Do you want to perform or just look good? There’s a big difference. If you want a machine-like physique and want to take your performance in the gym to the next level or even enhance your conditioning for a sport, then you need to start implementing some aspects of Strength and Power training into your routine.
When you look at a sprinter you can see that they’re powerful, but why? Is it because their physique resembles a strong and powerful “cave-man” look? This tends to be the type of look that most men (and women for that matter) admire, except they all fail to understand what time, effort and dedication it takes to achieve that look.
With this in mind, how do you get that desired strong and powerful physique? Let’s look at certain aspects of training, including training for Rate of Force Development (RFD) and Strength. Firstly, maximal strength builds the foundation for all other forms of strength including explosive power. It’s also been said that “maximal strength is regarded as a pre-requisite for high-movement speed. It’s impossible for athletes to generate a large force in a fast movement if they can’t develop similar or even greater force values in a slow motion” (Zatsiorsky and Kramer). So, the stronger you are in relation to your bodyweight (relative strength), the more potential you have to be powerful. This goes for running, punching, kicking, throwing and jumping etc, however “to be a strong athlete does not mean to be a power athlete.” (Zatsiorsky and Kramer)
A beginner can increase their strength very quickly, mainly due to their CNS (central nervous system) becoming more efficient. Fundamentally when they first start out, the new trainee may only be able to recruit half of their motor units within their muscle. Over time, and with proper strength training, their CNS will start to be able to recruit more motor units, therefore becoming stronger and more powerful. Although, please note that I’m not advising you to go ahead and perform endless reps of bicep curls, or chest flies, I’m talking about the big compound lifts; even these gains will eventually start to plateau. To achieve success, different strength training methods and routines have to be used. For example, what may have got you from a 50kg to 100kg bench, might not get you from 100kg to 150kg bench. In addition, strength is not always gained in a linear fashion. If this were the case, there would be a lot more strength athletes walking around.
Whatever your training plan, in order to progress with strength, you need to be consistent. A bad training plan followed perfectly will produce better results than a good program followed badly. You need to plan when to push hard and when to back off. You will have good days and some not so good, so when this is the case, listen to your body and perhaps, like renowned expert Jim Wendler says, “just hit your numbers then get out of the gym”. It’s sometimes important to look at the bigger picture; you don’t get strong in just the one session. Strength is gained over a period of time, so you’ll need to understand and respect this.
Do you ever see people in your gym hitting the same numbers week in week out, if so why is this? One reason I’ve noticed, is that they always want to do exactly what they did the previous week; i.e stick two plates on the bench and fail miserably so that each week they come back and fail again miserably at a ton. These people need to take a step backwards to move forwards, and start by using sub-maximal weights to get stronger as in Wendler’s ‘531’. This means targets and personal bests can be achieved each week, which is both rewarding and very motivating.
The rate of force development (speed), is another aspect of power. The faster you are, the more explosive you’ll become. So what is speed and how do you develop it? As Zatsiorsky and Kramer state: “If the time available for force development is (only) short, RFD is more important than maximal strength. So you’ll need to enhance not only maximal strength, but also dynamic strength (the force developed at a high velocity of movement)”. Many strength coaches perceive speed and power exercises in the weight room to be solely the “Olympic Lifts”. Olympic Lifts are great exercises and have many benefits, if performed correctly. However, many prerequisites are needed, which involve the basic ability to bend at the ankles, knees and hips to get in the correct pulling position. To perform an Olympic Lift such as the “clean”, you must be able to firstly perform a deadlift, this is an exercise most people perform with, adopting the profile of a humpback whale! Even though people haven’t mastered the basic compound lifts, for some reason they think they can do an Olympic Clean.
So why do so many people attempt these lifts?
Mainly due to the perception that ‘to be explosive’, you have to be able to do variations of Olympic Lifts. I’m not saying that Olympic Lifts are bad, when taught and executed properly. These are great exercises to add to your arsenal. It may take a long time in the gym before you get any real benefit and this time could be spent doing other exercises to increase RFD. This may include jump variations such as box jumps, broad jumps, hurdle jumps, kneeling jumps, kneeling into broad jumps, single leg jumps and even depth jumps which help improve the stretch-shortening muscle action. Weighted jumps can also be used, which involve a heavy compound exercise followed by a type of jump. I believe there isn’t any strength exercise that can compare to the ability to jump with an external load. When you jump you don’t have to decelerate, medicine ball throws and tosses can also be used. Releasing objects whether it’s your bodyweight off the ground, or even throwing an object, is the most efficient way to develop power.
When you’re putting your strength program together, it’s a good idea to keep in mind the Speed-Strength Continuum. At one end, you have “Absolute Strength” and at the other “Absolute Speed”. Looking at this from a sprinter’s training standpoint, you’d say that absolute strength would be lifting for maximal strength, or heavy weight and at a low velocity. Whereas absolute speed would be sprint training or plyometrics which are specific to their sport, therefore light or no weight and at a high velocity. This model can be related to any sport and from this, most people may notice that they spend too much of their training time training for absolute speed and therefore don’t achieve their full athletic potential. For example, a volleyball player who spends all their time jumping on court, wouldn’t benefit from jump training during their S&C work. Their time would be better off spent training for maximal strength, making them stronger and more explosive due to strength being a big component of power.
