How to Use Metal Chains to Build Stronger, Quicker Lifts

Man doing barbell bench press with chains
James Michelfelder

Look around the weight lifting area at the gym and you might find a heap of metal chains. They’re a tool typically used by power lifters, but chains are a great way for anyone to break through a plateau on the main lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift.



Picture a deadlift, with a chain draped over the middle of the barbell, between the weight plates. At the beginning part of the lift (when you’re first raising the barbell off the ground), most of the chain is resting on the floor. But as you pull the bar up, the chain comes up too, continuously adding to the pounds being lifted.

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This is important because, for many people, the most challenging point in a lift is the beginning, when you’re first trying to get the weight moving—something that’s especially true when working on a one-rep max. With a chain, you’re able to get the bar going at the outset, then lock out a heavier weight at the top.

The other advantage is that a chain creates instability. Unlike plates, which weigh down a barbell with absolute symmetry, a chain is impossible to get perfectly balanced. This forces other muscle groups to engage and fire, particularly the core and even smaller muscles in the ankles and calves.

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For deadlifts, one chain goes on the middle of the bar; for bench presses and squats, a chain goes on each end. As with any new tool, start light. Aim for the chains to be 10 and 15 percent of the total weight—barbell and weight plates included. The weight of the chains probably won’t be labeled, but you can approximate or use the gym scale.

Aim to work on your main lifts once a week; employ chains as part of your training for one week out of the month, treating them as an accessory tool.

There’s another benefit not to overlook: They look pretty badass.

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