“The only things that are immortal in this world are government programs and cancer cells in petri dishes.”
– Jim Babka, President, DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
If I were asked to attribute a common theme, or overriding goal or purpose to my time spent in the weight room, it would have to be this: the acquisition of power; and more specifically, the acquisition of hip power. I’ll delve into this subject a little more in Part 3 of the BBS review series, but it is my belief that an individual’s fitness is most accurately measured via an expression of raw power output over a given period of time, and, to take this a step further, I’d lobby hard for that expression to be measured in the predominantly anaerobic energy system timeframe, i.e., something less than say, 9 seconds – and more towards an instantaneous expression, if at all possible.
But I digress. What is hip (or posterior chain) power, exactly, and why is it so important, not just for the competitive athlete, but for the average Jane and Joe?
Mike Young, of Elite Track, has written a good primer on the subject of hip power, and I encourage you to check out. Sadly, Elite Track will be closing its doors in the near future. I really hate that, because I truly loved the site; it was informative and well-written, albeit of interest maybe, to a very narrow audience. I do understand, though, that financial obligations and commitments have to take a front seat to affairs of the heart. Still, it’s unfortunate, and hopefully someone can step in and pick up the day-to-day operation of this fantastic resource from an overburdened Mike Young. I sincerely wish him the best with his HPC Sport venture.
At any rate, I’ve done my job properly over the course of many previous posts (such as this one, for instance), I’ve at least convinced you that improvements in hip (or posterior chain) power are desirable, both for athletes and for the everyday Jane/Joes of the world. How, though, to best go about acquiring enviable posterior chain power? Well, as you might expect from me by now, if there’s any magic or “secret” at all to developing killer hips it’s this: sensibly applied, hard-assed (pardon the pun) work. And in regard to “sensible”, what I mean is both sensibly choosing and applying the correct, most effective protocols. In other words, smart interpretation, manipulation and application of theory in as much as it can be incorporated into doable practice. I won’t get into explanations of various exercises here – there are plenty of references throughout the Web for that – what I will do, though is suggest you look at some of my past workout compilations (checkout the “Workout for the Week of” series of posts, under the “workouts” category) and take notice of how hip/posterior chain-centric they are. The large majority of my work is power-dominant, and the overwhelming majority of that can be defined as posterior chain dominant.
How about a little science you say? Well, for starters, take a look at this study (again, hat tip to Elite Track for the head’s-up on this). Now, this is an oldie (1992-ish, I believe?), but a goodie. It’s a well-designed study of lengthy duration with easily controlled variables. The premise is simple, and the results are easy to properly interpret; to summarize: In order to increase power production out of the all-important posterior chain, you’ve got to work all angles of the speed-strength continuum of the hip extension movement. Broadly, this can be restated to say that both the strength and explosive aspects of the movement (hip extension) must be improved to better increase overall power production. Simply focusing on improving upon only one aspect – strength, for instance – at the exclusion of the other component(s) will yield only sub par results. Now, within the strength and explosive realms, what exercises are considered “best choice” in developing the posterior chain? Again you can probably guess what I’m going to say, but it bears repeating: the basic, multi-joint, hip extension (i.e., squat, deadlift) and triple extension (i.e., clean and snatch variations) exercises, coupled with sensible inclusion of plyometric exercises (depth drops, jumps, sprinting, and the multitudes of variations thereof).
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about those body composition effects you alluded to?
Well, here’s the deal: developing optimal power means increasing the concentration of, and maximizing the relative contributions from, fast twitch muscle fiber. Of course, other factors play into this equation (neural efficiency, mechanical advantages, etc.), however, from a body composition standpoint, it’s precisely the fast twitch muscle fiber concentration that we’re concerned with. Now, armed with this information, let’s connect the dots in a real-world kind of way. (1) As we endeavor to increase our instantaneous power production capability out of our hips (or posterior chain, if you prefer) we are, as a consequence, increasing both the concentration and efficiency of our fast twitch muscle fiber. (2) These types of movements (the hip extension and triple extension) either directly (via actual muscle activation) or indirectly (via hormonal cascade) affect the entire body’s musculature. (3) Fast twitch fiber is an inefficient fuel hog; biologically speaking, very expensive to keep around. (4) Ultimately, a fast twitch dominant phenotype is a 24/7/365 energy sink, and this, coupled with a Paleo lifestyle, means that that phenotype’s main source of energy for the bulk of the day is fat reserves. This is the reason that coupling a Paleo lifestyle to brief, high-intensity, power-dominant, anaerobic energy cycle workouts are such a lethal one-two punch against lackluster body composition. The body, quite simply, must make drastic, positive changes in order to survive the newly-perceived “onslaught”.