How Lifters Can Unleash Athletic Power

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of strength coach and writer Eric Bach. Eric’s a coach I respect a lot and someone who’s consistently pumping out quality content.

His new resource, The Four Week Power Primer, is on sale starting TODAY.

Photo Credit: E. Zouboulis

How Lifters Can Unleash Athletic Power

What You’ll Learn

– Raw Strength isn’t enough.


- You need to generate fast strength via power.

– Lift heavy and lift fast to maximize muscle unit recruitment

– Incorporate bodyweight and explosive, submaximal work. 
       

– You’ll bridge the gap between strength and speed to become a beast!

Here’s the deal:

Most lifters mistakenly think their goal should be getting as strong as humanly possible. Not so. They should focus instead on improving power. This article explains why.

Sure, maximum strength is important. It builds a foundation to train other physical qualities. But there is an added dimension that separates the okay form the elite:

Power: or the ability to generate force rapidly.

Athletes in sports other than powerlifting run into time constraints when applying as much force as possible. This results in strength plateaus and poor carryover into sport-specific tasks.

Neglecting power leaves huge performance gaps. It results in athletes who are unable to translate their strength into success on the field.

This Power Primer will show you how to:

* Unlock a nervous system that fires faster


* Create greater levels of useful strength


* Create greater levels of strength


* Improve your ability to generate force


* Rapidly improve your athleticism

Understanding the Force-Velocity Curve (and Pie)

When looking at the force velocity curve I think of pie (Mmm…pie!)

Maximal strength provides the essential crust. It’s the foundation for a great pie. But you also need finger lickin’ filling, toppings and spices. Think of the fillings, toppings and spices as the ingredients that make the pie unique.

Without the foundational crust a delectable pie isn’t possible. It’s purely mush, much like training for speed and power without a base of strength.

Without careful attention to the other ingredients, there is nothing special about the pie. This is akin to having a base of strength, yet never refining the basic product for maximum performance.

Which brings us to the force velocity curve.

It provides a continuum of training for performances and actions that require different speeds against a variety of loads. These could include:

  • propelling your body though space
  • 
throwing an opponent to the ground
  • engaging in a free for all light-saber battle over that piece of pie

There’s an inverse relationship between load and velocity. The heavier the weight, the slower it moves and the lighter the resistance the faster the speed.

These qualities make up opposite sides of the spectrum, with speed-strength, strength-speed, and power making up the middle of the curve.

Building Explosive Power

Training with a combination of loads improves all-around explosive power, assuming there is a foundational crust of maximal strength.

Unfortunately, most lifters and coaches love hammering huge weights (nuttin’ wrong with that) to the detriment of higher speed movement (something wrong with that.).

This adds adding cheap, canned fillings, toppings, and spices to the pie to an awesome pie crust. Worse still is adding nothing at all. You just end up with the crust.

Stop chasing absolute strength. Most athletes and lifters would derive immediate benefits from lighter, more explosive training that bridges the gap between strength and speed.

Train the factors along the force velocity curve you’ve been neglecting. 
You will become a more powerful athlete.

That said, you must have a base of maximal strength to develop power.

To maximize power, focus on maximum bar speed with various loads. You will develop strength and speed along the force velocity curve. You will improve your power and your rate of force development. Use heavy weights with fast bursts, such as 3×3 at 90% 1-RM two times per with maximal muscular (2).

Improve Intramuscular and Intermuscular Coordination

Intramuscular coordination is the secret sauce that separates 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 simultaneously when performing a muscular action.
  • Synchronization: The ability of muscle units to contract nearly simultaneously, with very 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. That could translate into more weight on the bar or a faster sprinting speed.

How to Generate Maximum Force When Lifting

Few things, except coming home with the pie you’ve been eyeballing all night, are as fun as lifting maximal weights.

That said, too much pie (and maximal weights) isn’t good either.

Except for the rare genetic elite, your nervous system, joints, and tissues will scream at you before too long. Luckily, there are two ways to maximize force when lifting:

  1. Lift heavier weights
  2. Lift lighter weights (or your body) faster

Lift compound movements like squats and deadlifts as fast as possible, while still controlling each rep during the eccentric. By moving weights as fast and as hard as possible, you’ll recruit a greater number of muscle fibers for more muscle growth. You’ll also maximize nervous system recruitment for greater performance.

Submaximal Weight Training

Speed-Strength exercises, like sub-maximal lifting, result in high power outputs.

They produce super-high power outputs compared to longer duration, lower velocity max strength exercises.

Compare a tractor-trailer and a Ferrari. It’s great to have a ton of horsepower, but for high-performance it’s best to generate horsepower rapidly.

Power= Work/Time

In this case, explosive exercises are best using loads between 20%-85% for multiple low-rep sets is best (1). If I were a betting man, I’d wager you’re already using a sub-maximal squat day plus multiple warm-up sets between 50-80% 1-rm.

If you’re warming up like a good lad, you’re already getting some volume within the strength-speed realm.

Here’s the Kicker:

The missing piece is lighter, more explosive work.

