one can dispute their important
Over the course of our twenty-five years of experience in this
field, we have studied just about every type of strength/power
training system currently employed, and we feel that ours is at
least as effective as any of them. In addition, it's our opinion
that our approach is safer than many we've seen.
We would like to share this paradigm and the rationale behind it
PHYSIOLOGY 101: UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS Two critical factors that contribute to strength/power development
are muscle hypertrophy (i.e., growth) and adaptations in the nervous
Increases in the amount of actin and myosin (the tension generating
units of muscle tissue) are major constituents in force production,
and, ultimately, power improvement. Properly performed strength
training initiates the proliferation of actin and myosin and also
magnifies the strength of tendinous and ligament (i.e., connective)
From a neural standpoint, our muscles are constantly receiving what
are termed "excitatory" and "inhibitory" messages from the nervous
system. Excitatory messages, as the word implies, force our muscles
into action. Inhibitory messages act to hold us back, and, in some
cases, serve to protect us. For example, if we are not physically
prepared to lift a heavy object, a message will be sent to the
involved musculature to relax in order to prevent injury.
As an individual progresses in a strength-training program, the
inhibitory messages are gradually reduced. This is a result of the
increased strength and skill improvement in handling the given loads
and exercises. The reduction of the inhibitory messages allows the
trainee to recruit a larger than normal amount of muscle mass at a
given time, resulting in greater force production with concomitant
FAST TWITCH VS SLOW TWITCH Our muscle tissue is comprised of a spectrum of fibers that have
varying endurance and force generating characteristics. For the sake
of this discussion, we will simply refer to them as either slow
twitch or fast twitch fibers.
Slow twitch muscles fibers cannot produce as much force as fast
twitch fibers. Fast twitch fibers also generate a given level of
force in a shorter period of time than slow twitch fibers.
Obviously, for activities requiring high power outputs, the
recruitment of fast twitch fibers is paramount.
Muscle fibers are recruited according to what is known as the "size
principle." Simply put, the fibers are activated, from smaller to
larger (slow twitch to fast twitch), relative to the force
requirements of the task. Initially, if the force requirements are
low, the slow twitch fibers are capable of handling the load. As the
force requirements are heightened to a level where the slow twitch
fibers can no longer sustain the effort, the fast twitch fibers are
Our neuromuscular system is very cost-efficient in fiber
recruitment; only the type and amount of fibers needed to complete
the task are called upon.
An interesting precept here is that it is not the speed of the
movement, but rather the force requirements of the movement, that
dictate the type and amount of muscle fibers to be activated. For
example, it is quite possible to lift a relatively "light" object
very quickly, with low intensity, and activate only slow twitch
fibers. Conversely, lifting a relatively "heavy" object in a
controlled fashion, but with high intensity, will eventually
activate the fast twitch fibers.
Why does this happen? Simply, the heavier object, even though lifted
in a slower fashion, creates more muscle tension and requires a
higher force output than the lighter object lifted at a faster
Therefore, at least in the weight room setting, the focus should be
on incorporating movements and techniques that produce high tension,
not high speed.
Later, we will explain how to utilize this newfound strength/power
in the athletic setting. At this point, however, we will describe
the strength-training guidelines and techniques that are extremely
efficient in the recruitment and development of these
power-producing, fast twitch fibers.
THE STRENGTH AND POWER GAME PLAN
Now that we have a simplified physiology construct in place, let's
identify the key principles for strength/power augmentation in the
Perform perfect reps:
Repetitions should be performed with a smooth and controlled
movement speed. While a designated cadence is not mandatory, a good
rule of thumb is to execute the concentric phase (raising) of the
rep in 1-2 seconds, and the eccentric phase (lowering) in 3-4
When possible, a slight pause (1-second) is suggested at the
mid-range position of the rep. This will ensure a smooth
transition between the concentric and eccentric phases, while
providing an additional stimulus to the target area at its point
of full contraction.
Create and maintain constant muscle tension:
The purpose of a properly performed rep is to create and maintain
tension within the targeted musculature. This tenet invokes the
sought after muscle fiber recruitment pattern (i.e., the "size
In order to achieve this, it is necessary to minimize momentum
when performing repetitions. Avoid jerking, bouncing, throwing, and
dropping the load. The target musculature should be forced to
perform the required work. Lift the weight, don't throw it; lower
the weight, don't drop it.
From a safety standpoint, this rule will aid the trainee in
maintaining the correct body posture for each exercise, which
lessens the probability of injury.
Use the heaviest weight safely possible for the given rep range:
Strength training is hard work. It is not merely a matter of
weights going up and down. Muscles respond to the demands placed on
them. Rep ranges can and should vary (e.g., 6-10, 10-15, 15-20,
etc.) for appropriate adaptations and variety.
The one constant, however, is that we instruct our athletes to
work in those rep ranges with the heaviest weight safely possible.
For the most part, our guiding principle regarding intensity of
effort is as follows: If you could have done another rep with proper
form, you should have done it. Exceptions to this rule would be
exercises like the barbell squat, where the nature of the movement
would compromise safety if it were done in an all-out manner.
Safety is the operative word with this guideline. We never
compromise our number one priority in the weight room - the health
and well-being of our athletes. When all safety considerations are
documented and understood by everyone, it is absolutely possible
to train with both intensity and common sense.
Train in a comprehensive fashion:
All of the major muscle compartments (i.e., neck, hips/legs/low
back, mid-section, torso, and arms) should be addressed during the
course of the training week. This is not to say that every area
needs to be trained during each workout, but by the completion of
2-3 workouts, all of the aforementioned areas should have been
This axiom will avert imbalances in these complexes and
concurrently minimize the associated injury potential.
Have a plan for progressive overload:
Accurate record keeping in strength training is critical. Over
time, a plan for increasing the reps and/or weights must be in place
for gradual, progressive enhancements in strength/power to be
Our plan is simple in design, difficult in physical execution.
Known as "double progression," it involves working with the same
weight in a designated rep range (e.g., 6-10) until the high end of
the range is attained. The weight is then increased anywhere from
2.5 to 10 lbs., depending on the exercise and area of the body in
question. Single-joint (e.g., leg extension) exercises are increased
2.5-5 lbs., multi-joint exercises (e.g., leg press) are increased
FROM THE WEIGHT ROOM TO THE FIELD
In our past articles on skill development and specificity, we've
discussed the separation of weight room skills and athletic skills.
To sum it up here, make sure you are training for the skills you
expect to be learned.
Strength training is vital in developing the needed strength/power
for the execution of various sport skills. However, the lifting
skills themselves do not transfer to the proper execution of any
As the skeletal muscles are developed with strength training, the
challenge then becomes learning to demonstrate this newly acquired
strength/power in the required sport skills. The neuromuscular
adaptations garnered from strength training can greatly assist in
sport skill power - but only with specific practice of the sport
skill(s) in question.
Maximize Your Training: Insights from Leading Strength and Fitness
Professionals, (Brzycki, M., editor) 1999, Masters Press, Chicago,