How And Why Use Chains Attached To a Barbell?

Have you ever wondered why weightlifters sometimes attach chains to their barbells? It’s not just about the aesthetic – these seemingly badass chains actually have a purpose beyond looks. In this article, we’ll get into the theory behind incorporating chains into your lifting routine and how you can use them.

Using chains in weightlifting routines optimizes muscle growth and strength gains by altering the resistance curve during lifts. While chains are effective for compound movements, such as squats and bench presses, they are not necessary or suitable for beginners.

In the rest of the article, we’ll into the benefits of using chains to change the strength curve, how you can actually attach the chains, how heavy they should be, and what you should avoid.

Benefits of Using Chains with a Barbell

Let’s delve into why chains are occasionally incorporated into weightlifting routines and how they might align with your fitness goals.

Chains on a bar come into play after strength plateaus, and for optimizing muscle growth and strength gains by changing the strength curve. For beginners, stick to simple linear progressions, mastering form before adding complexities like chains.

  • Adding chains to a barbell changes the resistance curve
  • This can optimize the training impulse past weak points.

Most barbell lifts involve moving the barbell against the force of gravity. This constant battle against gravity during each repetition is what facilitates muscle and strength development.

When you load a specific weight onto the barbell, the gravitational pull on the barbell remains constant whether it’s resting on the floor or raised above your head. However, your body isn’t equally strong everywhere during the range of motion of a given lift.

Certain parts of a lift can feel considerably more challenging than others. Take the bench press as an example. For many individuals, lifting the bar off the chest is the hardest, for some it’s the lockout.

Although the barbell’s actual weight remains unchanged in this position, your body encounters a mechanical disadvantage, leading to reduced force exertion on the barbell and limited movement. Muscle imbalances might also contribute to these sticking points.

You’re limited by the weakest part of the lift. That means beyond the sticking point, your muscles aren’t challenged as much as they could be.

Enter chains. Chains provide the means to make a lift heavier beyond the bottom of the lift, which is the sticking point for most people. When you’re at the bottom of the lift, more of the chain rests on the floor and the resistance is less. As you come up, more of the chain is lifted off the floor, increasing the resistance.

Maybe you can bench press 100 kg. You can get that much off your chest, but after that, it’s easier. That means after the sticking point, you’re not getting the optimal training impulse. Now you add a chain so the bar still weighs 100 kg at the bottom. But when getting up, the bar gets heavier the more links you lift off the floor. Now you can get past the bottom but the muscles are also optimally challenged after that.

In essence, chains enable you to optimize muscle and strength development post-sticking point. Without chains, you might not fully harness your muscles’ potential, making these attachments a valuable tool in your training arsenal.

How To Attach Chains To A Barbell

Wondering how chains are hooked up to a barbell? There are a few different ways to link the two together:

  1. Collars with a Chain Hook:
    • There are special collars with a loop or hook to attach chains.
    • A carabiner attaches to both the loop on the collar and a chainlink.
    • This is the best and most secure way to attach chains.
  2. Wrap and Secure:
    • Loop the chain around the barbell multiple times without any specialized gear.
    • While no extra equipment is needed, there’s a slight risk of slipping.
    • Be cautious as this method might cause damage to the barbell’s sleeve.
    • You have to use a longer chain. More of the weight has to be wrapped around the sleeve so compensate for that with weight plates..
  3. Dynamic Chain Duo:
    • Wrap a small chain tightly around the sleeve.
    • Attach a carabiner to the small chain and then to a bigger chain that hangs down.
    • Thin chains are easier and better to wrap around barbell sleeves.

Pros and Considerations:

  • Safety and Style: Collars provide a safer link for both you and your equipment, while the wrapping method boasts a cool aesthetic without any additional gear.
  • Chain Sizes: For hefty chains with large links, the collar method might not be feasible due to carabiner limitations. However, this is typically reserved for lifting extreme weights.
  • Grip and Protection: A rubber mat between the chain and the collar prevents scratches on the barbell and offers extra grip to deter quick sliding.

When To Use Chains on A Barbell?

Compound Movements

Utilizing chains on a barbell is particularly effective when performing compound movements, which involve multiple joints and muscle groups.

Compound exercises such as squats, bench press, and deadlifts can benefit greatly from the dynamic resistance provided by chains. These movements inherently challenge various parts of the range of motion, making chains a strategic addition.

Highly dynamic movements like Olympic lifts, chains are not good because they will swing around.

On isolation exercises, chains are like bringing a bomb to get rid of a mosquito. Resistance bands are a much better tool for changing the strength curve on isolation exercises.

