Improving Power Without the Olympic Lifts
This week I am stoked to have coach Eric Bach featured on JRx with his latest work focusing on power development and programming. Eric is my go to expert in the field of athletic performance and training, so I am excited that you will all have the chance to learn from him directly!
It’s no secret that the Olympic Lifts are absent from the majority of my programming, including my popular Functional Hypertrophy Training program. But that doesn’t mean that I and other coaches who don’t prioritize the O-lifts discount power development! It’s actually quite the contrary.
Olympic lifts are just one way to generate power through training, and Eric is here to talk about all the rest of the best training methods that will have you honing your athleticism and power without the bumper plates, while still staying jacked and functional in the process. You ready? Here we go!
Power Training Minus The Olympic Lifts?
Finally, it’s time to train.
You’re at your new gym, going through your dynamic warm-up, then starting with a 1-2 light sets of high pulls and cleans. Your first set goes without a hitch—powerful hip extension, scoop, catch, squat, and repeat.
Then, you feel it: The staring eyes of disapproval, cutting through you like a hot knife.
Not five seconds later, you turn and see the manager strutting over, clipboard in hand, ready to lay down the law.
“ I’m sorry, but we don’t allow Olympic lifts in here.”
You swallow your pride, nod in somber approval, and un-rack your weights. Where do you go from here? Without performing Olympic lifts, you routine is completely thrown out of whack.
We’re In a Sad State
In the last few years, CrossFit has done much to mainstream the Olympic lifts. And former college athletes have always wanted to continue Oly lifttng after their playing days are over. But many commercial gyms continue to push back. Many still prohibit Olympic lifts.
What to do? The obvious strategy would be to switch facilities. But tracking down an Oly friendly gym can be a pain.
Building explosiveness and power is important, even vital to your long-term progress in training. Benefits range from improved muscle fiber recruitment to developing better syncronization and timing of movement patterns. I’d venture to say everyone physically able to do so will benefit from adding explosive movement into their training.
Reap the Benefits Olympic Lifts Without a Full Set of Bumpers
In this article, I’ll show you the best non-Olympic lifting, power building methods. Couple the convenience of these exercises with an accelerated learning curve, and these might just become mainstays in your high-performance training program.
Why Power Is So Damn Important
Power is your ability to generate strength fast. Improving your power improves your ability to use the strength you’ve already built.
In the short term, training for power activates high-threshold motor units to fire on all cylinders and recruit more muscle during your training. This results in more efficient training sessions for greater gains in strength, muscle, and performance.
In the long-term, you’ll improve neuromuscular efficiency through improved intermuscular and intramuscular coordination.
Intermuscular coordination is the coordinated firing of a movement, or muscles in your body to produce a movement. Think of a movement like sprinting, squatting, or jumping—they’re all predicated on a form of explosive hip extension.
By training the same movement pattern in a couple of ways (explosive, heavy) you’re improving the coordination between the muscles used to produce movement. Better intermuscular coordination results in better movement quality.
Intramuscular coordination, the coordination of individual fibers in your muscles, is composed of three factors:
Rate Coding: Firing rate, the ability to generate force faster.
Recruitment: Greater muscle unit recruitment means you’ll recruit more muscle fibers to produce movement.
Synchronization: Improving synchronization of muscle units improves fluidity, and helps motor units fire together.
Over time, improved intramuscular coordination improves the ability of each individual muscle to recruit more muscle fires to contract faster, together. Coupled with improved intermuscular coordination, you’ll be prepared smash heavier weights, generate strength faster in sports, and improve your athleticism.
Discovering How to Generate Power
The force-velocity curve provides a visual sample of the performance-training continuum. Basically, it shows you that rep speed and power output fluctuates based on exercise speed and intensity in the form of resistance.
These could include:
- Propelling your body through space, like sprinting down the field or jumping out from behind a corner to scare your co-workers.
Throwing a ball
- Engaging in a dinner table fight for the last piece of steak (Guilty as charged).
- Applying force against a large resistance, such as blocking an opponent or hoisting a heavy squat
The graph above shows an inverse relationship between load and velocity. The heavier the weight, the slower the velocity. On the flip side: the lighter the resistance, the faster the velocity.
These qualities make up opposite sides of the spectrum, with speed-strength, strength-speed, and power making up the middle of the curve.
Taken a Step Further… Power is a Parabolic Relationship.
This means that while power is maximized in the middle, high resistance, low speed exercises like a heavy squat and explosive, low resistance exercises like a squat jump have lower power outputs.
Can’t I Just Get Stronger?
A base of max strength is imperative to developing power. Unfortunately, most lifters and coaches chase strength, to the exclusion of all else. They neglect lighter, more explosive movement completely.
Maximum strength is important. But , it’s not the whole story. If you’ve been training for a few years, you should have enough maximum strength. You will benefit from explosive, lighter exercises to bridge the strength-speed gap.
