Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Training for Power - Part II

Training for Power – Part II

In part one,  I gave a little background information on the Olympic Lifts and expressed my interest in using them. I also mentioned that there are several times where it is contraindicated, ineffective, or just plain dangerous to perform Olympic Lifts. So, what do you do when you can’t (or shouldn’t) use Olympic Lifts to train for power?

1. Plyometrics – There are few ways to train for power that are more simple, yet effective, than plyometric training. Jumps, skips, bounds, and bounds can all be used to increase an athlete’s power production. This is not limited to lower body exercises, pretty much any exercise done with an emphasis on rapid contraction qualifies as a plyometric (by loosely using the definition). I think of it as controlled chaos, with both parts mandatory (control to avoid injuries and chaos to make sure you’re training in an explosive manner).

2. Medicine Balls – These are a great way to train the core for explosive and/or rotational movements. You can train every muscle by utilizing throws, slams, and tosses with a medball. It takes a great amount of core strength to transfer the force generated from your legs to the release point at your hands. I am a big fan of medball training.

3. Kettlebells – Kettlebell swings are an excellent alternative when Olympic Lifts are contraindicated. They allow an athlete to focus on getting full hip extension and firing the posterior chain.

4. Dynamic Lifts – This is a concept made popular by Louie Simmons and the guys at Westside Barbell. The basic idea focuses on speed as the determining factor for volume rather than RMs. For example, let’s say your performing dynamic pull ups and know you can get ten before failing. Perform the lift as fast as possible until your speed drops (usually around halfway to failure, in my experience). So, in this scenario, you would perform 5 dynamic pull ups, exploding upwards each rep as fast as possible, and as soon as you feel your speed slow or you notice a sticking point on rep 6, the set is done. The idea behind this method is to train the neuromuscular connections with the fast-twitch fibers, increasing the rate of recruitment, thus allowing more powerful contractions.

These are just some ways to train for power outside of Olympic Lifting, all of which I use in my programs and find very effective. If you know of other methods, please feel free to share and email me at, or on Twitter at

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Training for Power - Part I

This is the first in a series that I've wanted to write for a while, and was finally pushed over the edge to do it. I just finished reading an article on CrossFit and was frustrated beyond words as a strength and conditioning coach. Olympic lifts are not meant to be done for dozens of reps!!! They are a POWER exercise, not to mention the incredible amount of technique that is required to perform them properly (and safely). I won't go into detail on my thoughts towards CrossFit (I'm not entirely against it, just parts), but I want to explain how athletes and coaches should use the Olympic lifts and why.

First off, a little basic information on the Olympic lifts - there are only two, the snatch and clean & jerk. Both start with the weight on the ground and end directly overhead, arms and legs locked out, and have several criteria to meet to be considered a completed lift (most of which I won't discuss here because they only matter in competition). There are several supplemental lifts, which for training purposes can be grouped together so long as they are used in the proper manner, such as hang cleans, power cleans, push press, jerks, etc. These can all be used to increase power and force production, IF they are used properly. Dozens of reps in a fatigued state is (surprise!) not a productive use of these exercises.

So, how are the Olympic lifts and their derivatives best used to maximize power development? Low volume, high velocity, and a variety of loads. The main consideration for improving power and force production is time, specifically using as little of it as possible to complete a rep. Time is precious commodity in sports, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between an effective jam at the line of scrimmage and a DB getting burned for a long touchdown. As important as strength is, the ability to utilize that strength quickly is far more important to an athlete’s performance.

John Garhammer, PhD, who has conducted some of the best research in the world on the Olympic lifts, provided some amazing statistics regarding power development. Garhammer’s research shows the absolute power of the 2nd pull of Olympic lifts (when the athlete begins an explosive acceleration of the weight) is approximately 5 times as much as power developed during back squat or deadlift, and over 18 times as much as a 1RM bench press!

That’s great, but why is it bad for CrossFit type gyms to use these lifts? I mean, if less is more, just think how much more MORE is! The answer is, of course, too much. There’s a reason you don’t see drag cars going thru residential areas, that much power can only be safely utilized in short bursts. The Olympic lifts are very technical and require a lot of practice to be able to safely utilize, especially when moving heavier weights. As I said before, trying to navigate these technical lifts during a fatigued state is not only difficult, but very dangerous. Use these lifts properly, and you have an excellent tool for your athletes. If used recklessly, you’re risking your athletes’ progress and safety.

With that said, the Olympic lifts are not for everybody or every sport. In part 2, I’ll show some other methods of developing power when Olympic lifting is contraindicated. Let me know any questions, comments, or requests you have. As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES