(Harnessing in order to) Maximize Your Power

If you’re anything like me, you love being in the gym. You love trying to set and accomplish new physical goals. Whether that’s trying to set a new PR in your strength phase, increasing your broad jump or vertical jump in your power phase, or lasting 10 seconds longer on last week’s tough sprint test. Having said that, it’s always important (and wise) to take a step back in order to take a step forward. With our athletes, this is a major area of emphasis we preach year-round.

Athletes are generally much faster and more explosive than the general population. However, there is an even greater level of separation between the average and elite athletes. From a physical standpoint, elite athletes are fast, but they also have an uncanny ability to stop, change direction, and return to top speed in minimal time. The longer an athlete takes to decelerate from top speed, the longer it will take that athlete to change direction and re-accelerate. And in most sports, that few milliseconds is often all it takes to get beat for an overtime goal, fastbreak layup, or recovering for a bad-bounce ground ball in the bottom of the 9th.

Russell Westbrook is one of the most explosive athletes in the world. While he certainly has ‘raw power’, he also possesses an uncanny ability to stop, harness and transition his power in another direction on the stop of a dime.

For situations like this, training an athlete to harness their power provides a lot more sport-specific carryover than producing power. But for whatever reason, not a lot of time is spent training athletes to harness their power. Power producing movements such as power cleans, box jumps, and linear sprints get all of the limelight, but in actuality these aren’t the exercises that will help athletes become more powerful. You must teach athletes to “Harness in order to maximize”.

What is harnessing? Harnessing, at least by definition as found in the dictionary of Schnarr,  is the ability to decelerate, gather, absorb, and prepare to redistribute. This can include exercise in all three planes of motion, such as:

  • Proper Box Jump Absorption
  • Depth Jump Absorption
  • Broad Jump Absorption
  • Lateral Bound Absorption
  • Linear and Lateral Change of Direction drills
  • Sprint to Decelerate

When attempting a max box jump, all of the benefits of the exercise are negated;

Problem#1: Instead of relying on triple extension (ankle, knee and hip) that actually carries over to sport and sport-specific movements, individuals substitute the “knee hug” pattern (as seen in the picture below), that does nothing more than show you are mobile and can bring your feet to your chest.

J.J Watt’s 61″ box jump went viral on social media.

Problem #2: The appropriate landing is non-existent, as again, landing in a deep squat position does nothing to prepare you for sport-specific carryover. Good luck trying to outlet a pass for a fast-break score if you land in a deep squat after rebounding the ball. Again, milliseconds in sport make all the difference.

Problem #3: Lack of stability shown when trying to properly absorb force on top of the box is setting you up for failure on the field, rink or court. The athletic stance is the most powerful and stable position in any sport, not the ‘falling over deep squat’ (as seen in the picture above). Being able to make the transition from the athletic stance position to a rapid linear or lateral change of direction as fast as possible is what may or may not stop a go ahead goal in the final minute.

For someone like J.J Watt, being powerful is a massive advantage for someone of his position. The faster he can get up and charge through his defender when the football is hiked, the greater chance he has at making a play on the quarterback. Teaching him to do that explosively from a proper athletic position  instead of the ‘knee to chest’ pattern in his video may be the few milliseconds he needs to make an impact. While I don’t know the full details of his training program (we can only hope the 61″ box jump was a one-time thing and isn’t constantly practiced), the fact is that uneducated youth are looking at the YouTube video and attempting to incorporate these max efforts into their training programs. That’s a shame. And the reason for this blog.

The Fix #1: If you like the tangible component of being able to tell your teammates how high you can jump, opt for a regular vertical jump test instead of the box (either with a Vertec system, force plate, or measuring tape on the wall). Not only is it a much safer option for preventing injury, but it shows a true test of power that doesn’t rely on whether or not you can untie your shoes with your teeth.

boxjump fail
I don’t think the Texans would have been too thrilled paying Watt’s injured salary had he landed on his tailbone on this failed attempt.

Fix #2: Your landing on top of the box should identically mimic what your athletic stance looks like. Hips above the knees, knees out, core tight, chest up.  Focus on landing as softly and as stable as possible.

Fix #3: Your jump should involve a full triple-extension. Focus on exploding powerfully through your hips instead of simply trying to lift and tuck your feet onto the box.

Fix #4: Once you learn to properly land and ‘harness’ your power, you can then work on redistributing it in various directions. Practice perfection. If you want to build a wall, you don’t do it all at once. You begin with one brick and place it as perfectly as you possibly can, then repeat that with each individual brick until an immovable wall is built.

Follow these staple rules when you are considering adding power exercises into your athletic programming:

  • Learn to brake before you speed up
  • Learn to absorb before you produce
  • Learn to become stable before becoming powerful

Train Smart and Hard.



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