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Training Strength & Power with Body Weight

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Training strength with body weight requires that the muscles are challenged beyond what is “normal” for everyday activities. The key to training with body weight is to increase the difficulty of performing the exercise. For example, very sedentary individuals can improve leg strength by performing 8-10 leg extensions, then holding in extension for 8-10 counts. Others can stand up and sit down 8-10 times to improve leg strength. Still others may improve strength by stepping up onto a stair and back down.

To improve power with body weight you must consciously choose to move as quickly as possible. If you have been sedentary start by improving strength first, then add the speed component later. Have balance support when performing the exercises so you can concentrate on speed of movement rather than balance and speed.

Step Box

Use a sturdy box next to a wall or railing for balance support. Make sure it has a non-skid surface on both the bottom and the top. The lowest step in a flight of stairs can be used if a railing is available. Do not progress to a height greater than required for normal activities (i.e. climbing stairs, stepping onto a curb, or climbing into a bus or airplane). Maintain good posture; step fully onto and off of the box with each repetition, and use balance support if necessary.

  1. Step onto and off of the step, leading with the right foot
    1. Up (R), up (L), down (R), down (L); repeat 2 times
    2. Repeat, leading with the left foot
    3. To address power, repeat the full sequence by stepping up as quickly as possible while retaining good form. Step down under control at a lower speed.
  2. Step up, knee lift
    1. Step onto the box with the right foot, swing left knee up to 90 degrees
    2. Bring left leg back down to the ground; repeat 4 times stepping up with right foot
    3. Repeat 4 times stepping up with the left foot
    4. A more difficult progression is to rise onto the toes when swinging the knee up to 90 degrees
    5. To address power, repeat the sequence lifting the knee to 90 degrees as quickly as possible each time.

Foot Power

These exercises develop the ability to respond to a trip or slip with quick foot movement. They can also improve speed of foot movement for sports performance. Please practice them with wall, railing, or chair support.

  1. Squash the bugs (for foot speed).
    1. Stamp as quickly as possible in all directions as if there are ants to squash all around your feet.
    2. Emphasize foot and leg speed returning to center between each stamp. Be sure to stamp front, sideways, and behind; first using one foot, then the other.
    3. Now stomp (transfer weight) alternating right and left feet while squashing bugs, as quickly as possible. This is like stomping the snow off of boots, but faster and in all directions!
  2. Power steps
    1. Facing a wall, have your hands ready to catch yourself if necessary
    2. Start with feet together, lean forward (don’t bend at hips). At the last moment take a quick step forward to stop your fall. Repeat several times, “catching” with the right foot, then again with the left foot. Concentrate on delaying foot movement, and recovering with speed.
    3. Repeat to the side if appropriate (requires more strength and balance). Lean sideways to the wall (don’t bend at waist) and step sideways to catch your fall. This is an advanced move because you’re leaning onto the leg that has to be picked up to catch the fall. Repeat to the opposite side.

Arm Power

These exercises help develop arm speed so the arms can react to a near fall or improve sports performance. Work with a partner or against a wall. Use a large exercise ball, a light weight medicine ball, spongy ball, or a slightly deflated basketball. If balance is compromised please perform with support (i.e. with back to a wall, or seated), and take care bending over to retrieve a ball that you miss.

  1. Chest pass
    1. Perform a chest pass to a partner, as quickly as possible.
    2. Concentrate on speed of elbow extension and shoulder flexion. Repeat 8 times.
  2. Floor pass
    1. Pass the ball to your partner by bouncing it forcefully so the rebound is high.
    2. Concentrate on speed of movement. Repeat 8 times.

Using these exercises as examples, consider all of the activities that can be adapted to incorporate speed of movement. Always provide balance support when practicing speed of movement, and use your best judgment to weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks for each activity.

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These exercises for strength and power using body weight were adapted from a presentation given by Pommy Macfarlane