Chains & Bands Are the Secret to Stronger Front Squats

The front squat is a popular squat variation to develop leg and overall strength. For some athletes, the front squat is a slightly more challenging squat variation, and with the usage of band/chains, then the lift becomes even more challenging. Since weight is located anteriorly on the shoulders, an athlete must focus on remaining upright while maintaining a stable upper back to avoid the bar plummeting to the floor.

Why Bands and Chains Can Be Useful?

The use of elastic bands and chains in resistance training has been reported to be effective in increasing performance-related parameters such as power, rate of force development (RFD), and velocity. These are all performance parameters that benefit an athlete, regardless their athletic endeavors. When performing lifts with bands and chains, the weight that’s being moved progressively becomes heavier due to the band stretching (adding tension), or chain links being suspended (more weight hanging from the bar). This then overloads the top portion of the movement forcing the torso to work harder to maintain proper positioning.

As weight progressively becomes heavier towards the top portion of the squat, then an athlete must accelerate through the overloaded sticking points. In 2010, a study by Stevenson MW, et Al., reported using bands in training showed a significant impact on an athlete’s RFD during the back squat. In addition to this study, in 2016 Andersen, V., et al., found that there’s greater muscular activation during the ascending (standing up) portion of a squat when using elastic bands. These findings have helped make the use of bands and chains to increase power production a popular training method used by many coaches.

Additionally, the instability bands and chains produce create an additional training stimulus on the torso and hips. Increased acceleration, RFD, and muscular activation are all keys to success for the competitive weightlifter, powerlifter, strongman, and other athletes.

Bands Benefits for Different Strength Sports

Weightlifting

In weightlifting, there are a few common problems that consistently impact athletes. One of the problems is struggling to stand up with cleans. And another issue is a weak dip and drive during the jerk due to a collapsing thoracic spine. A collapsing thoracic spine in the jerk decreases an athlete’s ability to quickly change the direction of the bar. Aka, the amount of force transferred from the hips to the bar during the jerk is greatly impacted.

When using bands and chains for weightlifters it forces this athlete to work harder to maintain proper positioning throughout the front squat. If an athlete lets their chest and back collapse, then the bar gets pulled to the ground. As stated above, the ascending portion in the squat will cause the bar to get progressively heavier due to the implementation of accommodating resistance. This in return, will strengthen the top portion of the front squat, as well as the drive for a weightlifter’s jerk. The heaviness at the top of the movement will strengthen a weightlifter’s stable positioning during the dip portion of a clean & jerk. When an athlete has to work harder to stabilize their front squat rack position with accommodating resistance, then they’ll see translation to stronger dips during their jerk drive.

Powerlifting

For a powerlifter, accommodating resistance can be beneficial for multiple reasons. First, the overload on the upper back and extra stability needed for these front squats will have carry over to all three competitive lifts. They’ll promote the habit of keeping the chest tall on the squat, and help prevent an athlete from pitching forward. Second, these squats will strengthen the shoulder musculature that provide a stable base to press from. Third, these squats can support the flexibility of the triceps and the latissimus dorsi to promote optimal shoulder joint health. Fourth, front squats with accommodated resistance will improve acceleration through a lifter’s lockout during the deadlift. Lastly, the extra stimulus to the upper back can help prevent thoracic rounding, which will enable better transfer of power throughout pulls.  

Strongman

Front squats with accommodating resistance can be beneficial for Strongman/woman athletes too. Strongman/woman athletes perform a majority of their events with the focus of weight located in front of the center of their gravity. Events and medleys such as stones, sandbags, or kegs, all indirectly reflect a front squat, as these events will tend to pull an athlete forward. Like mentioned in the powerlifting section, these squats can help strengthen deadlifts, and also events that involve a pick-up from the floor, such as frame walks, farmers walks, and yoke carries. Since these squats improve shoulders and upper strength, then these squats can improve overhead events. As stated in the weightlifting section, they can help train a strong dip and drive during pressing movements.

How to Program Front Squats With Accommodated Resistance

The way an athlete programs these squats will be heavily dependent on their strength sport and goals. Personally, I’d start by treating them as speed squats, and do multiple sets at 65-75% for doubles. My reasoning for these percentages come from a study done in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, which demonstrated that velocity, peak force, and power were consistently repeated over time at the 65% and higher range.

Once an athlete becomes accustomed to these squats, then you can begin to treat it as their own dedicated lift. For example, I’ll have some of my advanced athletes hit max doubles with these. I like to program them earlier in the week, as I typically program max front squats (with no accommodated resistance) for athletes, typically weightlifters at the end of the week. Then, for powerlifters and strongman athletes, beginning of the week works best, so they don’t overly tax their nervous systems.

Some of my recommended goals to reach for when performing band/chain front squats are:

  • Step 1: 100% of your clean max or 65% of front squat max using Light/chains bands for 7×2
  • Step 2: 110% of your clean max or 75% of front squat max using Light/chains bands for 5×2
  • Step 3: 100% of your clean max or 65% of front squat max using Medium/chains bands for 7×2
  • Step 4: 110% of your clean max or 75% of front squat max using Medium/chains bands for 5×2
  • Step 5: 100% of your clean max or 65% of front squat max using Heavy/chains bands for 5×2
  • Step 6: 110% of your clean max or 75% of front squat max using Heavy/chains bands for 3×2
  • Step 7: Treat it as its own max and progress slowly with Heavy/chains bands hitting a 2RM

References

  • Andersen, V., Steiro Fimland, M., Knutson Kolnes, M., Jensen, S., Laume, M., & Hole Saeterbakken, A. (2016). Electromyographic Comparison of Squats Using Constant or Variable Resistance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 30(12), 3456–3463.
  • Caruso, J. F., Olson, N. M., Taylor, S. T., McLagan, J. R., Shepherd, C. M., Borgsmiller, J. A., … Grisewold, S. (2012). Front squat data reproducibility collected with a triple-axis accelerometer. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 26(1), 40–46.
  • Stevenson, M. W., Warpeha, J. M., Dietz, C. C., Giveans, R. M., & Erdman, A. G. (2010). Acute effects of elastic bands during the free-weight barbell back squat exercise on velocity, power, and force production. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 24(11), 2944–2954.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image screenshot from @matthew_barker1991 Instagram page. 

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