially the lockout – because the weight becomes heavier as you begin picking up the chain's slack while squatting up.Set Up. This should be done in a power rack or a squat rack. Start by putting the barbell on the pins, just below shoulder level. Adjust the Safety Catches. If you're using a power rack, adjust the safety catches to prevent the barbell from going beyond the bottom of the range of motion, in case of a failed rep or accident.Add Plates. Load the weight plates before attaching chains to the ends of the barbell. A 2006 study shines some light on the optimal load to use. According to the findings, the optimal total load (including both chains and plates) is around 85% of your one rep max. Of that, eighty percent should be non-chain weight. Note that this study was on squat training using band resistance (see band squats and reverse band squats), not chains. Still, it provides relevant insight and applicable information.Attach Chains. Figure out the chain weight and length to use. Attach the chains accordingly. The optimal chain weight, based on the findings of the above-mentioned study, is 20% of the total load. Optimal chain length varies based on your objective – The shorter the chain, the lower the point in the range of motion will be when the load starts decreasing. For this tutorial, I'll outline the standard practice for chain length: When the barbell is racked, there should be a few inches of chain draping onto the floor. This way, the ends of the chains should be only slightly touching the floor after you unrack the bar.Unrack the Bar. Get underneath the bar. It should be resting on your trapezius muscle tissue, not against your spine. Proceed to lift the bar off the pins and step back.Negative Repetition. Lower your hips, drop your butt and bend your knees. Go Parallel or Lower. Continue until the top of your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.Tempo. Perform the negative in a controlled fashion. This should take about 1-2 seconds. Slow down as you approach the midpoint.Midpoint. The midpoint is at the very bottom of the range of motion. It's the transition point between the positive repetition and the negative repetition. Tempo. Do not pause here for more than a split second. Don't "bounce" through the midpoint, either. Bouncing puts your knees at risk for injury.Positive Repetition. Squat up explosively. Flex! Keep your whole body tense while flexing your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings with focused intensity.Tempo. Aim for a tempo of zero seconds. That is, go as fast as humanly possible without sacrificing proper form.Repeat. Chain squats are generally used to build strength and explosiveness. Thus, heavy weights (see step 1, bullets 2 and 3) and lower reps (i.e. approx. 1-5) are most effective.
Chain Squats Are Best for Advanced Lifters. Squatting with chains is best left to the big (and strong) boys (and girls). It is meant to improve specific weak aspects (i.e. explosiveness, lockout) of an already strong lift...
...So if your squat itself is weak – which is the case for beginners and intermediates (at least, relative to their potential squat strengths) – then squatting with chains is a misallocation of your training time and energy. Instead, the more sound decision is to stick to traditional squats until you truly reach a more advanced level of strength and conditioning.
The only time I'd say it's fine for intermediates (not beginners) to squat with chains is when advised by a competent strength coach, for the purpose of training a sports specific skill/ability.
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