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Power

My 5 All-Time Favorite “Power” Moves

Last night I had the fortunate opportunity to see Edge of Tomorrow in theater. Safe to say I’m confused. The whole thing is Inception-esque, which I guess makes sense since the director didn’t even film the movie with a finished script. Just now did I find any plausible explanation for the movies ending.

As a side note, I’m not usually a big Tom Cruise fan (aside from his glamorous role in Tropic Thunder), but I didn’t think he was terrible in this one. Definitely better than Oblivion, although it was eerily similar.

Better as Les Grossman than an action hero.

This post is going to be about “power” moves. I put power in quotes because on the speed-strength continuum, there is no “power” part. The four stations on the continuum are strength, strength-speed, speed-strength, and speed. A bit confused? That’s okay.

Let’s use a standing vertical jump as an example. We’ll place it under the speed heading. Next is speed-strength. For that, maybe I’d consider the Vertimax or Olympic lifts. As we follow the continuum, we land on strength-speed. Here, I’d probably place the speed powerlifts: squat, deadlift, and bench. Heavy weight, fast movement. Lastly, we come to strength. Here lies our deadlift and squat. You can see that each piece is valuable in developing the original move, the standing vertical jump.

Neglecting to train under any heading of the continuum can mean that you’re selling yourself short when it comes to performance.

In simplest terms, power=work/time. If you perform the action in less time (at a higher speed, because time is the denominator in the speed equation as well), you are more powerful. If you perform more work (using more weight or moving the weight a greater distance), you are more powerful if the time remains equal.

$20 to anyone that gets this reference.

If you want to get technical, we are concerned with increasing our power production in each facet of the continuum. In that regard, I’m not sure we can technically classify any group of movements as the “power” moves. But here’s what I will say, many of the greatest power numbers ever recorded came from the second pull of the snatch, the second pull of the clean, and the jerk. This is because the technique of the lift demands that the weight be lifted at a high speed (in less time). The deadlift, squat, and bench press do not have this demand and maximal attempts can take anywhere from a few seconds to over 10 seconds to complete. Thus, the power output is restricted despite the higher weight.

So, without further adieu, here are my favorite moves for developing power:

5. Speed deadlifts

This one might come as a surprise to many, but speed deadlifts are an easy way to learn powerful hip extension. This is especially true with a conventional stance and limited knee flexion. The biggest reason I included this in the list was personal experience. In comparison to speed squats, speed deads incorporate no eccentric phase, thus no stretch reflex. It also has a much larger knee angle, forcing the hips to extend forcefully and do most of the work.

As a matter of execution, start too light. Maybe 40% of whatever you think your 1RM deadlift is. And stay there. Don’t increase your speed deadlift weight every week. Stay with the same weight for a month, maybe two, and let the exercise do the work for you. Go for 6-10 sets of singles or doubles. Maybe triples. But don’t get crazy with the volume. We aren’t using speed deads to get hyooge.

For a little extra something, throw some light bands on the bar. You can step on each side and just loop is over the middle of the bar or throw it just inside the plates on a trap bar.

4. Two-hand underhand medicine ball throw

This is perhaps the easiest variation of a hip hinge to learn and it’s frequently used in assessments for brand new clients for that reason. It activates the same muscles as a kettlebell swing, but it’s like performing a swing where you can let go of the kettlebell afterward. Awesome.

Any med balls will work for this, but I’d recommend throwing it against a wall to reduce the space requirement and risk of hitting someone on the top of the head with a med ball. For this reason, try using Dynamax-type med balls so you don’t break too many med balls. This type of med ball will be larger than you average med ball so it’ll add a challenge, as does the slippery outer surface.

You don’t need much weight to get a training effect.

3. Kettlebell swing

This is a no-brainer. Perhaps one of the best known power moves out there right now, the kettlebell swing won’t come and go like other fads. Even other kettlebell moves might eventually fade from our minds, but the traditional swing is going nowhere.

