Accommodating Resistance: Why Train with Bands and Chains?

While you may not have heard the phrase “accommodating resistance” before, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen someone weight training with a whole bunch of chains slapped on either end of their bar, in addition to the normal steel plates.

Some of you may have even witnessed someone slingshot themselves along with their weights across the gym on a failed first attempt to train with bands…

Thanks to the popularity of Westside Barbell’s conjugate system, bands and chains have become an easily recognized resistance training variation. You don’t even need to train in an underground powerlifting gym to find them either, I’ve seen chain racks hanging up in my local YMCA. What started off as an elite style of training for top tier powerlifters, has now become another part of pop culture fitness.

You may be asking, “what’s the point?”

Is there really a secret to training with bands and chains? Are these lifters just trying to look cool so they can get a sick new profile pic for insta?

Here’s what you need to know about training with bands and chains.

1. What Is Accommodating Resistance?

Accommodating resistance specifically refers to a style of resistance training in which you are INCREASING the resistance through a range of motion. Most commonly when someone mentions “accommodating resistance” they are talking about bands or chains. 1. Because they are the most popular form of accommodating resistance and 2. Because they are the most readily available.

You may also hear the term “variable resistance” used interchangeably with accommodating resistance, and while not completely wrong, these are technically two different things. Variable resistance just refers to the fact that you are changing resistance through a range of motion. Accommodating resistance specifically refers to the fact that you are increasing resistance through a range of motion. Basically, accommodating resistance is a more specific version of variable resistance.

You’ll most commonly see this employed on the squat, bench, and deadlift. However, accommodating resistance can be used for any resistance training movement you can figure out how to slap bands or chains onto. A good example is a simple push-up with chain resistance.

2. Why Should you Implement Accommodating Resistance Into Your Training

For whatever reason people like to get incredibly analytical when talking about why accommodating resistance is an effective style of training. Going into deep pseudoscience talks about force curves as if accommodating resistance exists as it’s very own branch of science.

It’s not that deep.

We are literally just slapping some linked pieces of metal on top of some additional pieces of metal bro…slow your role.

Accommodating resistance first and foremost…accommodates…resistance…*I’ll give you a brief moment for the utter disbelief to subside*

What we are actually doing when we train with bands and chains is we are making the hardest portion of the lift easier, and we are making the easiest portion of the lift harder. If you think about a squat with chains, you will be bearing maximal chain weight nearing the top of lockout and at lockout itself (the easiest portion of the lift), as all or most of the chain links will be off the ground. However, when you are in the hole (the hardest portion of the lift) you are bearing the least amount of chain weight since the chains will be resting on the ground at this point in the ROM. Essentially, this is an attempt at making a lift equally difficult across it’s range of motion. It’s not perfectly balanced, but it works for the intended purpose.

The other obvious benefit that you probably already noticed…this is an overload movement. Meaning, by training with bands and chains you are going to be able to lift loads that are heavier than you can actually lift. For example, you may not be able to deadlift 405lbs straight from the ground, but you could deadlift 365lb from the ground and lockout 405lb due to 40lbs of chain weight. This is a great way to 1. Challenge yourself in a way you haven’t done before 2. Break down mental barriers for yourself if you are fearful of a certain weight. Additional chain and band weight can be a great way to “feel out” heavier weights before you try them out for real down the line.

Finally, accommodating resistance is just…difficult. Hands down this is one of the harder lifting variations you can do, and it’s a unique experience to feel a lift get progressively more difficult as you lift. Training with additional band and chain resistance for awhile makes going back to the normal variations of the movements feel like butter. You may even notice you accelerate harder into your movements now, anticipating additional resistance that’s no longer there.

Other than that, I wouldn’t get too caught up in all the additional pseudoscience and conjecture that often get’s attached to accommodating resistance. It’s just talk. Chains and bands are difficult, they’re fun to train with and great for progress, and as a bonus you’ll look like a badass while training them. ‘Nuff said.

3. How to Train with Chains 

If this is your first time trying any sort of accommodating resistance style training, I’d recommend starting with chains.

One because these are objectively the easier of the two to setup correctly, and two…because I’d like to witness less individuals get catapulted across the room due to bands if at all possible.

Regardless of your chosen movement, the main thing you need to understand with using chains is you want the majority of the chain links to be supported on the ground when you are in the “bottom” portion of the lift and you want the majority of the chains to be off the ground in the “top” portion of your lift.

If the chains are off the ground throughout the entirety of the movement YOU ARE NOT TRAINING ACCOMMODATING RESISTANCE. That’s just…resistance. This is a big mistake when it comes to individuals training chains for the first time. You want that constant load increase and decrease throughout your ROM to truly say you are training accommodating resistance. Otherwise, you may feel the eyes of a concerned gym rat staring you down from afar. Wondering if it’s their social obligation to inform you that you are doing this wrong or to just let you train in peaceful ignorance.

In terms of setup, chains are easy. For deadlifts, you are simply draping the chains over the bar (yes metal on metal can damage the knurling of a bar so be aware of that). As for squats and bench the most common method you’ll see is the chains get attached by carabiner to an ELITE FTS chain loader strap or something similar that’s homemade. If you don’t want to pay for those you use one looped chain and then hang the rest of your chains off of that. Again, setting it to the height personal to you, that allows most of the chains to be on the ground in the bottom of the lift , and most of the chains to be off the ground in the top portion of the lift.

4. How to Train with Bands

I’ve been bad mouthing bands this whole article. They aren’t actually bad, I’ve just seen too many situations where big egos led to bad situations.

Bands accomplish the same basic thing as chains, but whereas chains add resistance through additional physical load, bands add resistance through additional tension and it feels distinctly different.

Basic thing to understand with bands is to pay attention. Band tension is always going to be present, which means if you get lazy with something as simple as re-racking your bar you could feel the bar pulled down on you faster than you can actually react. Likewise, depending on your band setup the tension could pull you in a direction you aren’t expecting (most usually forwards). Finally you want to be certain that your bands are going to actually stay attached while you lift (nothing good happens losing a band mid rep).

Other than that, you want your setup to be similar to the chains. Your bands should be under high tension at the top of your lift, and low tension at the bottom of your lift. The difference between chains and bands being you want some amount of band tension present, basically the entire time. A lot of first time band set-ups involve the band being slack almost the entire lift, and then at the very end it stretches just enough to give you a tiny bit of tension. There’s no point to this. If you want a good band session, set it up so you have tension throughout the movement. That being said, you don’t need to be a hero. Moderate to slightly high band tension is fine, no need to test the max elasticity of your bands, nor do you need to turn yourself into a living projectile. There are a few exercises that use extremely high band tension, but generally speaking these don’t include much physical weight.

Finally, how you set bands up truly depends on what equipment you have/ what type of gym you lift at. Powerlifting specific gyms will tend to have attachments on their deadlift platforms for bands, as well as pins specifically for attaching bands in their power racks. Worst comes to worst you will always be able to attach your bands to a heavy set of dumbbells for similar effect.




Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.