So HOW do we safely train for power?
If you haven’t already, please check out Part 1 of this series on WHY we want to train for power at any age or ability level.
Now let’s get moving in the HOW, the action stage of getting powerful!
In each category below, you will see the best single best fundamental exercise or combination that I call the “ONE THING”. This is the movement that will get you the farthest while being simple, safe and highly effective without needing a great deal of equipment or technical skill.
As I mentioned in the previous article, I strongly believe that if you invest even a small amount of your training time into training for power, the results will be noticeable and impressive over time – as long as you are consistently training intentionally for power 2-3x per week. So even committing to as little as one of the exercises, in any of the categories below, for as little as 5 minutes a session over the next month will produce a noticeable effect and leave you wanting more.
Kettlebells/Gym Based Training
The simplest most effective gym based tool that I know of, and have used extensively to train for power, is the kettlebell. This is where I believe everyone should start, and continue, to spend at least some of their weekly training time. You don’t need olympic lifts (variations, of cleans and snatches with a barbell) to be powerful or some instagram worthy boppy “jump” training routine that seems so rampant in our society.
This is especially true for athletes and “regular folks” who don’t want to put in the time and effort to learn the olympic lifts. These can be quite grueling and hard on the body from my experience as a mildly competitive Olympic lifter and coach. I would go so far as to say that no one over 40 years old NEEDS to use a barbell to train, especially when it comes to authentic power or as I call it “superpowered” training for life.
So back to the kettlebell, the bell has so much value for power training that it’s hard for me to summarize briefly, and do it justice in some sense, but here goes…
First of all, the weight/handle configuration is set up very well for power training that is very similar to throwing an implement. The majority of the weight is away from the body, creating a much more challenging environment and is also quite self correcting since it gives great feedback. Try swinging a dumbbell and then pick up a kettlebell of the same weight. The kettlebell in motion just feels so much better, like it wants to be swung. I actually consider swings to be a “controlled throw and catch”; it is truly the closest thing to actually throwing without having to let go of an implement. Your lawn or your local parks dept will appreciate this too, since you won’t be leaving any divots in the ground.
Another point worth noting is the bell also allows the user to use a more complete range of motion, deep into the hips, and provides incredible effects similar to jumping without having the risk and skill of having to actually leave the ground. It really is a total body transfer of power from the ground through the body into the implement using the most muscles possible though the hip hinge. The posterior chain (back half muscles of the body) and core are the foundation of all power.
On top of all this, having a weight in hand really allows a person to feel the “pulsing” rhythmic nature of a full explosive contraction of the glutes and abs while enjoying the floating feeling of the effort and then the controlled fall back into the hips before repeating for the desired number of reps (usually 5-10 reps is optimal).
The two biggest heavy hitter kettlebell bang for your buck exercises are the 2-hand swing and the 1-arm snatch. The swing is essentially a projection of force forward like a standing long jump with the user “jumping” their hips and overall energy into the bell instead of actually leaving the ground. The bell takes a controlled, explosive ride forward until the user slows down the weight and allows it to smoothly return to the starting position so the athlete can repeat the process.
The snatch is much more of a vertical projection of force or vertical jump motion with the user’s momentum being transferred into the implement and safely “thrown” overhead where the person skillfully stops the momentum again and pauses before returning the bell back down to reload for another rep. These are incredibly valuable and rewarding athletic skills to attain.
We will be focusing on the swing for our ONE THING exercise because it is so simple and effective, but advanced users who have mastered the swing could use the snatch or a combination of both in their weekly training regime. Personally I still use both in my training even as a highly advanced power athlete.
Aim for swinging a kettlebell with approximately ¼ bodyweight (or maybe less) to start. Consider shooting a of yourself practicing this movement or have a qualified kettlebell coach to be sure each rep is smooth and explosive to be most effective before progressing.
I think we can all agree that seeing elite level sprinters like Usain Bolt or Flo Jo run is truly poetry in motion. Their seemingly effortless strides down the track is possibly the most beautiful expression of power that I’ve ever seen. Sprinting is the closest thing we can do to flying. OSI co-founder and avid sprinter, Tim Anderson sums it up well: “ It’s ‘soaring’ on two feet. It’s poetic power and it’s exhilarating”.
The way someone sprints is also very telling of how well their body is wiring and firing together along with their general mobility. It’s a culmination of everything working harmoniously together and right up there with throwing as the ultimate expression of pulsing power.
Many strong people look very awkward and cumbersome when they run because they don’t spend time sprinting, so the nervous system essentially becomes lazy and wants to protect the body from injury, so the tissues become stiff from the static lifting many people do. They lack the athletic, full range of motion of the hips and shoulder that sprinting provides.
