Power development remains at the top of my mind as a coach and as an avid lifter.
I wrote an article last year about three exercises to keep you athletic as you age, which also dove into exercises that develop power.
If you’re an athlete, you know that power is essential to compete in your sport. However, you tend to shy away from those exercises as we leave team sports and enter the world of big box gyms.
However, I’d argue that power development is more important as we age.
While strength is vital for an easy life as we age, power is essential for a long functioning life. Think of getting out of a chair or catching your balance when you slip.
Both are quick and powerful actions that can lead to an injury and eventually a significant decline in independent living!
Now you may think, “Fine, you’ve won me over, but what is power?” I’ll give you two answers to that question:
Power = Work/𝚫t – Power equals work (think moving something with force) divided by change in time.
Sorry for the unnecessary physics lesson, but in non sciency terms, power is how fast you can move a heavy object.
Now here enters Olympic weightlifting.
Olympic lifts have been the standard of power development in collegiate strength and conditioning for years.
While the power clean, snatch, and clean and jerk are great lifts and can develop insane power in athletes, that doesn’t mean you have to do them.
Sure, they look great on an Instagram video, but they aren’t necessary for the everyday athlete.
Today, I want to show you 4 exercises you can do that don’t need years of mastery to learn.
The dumbbell snatch is my favorite alternative to Olympic lifting.
It requires less technical skill and can be learned in only a few sessions, if not one.
In my eyes, the dumbbell snatch is superior to the barbell snatch as
Start with a dumbbell hanging between your legs and feet a bit outside, hip-width apart.
Think about driving your feet through the floor and flinging your hand into the air.
Keep the dumbbell close to your body; we don’t want this to turn into a frontal raise.
You should have produced enough force that the dumbbell quickly gets above your head, and you can complete it with a soft catch with your arm straight and a slight bend in your knees.
Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the start and go again.
Check out the video below to see the snatch in action.
Keep the dumbbell very close to your body. This will help the momentum from your pull get the dumbbell overhead. I tell clients to act like they’re zipping up a jacket.
I program the dumbbell snatch at the beginning of my workouts to maximize my anaerobic power.
I typically do 3-4 sets and 2-6 reps on each side. This ensures that every rep is a quality rep, which drives the specific adaptations I seek.
A Trap Bar or Dumbbell squat jump will be the most accessible exercise on this list to learn.
These exercises biomechanically mimic a normal jump making them the most effective at increasing vertical jump height and power output.¹
While you can regress this exercise to a dumbbell jump squat, I still prefer the trap bar, as you can increase the load more effectively than dumbbells.
There isn’t much in terms of form here, simply step into the trap bar and jump!
However, to limit lower back discomfort, start with a big brace in your core (think about getting punched) and load up your hips and hamstrings by pushing your butt as far back as possible.
These will ensure you get the most out of your jump without pain.
Now there are a few variations to the trap bar squat jump, and each can yield different adaptations, and knowing which will do what is essential.
I’ve listed the three most common trap bar jumps below.
The countermovement jump will provide you with the most explosive of the three. You’re really just trying to do a max jump with an external load.
The countermovement jump incorporates the stretch-shortening cycle and mimics most athletic jumps.
The second variation is a concentric-only jump. Here you’ll start at the bottom and think about exploding up.
This variation will increase your rate of force development by removing the stretch-shortening cycle.
The third variation is a continuous jump. This is great if you want an exercise to provide repeat power output.
Proper loading is essential to reap the rewards of the squat jump fully. Approximately 20% of your 1RM trap bar deadlift has been shown to improve lower body performance.²
I program the countermovement squat jumps and pause squat jumps with 3 sets of 3-5 reps, and for the continuous jumps, I incorporate time.
This would be 3-4 sets of 8-10 seconds.
The Landmine Split Jerk is also another personal favorite of mine.
I’ve never been interested in the clean and jerk, as heavy overhead presses tend to irritate my back and shoulders.
However, I can get most of the benefits with the split jerk while staying pain-free.
Another positive with the landmine split jerk is you can make it rotational. This allows you to develop power and force in the transverse plane (think anything twisting), which is often undertrained.
Start with the barbell almost resting on your shoulder and feet no more than hip-width apart.
Load your legs by slightly bending at the knee, and think about jumping through the ceiling. Extend your arm and keep your chest up high and proud.
Whatever arm you extend, your opposite foot will be in front during your staggered catch to provide extra balance.
Lower the bar slowly and control and reset your feet.
People tend to dip their chest and head during the catch when the load gets heavy. This will lead to less stability in the shoulder and can throw you off balance!
Ensure you keep stability by keeping your chest high during the catch and avoiding overextending at your shoulder by pushing too far forward.
Like the previous exercises, I program 3-4 sets with 3-5 reps per arm.
We don’t do high reps because we’re trying to develop power, which comes with the ability to provide the same level of intensity with every rep and set.
The dumbbell hang clean is the most interesting to me on this list. While it mimics a barbell hang/power clean, it still feels different.
Even though it’s different, it’s still great for developing power and is much easier to learn.
The barbell hang clean requires so much technical skill that collegiate S&C coaches will often take an entire semester to teach the movement to their athletes.
I’ve taught the dumbbell hang clean effectively in a portion of a 1-hour training session.
Start with two dumbbells at your side in a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Load your hips by slightly bending your knees and pushing your butt back.
With an explosive motion, drive your hips forward and up.
Let the momentum bring the dumbbells to your shoulder in a curling motion and catch them in a neutral grip.
Slowly lower and begin again.
Avoid straightening your arms as you bring the dumbbells to your shoulders. Keep your elbows tucked, and let the momentum from your pull drive the dumbbells up!
No surprise here, but the sets and reps will be 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps!
If you want to go heavier, I will decrease reps to 2-3. With power exercise, quality trumps quantity every time.
Increasing power doesn’t mean you must choose an Olympic lift.
This short list of exercises can take you extremely far in your power development journey.
No longer is power development only for high school and college athletes, but for people who want to remain athletic and strong long-term.
Although you may not be able to show off a 315lbs hang clean on Instagram, you can train safely and hard while having fun and being athletic!
¹ Weakley JJS, Till K, Read DB, Leduc C, Roe GAB, Phibbs PJ, Darrall-Jones J, Jones B. Jump Training in Rugby Union Players: Barbell or Hexagonal Bar? J Strength Cond Res. 2021 Mar 1;35(3):754-761. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002742.
² Swinton, PA, Stewart, AD, Lloyd, R, Agouris, I and Keogh, JWL. Effect of load positioning on the kinematics and kinetics of weighted vertical jumps. J Strength Cond Res 26: 906-913, 2012.