Variable resistance training: Adding a link to the chain!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 09:00

Strength training has been a staple part of any athlete’s training program for years and there are many variations that can be applied to standard strength training scenarios to capitalize on building strength. Where strength training can sometimes be seen as one dimensional, efforts to expand on this training to a multidimensional development of strength, power and speed have instigated the expansion of different training methods based upon this core value of building strength. One variation that focuses on building strength, power and speed is variable resistance training (VRT).

What is variable resistance training?

Strength training is based upon the maximum force developed by a muscle or group of muscles to overcome resistance. This resistance usually takes the form of constant resistance when training athletes. This means that the amount of resistance remains at a consistent level throughout the movement performed, for example lifting weights. During the weight lifting exercise, there is a point where the resistance on the muscle is at its greatest, but consequently there are moments throughout the movement when there is little to no resistance to the muscle. The concept of variable resistance training, sometimes referred to as accommodating resistance, comes into play by increasing the resistance at points during the movement when the muscle is capable of producing greater force. In simple terms, the theory is that resistance should be increased when the muscle is strongest and decrease when the muscle is weaker. The use of chains in combination with weight training equipment is one of example of variable resistance training that is used to help build explosive power.

How does training with chains work?

Chain training works:

  • by matching the resistance curve of an exercise with the strength curve of a muscle,
  • by prolonging the time under tension of an exercise, and
  • by increasing the intensity of an exercise.

In the context of equipment, chain training is a fairly straightforward method of training and is achieved by attaching hanging chains near the ends of the weight equipment. The length of the chains is dependent upon a number of factors including: the height of the athlete, the exercise being performed, if the chains are looped or hung straight, and other considerations. In order to achieve the full range of weight transition and to maintain safety, the chains should still touch the floor at the full extension of the range of motion. If the chains leave the floor there can be safety issues from swinging momentum and free swinging equipment. The premise of chain training is that as the range of motion builds, the amount of chain being supported will increase, thereby increasing the amount of resistance to the movement until it is maxed out at the top end of the movement. Conversely as the range of motion is reversed, the amount of chain being supported will decrease as will the resistance to the movement. The athlete will however be experiencing variable resistance throughout the full range of motion. The exercise works because lifting chains increases the amount of weight lifted during certain portions of an exercise, meaning the intensity is higher.

One caution to keep in mind with variable resistance training is that those muscles that are responsible for deceleration may not be trained to the same extent. This is why variable resistance training should be integrated as a part of a full strength training program to create balance. And as with any training variation you should consult with a professional to make sure you are performing the exercise correctly both in equipment, set up and technique. Overall, the science seems to support the benefits of this type of training in order to see improvements in strength, speed and power.


(2017). Variable Resistance Exercise.

Chain-Resistance Training. (2016). Science for Sport.

Congalton, B. (2013) Benefits of Lifting Chains. Elite FTS.

Goss, K. (2010). Lifting Chains Revisited. Bigger Stronger Faster: 40-42.