Apr 21, 2017
Building Power, Part I
Nick Tumminello

Many coaches are searching for ways to make their athletes more powerful and explosive. But training for power isn’t easy, as there is no simple, go-to framework.

To fill this gap, I developed the concept of the “three pillars of power.” It provides a simple, yet fully comprehensive power training regimen. Together, the three pillars provide the foundation for all explosive actions. The pillars are:

• Vertical or diagonal power: Such as a high jumper leaping over a bar

• Horizontal power: Such as an offensive lineman pushing a defender back

• Rotational power: Such as a golfer swinging a club.

All of the exercises used within the three pillars of power framework meet the following criteria:

Train the total body: Whether vertical or diagonal, horizontal, or rotational, athletic movements are not driven by strength and power generated in one specific area of the body. Rather, they require the combination of individual muscles working in a smooth, coordinated sequence. Similarly, the three pillars of power movements use as many muscles as possible in a sequential and explosive manner to obtain maximal force.

Emphasize movement speed: Producing force quickly is a primary factor in power training. I have found that three pillars exercises, like jumps and medicine ball throws, closely match the force-production patterns of fast, ballistic, sport-type actions. Several studies have shown that these movements involve what is called a “triphasic muscle-firing pattern” of predominantly burst-like muscle activation. This has significant implications on power programming and exercise selection because it demonstrates that the fast, ballistic actions common to sports involve different neuromuscular coordination patterns than the slower movements commonly found in strength training. Therefore, in order to better adapt to and refine the triphasic muscle-activation pattern, coaches should incorporate fast, ballistic exercises into their regular power training.

Be specific to sporting actions: Pillars of power exercises are categorized as specific, not because they load the skills required in any given sport, but because they replicate the force generation and neuromuscular coordination patterns that form the foundation of all explosive sport actions. However, while the three pillars of power concept focuses on specificity, its exercise applications are not meant for sport-based skills. Working on sport skills with specific exercises is not the same thing as working to improve specific force generation and neuromuscular coordination patterns that transfer into targeted athletic movements, as the three pillars of power are designed to do.

Unaware of this distinction, some coaches advise athletes to perform what they call “sport-specific” or “functional” exercises. Examples might include attaching a resistance band to a golf club or shadowboxing with bands strapped around an athlete’s back. Loading sport skills in this manner rests on a misunderstanding of how to properly use specific exercises.

Next week: A look at three exercises that can be included to address all the pillars equally.

Nick Tumminello is the owner of Performance University, which provides practical education for fitness professionals worldwide. The 2016 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year, he is also the author of Strength Training for Fat Loss and Building Muscle and Performance and has produced more than 15 strength and conditioning DVDs. Tumminello writes a blog at: www.NickTumminello.com.

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