Speed is king. Every coach and athlete knows this when it comes to being able to play at high levels. Research has stated that increasing power is going to make athletes faster during their sport. Plyometrics (jumping or throwing) will always be a great sport-specific way to increase power, but what about the weight room? This article will discuss three methods to increase the ability to produce force faster without the use of complex lifting such as doing the Olympic lifts (Clean and Jerks; Snatches).
Compensatory Acceleration Training
Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) coincides with the simple idea that if you want to be fast, TRAIN fast. A method popularized by Fred Hatfield, who describes power as getting as many motor units (the tiny part of muscles that cause muscle tension when activated) turned on to cause a sudden explosive movement. The nice thing about CAT is that the premise behind it can be done at any given percentage of a one rep max (1RM). This is important when referring to the force velocity curve, which states that heavier loads move slower and lighter loads move faster, in simple terms.
Compensatory acceleration training is simply put, giving all of your effort and using as much muscle activation to move the weight as fast as possible through the entire range of motion (ROM). Compensatory acceleration training is achieved by continuing to accelerate the bar through the more advantageous angles of the concentric phase of an exercise. An easy example is a Back Squat: The higher someone gets above parallel, the stronger they are. The issue is that when these stronger positions occur during the movement, athletes will tend to put in less effort knowing they can get the weight up, and acceleration slows down. With CAT it is the opposite. Keep trying to speed up the bar through those stronger phases of the movement during the concentric and that is where power is achieved.
I think CAT is best used at lower percentages, because if power is what we're looking for then being able to move the lighter loads fast is where to find the most optimal use of power. What is great about compensatory acceleration training is that even at those higher percentages, an athlete can still focus on accelerating the weight through the whole ROM and still increase power production. The ability to train with this method takes many quality reps over time with the movement being performed and a high amount of focus and intent during each rep to perform CAT.
The second method is Accommodating Resistance, which is a type of training that uses chains, bands or weight releasers to vary the load throughout the exercise. I'm going to be specifically gearing toward using bands in this article for the specific benefits they allow that chains and weight releasers do not.
Using bands during an exercise allows for the load to be varied at different ranges of motion depending on what outcome is desired. My preferred method of using bands is by anchoring the bands from the bar to the ground. The load will be made lighter at the bottom of the lift due to band tension being decreased and heavier at the top of the lift.
The reason this is so useful in increasing power is because increased band tension at the top of the lift allows an athlete to power the band through the full ROM without having to worry about hyperextending the lockout; such as the elbows on a Bench Press or the knees on a Back Squat. That part is a similar concept to the CAT method above. The difference is that because the band tension is actively pulling the load down, even if the eccentric is done in a more controlled manner, there is an increase in the energy that is stored/potentiated that will allow a higher force production during the concentric (Simmons, Special Strength Development).
Higher force productions are key for increasing power. Something to keep in mind are the percentages used and the band tension weight. If we're looking to increase power for our athletes, we can't just throw 60% of 1RM on the bar, put whatever band we find to add tension and assume it'll still have the same power output as if there were no band. Taking the band tension into consideration is crucial to applying the correct amount of load to get the most desired outcome for our athletes that are training.
The ability to absorb force and redirect that force in any given direction is crucial to being a high-level athlete. Reversal strength training is an effective way to increase the ability to absorb and redirect force, and I'm putting it in here as a subsection of Accommodating Resistance because bands are a tool to increase Reversal Strength.
I first came across the ideas surrounding increasing Reversal Strength while reading Cal Dietz's Triphasic Training manual and Louie Simmons' Special Strength Development book, both are a read I recommend for any strength and conditioning coach. The methods used for increasing reversal strength implement overspeed eccentrics—or another term that is used congruently with this is "shock training" with weights. The concept works by having the weight move at a speed that is faster than gravity allows. This is done by either adding bands which actively pull the weight down due to the tension as discussed before, or using muscles to actively pull the weight down. When this increase in velocity during the eccentric phase occurs, there is an even higher increase in the amount of energy that is stored/potentiated than stated before to be reversed to higher power production on the concentric. The ability to quickly "hit the brakes," use the stretch-shortening cycle and switch to a powerful concentric muscle contraction with control is where Reversal Strength comes in, and is seen during sport movements such as quickly jumping or changing directions.
Implementing this requires a more experienced athlete with the physical preparedness to perform this without injuring themselves. If an athlete who doesn't have the preparedness for it, on a Back Squat for example, can crash down without being able to stop in good position and have issues transferring the force back up. I usually start my programming by putting a pause at the bottom (Isometric) of that overspeed eccentric to show that an athlete can control the weight at a high velocity then progress to decreasing that isometric pause until they can perform with no pause at all. While still thinking about the force velocity curve and wanting an increase in power, lower percentages are warranted while using bands or not.
Due to the nature of methods to increase Reversal Strength, apply with higher level high school, college or professional athletes toward the end of the offseason to get athletes adapted to moving fast instead of long slow reps correlating to their respective sports.
The last method of power production development I'm going to discuss is using Cluster Sets instead of traditional sets. Typically a Power phase in programming will go through sets and reps such as 4 sets of 3 reps or 8 sets of 2 reps and so on. I've seen programs with anywhere between 3-12 sets and a typical rep range is 1-4 reps. Not saying that is wrong and has been proven to work for years. The reason why the rep range is so low is because power tends to decrease over more and more reps. That's why the volume of sets will tend to increase so that a higher volume of powerful reps can be done.
This is where Cluster Sets are great.
Cluster Sets tend to be used when you want to increase power endurance or when a coach doesn't want a large drop-off of power over higher repetition sets. The premise is that during the course of the set an athlete will perform a number of repetitions, take a short rest anywhere between 10-20 seconds and then perform more repetitions. This can be repeated as many times as the coach sees fit as long as power doesn't decrease significantly.
An example I've used for my athletes using the Bench Press is to do 4 sets of 3 repetitions taking a 15-second break and repeating that two more times to complete the set (i.e., 4x3+3+3). Using that example, the athlete is performing 9 total repetitions per set instead of the traditional 1-4 rep range, and keeping the power production up without a significant drop-off as if they did 9 straight repetitions through the whole set. I find this method to be easier on less advanced athletes, because of a couple things: it allows them to perform a weight for more reps than they normally would be able to due to the replenishing of their energy system during the short break and there's less complexity behind it—you do the exercise take a short break and do it again. There are no crazy setups or super intuitive cueing that the coaches need to say to get a desired result.
Photo Credit: South_agency/iStock
- Are Olympic Lifts Right For You? Here's How to Find Out
- The Easy Alternative to Olympic Lifts That Can Get Anyone More Explosive
- Forget Olympic Lifts: Build Awesome Explosive Power With a Med Ball