10/20/Life: How to Use Bands and Chains

By: Brian Carroll

“Everything works, but nothing works forever. Everything’s just another tool for your toolbox.”

I hate this f*****g expression, but not because it’s not true. I hate it because it’s overused by weak people who have no idea what they’re talking about. The reality of the situation, however, is that just about anything can work for you if you give it time. Don’t shrug things off because you don’t know how to do them, or because they sound hard. Instead, just keep finding your own damn way.

This is precisely what I’m trying to hammer home with 10/20/Life. I’m not trying to create some kind of dogma where you have to do this, or you have to do that. That’s stupid. I’m simply trying to give you a path to get to your destination. I’m neither going to carry you, nor let you lean on me. Instead, I’m going to teach to blaze your own trail with all the tools available to you.

As always, there are no bad exercises or additions to your program. Everything always has to be considered in the context of what you’re doing, your injury history, and your goals. With certain things, bad timing is the biggest issue, and that’s what I’m trying to get across here. Like I keep saying, don’t blindly do shit because the “cool kids” are doing it. Experiment with what I’m about to tell you, and learn as you go. Experience is always the best teacher.

Bells And Whistles

A great example of this is the use of accommodating resistances in your training, i.e., bands and chains. Now, I’m not a physicist, and I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a Tendo unit to measure the speed of your lifts. I don’t have one, and I don’t want to overcomplicate things for you, either. You don’t need all kinds of crazy shit and expensive feedback equipment to get the most out of this style of training, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In 10/20/Life, I talk a lot about how I like reverse bands and chains (use chains here only if you can’t set up bands) to help overload sets and build speed and power through a full range of motion. This can help you blast through the transition and sticking points of your lifts, and it can also get you ready for heavier weights you can’t yet handle on your own.

This is the way I most often use bands and chains, and I describe this in detail in the book. In this article, however, I’m going to address band resistance, as opposed to the band assistance you get from doing reverse band movements. You can also use chains here to add resistance—and I advocate using both when it’s time to try something new to build your speed and lockout power.

Depending on your training circumstances, setting up bands can be a pain in the ass. I suggest looping them under the supports of a squat rack or bench—and you can stand on them, with the bands looped around the bar, when you deadlift. If this turns out to be impossible, just invest in a set of chains and hang them from the bar with the correct setup—with enough loading chain to make sure you’re starting with no added weight at the bottom.

Using Band Resistance And Chain Weight

Your first move here should be to work on your lockout power with accommodating resistances. This is a very simple and effective way of teaching yourself to get faster. Whether you’re doing this with partial or full-range movements, you’ll learn to power through your sticking points and lock your lifts out with authority.

Squatting with band resistance will help your speed out of the hole and through transition. Benching with bands will help you blast through the triceps transition, and deadlifting with bands will help your speed off the floor. The faster you can move through the band tension, the easier the weight will feel.

The key to using bands and chains effectively is to work them in only on occasion. Bands will tax your joints and beat the hell out of your body if you’re not careful, so you can’t use them all the time. You’re essentially adding pressure to your joints and tendons with every lift, and that’s not something your body can tolerate on a regular basis.

The other thing you need to do is think of training like a world class steak, and I give this same analogy in the book. When your $100 porterhouse arrives at the table, what do you do? Do you taste it? Or do you insult the chef by first adding salt, pepper, A1 sauce, and ketchup? The point here is that you don’t want to ruin a solid program that you paid a lot for or put a lot of time into by adding fifty variables to it. Use accommodating resistances only when you need to.

One more important point involves when you should experiment. Whether you’re a powerlifter or not, 10/20/Life is broken down into offseason and pre-contest phases. Even if you’re not a powerlifter, you should still train like this, because you need an offseason to get healthy, do different things, and attack your weak points. Save your band and chain experimentation for your offseason cycles.

Tips And Tricks

If you want some really good core work, let your chains dangle off the ground at the top of your lifts. This will really work your stability as the chains sway and try to throw you off. Bands, in contrast, anchor you down to the floor or the bench, and this can really work against you. Using them for more than two weeks in a row can throw off your grooves and kill your stability.

In the offseason, if you’re dead set on doing a band cycle, consider doing three mini-cycles. For the first two weeks, use bands, then deload. Then do two weeks of chains, followed by a deload, then two more weeks of bands. You can structure this any way you want, but remember to deload every third week and follow the RPE scale as laid out in 10/20/Life.

Also, play with your bar weights and band tension and see what works for you. There’s no cookie-cutter percentage system that will get everyone stronger and faster, and this process definitely takes some trial and error.

Some More Things To Think About

My friend and training partner Clint Smith often uses the term “stale” to describe the feeling he gets after using straight weight—lifting without accommodating resistances—for a while. Being stale means you’re not snappy, you’re beaten up, slow, and not feeling fresh or energized in the gym. It’s essentially the feeling you have when your programming is almost at the point of making you go backwards.

When you’re feeling stale, you don’t have to program hop. All you need to do is change a few things. Your peaking phases are not the time to experiment, so stick with reverse bands as outlined in the book—but, as discussed, you can and should throw in some band resistance in your offseason cycles.

If you’re training for a powerlifting meet, I would almost never advocate using band tension for overloading purposes leading into the meet—especially in the last weight weeks of your training cycle. You need to give yourself plenty of time before meets with free weight in order to adjust your groove and bar path. As I said earlier, bands can play havoc on both your stability and your groove.

Additionally, don’t gauge strength on band tension, because it can lie to you. The only true indicator is real steel—free weight—on the platform or in the gym. If you say, “I squatted 1500 with bands,” you’re full of shit.

Band Tension vs. Bar Weight

As I alluded to earlier, I don’t really have a rule of thumb for this. Again, you need to try different things and experiment. If you’re focused on explosive work, you’ll be using a lighter bar weight and less tension in an effort to move the bar as fast as possible.

Remember, however, that this is still a maximum effort lift, even with the lightened load. You’re moving light weight as fast as possible, and you’re really taxing your body and making it work hard. If explosive strength is your goal, err on the side of using a lighter band with 35-50 percent of your max in bar weight. For your lockout, you can switch this up and get creative. Again, experiment until you find what works for you—and don’t listen to cookie-cutter recommendations here.

Everyone is different, so stay out of the herd and don’t be one of the zombies.

Get The 10/20/Life Ebook HERE!

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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
Brian Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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