Non-Olympic Methods to Improving Power
#1 Dynamic Effort Compound Lifts
This method is based on Russian texts and the works of Vladimir Zatsiorsky and popularized by Louis Simmons of Westside Barbell club. The theory is based on lifting submaximal loads with maximum explosive intent. Basically, it’s lifting lighter loads as fast as possible.
DE training uses loads of 40-65% 1-RM lifted with maximum explosive intent—sweet spot for power development in most literature.
This has two huge benefits:
- Compound lifts like the squat and deadlift are less complex than the Olympic lifts, and aren’t as prone to technical breakdown.
- Compound likes the squat and deadlift are easier to learn, making them a viable substitute if you don have time to refine your Olympic lifting technique.
So, rather than Olympic lifting variations, load up squats, deadlifts, and presses with lighter loads and lift with maximum explosive intent. You can generate high power outputs to improve explosive power.
#2 Lift Weights with Maximum Concentric Speed
When training for power, maximum explosive intent is everything.
Read that again:.
When training for power, maximum explosive intent is everything.
Lifting with maximum concentric speed is absolutely paramount to getting more explosive and power. Beyond better muscle fiber recruitment, mentally honing in on each rep improves focus and often, technique during your lifts.
Make it your focus to lift each rep like it’s your max, without sacrificing technique or eccentric control.
#3 Lightly Loaded Jumps, and Throws
Explosive Speed and Speed-Strength work is further down on the force velocity curve and uses light resistance movements with maximum speed.
The best examples of speed-strength and explosive speed exercises are lightly loaded exercises like medicine ball throws or dumbbell squat jumps.
Dumbbell Squat Jump
Coaching Notes: In the case of the dumbbell squat jump, use lightly loaded dumbbells (<10% bodyweight) and perform a squat jump. Start tall with the feet shoulder width apart. Then, holding the dumbbells at your sides, drop your hips into a quarter/half squat position. Rapidly reverse the motion, jumping and fully extending through the hip, knee and ankle. Land flatfooted with your head and chest up, in a squat position. Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up, best on lower body days.
Coaching Notes: The overhead slam is an explosive throwing movement to build a trunk resilient to explosive forces in sport and potentiating the nervous system during training. Use a non-bouncy ball unless you want new dental work, and perform three sets of three to five reps with 60 seconds rest between sets.
Coaching Notes: Broad jumps are a great exercise for developing lower body power and athleticism. Load up with the feet shoulder width apart. Then, simultaneously swing the arms down while dropping the hips. Rapidly swing the arms forward and jump up and out, landing in an athletic position. Do three sets of 3-5 reps with 90 seconds rest between sets.
Bodyweight Squat Jump
Coaching Notes: Start tall with the feet shoulder width apart. Then, swing the arms down while dropping the hips into a quarter/half squat position.
Swing the arms forward and overhead, jumping and extending through the hip, knee, ankle, trunk, and shoulder. Land flat-footed with your head and chest up, in a squat position.
Coaching Notes: Like lifting, sprinting requires high impact muscular contractions that potentiate the nervous system for better neural recruitment and stimulate the release of anabolic hormones. Like all power exercises, full recovery is important for maximum gains in performance.
Use the following recommendations as a starting point.
Treadmill: 5 x6-10 seconds on moderate speed with an incline, 50-second/full recovery.
On ground: 5×10-30 yards, 90+ seconds recovery. Limit top-end speed to 85-90 percent of top speed to limit injuries until work capacity and technique improve.
All exercises and techniques are a tool—the Olympic lifts included.
The reason a tool works, powerful hip extension and intermuscular/intramuscular coordination, in this case, is the real goal.
Move explosively, lift lighter and faster, and always use maximum explosive intent to improve your physique and your performance.
About The Author
I’m Eric Bach, a Denver based strength coach and fitness author who owns and operates Bach Performance. I’m a passionate ex-athlete turned performance coach to athletes, ex-athletes, and busy professionals everywhere. I’ve had roles ranging from collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach, to helping high school athletes get full athletic scholarships, and training athletes for the NFL Combine and Pro Days. Through my writing on performance and body composition training I’ve been featured in numerous publications from CNN, Huffington Post, T-Nation, thePTDC, and bodybuilding.com to the American Council on Exercise and published research. I have my Bachelors of Science degree, emphasizing in sports performance training, am a certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA (CSCS). I am also a Precision Nutrition Certified Coach. I combine my experiences as an athlete and coach to provide you with the most well-rounded information to improve your performance, your body, and your life.
Thanks for having me, John!
we found your site was very handy to us! if u keep going this good job We’ll come back at your weblog!
what is the difference between dynamic effort and lift weight with max concentric speed?
“#2 Lift Weights with Maximum Concentric Speed”
This should apply to any exercise, load and range of reps.
Have you ever read Juan José González-Badillo?
That was awesome, thank you.