Speed-strength movements will address this with high-velocity movements movement against a small external load. Exercises like the jump squat, back toss, and overhead slam train an explosive transition from eccentric-to concentric against a light load.

For the athlete or lifter, this requires practicing a specific movement (intermuscular coordination) patterns for optimal transfer.

For example:

Athlete Movement: Triple Extension in sprinting

Training Movements: Resisted sprinting, clean, squat jump

 Or…

 Athlete movement: Powerlifting Squat

Training movement: Barbell jump squat

To maximize the benefits of intramuscular coordination, exercises of mechanical demands should be practiced with various loads to improve the efficiency of the nervous system.

In time, this teaches the nervous system to recruit fewer motor units for the same relative intensity.

How to Immediately Improve Your Power

Provided you already have your foundation of strength, you can rapidly improve your power with a few tweaks to your training.

First, you need to continue training with heavy, multi-joint exercises and explosive intent on reach rep. This maximizes motor unit recruitment, improving RFD.

Second, when warming up accelerate every rep to the best of your ability. This trains in the strength-speed and speed-strength portion of the force velocity curve, specifically with loads between 20-80%.

Third, incorporate light speed, and speed-strength training methods with low-movement load (0-20%) and high-speeds. This comes in the form of jumps, sprints, throws, and other upper/lower body plyometrics.

Fourth, match the explosive movement patterns used to the movements you’re looking to improve using post-activation potentiation (PAP).

PAP, although an advanced method, uses the biomechanically similar exercises to groove explosive movement patterns after a heavy strength exercise.

For Geeks Only: How Does it Work? (Pie-Loving Regular People Can Feel Free To Skip this Section)

According to Hamada et. el (2000), there is an increased phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains during a maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). This allows the actin and myosin binding (for muscle contraction) to react to the increased calcium release. This reaction triggers a cascade of events leading to enhanced force muscle production at the structural level of muscle (Horwath & Kravitz ).

Thus, increased muscle activation yields a greater duration of calcium ions in the muscle cell environment, yielding a greater phosphorylation of the myosin light chain protein (Rixon et al. 2007).

The second theory is based on the H-reflex, an excitation of a spinal reflex elicited by afferent muscle nerves. It is theorized that the PAP intervention enhances the H-reflex, thus increasing the efficiency and rate of the nerve impulses to the muscle (Hodgson, Docherty, Robbins, 2005). Your nervous system get’s jacked up full-go.

When a jump is performed, your body is prepared to fire on all cylinders. So when only your body weight is used, the over-stimulated nervous system and muscles will be primed to the max for a higher jump.

Here are some Common Pairings:

Main Exercise: Explosive Movement:

Bench Press                               Clap Push Up, bench plyo push up

Shoulder Press                          Overhead medicine ball slam/ throw

Squat                                           Jump squat, vertical jump, box jump

Deadlift                                       Broad jump, kettlebell swing

What to do:
 Pick an explosive exercise that matches the movement pattern of your main lift and perform 3-5 reps immediately after your pure strength movement. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets to achieve a PAP effect

Wrap Up

Most lifters plateau in the gym and stay mediocre because they continue doing what they’ve always done in the past. They lift only heavy and focus only on the weight or muscle. They neglect rep quality and explosiveness. 


This mistaken approach is not performance training.

A solid strength foundation remains essential. 

Build on that foundation to focus on:

* quality explosive reps to improve neuromuscular performance

* rep speed


* movement quality over quantity

Now, It’s Time to Put the Plan to Action:

If you’re looking for a short-term plan of attack to improve your strength and athletic performance, then check my resource the Four Week Power Primer. It’s a four-week plan to increase your power for bigger numbers in the gym, and better performance on the playing field.

If you’re a coach, you should absolutely own this to understand the science of power, as it’s loaded with the science behind improving performance.

If you’re a meathead just looking to add some strength to the bar, then great: This could be the missing component holding you back from smashing a new PR.

Seriously, don’t wait, because the chance won’t be available for long.

Grab the Power Primer during the limited time sale, and leave Eric any questions you have below.

—> Power Primer <—

Resources and Stuff

Horwath, R., & Kravitz , L. (n.d.). postactivation potentiation: A brief review. Informally published manuscript, Exercise Science , Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article folder/postactivationUNM.html

Rixon KP, Lamont HS, Bemben M. Influence of type of muscle contraction, gender, and lifting experience on postactivation potentiation performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007; 21: 500–505.

Robbins, D.W. Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2005, 19(2): 453-458.

