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.
Feature Image: Tune Up Fitness instructor Todd Lavictoire photographed by Lisa Hebert
Related Article: Self-Care and Spine Health: Insights from Neurosurgeon Dr. Erich Anderer
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I have begun to work with adding load and different props to my own movement practice and find this article super insightful. The band around the thighs I have found to be very helpful in the squat and I love the feeling of working on “strength”, in particular with the muscles that I have challenges “firing”. I love the addition of the diaphragm vacuum to the bridge lifts as well. Another bridge lift version I have been working with are single leg lifts , placing one foot on a block, with the other leg in hip hip flexion, extended, reaching toward the ceiling.
Une super routine a mettre en place en 4 exercices, pour renforcer et stabiliser nos 3 centres de puissance souvent ignoré dans notre société voir oublier.
Prendre conscience que la préhension est importante pour avoir une qualité de santé globale, prendre conscience que le diaphragme est un muscle que nous sous utilisons alors qu’il peut faire partie de nos supers pouvoirs. La boule de canon j’adore ! Merci pour cette belle combinaison de force.
At the point in my healing journey that I have reached, I love learning new small, but powerful things/moves to increase my proprioception, but also my relationship with my body and my ongoing efforts at making self-care a habit and priority, which has been a struggle. The half boat to cannonball and bridge lifts looks like neat little additions to my self-care toolkit. Thank you for the ideas!
Love these power moves to create even more power! Do you have a recommendation for how to do a squat like this if you have one ankle that has minimal dorsi flexion due to a major injury/surgery? Would you do it with heels lifted or take it to the floor/side lying?
Also, I love the feeling of the diaphragm vacuum in my body, but find it very hard to teach others. Any tips?
Je vais essayer la marche avec le Kettlebell. J’aime pouvoir augmenter la proprioception en rajoutant un poids supplémentaire.
The diaphragm is such a powerful and amazing muscle. Just is anatomy says a lot about the impact of the body, each time it impresses me. Thanks for the reminder!
These are fantastic exercises to incorporate into workout routines. We never get too strong!
As a Kinesiologist, I already knew the exercises presented. Thanks to this article, I better understand the benefits and the importance of these. I will be able to better integrate these exercises into my classes or my personal training.
Thanks for the insight on the body’s three power centers and the concept of recruiting neighbouring muscles in irradation to increase power capacity! I’m inspired to go grocery shopping by foot.
Awesome article. I’ll be focusing on these three power Centers for my seniors classes! I’d also say these are important for little kids as well, as the time of outdoor play in nature like climbing trees Or hanging on the monkey bars or walking in the woods seems close to nonexistent these days.
I would not have previously considered, “Grip” as one of my three main power centers, (due to only doing yoga as my main physical activity over the years) but I have been adding weight training and pulling to my life over the past few years, and this is very helpful!
What a great, quick way to wake the whole body up! I am excited to try these and I love that they don’t require much equipment so can easily be adapted and used while traveling for a quick workout. (You could use a jug of water if a kettlebells isn’t available.).
These are awesome ideas to incorporate into a workout! I love the mention of grippers. I studied martial arts for many years and have been out of the practice for a while. Whenever I get back to train, I am always shocked at how my hand grip is so not what it used to be. The kettlebell carry could be a great way to keep my grip in tact!
Thanks for sharing this valuable article, I really want to try every single exercise that is ofered in this article, for me after 3 pregnancies is vital to recover my core strenght, so thanks !!!! I am looking forward to try this exercises 🙂
Gracias por los consejos, yo por lo regular hago las sentadillas, pero ahora probaré agregar las ligas de resistencia.Y este medio bote es maravilloso. Me encantó esta idea de cómo un músculo despierta a los que están a su alrededor, tiene mucho sentido. Gracias.
Thank you for sharing these strengthening exercises! I am big a fan of kettblebells and resistance bands — they go a long way!
I used to have a very random bases gym routine when I started working out. I would just pick up weights and do whatever came to my mind with no particular goal in mind but having big muscles. I started incorporating the Kettlebell Carries and the squats with the resistance band into my practice about a year ago, and my overall strength has grown extensively, and it has made my other movements more stronger and more stable.