Franz Snideman, my good friend, and elite sprint coach says, “sprinting is the one activity that recruits all of our body systems in one primal pattern that is hard wired in our DNA on the highest level for survival”.
Starting full on into a sprinting program is probably a bad decision for anyone who hasn’t been sprinting regularly throughout their lifetime, but we have some simple progressions you can work into this amazing skill at almost any age or ability level. At OS, we consider sprinting to be the top of the food chain for “reflexive strength” training once a person is slowly conditioned to it.
Now again, we can fast track this skill into something that we can reclaim or add as a new skill at virtually any age, and that starts with one of our favorite OS gait pattern skills…marching! The skill of marching may seem a little simple or underwhelming, but when practiced regularly with focus and intention, it’s a superpowered skill that delivers so many benefits from fat loss, hormone production (growth hormone and testosterone) to max end explosive speed.
one thing: for sprinting
Get going with Marching into Power Skips. Then progress to power skipping. This may be all you need if you are overweight, de-conditioned, or just want to cover your bases of movement. You can also then work into 10 meter sprints.
Projection of force from your body into an implement or another person is a primal skill that is all but forgotten and very poorly trained in our modern world. From throwing a spear to winning a hand to hand fight, we needed to be powerful and skilled at throwing and striking to simply survive in primitive times or God forbid, in a life and death situation.
Personally for me as a World Champion in the Scottish Highland Games, the value of throwing is an absolute no brainer after spending the good part of 20 years throwing stones, hammers, tree trunks, and sometimes even kegs (empty, of course). Being able to fully coil up and deliver a swift kick or powerful stone “putt” is an incredible skill that just feels badass, trust me!
Essentially, once you can throw a medicine ball well or swing a kettlebell with smooth, coordinated “pulsed power” as I call it, you will have the foundation for all types of throwing. Having the implement feel like an extension of your body will give you a lifelong appreciation for the art of throwing, and this will transfer surprisingly well from one implement to another, which means you can pick up just about anything or anyone, and throw it well!
For this program we will focus on throwing medicine balls for simplicity, safety, and of course, effectiveness. At the same time, this program has a great deal of influence from the “martial” side of training as well, and will no doubt benefit even the most skilled martial artist or those interested in striking harder just for the sake of knowing they can.
one thing: throwing
Consider the Med Ball Rotational Toss for Distance. Using medicine ball (ideally non bounce “slam ball” style ball) that is about 5-10% of your bodyweight, stand in your athletic jump stance, swing the ball to your side while shifting your weight back with the ball, coil up your upper body and pause briefly before uncoiling with the ball.
We could make a pretty good argument that jumping is the most dangerous and least important on this list for our functional, athletic performance or lifestyle goals, but it’s also such an incredible skill to own and right along with sprinting, so easily lost by most adults. The ability to jump and land with grace and precision is often not talked about either, so with jumping I like to say “what goes up, must come down even better” and I often have people work on jumping between obstacles and landing on awkward surfaces with “ninja landings” where they try to land as quiet as possible with every jump.
So with jumps we can do a lot to train our ability to absorb force and stay balanced, among other things. As a basic conditioning tool for the tendons and ligaments of the foot, ankle, and knees, I highly recommend doing some jump rope training several days a week or at least as a warm up before doing a regular plyometric (jump training) program.
Jumping is essential for many sports and we could easily say that a vertical or long jump test is the most coveted and valuable athletic test of relative power (power to bodyweight ratio, as opposed to raw power). The vertical jump and standing long jump have long been used in schools, the military and sports organizations like the NFL as part of the “combine” to test for relative power/weight.
So even if we don’t train it often, it’s a great test or expression of overall athletic ability and of course power. The vertical jump has a little less shock on the landing since you will be going relatively straight up with your jumps, so that will be our ONE THING skill here.
So now let’s jump into it.
one thing: jumping
Try Vertical Jump Repeats. Get into an athletic jump stance, swing your arms back and accelerate up onto your toes for a few reps to get the hang of it, or this may be your ideal place to start if you are not already doing any jumping in your training or have limitations like sore knees. Aim to create a smooth, rhythmic jump while minimizing your ground contact time.
Purposeful Play (even better with a partner)
Purposeful Play may sound like an oxymoron, but the concept here is to use a basic, fairly strict set of parameters to create an environment of movements that are fun, athletic, safe, and effective. Adding in an element of random unpredictability creates a nice little package while staying purposeful to our greater goal of power training.
