You’ve probably heard the saying before: ‘the body is a chain’. Every single part of our body is connected and cleverly interlinked with every other part of our body[i]. Think you are doing an isolation arm curl? What about the synergist and antagonist muscles? The Truth is that even when performing isolation training you will still be training more than one muscle group. Of course the purpose of many exercises is to maximize micro damage in one muscle while not fatiguing another, but you get my point here: the body is a chain.
Open or Closed?
The chain (or link) of the body’s movement is often described as the kinetic chain.In the exercise world we have two types of movements: open kinetic chain (OKC) or closed kinetic chain (CKC). If performing an OKC exercise then usually the furthest away part of your body is free to move, for example, the bench press is an OKC exercise because you can move your hands in open space when performing this exercise. An example of a CKC exercise would be a press up, due to the fact that your hands are in a fixed position. Which type of movements should you do to maximize your potential? Both. In Part 1 we established how to develop power, but what good is power if you can’t transfer and apply it? Think about Bruce Lee’s famous ‘one inch punch’. His kinetic chain was so well trained that he could create force from his foot, transfer it through his hips and apply it through his fist (making grown men fall down with only an inch of space to manoeuvre). Ultimately this is what every athlete wants, the ability to transfer force through their whole body and apply it to an external force.
The Weakest Link
Another cliché saying that holds true: ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’. The fact is, if you have one link that isn’t performing optimally then you will not apply the forces you want to because your muscle that isn’t functioning optimally will use other muscles to compensate – creating an imbalance[ii]. This means speed, strength and endurance will all suffer. A muscle that is not working properly does not necessarily mean an injury, it could be that tight hips are stopping lower body force transferring through to the upper body, or it could a lack of motor control. That’s why I highly recommend a full mobility warm up using mainly dynamic exercises – serving as a type of prehabiliation. There is more on that subject in the final part of Athletic Development. The take away message here is that if you are injured then you won’t produce as much force as you could when you are fit.
There are different methods when training to develop force production; however, the purpose of this part of the series (as I alluded to earlier) is to discover how to apply the force when there is sufficient maximal strength and speed-strength (power) already established. The best way to learn how to transfer the maximum force you can achieve is through triple extension. This means pointing the toes (plantar flexion) straightening the legs (knee extension) and tensing your glutes and lowers abs to allow straight hips (hip extension).As a coach, exercises that get people into triple extension are like too many Scarlett Johansen movies – never a bad thing. Why? Because they make you transfer force quickly, carry over to athletic endeavours (running, jumping etc), activate a lot of muscle fibres (such as the calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads, lower back, and abs) and involve coordination.
Train the Chain
Like everything, there are many ways in to train an individual’s ability to be explosive. Here is a list of exercises you can perform in a gym setting that I think give the ‘biggest bang for your buck’while having a good risk: reward ratio.
Box Jumps (and variations)
Broad Jumps (a standing long jump)
Power Cleans (and variations)
Single Arm Clean & Press
Single Arm Snatch
If you are trying to train force development then I highly suggest training the above movements at the start of a session. For example, maybe you are about to do some heavy back squats – try some sets of box jumps first. This will help fire up your central nervous system (CNS) and of course train the all important triple extension.
For my more advanced clients (that are technically sound and have established a very good rate of force development) I have used triple extension exercises for conditioning. For example, at the end of a lower body training session I have thrown in sets of timed power cleans, which is a technical move.
I don’t invite people to dedicate a day to training triple extension, but like flexibility and mobility I would include it within certain sessions. Here is an example of how to train the kinetic chain and force development:
3 / 4
Power Cleans (50% of 1RM)
6 / 2
3 / 6
3 sec iso hold at bottom
Glute Ham Raise
3 / 8
3 / 25secs
25secs iso hold
*An example of a training session (after a warm up) which trains explosive force for individuals that have no prior injuries and know how to perform these exercises correctly.
One thing to remember when training is what variable is going to change the following week. So if you did the above session today, how would you progress it? Use a higher box? Use 52.5% on the power cleans? Heavier split squats? Or take away some recovery time? Anything will work as long as you remember to progress it for around 4 weeks.
The body is a chain, learn to use every part. If you include whole body movements in your session you will be promoting maximum calorie consumption (using lots of muscles) and improved athletic performance (triple extension and force transfer).