As a yoga instructor, I have been focusing on all the ways to incorporate strength building into my practice. I love the exercises listed! I never thought about using my kettle bell for grip strength. Half boat to cannonball is such a burner but I love it!! I’ll have to get a resistance band soon to try out the other one. I also learned while reading about irradiation and how freaking cool it is!! Thanks!
The strength exercise are very easy to follow.
I think strength are kind of confidence to myself, to do thing more freely, not a restricting myself in a same place or same things.
The bonus exercise Bridge Lifts with the Diaphragm Vacuum. so good! , are regulate your nervous system .
Exercise and movement that enlists the help of surrounding muscles gives you more bang for your buck! Making the movements functional and multiple muscles moving is ideal.
It’s a major advantage in life to have adequate strength and power to perform whatever activities you want or need to do. Simple ideas like incorporating resistance bands into squats or carrying a kettlebell can open the door to creating the power you seek.
Great article. I practice all of these strengthening exercises but especially love walking with kettle bells or free weights. This is something I do when I travel, even walking on the treadmill with a weight in my hand. Give it a try.
Strength work has become even more important as I age. This simple and effective combination of moves does so much in a minimal amount of time. I especially like how the half boat to cannonball leaves my lower back feeling good. It was the perfect reset for me this evening.
I teach the squat with the resistance band in my yoga sculpt classes, but before I do, I have the class check in first by going into Horse and seeing how their deep six muscles and glutes feel. After squats with the band, we revisit horse to find if we created a greater range of motion in the hips.
I can’t wait to try Half Boat into Cannonball. Talk about firing up the muscle fibers!
Always on the lookout for new ways to work the core and develop new strength building exercises. I have found that bands are a great tool to use in all sorts of ways. The squats with bands are the thighs are super challenging. Going to add the half boat to cannonball to my next core yoga class!
Oh, I like the added glute strengthener with the banded squat! Will try that. Bands are great too because they are easy to travel with, and if you can manage it, sneak in some strength training at work (I do!). The half boat to cannonball looks challenging too. It’s amazing how many strength exercises that can be done with limited or no props/weights.
I typically loop resistance bands under my feet and use them as ‘weights’ when doing squats. I’ll add this variation of looping them around the thighs next time. Really enjoying building in weights and resistance in my workout routine! And learning these new variations keeps it interesting.
Learning new ways to approach familiar movements and exercises is inspiring and is part of what keeps me engaged in body and movement exploration – there’s always more to learn. I can’t wait to get a resistance band and try this sequence. I often have gripper fatigue so focusing on strengthening them is going to be a new project for me!
Such inspiration and encouragement to get one off their butt and begin to engage themselves in a new way. I love this about YTU. think outside the boxana and try something new. I think I will invest in some kettle bells and resistance bands.
I enjoyed reading this blog. Very interesting and can’t wait to begin to experience these building blocks for strength training. Makes sense that all of these are interrelated. I am understanding this Law of Irradiation and that force that it generates on the muscles and other neighboring muscles.
I did not know this law of the irradiation I find the subject very interesting as well as the exercises to increase the general force of the body.
Thank you for the article, I like your examples to show that the athlete, the new mom and the sedentary who works in the office all have excellent reasons to wake the three powers centers.
Interesting thé long with breathing and power and breathing thanks
Very interesting article. I like to understand the benefits of each exercice. These 3 and 4 exercices bring benefits in all the movements that one needs daily. The mixture of 4 is what brings the effective result.
Thanks for sharing, I will add the kettlebell carry and the bridge lifts with the vacuum diaphragm to my strength training .
I have experienced the three power centers of gluteals, abdominals, and grip but I had not formulated them together as a way to invigorate my muscles and energy. Rather than standing around being sedentary and reading about exercises, I thought that I’d actually do them. I decided to try the squats with resistance band, farmer carries with weights, and cannonball to ardha navasana. When I do squats I feel Sherrington’s Law of Irradiation in effect. Muscles are activating from my abs through my feet. Farmer carries helps work on my posture and maintain spinal bracing and a forward gaze. After doing the previous two exercises, I was able to do cannonball into full navasana. A way to vary the load with squats and farmer carries would be stand/walk on an even surface like a rock pile or over pillows.
