Make November your month to get friendly with the chains & the art of PLC Progressive Lifting Chain training techniques.
Before we start it’s good to remember the difference between strength & power. Strength is the ability to simply move a weight / oppose a resistance. While power is that same ability combined with speed. So Power = Strength + Speed. They are not the same thing in sports science terms when you are training.
Chains have long since been used by armed forces & para-military units for pre-theatre fitness regimes & also in elite athlete training environs. Leading strength & conditioning (S&C) coaches advocate their use in a number of diverse set-ups, systems, ways, forms of exercises. Be aware that there are some exceedingly complex systems of PLC use / application with all manner of sports science based research backed up with astounding statistics calculated by intricate formulae.
Now chains have migrated into powerlifting / cross-fit / MMA centers & mainstream health clubs, so we too have acquired a set of 6. This brief review will address the most basic application of chains being used as PLC’s, we will not address any advanced applications that they afford.
Power training is a vital component of strength training & power moves will drive the force & velocity curve up, so to achieve this you need to work with increasing loads at speed on the positive (concentric) phase of the movement, yet maintain a controlled negative (eccentric) phase in order to optimize muscle activation.
So first understand strength curves. This is a scientific model that measures how much force can be sustained through specific limbs about a joint (natural center of rotation) through a range of angles over a range of motion. You then break this strength curve into an ascending or a descending strength curve.
Ascending Strength Curve Movement: would be any exercise creating force through extension, so squatting, dead lifting, military & overhead press & bench pressing or triceps press.
You are all powerful when the moving limbs are extended straight & the joint about which limbs are working reach near on 180 degrees. You are weakest when the limbs are rotated about a joint at 45 or less degrees & so you are at the bottom of the range of the movement.
Descending Strength Curve Movement: would be any exercise where the force is created through flexion, so biceps curl, lateral raise, upright row, weighted chin-ups. These exercises are benefitted differently by chains but affected none the less.
These two types of strength curves are then further subjected to the same premise of the muscle’s strength curve being most powerful when the muscle is at its shortest & so completely contracted & at its weakest when the muscle is at its longest & so elongated out as it were.
To take matters further & analyze muscle tension Vs muscle strength & fibers of actin & myosin connecting etc would start to bore you all. Just remember that an ascending strength curve (training the bottom range of motion) limits your strength potential in the top ranges of motion.
Achieving an overload in the top half of the motion while still overloading the bottom half would require you to use varying resistance throughout the full range of motion for optimal benefit. So to achieve this on the Olympic bar we use chains.
Chains enable a varying load against gravity throughout a complete range of motion.
Thus in all ascending exercises the load increases as does your strength curve & reduces as that same curve lessens as the links fall to the floor thus lowering the weight in the negative phase.
This has a two-fold benefit of encouraging deeper, more correct technique; as in squatting (due to lighter loads at the weakest point in the movement) & achieving heavier loads when your strength curve increases & is able to work with that heavier load / greater resistance towards the top of the ascent.
In summary when training with an increasing resistance through a increasing strength curve chains ensure that you are able to break through weight plateaus while simultaneously helping to ensure good technique during the weaker points in the range of motion & so protecting muscle, ligaments, tendons & joints when limbs are worked through acute angles & all often at their most vulnerable.
Remember that chains are most effective when exercising on an ascending strength curve as explained earlier. So, exercises that demand a large amount of force to be produced during extension of the movement suits chains best.
Applying chains to exercises that have a descending strength curve have benefits too in that instability to your bar is increased & there are other benefits but they are an entirely different subject from this basic topic.
Applying chains to exercises that fit into the descending strength curve category wouldn’t naturally provide the same benefits as described here, ditto we won’t complicate matters by considering double / quadruple looped chains Versus linearly hung chains.
Training with chains also improves the speed of the bar during certain moves executed in specific techniques & we know that strength combined with speed = power. Research into PLC (looped & hung linearly) shows potential improvement in shoulder, core, hip & back stability in appropriate exercises too.
So PLC training increases your total lifting power through the additional resistance in the concentric phase & improves your strength & can increase speed throughout the entire range of motion of any lift that fits into the ascending strength curve.