By Justin Seltzer

There is one immutable fact of strength training: simply getting the
weight from point A to point B is not enough to make you powerful. In
fact, the very name “strength training” belies the fact that strength
is only one component one must develop in order to become a proficient
strength athlete. The other most important component, the one most
often left out of the equation, is speed. Speed and strength combine
into the amorphous word “power,” which I will explore with more detail
later in this article. These elements are incredibly complex and work
at the fringes of the body’s genetic potential for movement; everyone
is different and that is why trying to find the “best” system is often
an elusive and frustrating endeavor. I encourage all of you to do your
homework on the different methods out there and consult your coaches
to see which may be best for you. I am not going to highlight what I
think the best method is. I want to clarify somewhat what exactly
power is, what the benefits of its development are, and how one can
start to go about doing so.

What is power?

As I alluded to before, power is the combination of strength and
speed. But, more specifically, power is defined in physics as f•d/t. f
is force, or the amount of weight you are moving. d is distance, or
the distance the weight moves from the starting position to the ending
position. t is time, or the time it takes to cover the entire
distance, d. This equation is simple and very easy to understand in
practical terms. To facilitate this understanding, let’s compare the
deadlift and the clean. The deadlift is a core powerlift and is made
to lift a lot of weight; many people at CrossFit Mean Streets can pull
far more than 400 pounds off the floor. The clean is a very powerful
Olympic lift that is intended to be the most efficient means by which
one would get weight from the ground to shoulder level. Unlike the
deadlift, it requires a significant amount of speed (and the
components of that: flexibility, balance, and coordination) to
complete and as such the amount of weight that can be done
successfully decreases significantly.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Well if you can lift a lot more
with the deadlift, then it is obviously the more powerful lift,
right?” And you would be wrong. Remember, the key factor in power is
the time element. I used the clean and the deadlift earlier because
the bar travels roughly the same distance in both lifts. So let’s
compare a 1RM 400-pound deadlift and a 1RM 200 pound clean. The
deadlift’s force, f, is twice that of the clean and they travel
roughly the same distance, d. However, the clean can be completed in
under a second while the deadlift may take 3-4 seconds to complete. So
while the deadlift has the advantage in amount of weight moved, in
this example the clean ends up being nearly twice as powerful at half
the weight. And the clean is only one example of a power-developing
exercise.

Simply, development of powerful exercises creates a kind of strength,
speed, flexibility coordination, and balance that cannot be achieved
by any other means. All areas of your personal fitness are made better
by a proper application of these techniques.

Why is power development important?

Power development is important for a variety of reasons. I will cover
two important ones.
First, development of these techniques directly benefits both the
primary components (strength and speed) and secondary components
(flexibility, coordination, and balance) of power; these elements also
happen to benefit other areas of fitness and everyday life. By virtue
of their speed, these exercises require significantly greater body
awareness and thus produce a more pronounced neuromuscular adaptation
than slower exercises. For traditional sport athletes, the development
of these neuromuscular pathways during off-season lifting sessions is
crucial for on-field success. The same benefits from this training can
be felt in the body weight elements of CrossFit.
Second, development of the phosphagen and glycolytic metabolic
pathways ultimately benefits the oxidative metabolic pathway as well.
Without getting too much in detail about what that means (if you’re
curious, look up the CrossFit Journal article “What is Fitness?”), in
short the development of your short (a few seconds) and medium range
(a few minutes) energy pathways is the best way to develop your long
range (many minutes) energy pathways. This is one of the basic
principles behind CrossFit generally, and it certainly applies here.
The body responds best muscularly, vascularly, and hormonally (in
other words, every way that applies to positive development) to
multiple, short duration, high effort movements. Not only that, but
the lower number of repetitions relatively to long duration, low
effort movements (ie. distance running) reduces the likelihood of
repetitive stress injuries and maximizes the anabolic (muscle
building) potential of the body. Power developing exercises fit into
this mold perfectly. Combining this with a resistance towards
specialization, like in CrossFit, you can find a potent mix of
strength and conditioning that can truly expand your fitness level
beyond what simple monstructural (distance running, biking, etc.) work
can offer.

What can I do to develop power?

This is the eternal question, the Holy Grail that strength coaches
have sought for years. I wish I had the best answer. If I did, I’d
probably be sleeping in a mansion somewhere paying someone to count my
money for me. Instead, I can only point the way. In the end, personal
experimentation is most crucial.

1) Olympic lifts: As illustrated above, they create unparalleled power
and help develop all primary and secondary aspects. There are also
supplementary lifts and exercises, such as the front squat, hang
clean, and so on that help develop strength for the more complex
Olympic lifts.

2) Sprints: I look at sprints as the unweighted, horizontal equivalent
of the Olympic lifts. Watch some videos of Olympic sprinters and
you’ll see what I mean.

3) Plyometrics: Develop the ability to use leg power explosively and
under control. Can be done unweighted or weighted.

4) Practicing form: Developing the neuromuscular pathways for all
exercises with low weight/low effort helps you become better at them
when bringing up the intensity.

As always, if you have any questions on this stuff, feel free to ask
me or the other coaches. Until next time guys, happy training.

WOD 2-18-11

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1

Squat Snatches 75lbs/45lbs
Strict Pullups
Knees to Elbows

CrossFit Mean Streets Downtown Los Angeles la

Scoreboard

CrossFit Mean Streets
Downtown LA

4 Comments

    • February 18, 2011

    Please note two things:
    1) When I refer to a clean, it is the one with a squat (not a power clean).
    2) When performing the clean properly, the bar is actually not supposed to travel any farther than it did during your first pull, or the deadlift portion, because you are supposed to rapidly come under it as it hangs. Once the bar is racked on the shoulders, it becomes basically the concentric portion of a front squat and is no longer a rapid, powerful movement (and thus takes more time). So I only considered the rapid pull-under in my power comparison.

    • February 18, 2011

    Great post, Justin. Good writing.

    • February 18, 2011

    Justin ,

    Clear , succinct , and non patronizing = awesome!

    • February 19, 2011

    I appreciate the complements, guys. Thanks!

Comments are now closed for this article.