Take a look around the gym. It’s rare to bump into a lifter who’s athletic, strong, explosive, and mobile.
But when you do?
Well, you know it.
These are the “so-called weight room freaks.”
Everything they do in the gym looks easy. Heavy deadlifts? No problemo. Cossack squats? Mega dittos. Yep, they have the mobility of gymnasts. Biceps curls? I mean…Yes. Look at big, veiny, triumphant biceps.
Oh, and power cleans, jumps, and explosive movements? Well, they look as quick as a cat and as smooth as ex-lax (as my client Wyre would say.) Still, these folks are rare. But rare and “impossible” are two different animals. We should all strive to put our best foot forward.
And while a good number of my clients come to me with the goal of “looking good naked,” the majority of ladies and gents’ I train are after the total package: A healthy body that look performs like an athlete, looks good naked and provides them with the energy and confidenceto crush any task in front of them.
But what if you’re not a competitive athlete?
Cool. Most of my clients aren’t either. But the principles of power will help you lose fat, build more muscle, have more energy, and maintain your athleticism.
Most of my clients aren’t either. But the principles of power will help you lose fat, build more muscle, have more energy, and maintain your athleticism.
But the principles of power will help you lose fat, build more muscle, have more energy, and maintain your athleticism.
Why Add Power Training To Your Workouts
Get stronger and more athletic. By learning to generate strength faster, you’ll improve your ability to perform athletic movements. This could mean breaking a plateau on a squat, regaining your first step on the basketball court, or having the “fast twitch” make-up to catch yourself before falling on the ice.
Lose body fat. Explosive exercises help you lose fat in two ways. First, explosive movements take an all out, intense focus that helps you burn through stored glucose.
Second, you probably haven’t added done these movements for a while and with learning any new skill, your body and brain are working overtime to figure out the movement. When you’re inefficient with a movement it becomes more metabolically demanding. This is the same reason running works like a charm for the first few weeks if you haven’t done it in a while…then stops working. In other words, doing the things you suck at can be a valuable weapon in your fat loss arsenal.
Open the door for new muscle growth. I’ve covered this topic here and here, so without diving too far down the rabbit hole, you need to know this: The more muscle fibers you activate, the more muscle fibers you can fatigue with muscle building methods to gain size. Increasing muscle fiber activation opens the door to train untapped muscle fibers for explosive growth.
Power: The Missing Piece to Building your High-Performance Body
Plenty of lifters are strong. But there’s more to life than big deadlift, bench, or squat numbers. If you want to transfer your “beast mode” from the gym to the hardwood or playing field, strength isn’t enough. You need to generate strength fast in a manner that mimics the demands of your chosen activity, whether it’s pickup basketball or beer league softball.
Power = Strength X Speed, or the ability to generate strength fast.
How to Increase Muscular Power
You need to incorporate strength and speed to create power. This stems from the work of Harvard physiology professor, Dr. Elwood Henneman, and the Size Principle research he released in 1965. Dr. Henneman looked at the function of motor neurons. Motor neurons are nerve cells located in your spinal cord which relay signals from your brain to control organs, muscles, and glands.
Dr. Henneman found the greater the nerve impulse to a motor neuron, the greater your muscle’s ability to generate strong or explosive moment.
What he found was there are two ways to increase motor unit recruitment (which helps you generate more strength and power in the gym):
(1) Lift heavier weights. You probably already do this. (2) Lift lighter weights (or move your body) faster. You need more of this.
Above all, you need to get strong first. This encompasses both absolute strength and relative strength.
Absolute Strength: Being able to lift big weights or big resistance.Examples: 1-Rm Squat, pushing a car.
Relative Strength: Being strong for your size, moving your body through space. Examples: Sprint, chin-up, jump and move on the beach.
Both absolute and relative strength are important. But, for power, you need to generate usable strength fast, both against resistance and with your body.
Train and become explosive. This comes from moving lighter weights (or your body) with as much explosive intent as you can. So, what’s the missing ingredient in your training? If I had to guess, it would be lighter, more explosive movement.
Like lifting heavy, lifting lighter weights with maximum explosive intent places a similar “demand” on the nervous system to recruit muscle fibers with less stress.
Benefits of Lifting Lighter Weights
Greater Muscle fiber recruitment. Greater muscle fiber recruitment increases the number of muscle fibers stimulated in a workout.This opens the door for fatiguing more muscle fibers if hypertrophy is the goal.