Looking along this continuum, you could also include other aspects of training such as Strength/Speed and Speed/Strength. Working from left to right on the continuum, the velocity is increased whilst force is decreased, so going from more of a general training block, to a more specific block. Returning to the example of a sprinter performing a Strength/Speed exercise, this could be along the lines of the Olympic Lifts as well as a Speed/Strength exercise such as jump squats or weighted jumps.
Below is a sample program which can be used to help increase strength and power. As every athlete is different, some are naturally strong and some are naturally explosive, it’s good to have an idea of where you fall as then you can focus more of your training time working on that particular area. For example, if you are very explosive then you will benefit more from maximal strength training.
Try to remember that when starting any strength program, gains are not made in the weight room. Nutrition, including pre, during and post training are very important. Below is an example of optimal workout nutrition.
The following routine is based on developing maximal strength for the Deadlift, Bench, Squat and Military Press. This is what you will want to track your progress on. Every other exercise is an assistance to the main lifts. You’ll notice that each session does not involve hundreds of exercises, most people do too much and put every exercise they can think of into their routines. Programs have to be simple, so less is always more! In addition, before starting any program, make sure you do the basics including soft tissue work, mobility and stretching. These combined with proper strength training will put you in good stead.
Warm Up (use a foam-roller unless otherwise stated)
Thoracic Extension 1×10
Supine Bridge 1×10
Push up Plus 1×6
Scapular Wall Slides 1×10
Bent-Over T-Spine Rotation 1×5/side
Wall Hip Flexor Mobs 1×8/side
Wall Ankle Mobs 1×8/side
Squat to Stand 1×6
Cross-Behind Overhead Reverse Lunge 1×5/side
No Money Drill 1×8
Lying Knee Pull-ins 5x5secs
Across the body arm swings 1×8
Shoulder Dislocation 1×10
Band Pull aparts 1×15
Day 1 – Upper
A1 Overhead Medicine Ball Throw 5×3, rest 60secs
B1 Bench Press 5×5, rest as much as needed so 2-5mins
B2 Band Pullaparts x10
C1 Rolling Tricep Extensions 4×6-8, rest 30 then to C2
C2 DB Rows 4×8-10, rest 60 then to C1
D1 Feet Elevated Press ups 2-3×12-15, rest 30 then to D2
D2 Recline Rows 2-3×12-15, rest 60 then to D1
Day 2 – Lower
A1 Weight Box Jumps 5×3, rest 60secs
B1 Squats 5×5, rest as much as needed so 2-5mins
B2 Hip Flexor Mobs/Glute Activation x10
C1 Walking Lunges 3-4×6-8, rest 30 then to C2
C2 GHR 3-4×8, rest 60 then to C1
D1 AB Rollouts 4×12, rest 60-90
E1 Sled/Prowler Sprints x10 (if you have access to one)
Day 3 – Upper
A1 Medicine Ball Throw 5×3, rest 60secs
B1 Military Press 5×5, rest as much as needed so 2-5mins
B2 Wall Slides x10
C1 Chin ups 4-5×5-8, rest 30 then to C2
C2 Dips 4-5×8-10, rest 60 then to C1
D1 Rear Delt Raises 3×12-15, rest 60
Day 4 – Lower
A1 Seated Box Jumps 5×3, rest 60secs
B1 Deadlifts 5×5, rest as much as needed so 2-5mins
B2 Hip Flexor Mobs/Glute Activation x10
C1 BB Hip Thrusts 4×8-10, rest 30 then to C2
C2 DB Side Bends 4×8-10, rest 60 then to C1
D1 KB Swings 3×15, rest 60-90
E1 Hill Sprints x15-20 mins
Remember to reload every fourth week (back off on the intensity and volume). Training partners will help you push through your plateaus
You can split this routine into the following days:
Monday – Day 1
Tuesday – Day 2
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Day 3
Friday – Day 4
Sat & Sun – Off
Monday – Day 1
Tuesday – Off
Wednesday – Day 2
Thursday – Off
Friday – Day 3
Saturday – Day 4
Sunday – Off
Rest and recovery are equally important, so for starters getting enough sleep is vital so make ZMA® your staple supplement plus other recovery methods such as soft tissue, massage, ice baths and contrast showers can be used.
In conclusion, in your pursuit to be the strongest and most powerful machine you can possibly be, you have to use the tools and methods that you have to hand. Firstly, you have to lift for maximal strength involving the big multi-joint compound lifts, then you have to train for speed and explosiveness through dynamic work such as jumps and throws and finally you have to have enough quality muscle to make the above two possible, so through using the repeated method with assistance exercises, this is possible.
Remember…learning how to get stronger takes time!
Director and co-founder of Strength & Performance.
Strength and performance is a training facility providing bespoke individual training, delivered in small group settings.
We work hard, but intelligently to get our athletes stronger, fitter and leaner as well as improving posture and reducing injury.
Our clientele varies from elite athletes to young professionals.
Vladimar M. Zatsiorsky & William J. Kraemer (2006) Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2ND Edition. Goal Specific Strength Training, 160