Developing Power in the Weight Room

Today’s article is a guest-post by strength coach John Grace. See his bio below. 

As sport performance coaches, our main goal is to make our athletes as physically ready as possible for their specific sport. Most sports, especially field and court sports require athletes to generate high power outputs, multiple times, with less than appropriate rest. Knowing how to produce high power outputs in the weight room is essential for the athlete to be able to reproduce this type of power in competition.

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The Olympic lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk) and their variations have long been used by strength coaches searching for a solution to increase power. The Olympic Lifts produce some of the highest power outputs possible in the weight room.  These lifts are highly technical, but once the athlete understands how to perform them, they can be hugely beneficial to the training program. As you can see in the chart from Garhammer’s work, Olympic lifts are capable of huge power outputs, with the highest being the second pulls of both lifts. An elite athlete can potentially produce 5,500 Watts of power in the Snatch and Clean. That’s five times as much power produced as squatting and over eighteen times more than bench pressing. Talk about bang-for-your-buck. There is a learning curve with the lifts, but if you have your athlete(s) for an extended period of time, I would highly suggest teaching them the Olympic lifts.

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But, what if you don’t have the equipment to perform the lifts safely and properly? What if you don’t have the time to teach these complex movements to your athletes? Don’t hang your head and think you can’t train power. There are multiple ways to train power without performing Olympic lifts. The beauty of our body is that it can’t tell what the external load is. Our body can’t tell the difference between iron, rubber, a barbell, a kettlebell, etc. We’re looking for movements that resemble the Olympic lifts as much as possible; movements that involve violent hip, knee, and ankle extension (i.e. triple extension).

Medicine balls and kettlebells, while less researched than the Olympic lifts, are becoming very popular methods to train power and have some carry over effect to Olympic lifting. There are a variety of MB throws you can incorporate to your fitness program that can compliment or take place of the Olympic lifts: Squat throws, backward facing overhead throws, and between the legs forward throws are just a few variations to use. While performing medicine ball throws you want to make sure there is full extension (even slight hyperextension) through the athlete’s body. This will help ensure maximum or near maximum power is being produced.

Likewise, there are many KB exercises you can perform to generate power. Kettlebells are one of the more versatile pieces of equipment in the gym. Kettlebells can be used to train power, strength, and conditioning depending on how you use them. Kettlebell swings and goblet squats seem to be the most commonly used exercises. There are several styles of swings you can choose from with the most popular being the American swing or the Russian swing. I prefer to use the Russian swing for a few different reasons. You can read up further HERE on the comparison of the Russian vs. American style swing by Dr. Mike Young.

Two recent studies on kettlebell training have shown that kettlebells were both effective in increasing strength and power. (1, 2) I wouldn’t, however, suggest abandoning Olympic lifting for kettlebells.  One study indicated that the gain in strength using weightlifting movements was greater than that during kettlebell training.(1)  It is difficult for kettlebells to trump the maximum power outputs produced in weightlifting, but kettlebells are still shown to develop strength and power on a lesser scale.

The upside to MBs and KBs is they are inexpensive, portable, and easy to use in comparison to weightlifting equipment.  The lack of equipment, knowledge, or athlete’s training experience may dictate what you can and can’t do in the weight room, but an experienced sport performance coach should have a “plan B” ready in any scenario.

John GraceCapture2 is an assistant fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS. He is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and a USA Track & Field Level 1 Coach. As an Athletic Development Coach at Athletic Lab sport performance training center, he coached high school to elite level athletes.

References:

1.) Otto W, Coburn J, Brown L, Spiering B. Effects of Weightlifting vs. kettlebell training on vertical jump, strength, and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. May 2012. 26.5: 1199-1202.

2.) Lake, Jason P; Lauder, Mike A. Kettlebell Swing Training Improves Maximal and Explosive Strength. J Strength Cond Res. August 2012. 26.8: 2228-2233.

17 thoughts on “Developing Power in the Weight Room

  1. Andy...

    This is all wrong.

    Bruce Lee knew how to develop huge amounts of power, he wasn’t even concentrating all that much on the big lifts to achieve it.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Andy, I don’t understand your comments. Are you purposely trying to be controversial, or do you really believe what you’re saying?

      The blogpost was clearly written for field athletes. So football players should avoid staples like Olympic variations and ballistics as well as kettlebells and instead focus mostly on martial arts training (sure Bruce Lee lifted weights too but that’s not the point)?

      If this post is “all wrong,” then all of the coaches who see improved power out of their athletes from using these methods, and all of the researchers who have conducted studies showing increased power gains from employing these methods, and all of the Oly lifters who have huge vertical jumps – are all fabricating their results, using fake weights, and lying about their results?

      Please explain.

      Reply
  2. christer

    Andy is just purposely trying to be controversial !!

    You can not compare martial arts to football !

    Look at the Power development chart Andy, It speaks for it self !

    Reply
  3. Pete Koch

    Nicely done John and I like how you lay it out. One point I would make is that for all the positives of the Olympics lifts (increased power development) a coach must realize that the with the O lifts force is developed almost exclusively in the concentric phase. That’s fine for some athletes (shot putters) but incomplete training for football players. The photo you posted is great as is shows two athletes in a monumental struggle for position using equal parts concentric and eccentric muscle contraction. Bret, perhaps you could expand on this topic one day. Much respect, Pete

    Reply
    1. John Grace

      Pete, I agree with your point on the Olympic Lifts being primarily concentric and you would need other core lifts to develop as a total athlete (squats, presses, pulls, rotational, etc). Power is just one facet of the overall training program that could be implemented. The beauty of Olympic Lifts is that there are so many complexes and derivatives of the lifts (i.e. Power Clean + 2 front squats). Strength coaches need to look at speed development, strength development, and power development (you could throw conditioning and agility in there as well for field and court sports) for overall development.