Less Central Nervous System (CNS) Stress. Anyone who’s knocked out a max squat can tell you you’re body feels stale and wrecked for a few days after the max. Heavy lifting coupled with our on-demand lifestyles leaves most lifters a mess. We’re overstressed, under-rested cortisol ridden messes the way it is. Improve sleep quality, meditate, ditch the LCD screen, and chill out more. Drop the frequency of maximal lifting for explosive, lighter lifting.
Less Joint Stress. I’m a meathead at heart and love hoisting big weights. Still, overzealous near maximal lifting is a joint killer. Sore damaged joints can crush training consistency and long-term progress. Lighter, more explosive lifting can decrease this stress while helping preserve strength and CNS efficiency.
Increased Training Frequency. Training frequency is important for motor learning, building strength, and building muscle. The more often you can train with adequate recovery, the better your results. Lifting lighter with explosive intent decreases stress and allows lifters to hit the iron more often.
With these benefits in mind, here’s how you can build more power and a leaner, more athletic body.
Submaximal Weight Training
One popular variety of explosive sub-maximal explosive training was coined the dynamic effort method by Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons.
Whether you’re a powerlifter or not, your takeaway is this: generate maximum bar speed on your lifts to increase the efficiency of your CNS to bust through frustrating strength plateaus and improve muscle fiber recruitment.
Instead of lifting slow and controlled on your squat, go a bit lighter and be as explosive as you can on the way “up.”
Apply this principle to any compound lift and you’ll notice a big difference.
Add lighter Olympic lifting movements like a clean, snatch, high pull, or push press. Don’t grind the lifts, stay light and explosive.
Don’t make it too complicated. Instead of only lifting heavy add in lighter, explosive work 1-2x per week to reap any of the same benefits while adding more athleticism and less joint stress. Lightly loaded or bodyweight exercises are the best way to build pain-free power.
These exercises are the most similar to movements you would perform in a sport, like a jump in basketball and a box jump in the gym.
The reason these work so well? Lighter and more explosive movements help you recruit more muscle fiber.
Improved Intramuscular and Intermuscular Coordination
<<Science nerd-speak alert>> Feel free to skip this section. The main point is lighter, more explosive movements help you recruit more muscle fibers. Doing a movement that is biomechanically similar to a sports movement, like a squat and a jump, refines how “smooth” your movement is.
But you’re still reading, aren’t you, you beautiful nerd? Intramuscular coordination is the secret sauce separating smooth, explosive athletes from rigid, uncoordinated ones. Intramuscular coordination is the coordinated firing of motor units within a single movement.
There are three main components when looking at when looking at improved intramuscular coordination:
Rate Coding: The capacity to increase firing rate (motor unit discharge rate) in order to express more strength.
Recruitment: Recruiting more motor units when performing a muscular action.
Synchronization: The ability of muscle units to contract together with minimal delay.
Through using multiple loads across the force-velocity curve we’re able to improve intramuscular coordination. In time, this teaches the nervous system to recruit fewer motor units for the same relative intensity.
More motor units are available for activation for higher intensity exercise. This translates into more weight on the bar (more strength), a faster sprinting speed (improved athleticism), or the ability to jump and land without blowing your knee, and run up court after the 20 something’s at your gym (improved athleticism).
How To Improve Your Power Assuming you have a solid foundation of strength….
Continue training with heavy, multi-joint exercises and explosive intent on reach rep. This maintains your strength foundation and in effect, gives you a higher “ceiling” to generate power.
When warming up, accelerate every rep to the best of your ability to fire up your CNS, recruit more muscle fibers, and in time, become more efficient.
Incorporate lighter, explosive movement BEFORE your main lift for the day to fire up your CNS for better performance. Ideally, you’ll work an explosive movement pattern similar to your main lift for the day. Squats and jumps are a great pair. Jumps and bench presses?
Not so much.
I recommend one of the following twice per week for three sets of five reps for 60-90 seconds rest.
Before you hit a shoulder press/train upper body try these exercises.
Overhead Medicine Ball Slam
Medicine Ball Push Press
Before you squat, deadlift, or train your lower body try these exercises.
Squat Jump Squat
Few people are blessed with the genetics to be strong, lean, and powerful. Even fewer know had to add explosive training to their repertoire for building a show and go high-performance body.
Focus on moving with explosive intent. You’ll generate pain-free power and boost your athleticism. You’ll build a strong, lean, and athletic body.
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