When Necessary

Incorporate chains on a barbell when you encounter specific training needs or limitations. If you’re aiming to address weak points or sticking points in a particular lift, chains can help overcome those challenges.

Chains offer a way to modify the resistance distribution through different phases of the movement. The further you lift the bar from the floor, the heavier it becomes.

By attaching chains strategically, you can provide accommodating resistance that matches the strength curve of your body. This helps ensure you’re challenging your muscles optimally throughout the entire lift, promoting balanced development and potentially breaking through training plateaus.

Remember, while chains can be a valuable tool, their usage should align with your training goals and experience level.

Incorporate them when you seek to enhance specific aspects of your compound movements or address particular training challenges. Always prioritize safety and proper form when experimenting with new training techniques.

How Heavy Should a Chain Be To Train With?

Picking the appropriate chain weight depends on your personal strength levels. Following T-Nation’s guidance can lend some direction:

  • For Squats under 300 Pounds:
    • Aim for 10 to 15 pounds of chain per side.
  • Squatting 300 to 500 Pounds:
    • Experiment within the range of 20 to 30 pounds of chain per side.
  • Tackling Over 500 Pounds Squats:
    • Push boundaries with around 40 pounds (or more) of chain per side.

Note that these recommendations are squat-specific. You’ll have different strengths for different exercises but they give you an idea of what to shoot for.

Keep in mind that chain training is better suited for those beyond the beginner stage. If you’re new to the game, focus on mastering form and basics before venturing into chain territory.

An initial rule of thumb is to add about 5% of the total bar weight on each side of total chain weight. Getting exactly 5% can be a bit difficult, just take it as a number to shoot for.

Gradually, as your strength and weight increase, you can up the chain weight percentage relative to the bar. For advanced lifters, around 8% per side is feasible. Remember, this is per side, so you’re adding 16% of the total weight at the lift’s peak.

Safety and Precautions

While knowing the benefits are great, you should keep safety in mind when using chains on your barbell.

  • Secure Attachment: Ensure that the chains are securely and evenly attached to the barbell. Use appropriate collars or clips to prevent the chains from sliding off during your lifts. If you’re not using collars, make sure the chains are secure.
  • Proper Form: Maintain proper form and technique throughout your lifts. Adding chains can alter the weight distribution and movement pattern, so ensure that your form accommodates these changes.
  • Gradual Progression: When using chains for the first time, start with lighter chains to become familiar with the altered movement pattern. Gradually increase the weight of the chains as you gain experience and confidence.
  • Clear Space: Ensure that there’s ample space around you while using chains. The additional length of chains can affect your movement, so make sure you have a safe area to perform your lifts. Also make sure your floor is protected. Metal chains can leave marks on wood, tile or concrete floors.
  • Avoid Swinging: Chains can cause the barbell to swing or sway more than usual. Be cautious of this movement and ensure that the swinging doesn’t lead to instability or loss of control.
  • Warm-Up: Warm up adequately before incorporating chains into your workout. The dynamic resistance provided by chains can place extra stress on your muscles, so proper warm-up is essential.
  • Know Your Limits: Understand your strength and capabilities. Don’t attempt lifts that are beyond your current level of experience or strength, especially when using chains that add a dynamic element to the movement.
  • Slow and Controlled: Lift the barbell with chains in a slow and controlled manner. Avoid sudden jerking or fast movements that could lead to loss of balance or control.
  • Focus on Technique: As you lift the barbell with chains, focus on maintaining proper technique and alignment. Poor form can increase the risk of injury, especially when using added resistance.

Alternative To Chains

Yeah, attaching chains to a barbell looks badass but are there any other options? 

  • Resistance bands are a great alternative to chains.
  • These bands offer similar benefits as chains while packing additional advantages.
  • Chains aim to amplify total weight as the bar rises; resistance bands do the same and more.
  • Notably, resistance bands possess the intriguing ability to adjust the lift’s initial phase to be lighter.
  • The Downside of resistance bands is they need an attachment point where chains don’t.

Resistance bands are actually a really good alternative to using chains. Resistance bands can do exactly the same as a chain and actually more.

The point of chains is that the total weight gets higher, the higher you lift the bar. Resistance bands do the same thing. But can also do the opposite. You can use resistance bands to make the first part of the lift lighter. 

The only real difference between chains and resistance bands is that you have to attach resistance bands to something for them to work because they barely weigh anything by themselves. Most power racks have band pegs which can be used exactly for this purpose. 

Resistance bands are also cheaper, smaller and quieter than chains which makes them a much better option for the vast majority of people. You also don’t need any special equipment, just wrap the bands around the barbell sleeve and the band peg. 


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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