      As for Andy… Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  4. Mr. Plex

    Another nice article on my favorite blog. Thanks for putting up quality stuff so often!

    As an athlete I’m a little confused about the the transfer of “weightroom explosiveness” to actual sports that include running, jumping and such. Do explosive movements make one more explosive on the field because they are performed fast, or is it simply the fact that the athlete becomes stronger (able to produce force with certain mucles)? Is power not very movement-specific?

    My questions arise from reading these two articles.

    1. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/Bruce-LoweFeb2007.pdf

    2. http://crossfitie.typepad.com/Powercleans.pdf

    I would like someone smarter than me discuss those two articles :) Sorry if the terms I use are not 100% correct but I hope you guys get what I mean.

    Reply
  5. martin

    This is interesting. However i would like some clarification. It seems to me that the high power output with the OL comes from using a large percentage of the total muscle mass. eg is it not true that the power developed in the glutes in a heavy hip thrust may surpass the power developed in the glutes by an OL? if so, then one could have a more effective training effect for strength and power by training individual bodyparts.
    the OL may be a time saver for an athelete who also has skill and cardio training to do. in other words, i think the conventional big lifts serve better the goals of strength, power and hypertrophy. am i correct?

    Reply
    1. John Grace

      Using a large percentage of total muscle mass is a great benefit of the Olympic lifts as recruiting more muscle can help with producing power. But it’s not just about the force, you also have to look at the velocity of the bar. (Power=force x velocity). For example, powerlifters are some of the strongest people in the world, but the speed of those lifts at maximal weight are too slow and have little carry over to speed/power sports. (Look at an elite powerlifting video in comparison to an elite Olympic weightlifting video and notice the difference in bar velocity and the time it takes to complete a lift)

      Hip thrusts can be a fine exercise, but I’ve seen it better when utilized as an exercise to develop strength rather than power. Another nice carry over to sports that Olympic lifts give you is triple extension (extension at ankles, knees, and hips) which you will see in most sports (sprinting, jumping, etc). Hip thrust only allow full extension at the hips.

      For specific events like bodybuilding or figure competitions, isolating body parts may need to be part of the plan. During sports, your muscles are very rarely working in unison, therefore isolation of individual body parts may not be wise.

      Reply
      1. John Grace

        Typo on last sentence:

        During sports, your muscles often work in unison, therefore isolation of individual body parts may not be wise.

        Reply
  6. Andy...

    I still completely disagree.

    In fact, the big lifts can actually REDUCE power, making you slow, stiff & bulky.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Andy, do you train anyone out of curiosity? What would you have athletes do then, not perform any weight training? Probably 99% of pro athletes use weights. We’re all doing it wrong? Is the research showing improvements from Oly lifts and from resistance training fabricated?

      You may feel empowered to disagree, but that doesn’t make you right. When you train folks, often an athletes vertical jump will increase 2 inches, their broad jump 8 inches, their 40yd will reduce .2 seconds, etc., following a few months of proper progressive RT. This happens all the time when you actually train athletes.

      Are you just trolling, or do you really think this way?

      Reply
      1. Rob Panariello

        There is a great benefit of the Olympic Lifts (OL’s) that is very often omitted during these types of discussions and that is the topic of the muscle coactivation index (CI). The great sprint coach Charlie Francis would often emphasize to achieve optimal athletic performance it is important for the antagonist muscle group to “relax” while the agonist muscle groups were active (producing force). I have had these conversations with Charlie as well as with his protégée, my good friend and outstanding S&C Coach Derek Hansen. During an athletic performance there is a relationship of the muscle activity that occurs between agonist and antagonist joint musculature that can be measured and compared resulting in the CI.

        We know that “traditional” strength exercises (i.e. the squat) may actually increase the CI of the muscle groups affecting a specific joint(s) as a result of this type of strength training is its positive effect upon joint stability. On the other hand the OL’s have demonstrated to decrease the CI allowing for a training mechanism that allows for a reduced antagonist muscle group contribution (i.e. relaxation so to speak) vs. the agonist muscle groups, allowing for improved overall performance. “Traditional” strength training (i.e. squatting) may increase vertical jump performance (a test of power), but not as well as the OL’s and the coactivation index is one reason to why this occurs. An analogy would be how plyometric training may inhibit the contribution of the GTO’s allowing for a more “explosive” event to occur.

        Just my opinion

        Rob Panariello

        Reply
        1. Andy...

          Another problem with emphasising too much on the big lifts/weight training is that it takes the elasticity out of the body. Read Dr. Vladimir Janda’s work.

          This is why Carl Lewis & Usain Bolt are so great, they weren’t STIFF.

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22510798

          Can you see where athletes/coaches might be going wrong?.

          Lets take this quote, “An elite athlete can potentially produce 5,500 Watts of power in the Snatch and Clean.”

          Lewis didn’t Snatch and Clean & Bolt seems to be using about 88lbs. Notice how the slower athletes seem to be getting stronger & stronger & more bulkier.

          “Probably 99% of pro athletes use weights. We’re all doing it wrong?”.

          Hmmmm…

          Reply
          1. John Grace

            So what your saying is don’t weight train at all. If you want to be a great athlete, lift the 5lb plastic dumbbells and do body weight strength work, right?

            Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt are genetic freaks. They are the .001% of athletes you could give ANY weight program to and they would still be dominant.

            When you are referring to Usain Bolt using 88lbs, I am assuming you mean this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOC7O9JOY3Y This type of work is doing very little to nothing for Bolts performance. It takes years and years to get any where close to a “peak performance”, yet you’re basing his success off of a 45 second YouTube video of him performing very poor hang cleans.

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