Power is a trait sought by every athlete, but people training for general health and fitness commonly neglect it. Even though you are not stepping on a field or court to compete you should still include some type of power training in your program. The effects of building more power will improve maximal strength, increase athleticism, and improve overall conditioning.

Power is defined as the result of force times velocity. Put simply it means moving an object with increased weight and/or increased speed. Power is created from fast twitch muscle fibers which are used when lifting maximal weight or when producing maximal speed. Fast twitch fibers also burn more calories than slow twitch muscle fibers when used. This is most commonly trained through jumping, throwing an object, or performing explosive weighted exercises (clean, jerk, etc.). These selections are great for athletes to improve their triple extension (hip, knee, and ankle) which usually translates directly to their sport, but that may not be a goal for non-athletes. This is where the kettlebell can be added to provide an element of power training to anyone's program.

Kettlebell swings are great for developing power in hip and knee extension just like in a jump. You use the hinge to swing the kettlebell forward, but you keep the heels on the floor unlike the previously mentioned exercises. Most explosive exercises only use up to 60% of maximal weight and swings fit right in to this formula. Even using a 100+lb kettlebell is still a small percentage of what you could lift in the hip hinge with exercises like deadlifts or hip bridges.

Here are some reasons to use swings for your power training.

1. Injury Consideration

If a client or athlete has suffered an ankle sprain or meniscus injury then adding jumping to their program may not be the best choice. The impact of landing a jump could cause them to re-injure themselves or to guard that injury with compensatory landing strategies. The kettlebell swing is powerful, but causes minimal impact on the knees and ankles. And with the swing you remain grounded, keeping the knees and ankles safe from impact.

2. Increasing Load

It is hard to use progressive overload with jumps and throws, but for swings you can increase weight to ensure improvement. As mentioned earlier, power = force x velocity. Without speed trackers, like a TENDO, it is hard to determine how much faster the weight is going, but power output will be increased by increasing the force of moving a heavier weight. Increasing the weight you swing to chest level with proper technique just from a 24kg kettlebell to a 32kg kettlebell will see noticeable differences in hip extension power.

3. Equipment Selection

It's easy to build a power training protocol when you have a wide variety of boxes, open space for throwing, or weights made for dropping, but not everyone has this selection at their disposal. Just a single kettlebell and a confined place is all that is needed to increase power. The cost of a single kettlebell is easier on the bank account than a set of plyo boxes and Olympic style bars and weights.

4. General Athleticism

Not everyone is graced with natural athletic movement or are many years removed from their athletic endeavors. This limitation presents a challenge in learning complex movements and will keep them from getting any benefit from the power building exercise. A kettlebell swing requires some athleticism, but not as much as the Olympic barbell movements. The majority of the time a swing can be learned and performed sufficiently in a few sessions.

5. Sport Specific

In the sport of powerlifting, it is required to keep the heels on the floor during the squat and deadlift. The swing helps to reinforce a hard hip drive without lifting the heels and will translate well to the lifts. Since the swing closely resembles a deadlift you will get more practice in grooving the hip hinge with less physical and neurological fatigue.

If you are going to implement swings in your program, the first step is to perfect the technique. If you can do a movement slow then you can always do it fast, but if you can do a movement fast it does not mean that you can do it slow. The swing is a hinge with a finish at a standing plank so these movements should be first practiced slowly before trying to attempt at full speed. The hamstrings, glutes, and anterior core muscles are the targets so they must be fully activated when practicing kettlebell deadlifts and the high plank. Own these positions before you start dialing up volume on swings.

I started emphasizing power at the beginning on my routines after reading Chad Wesley Smith's writings (Juggernaut Method) and it had a great carry-over to my functional strength training sessions. Power training provides a good stimulation of the neuromuscular system without being physically taxing; therefore, it is a good choice to perform before strength training.

The following is a basic progression I use at the beginning of a workout to build power.

Week 1: 5 swings EMOTM (every minute on the minute) x 6 min

Week 2: 5 swings EMOTM x 8 min

Week 3: 6 swings EMOTM x 6 min

Week 4: 6 Swings EMOTM x 8 min

Week 5: start over at week 1 with increased weight

This is a simple linear approach to power training that will result in a heavy swing after a few cycles.

Another method to increase power with swings that I have had success with is performing sets of 5 swings with a heavy weight in between my readiness, or warm up, exercises. This saves time compared to the on-the-minute program above, but will still have in impact on your strength training. The standard protocol in power training is to use a 1:6 work to rest ratio, so keep the swing repetitions low with plenty of recovery. Advanced clients may be able to perform 1:5 ratio of work to rest and still achieve power development. Shorter rest periods will prevent you from achieving maximum neurological output in each swing and will shift into an endurance/strength exercise instead. There is a time and place for this, but for maximum power development each set must be performed fresh.

My shared thoughts above are by no means an attempt to claim swings are the absolute best exercise for developing power and all other methods are inferior. The swing is great exercise to build the posterior chain and can have a part in increasing overall power for anyone.

About the Author: Ben Eisenmenger is a strength coach out of Peak Fitness and Sports Training in Northern Kentucky. He is certified in kettlebell training through StrongFirst and in movement screening through FMS. He was a collegiate shot put, discus, and hammer thrower which lead to pursuing strength competitions like giveroy sport, Tactical Strength Challenges, and currently amateur Strongman competitions as a middleweight. He uses these experiences to help others correct their movement issues to build an advanced level of strength. nkyfitness.com |


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