The kettlebell swing can be used in a couple of different ways. First, you can swing a heavy kettlebell 2-10+ times and utilize the swing as a heavy-eccentric strength movement. Second, you can swing the kettlebell 20+ times as a finisher/conditioning thing. Personally, I like heavy swings in the 5-10 range or endurance swings in sets of 20.

Swinging with each hand individually will activate a bit more of that functional back fascial line too, if that’s something you’re into.

2. Dumbbell power snatch

A variation of the real Olympic thing, dumbbell snatches are much easier on the shoulders since they do not require as much external rotation of the humeral head. However, they still require scapular control in an upwardly rotated and posteriorly tilted position. Make sure you or your clients have this stability before dynamically throwing weights overhead.

Due to the size of the dumbbell, there is a little deeper knee bend required to grab the dumbbell at the floor, so you can also do it from a box or from the hang.

If I’m pressed for time, dumbbell snatches are a good option to superset with some kind of agility, speed work, or conditioning, a la Dan John. And just so I’m clear, just because you’re using a dumbbell doesn’t mean technique can go out the window. Set your core before your first pull!

1. Hang power clean

Continuing with the Olympic lift theme, I chose the hang power clean as my #1 for a few reasons. First of all, it’s easy to learn. Flexibility restrictions aside, I find that teaching positions in the hang power clean is very easy. It’s easier to learn than cleaning from the floor or performing a full squat clean.

And despite the high power output in a full clean, I think there’s something to be said for the distance that the bar needs to travel in order to be caught in the power position. It dramatically increases power output as opposed to a full clean.

Next, I like the near-direct carryover that hang cleans have to a standing vertical jump. The ankle, knee, and hip angles are near identical to the angles during the amortization phase of a vertical jump with a counter-movement. Furthermore, cleans in general perfectly mimic the triple extension required to excel at not only jumping, but also sprinting.

The key thing to remember is that while singles in powerlifting are typically taken at 90% 1RM and above, singles in weightlifting should be taken in the 70-85% range. It’s important not to sacrifice speed or form for weight. Instead, try and coax up the weight gently while maintaining the speed of the movement.

And for those with flexibility restrictions, the hang high pull isn’t a bad option. But it can be tough to gauge progress at times because there’s no true mark for bar height.

Conclusion

I think one thing we can draw from this is that hip extension trumps knee extension when it comes to power output. The glute max is one of the largest muscles in the body and the hamstrings group doesn’t fall far behind. Add adductor magnus to the group and we can reason that the hip extensors are most definitely the strongest and most explosive muscles of the body.

Coming back to our strength-speed continuum, our broad jumps and standing verticals fall under the speed heading. After that, we have band resisted broad jumps, as well as our Olympic lifts under speed-strength.

In my opinon, the speed-strength section of the continuum is where the greatest potential for power development lies.

A visual representation of the continuum.

As such, the speed-strength section is one part that you absolutely can not ignore when writing a training program. Strength-speed includes our speed powerlifts.Whether you’re versed enough in Oly lifts to teach them or not, you can at least include speed squats, deads, benches, or lower body lifts with bands and chains to emphasize acceleration.

Finally, we come to the absolute strength side of the continuum. No matter who you are, a college kid trying to gain weight or a mother of three trying to lose a bit, you need to be doing some kind of resistance training. This absolute strength side contains our traditional deadlift and squat patterns, horizontal and vertical push and pulls, tri-planar core training, and single leg work.

So, in the quest to become a better athlete or just get in better shape, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the strength-speed spectrum in mind. It will maximize your strength potential and help you strengthen some of the most vital muscle groups to knee health, back health, and overall posture.

*Disclaimer: This  post is not meant as a recommendation for inexperienced lifters/exercisers to undertake high volume or high intensity plyometrics. Please consult a coach (ahem, me) if you have questions about plyos or speed work!

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