By Shaun Stafford.
Photos by: Toby Harrison photography
The fitness industry is always looking for the next big thing, with new ideas and innovations being introduced at every health and fitness expo. Some of these things stick around, such as the Swiss-ball or Bosu-ball, whereas others get lost along the way and are forever confined to the graveyard slots on TV shopping networks (does anyone still own a body-blade?!?).
One of the latest trends that I hope will stick around is the introduction of ‘Modified Strongman Training’ especially for fat loss and conditioning, and with this hard-core style of circuits comes some interesting ideas and techniques.
One such idea is the introduction of chains as resistance, and in particular when applied to the simple barbell squat. Although most squatting is performed using a simple barbell and weight arrangement, the new variation involves adding heavy chains to either end.
The chain is attached to the end of the barbell, and stretches down with some portion of it on the floor. As the squatter descends, more of the chain rests on the floor, decreasing the overall load. As the squatter ascends, less of the chain is on the floor, increasing the overall load. This technique makes the resistance greater, as you reach the stages of the lift where you are mechanically stronger, and reduces it the closer you get to ‘The Hole’, or bottom portion of the lift.
This mechanical advantage arises from the fact that the length of the quadriceps is shortened, allowing more opportunity for cross-bridge contractile activity; at the bottom of the squat, when the quadriceps muscles are lengthened, there is less cross-bridge activation and the legs are at a mechanical disadvantage. So, although the external resistance is constant (the barbell), the force produced by the muscles isn’t due to these mechanical changes.
This difference in ability to produce force is often referred to as ‘The Strength Curve’, and can be an important variable that is often overlooked in training. The theory behind the use of chains is that it overcomes the mechanical changes and produces a constant force throughout the movement, allowing you to develop more power throughout a full range!
So next time you are looking to mix up your leg training, try digging out some heavy chains from the hardware store, and unshackle your pins for a workout they’ll thank you for… once the DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) has worn off!