With all the attention paid to getting bigger and stronger (and justifiably so), there’s one aspect of physical development that’s often overlooked: power. Whereas strength refers to the amount of weight you can lift for a given number of reps, power is defined as how fast you can move a given load, even if that load happens to be considerably lighter than your one-rep max. No wonder this training variable is so underappreciated: Would you rather brag about your 400-pound squat or your 0.19-second pull from the floor?
Problem is, you’ll get stuck on that larger number if the smaller one isn’t budging. The more powerful you are, the stronger you’ll be. And strong muscles tend to be big muscles. Conversely, if your muscles lack explosiveness — an ability to generate force quickly —they’ll lack strength, too.
That said, it’s time to start giving power more play in your program. Olympic lifts will obviously help, but they involve as much specific technique as raw power output, if not more. To enhance your explosiveness in the gym without having to learn all the intricacies of the snatch and clean, try these three exercises recommended by Josh Elmore, a CrossFit-certified strength coach based in Charlotte, N.C., who specializes in power development.
This exercise can be used to target either strength or power. For the latter, Elmore recommends using a plyometric box that has you squatting down to parallel, selecting a weight that’s 55 to 75 percent of your 1RM and performing up to 10 sets of two reps. Perform these early in your workout, before heavy strength sets.
“You’re moving submaximal loads very quickly as opposed to near-maximal loads slowly,” Elmore says. “A Tendo unit [which measures how fast each rep is performed] is perfect for this. The idea is to set a speed goal, like 1 meter per second, then load until you can’t achieve that speed anymore.”
Seated Box Jump
To do these, you’ll need two plyo boxes of different heights spaced a few feet apart. Start by sitting on the lower box (so your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor in the seated position), then jump up onto the higher one. Do this for five sets of three to five reps each. Elmore even recommends doing seated box jumps in between sets of standard barbell squats. “Again, the goal is speed, not necessarily height,” he says. “You can also vary these a good bit: You can use a soft or a hard box. You can jump from a static position or utilizing a rocking motion. Rotating a variety of movements will be your best bet.”
This exercise trains power in a different manner than traditional low-rep sets on classic gym movements. Elmore prescribes pushing a light sled for 20 minutes, twice a week. While there’s a significant conditioning element here, the posterior chain is being worked in a unique way. “The posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors) is the biggest power generator in the human body,” Elmore says. “However, traditional posterior-chain movements such as straight-leg deadlifts and good mornings have an eccentric phase that can set you up for failure when it comes to executing power-focused workouts later in the week. Pushing a sled has no eccentric phase, so the recovery is minimal, meaning you’ll be ready to execute another power workout soon thereafter without repercussions.”
Check out Josh Elmore’s blog at joshuaelmore.wordpress.com.