Ever wonder why people deadlift with chains? What does it change?
In 2011, 58% of powerlifters and 38% of strongman athletes reported using chains. The idea behind using chains is that as you lift the bar higher off the ground, the more chains get lifted, and the heavier the bar becomes. Many use chains if a person’s bottom position is limiting, but they want to train their top ROM for the day. Benefits and uses have been largely anecdotal.
Nijem et al (2016) looked at EMG, rate of force development (RFD), and ground reaction force (GRF) of quads, glutes, and back extensors. One group performed deadlifts at 85% 1-RM without chains and another group used chains contributing to 20% of their 85% 1-RM at top position. There was less GRF produced using chains since the average weight was lower. RFD was the same. The chains group showed less EMG of glute max and no significant change in vastus lateralis activation. Regardless of position, back extensor (erector spinae) EMG was highest at the bottom in both groups due to the moment arm.
This study shows that chains may not be optimal for strength or power training compared to traditional loading due to decreased GRF with no difference in RFD and EMGs. It may be used for variety or deloading to avoid burnouts. Future studies can experiment with chain % contribution to the overall weight and implementation of chains in rehab for acute low back strains.
Nijem et al.. (2016). Electromyographic and Force Plate Analysis of the Deadlift Performed With and Without Chains. J of Strength Cond Research. 30(5).
Swinton et al. (2011). Kinematic and kinetic analysis of maximal velocity deadlifts performed with and without the inclusion of chain resistance. J Strength Cond Research. 25(3)
Winwood et al (2011). The strength and Conditioning practices of Strongman Competitors. The J of Strength and Cond Research. 25(11)