You see a lot of pitiful sights in the gym, from women trying to "tone" their flabby thighs using the leg adductor machine, to guys with 80 pounds of fat between their neck and groin doing 20 sets of biceps curls. But sad as those misguided masses may be, you're probably not beyond sympathy yourself. The real shame at your gym is what you don't see--power training. And I'll bet you're as guilty as all the machine-huggers, "body sculptors," and other "please don't let me get too big" folks who forsake it for feminine fads such as yoga and Pilates.
If you're serious about lifting, you're already familiar with what's considered traditional "powerlifting," which uses heavy weights and low reps to develop pure strength. (It's no coincidence that the biggest dudes in the gym are the ones maxing out on benches, squats, and deadlifts. So if you're not already doing this, you should start.) But "power training" is different. It's performed by moving relatively light weights as fast as possible and was originally used solely for improving speed and athleticism.
But properly employed, power training can also help you get bigger, stronger, and even leaner. You won't find this method in many bodybuilding playbooks, but you might have noticed that some of the best-built athletes on the planet, such as gymnasts, sprinters, and wrestlers, do OK in the muscle department, despite the fact that they don't train like your average musclehead.
Why It Pays to Be Power Hungry
It builds size.
Power moves target the muscle fibers that have the most potential to grow, increasing your muscles' overall surface area.
It helps increase strength.
If you lift with the same speed every workout, your muscles will learn to generate strength only at that speed. Since lifting heavy causes you to lift weights more slowly (think about it), your muscles learn to develop force slowly, eventually causing you to stall in your quest to move more iron.
Teaching your muscles to generate force at a faster speed helps make heavier loads more manageable in the future.
It burns fat.
Power exercises are hard--they take a lot out of you. And hard exercise speeds up your metabolism for hours longer than easy workouts (such as jogging).
Power training is different, and there's no better way to bust out of a training rut than by putting some variety in your iron diet. You'll actually be throwing the weights in some cases, which means you have to pay close attention to what you're doing. Ultimately, you won't get bored, and you'll enjoy and look forward to your workouts even more.
Five Power Outlets
1. Ballistic Bench Press
Set up the Smith machine with about 40% of your max bench-press weight. (Remember, the bar weighs 15 pounds, not 45.) Position the bench so the bar is above your lower chest. Now do a standard bench press, but drive the bar up as fast as you can and release it at the top of the movement. That's right: Throw the sumbitch. It'll come down slowly. Do 5-9 sets of three reps.
Good for: Improving your ability to get heavy weights moving, which will help in scoring a new max bench.
2. Plyometric Pushup
Perform a pushup, but explode as you come up so both your hands and feet come off the floor. Do multiple sets of 3-4 reps. To burn more fat, do two or three sets following the ballistic bench press.
Good for: Finishing off upper-body workouts and total-body fat-loss routines.
3. Flying Lateral Raise
Hold a dumbbell that's slightly lighter than what you'd use for a regular lateral raise in your left hand. Bend at the hips and knees until you can hold the weight between your legs at knee level. Bend your left elbow and square your shoulders to the floor. Now, simultaneously straighten up and raise the weight to your left side as fast as you can, letting go of the dumbbell at the top of the movement. (It should travel a few inches above your shoulder.) Catch it and immediately begin the next rep. Do three reps, then switch hands and repeat. Do 3-5 sets on each side. Eventually, you should be able to use more weight than on a regular lateral raise, and your tosses should get higher, too.
Good for: Building wider shoulders and ensuring that people give you your space in the gym.
4. Jump Squat
Set up for a regular squat but use a third of your max squat weight. Squat two-thirds of the way down, then spring up so your feet come off the floor. Land on the balls of your feet, knees slightly bent, and go right into your next rep. Do 4-8 sets of 2-3 reps. Strive for maximum height rather than heavy load.
Good for: Improving vertical leap and building stronger connective tissues.
5. Dumbbell Power Clean
Hold dumbbells that are slightly lighter than what you would normally use for a standing hammer curl. Dip your knees, then jump, shrug your shoulders, and heave the weights up to the top of your shoulders. With practice, you should be able to use more weight than you can curl with strict form, since your whole body is in the act. Do 3-8 sets of three reps.
Good for: Building bigger biceps and improving your vertical leap.