Again, imagine being that kid on the playground again able to jump, run, and simply “do” whatever they feel like doing. What if you couldn’t lose or get hurt, how cool would that be? This is the ultimate “release the brakes” time to explore and be creative within the context I have given you. Ideally having a partner with you or an in-person coach will be ideal here to make things a bit more challenging, random and interactive, but we can still effectively work at playing (that sounds like an oxymoron too) without a partner, if needed.
With purposeful play, our goal is to tie everything together and add as much of a safe context to expect the unexpected. So that means we add elements of power at the highest level to our base of great movement, strength, balance, etc. Last of all, this is also a controlled way to make this as safe as possible while training these reactive, unpredictable patterns.
So being able to “expect the unexpected”, but still feel safe doing things here is key. Instead of jumping right onto a real world scenario or sport like barreling down the slopes or playing a game of touch football, we can control the environment and threats that might hurt us, and save the effort for times when you really want to use it “out in the wild” real world. The injury risk for sports like basketball and snow sports are incredibly high, especially for those over the age of 25 according to the data from the National Safety Council 2020.
one thing: purposeful play
All you need is a tennis ball, but a bouncy ball or “reaction ball” will really add to the challenge by making the bounces even more random and reactive in nature, especially if you do this on lumpy, uneven ground. Add a partner into the mix for more fun and connection too.
Super Powered Combos
What if we were to combine throwing, jumping and sprinting all in a row? Sounds crazy right? Well here goes, it can be done and we will show you how to do it with some modifications based on your current ability level + space/equipment available.
In this category we want to have a solid base of the other skills of jumping, throwing, and sprinting. A kettlebell combo can work, but the most effective option is going to be a med ball. We could essentially do any combo of movements in any order, but I have found the best way to build skills and feel the connection between them all is to start with the throwing motion, then adding a sprint and/or jump.
one thing: for a combo
Try the Leaning Med Ball Push-Toss-to-Sprint. This movement will help you naturally find a powerful pushing position for the ball and also the optimal angle of acceleration in your sprint at about a 45 degree angle.
Putting it All Together- It’s easy to remember P-O-W-E-R
Here is an easy acronym to remember the essential elements of power training. Use this go guide or filter your exercise choices, intensity, and quality of movement:
*Precision Pulsing- is this an exercise that I have a high level of proficiency, and can it be done in a rhythmic fashion? This will naturally happen as all of the other elements of the POWER acronym are done well.
*Organized- Plan your training, slowly increase repetitions and carefully progress the level of difficulty. As a good rule of thumb do not add more than 5% to intensity/difficulty or total volume of load between sessions.
*Work- remember to keep the work load generally on the lighter side (under 50% of max for beginners with anything loaded) and repetitions/time (under 30 sec of work or 10 reps ALWAYS). Training sessions can take as little as a few minutes to around 30 minutes max. Less is more.
*Explosiveness- all reps should be explosive, when in doubt stop and rest or lower the weight. A great rule of thumb here is to train the skill at 80% effort -be smooth and efficient, especially for beginners. Advanced athletes will be able to train closer to 100% of full speed, power, or throwing distance, but still do a fair amount of work at closer to 80%. In throwing we call these “range throws” and this makes up at least half of our training effort and time. The mental effort is always 100% focused on speed/power. Shoot video or have someone watch you. Is it truly explosive? Do you compensate in any way? When in doubt, rest longer, use less weight, and use the simplest version of a movement pattern.
*Return and Relax- Remember “what goes up, must come down even better” to train the “brakes” of the body by focusing on quiet “ninja foot landings” and good overall body control between jumps and sprints.The same goes for the kettlebell swing or anything thrown. We must be aware of what our feet are doing to help or harm our power production. The “R” is also a great one to help you focus on staying smooth and controlled as the kettlebell returns to the hips after a powerful swing.
So now that you have a bit more of an understanding and hopefully a new appreciation for the value of power training, are you ready to dive deeper into your own superpowered potential with a clean crisp new program developed just for this?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John Odden is an experienced strength coach and Original Strength Certified Professional, and a Highland Games World Record Holder based out of Bend, Oregon. Since he was a child he has been fascinated with improving his health, fitness and athleticism. He was a tall, skinny, awkward kid growing up who always lacked confidence, especially in the gym. Unfortunately, some misguided enthusiasm resulted in chronic back and shoulder injuries that sidelined his athletic career and limited his quality of life well into his 30s. Unknowingly, these injuries and setbacks would be the cornerstone of his passion and unique perspective on how to teach others to live an empowered, pain-free, active life using the strength and movement principles that he has created and honed in his 20+ year career. John is one of our OSi Online Coaches and has developed both the Crash Proof Course and Odin’s Quest: The Journey to Ancient Strength. He’s also got a great new course coming your way on, you guessed it, more power training!