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Comments for This Entry

  • Roberto Vázquez

    When I read this article, I realised two important concepts interrelated. The main concept is CNS. As we all know, our strength capacity depends mainly on our nervous system. Once I said this, this next two concepts come to my mind. Former is the way to Eric's system try to improve a movement pattern in the nervous system by increase not only the frequency but other factors like speed execution. The more we practise a movement (in the right way) the more specialised we are in this movement and more efficient will be our CNS doing it. In my opinion, Eric's system look for improving all different types of strength we could find along the strength curve, from maximum strength to maximun acceleration/speed. A program very similar to this came to me some time ago through T-Nation (https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/6-weeks-to-superhero). This is a Thibaudeau's program based on sovietic complex concept. In it, Thib re-builds that sovietic complex concept (which only trains on two points of strength curve, maximum strength and maximum speed) to a new one in which, five different stages of strength curve are trained (overload, strength, strength-speed, speed-strength and explosive). Due to this reason, he named this complex as "star complex". I don't know how similiar is Thib's system to Eric's system but I think both have the same foundation. Latter idea related with former is the PAP concept. I knew about it through Thibaudeau too, in his book "The black book of training secrets". But since then, I've heard a lot of about this concept. I have read lately about PAP in this Dean Somerset's blog post (http://deansomerset.com/neural-tuning-improving-strength-prepost-activation-sequencing/) with an deeper approach about the neuronal activation. (My comment seems a "Stuff you must read" post xD ). Quite interesting... Maybe some of these systems will be introduced in my routine very soon :-) Thanks Tony (and Eric too) Keep it up! ;-)

    July 28, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Eric Bach

      Hey Robert, First off, thanks for reading and taking the time comment. Thibs is a huge resource and inspiration to me, and his work on the nervous system is great. The idea with the power primer, is to train other qualities on the force velocity curve beyond maximum strength for greater neural activation, MU recruitment etc. On the topic of movement training...once you bring movement training into the equation you have to be very careful with the remainder of your programming, as the neural requirements of movement training can be extremely high, especially if you generate alot of force. I talk about this in this T-Nation post:https://www.t-nation.com/training/8-most-effective-training-splits With the intensive, extensive split. Thanks again, Eric

      July 28, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Roberto Vázquez

        Thanks to you Eric, I like Thib's work too. In my opinion, Thib's programmes about building muscle, increasing volume and drop fat are a little "overrated" for "natural athletes". This isn't anything exclusive from Thib. The fact is build muscle and drop fat at the same time without any kind of supplement (or drug) is something very difficult (well, all of us know about nutritional protocols that help us to do (slightly) this along the time (months/years), but not just in a few weeks). However, his programs and techniques (like wave ladders for example) to increase strength by improving nervous system are very efficient (I will probably do his "6-weeks to superhero" programme). I have just read your T-Nation article. I think intensive/extensive split you told me about, is a kind of organization very interesting and I think I got what you want to achieve in your "Power Primer" programme and it is something quite relevant, proffesional, useful and overall realistic for us (natural athletes). I assure you I am going to buy your "Power Primer" programme. I think, it will definetly improve my CNS to a new level. Thanks for your reply, Rober

        July 29, 2015 at 8:09 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      All credit goes to Eric on this one. He wrote an excellent article. Glad to see it resonated with you and got you thinking.

      July 29, 2015 at 7:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kirk

    Hi Tony, any advice when setting up for anterior loaded Bulgarian split squat. Anything to reduce moving around before set up? Also, is it bad if the shin from the leg that is up isn't in line with the femur of that same leg (seems like my hip wants to interiorly rotate-stability?)

    July 28, 2015 at 4:35 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      One thing that made a huge difference for me (and that of our athletes) is investing in a Sorinex One-Legged Squat Stand. It feels more comfortable setting up. I wouldn't say shin not lining up with the femur is the end of the world, but not idea. Try reducing ROM (lowering the height of the bench) and see if that helps. I bet it will.

      July 29, 2015 at 7:35 am | Reply to this comment

    • Roberto Vázquez

      I usually put a towel between my foot up and the bench, to help me to stay more confortable. About position and alignement between shin and leg that is up, maybe this Mike Robertson's article "How to perform rear foot elevated split-squats" ( http://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/rear-foot-elevated-split-squats/ ) that he has just posted, could help you. He talk about the biggest technique problem in this exercise is anterior hip tightness and hyperextended lumbar spine position, so he encourages us to stiff our abs and "feel the whole foot", I think that this is for activating our glutes. In my opinion, he says this to relieve the excesive stress in hip flexors and lumbar spine extensors due to he follows Janda's "Lower crossed syndrome" principles (abs-gluteus & lumbar extensors-hip flexors). I also think Tony encourages you to lower the height of the bench for reducing the hip flexors stiffness you could have, so that, you would be in a more confortable position (and more secure too, because this Tony's advice follows the same Janda's principle that Mike Robertson's advice). You could realise much more about BSS (Bulgarian Split Squat) technique on this Tony's video: https://youtu.be/CW0BQec2EB4 In this other, Tony includes a RDL variation: https://youtu.be/dBblZSA71MI I hope I was helpful to you (sorry for my English)

      July 29, 2015 at 9:06 am | Reply to this comment

  • Todd

    This article will go a long ways in helping my clients. Since I train golfers speed-strength is important. My clients understand the mobility and power aspect of training but getting speed into their heads has been more difficult. I even still see a couple of them with the club weigh on at the first tee, even when I tell them to incorporate speed into their warm-up by swing an alignment stick or up-side down club to get muscles use to feeling speed. I will send them links to this post and see if helps them realize there is more than just strength & power.

    July 29, 2015 at 8:21 am | Reply to this comment

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