After seeing kettlebells recommended for the farmer carries, I decided to research the difference between using bells versus traditional weights. In a 2012 Men’s Health article (https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19534489/kettlebells-vs-free-weights-the-smackdown/), Markham Heid reports on a California State University study about the topic. They conclude that free weights create greater gains in strength and kettlebells are best for building explosive movements that recruit more muscle and burn fat. Given this information, I don’t think kettlebells hold any advantage for farmer carries. Hand weights work well. I did mine with a set of 6 lb dumbbells.
Thanks Todd! I really want to boost overall power so this blog article was great! It totally makes sense to boost your abs and glutes to engage neighbouring muscles! I also would have never even considered grip!
Great tips! I hadn’t thought to include gripping as part of a well-rounded strength routine and how that fires up the shoulders, traps and lats through irradiation. This would be especially useful for yoga students who rarely grip their hands into a fist during practice.
with some exceptions.. these movements are reflected in activities of everyday life.. very functional!
Great examples of each power house exercise and how to strengthening these muscle. Look like I need to add some gripping exercises.
Loving the “grip to core to floor” full body irradiation happening in this article. I am finding it is an extremely important part of my everyday practice as an athlete and a therapist to not focus on individualized muscle groups for recruitment but rather full body, dynamic, functional movements to strengthen and ignite more than just one muscle at a time. For everyday individuals, the importance of these as functional strengthening exercises translate into sit to stands for older individuals, carrying groceries for your everyday mom/dad, and stabilizing your spine to help prevent against low back injury. A great example of functional strengthening strategies for people to follow when they just don’t know where to get started!
The more articles I read, the more professionalism and humility I pick up on from each and every YTU teacher/blog contributor. This article is the definition of multidisciplinary movement. So much creativity from the individualized modifications of the each of the exercises in the sequence as well as the creativity of coming up with a concept that incorporates kettlebell training, resistance band work, yoga tune up, and breathwork all in one. This is the type of creativity that drew me to this training. Acknowledging and citing all the sources is another professional trait I see when YTU teachers explain their concepts/inspirations. That with a nonjudgemental undertone allows readers to gain information without feeling like they’re being told what to do. It allows the student to gain accessibly useable information, while also clearly explaining complex, targeted movement exercises. Great article! Excited to play with new props like the kettlebell and resistance band!
Yes! This inspires me even more to start using kettlebells and incorporating more resistance bands into not only squats, but a wide variety of exercises. I tried the half boat to cannonball and definitely feel the fire! All those combined with Uddiyana bandha bridge lifts make for a very strong practice.
What about hip thrusters???! Just kidding. Great post, really like all 3 exercises as a way to get people in tune with their glutes, core and grip. All 3 are very important when it comes to creating the necessary tension we need to handle daily life pain free. Also appreciate the bonus. Still need some core release and practice to improve my diaphragm vacuum.
These are great exercises because almost everyone can do them! Especially like the banded squat variation – as someone who has always naturally had a strong squat – this helps me to stay engaged!
I appreciate this article! It helps to focus time & energy, doing squats with “purpose.” Hopefully, I can find a way to bring these ideas into the regular classes.
Loved the resistance bands for the squats, very useful in propriocepting the range for me!
I worked with a private client preparing for knee replacement, so squats were out. At 70 she had never done much exercise, but she loved bridges, and gained a surprising amount of strength in the back line of her leg in a short time. We started with some less intense abs, and she came in with a strong grip!
love the ‘YTU secret sauce’ of bridge lifts and diaphragm vacuum! slowly working towards nauli kriya 😀
The first and third are going to be my top priority to rehab my hip. Thanks!
Love this article. These are simple but very effective exercises for the must do areas of your body. I want to incorporate the half boat to cannonball in my warm up for yoga.
Thank you ??
Irradiation! I didn’t know the word in this context, and it makes so much sense! Nothing in the body works alone, so why not functionally train heavy hitters together? I especially love the kettle bell walk!
Ive always loved strengthening my glutes and my abs, but I’ve never thought to strengthen my grippers, this is something I’ll definitely have to build up to, I’m excited to add into my movement practices.
I never thought of the “grippers” as a major power center, but this makes sense. I can recall physical memories of carrying bags of groceries for many city blocks, and intuitively connecting the forearm muscles all the way into the back and core to make the long haul possible. Ps this dynamic bridge with uddiyana bandha is hands down my favorite yoga “pose”, glad to see it getting some press