Squat with Chains

Exercise Name:
Name: Squat with Chains
Also Called: Chain Squat
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Quadriceps
Secondary: Calves, Glutes, Hamstrings, Hip Adductors, Spinal Erectors
Function: Strength, Explosiveness
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Push
Main: Barbell, Chains
Ancillary: Power rack
Optional: Knee Wraps, Weight Lifting Belt
Experience: Advanced
Rep Range: 1-5
Training Tempo: 2 – 0 – X – 0
Related Exercises:
Variations: Sumo Squat with Chains
Alternatives: Band Squat, Reverse Band Squat

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Attach chains on barbell; see squatting with chains tips (#1, 2 & 3) on how to do this properly.
  • Pull shoulder blades together and position bar on upper trapezius; not against spine.
  • Unrack bar and space feet hip width apart.
  • Point toes out (approx. 30-45° outward).
  • Hold chest up and keep head looking forward throughout motion.
  • Maintain a slight lower back arch with thoracic spine extended (i.e. upper torso elongated).

2. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex hips and knees to squat down until top of thighs are at least parallel to floor.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause at the bottom of the range of motion.

4. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend hips and knees to squat up until standing upright with knees and hips locked.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the chain squat motion for desired number of reps.
  • Heavy weights for lower reps of 1-5 are most effective.

Common Squatting with Chains Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Uneven chain length/weight Make sure the lengths and/or weights of the chains are the same on the left side, as they are on the right side; and check that the chains are secured the same distance from the end of the bar on both sides.
Leaning torso forward Keep your torso as close to vertical as is possible for the duration of the set. Flex your abs extra hard. Lastly, turn your hips and knees out to allow your torso to remain upright as you squat to the lowest point in the rep.
Rounding lower back Keep your core tight throughout the lift and maintain an arch in your lower back. Don’t relax at the bottom of the rep. If all else fails, simply use lighter weight.
Knees caving in Rotate knees and hips out so that your thighs point in the same direction as your feet when your legs are bent. Flex your outer thighs to actively push your knees out, to maintain this position.

Squatting with Chains Tips

  1. Deload as much of the large chain onto the floor as possible. Whether or not you can get all of large chain length onto the floor at the bottom of the rep, depends on your range of motion and the length of the large chains.
  2. Chains should barely touch, or be just above, the floor, in the starting position. This way, you maximize the amount of chain that will be piled onto the floor…
    • Unless you want the load to start becoming lighter, say, halfway through the range of motion (instead of immediately). This is useful if your sticking point on squats is in the middle of the range of motion.
  3. Attach chains between plates to prevent them from moving around or sliding off the barbell.
  4. Drop butt/hips straight down and keep torso as upright as you can. (This assumes you’re doing the exercise as described above, in the high bar squat position).
  5. Try the low bar squat position. The instructions above describe the technique as performed with a high bar position. However, the squat with chains can be done in the low bar position; indeed, it should be done this way if you’re a powerlifter. Implement the following modifications:
    • Place bar lower on your back; still on the traps, but supported by the rear deltoids.
    • Use a shoulder width or slightly wider stance; point toes only slightly out.
    • Sit back as you squat down, by pushing your hips back as you begin squatting down.
    • The angle of your back will lower as you squat down, to slightly above 45° at the bottom of the rep.
  6. Keep your whole body tense while flexing your quads, glutes, and hams with focused intensity.
  7. Breathe using the Valsalva maneuver. You’ll lift heavier and insulate your lower back from potential injury. A win-win.
  8. Don’t buy a chain setup that uses chain collars. This type of chain system is relatively expensive, and provides limited flexibility for adjusting the length of the “connecting” chain (i.e. the chain between the bar and the large chains).
  9. Buy chains from Elite FTS. These are the best/most versatile type of chain setup. Plus, they’re high quality and priced competitively.
  10. A 2006 study shines some light on the optimal load to use. According to the findings, the optimal total load (including both chains and plates) is around 85% of your one rep max. Of that, 80% should be non-chain weight (20% chain weight). Note that this study was on squat training using band resistance (see band squats, reverse band squats); even so, the concept is the same, so the insights are applicable.
  11. Below are recommendations for what chain weight to start with, for varying strength levels. This is based on the findings from the above study, as well as from anecdotal advice from experienced lifters.
    Squat strength
    w/o chains (lbs.)
    Starting chain
    weight (lbs.)
    200-400 50-60
    401-500 60-70
    501-600 70-80
    601-700 80-100
    701-800 100-120
    801+ 120+

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The squat with chains is best for advanced weight trainees, intermediate powerlifters or athletes who want improve explosiveness out of the hole (i.e. out of the bottom of the rep), as well as general squat strength.

Otherwise, (non-powerlifter/non-athlete) beginners and intermediates should stick to the traditional barbell squat.

You may need to avoid squatting with chains if you have lower back problems.

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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