There are myriad ways that you can pursue overall physical strength and power, and just as many reasons that you might want to.
For high performance athletes, building greater power might be about wanting to win a game, crush a match or challenge a world record.
For the new mom, greater power might help her reclaim her body after the physical feat of pregnancy and childbirth. Then she might want to use that strength to take on the new demands of motherhood.
For the aging office-worker, building greater power could be about maintaining bone density and healthy posture. It might help counter the gravitational pull of a sedentary lifestyle which has been compounded with aches and pains over time.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to power up, learning how to generate greater strength will serve you on many levels. Now let’s get down to the essentials and look at three power centers that are great places to start.
Your Top Three Power Centers: Glutes, Grip & Abs
According the Pavel Tsatsouline, founder of StrongFirst, hailed as the trailblazer that popularized kettlebell workouts in the west, there are three major drivers of power in the physical body: gluteals, grippers and abdominal muscles.
Part of the reason that these areas of your body help generate so much power comes down to irradiation. Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, an English neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate from the early 20th century discovered the Law of Irradiation. This law states:
“A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ as an electric current starts a motor.”
Strengthening the gluteals, grippers and abs goes beyond just being able to use these muscle groups to perform their typical actions. It will also help you generate irradiation throughout nearby muscle fibers… thereby boosting overall power.
Here are three (plus a bonus!) good strength building exercises for these three power centers.
1. Fire Your Gluteals: Squat with a resistance band
Squatting is hailed as one of the best exercises to build up gluteal strength. But it also demands that the hamstrings, calves, ankles and many more muscles groups join the power party. Plus, squats are considered an ‘anabolic’ exercise–which means they promote overall strength by replenishing muscle cells through the body.
We recommend adding a looped resistance band around your thighs to help track your knee position and boost the work in the lateral rotators of your hips. Check out Tune Up Fitness® Teacher Jared Cohen showing us the way.
2. Galvanize Your Grip: The Classic Kettlebell Carry
Jared might make this look simple–just walking across a mat with a kettlebell in hand, right? Not really. In order to perform this grip-strengthening feat he needs to engage the flexor muscles of his fingers, but he’s also got to fire up through the forearm, all the way into the shoulders, traps, and even lats. Take about irradiation!
Plus, can you see the stability work right down through his core? You better believe that he is engaged through the obliques, even into the stabilizers of the hips. Grab a kettlebell (or a suitcase full of books) and try it for yourself.
3. All About Abs: Half Boat to Cannonball
This exercise will leave no muscle fiber of your anterior core untouched! Here, Yoga Tune Up® creator Jill Miller demonstrates a full frontal abdominal strengthener by first lying on the back, curling up to a half boat pose, then squeezing the knees in for a cannonball. This will light up your rectus abdominis (“6-pack” muscles), obliques and traverse abdominals.
But it doesn’t stop there… you’ll also fire the flexors of your neck like the very photogenic sternocleidomastoid, and hips such as the psoas muscle.
Bonus! Respiratory Diaphragm: Bridge Lifts with the Diaphragm Vacuum
You didn’t really think we were going to let this post end without highlighting your primary breathing muscle, did you? The bonus exercise we’d like to offer up is Bridge Lifts with the Diaphragm Vacuum. This exercise brings all the focus to your respiratory diaphragm–stretching it, toning it and enhancing your proprioceptive alliance with this main player in your ability to regulate your nervous system.
Furthermore, the diaphragm is the downstairs neighbor to the muscle of your heart, and shares continuities of tissue with your psoai–which feed all the way down into your legs. Master this muscle and it will provide not just stronger breath potential, but the ability to regulate the state of your nervous system and harness the power of mindset in the most challenging situations.
Putting it All Together
We hope you’ve gained some inspiration with this simple, three-stop way to think about to improving your overall strength. If you’d like to lend your grippers, gluteals and abdominal muscles more support as they wake up and get to work, check out the program Treat While You Train with Jill Miller and Physical Therapist Kelly Starrett. Layering these muscle-priming self-massage practices into your fitness routine with strength building exercises will make it all deeper, smarter, stronger and sweeter.
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