“I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not a gradualist, not a monk, not an indifferentist, . . . I have no partiality either for gendarmes, or butchers, or scholars, or writers, or young people. I regard trade-marks and labels as a kind of prejudice. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and absolute freedom – freedom from violence and falsehood, no matter how the last two manifest themselves.” – Anton Chekhov


Ok, so chalk this up to another in the long list of things that I’m confident of, but cannot prove: that the power-to-bodyweight ratio — and specifically, the ability to repeat these exertions over the long-haul (work capacity) — is not only the best indicator of “fitness” that I know of, but also the best indicator of longevity. And yes, even better an indicator than is strength.

I don’t think anyone would doubt that power-to-bodyweight ratio is the best indicator of an athlete’s potential on the field (irrespective of skills, of course). Let me put this another way — improving an athlete’s power-to-bodyweight ratio in repeat performances that closely correspond to the demands of his or her sport ought to be the objective of that athlete’s S&C program. And yes, those athletes ought to be kept free of injury (first do no harm, and second, armor them against potential harm), but this is — or ought to be — naturally baked into the process.

Anyone who’s been involved with S&C knows that the best performers in the weight room are rarely those who also excel on the field. But I think the real problem here is not the tie between weight room proficiency and on-the-field production, but that the wrong things are traditionally measured in the weight room. Aiming for 1 rep maxes in the big lifts just isn’t going to get it done in a repeat-power-dominant sport; strength is only part of the answer. Unless, of course, the sport in question is powerlifting. And even in this sport (as well as strongman competitions), speed — and hence, power — is being seen as the missing link. Hell, Louie Simmons has preached this for years. And before him, the Russians and east Germans.

Having been involved for many years in a true S&C environment though, I get it. This all sounds good in theory, but how in the hell is a coach going to measure bar speed and range of motion (so as to accurately calculate power) in various lifts? Then track that over 5 or 6 movements and 120-odd players? Throw enough money at a problem, though, and this can be figured out (more on that in a later post), but not every S&C facility is tied to a top-tier, D1, money-is-no-object football program. Power cleans, jump variations (vertical, broad, etc.) and change-of-direction sprints rely on speed-of-execution as part of the overall process and so are good and classic measures of potential athletic (again, skills aside) prowess. An S&C program directed toward bettering a player in these matrices is always a good idea. This could be rounded-out nicely, though, by measuring speed and range-of-motion (distance) in the deadlift, bench, upright press, chin and squat.

Something that I’d like to pick back up on in the future is finishing the work I’d begun on figuring out some power-to-bodyweight coefficients. In other words, how could I establish true and meaningful weightroom competition throughout an entire team, while at the same time skewing the competition toward those movements and execution speeds that would really help those players perform better on the field?

Here’s a real world example of what I’m getting at: let’s examine two high school players of totally different body types, each top-tier and nationally-ranked at their respective positions. The first is a 5’9”/180 lb cornerback, the other a 6’3”/250 lb defensive end/joker linebacker. Now, I would love for these guys to go at it head-to-head in the weight room, to push each other as well as to push the rest of the team’s performance. But how to do that? Straight-up bar loading just isn’t going to tell us much, nor is it going to foster true competition. Essentially, we’re just comparing apples to oranges at this point.  Same sport (American football), with two totally different positional demands.

Well, we can get a little clearer picture here by dividing the athlete’s bodyweight into the lifted load. In this example, our cornerback power cleaned 250 lbs at a bodyweight of 180 (resultant factor of 1.389), while our DE/LB power cleaned 300 lbs at a bodyweight of 250 lbs (factor of 1.200). We could say that the cornerback is, pound-for-pound, a more powerful athlete, but wait — his range of motion, at 5’9”, was much shorter than the 6’3 DE/LB. And not only did he have to pull for a shorter distance, but he also caught the bar lower relative to his height (i.e., with a reduced knee angle) than the taller kid. How to account for that? Both these kids had good form, but the cornerback’s was just a bit more polished, and he was more comfortable catching the bar lower.

The answer, of course, is Dartfish (or equivalent) technology.

Check this out:

Now we have all that we need — measured range of motion, speed, load, the athlete’s body weight — to figure true power output. And now we can truly compare apples to apples.  And, too, the athlete has a clear picture of what variables will affect his power output. Is the athlete strength deficient or speed deficient? Is body comp. an issue — too lean, too fat, etc.? Now we can work on specific weaknesses, as well as adding the all-important sport/position-specific work capacity on top of it all.

This can also work the other way around in actions where bodyweight is a limiting factor — broad and vertical jumps, for instance. Again, this levels the competitive playing field, and fosters total team competition. And now when a kid looks up at the weight room Fire Breather’s list, he gets the idea — it’s about power, not just load.

But does this work for the average guy as well? Yeah, I think it does. Not that I think we need to be as precise in the actual measurement. The long range training goal ought to be with an eye toward increasing one’s power-to-bodyweight ratio. Increasing strength is no doubt important, but it’s only the first step.

There ought to be a metabolic component to this as well, though, and this is why I’m so insistent on the idea of repeat power production performance in the anaerobic zone, and why I push my clients to move quickly to whatever level of HIIRT training they can handle. The aerobic zone will, for the most part, take care of itself without much direct training. Remember, I’m speaking now of the average trainee who is under a time constraint with regards to training. A competitive athlete will, of course, have to contend with a little more (depending upon the demands of his sport) direct aerobic work — though this does not need to be traditional “road work”.  A subject for another post.

And too, the average trainee must still reconcile this with the health vs performance idea.  Upper-level limiters here have to be placed on the performance side of things so as to preserve long term health. Not nearly as convoluted as it sounds, though, as long as we’re cognizant of the process.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –
Keith

5 COMMENTS

  1. Keith,

    Excellent article.

    Your essays are always good, but every now and again you pull one out of the bag that is a leading light in the paleo / health world. This is one of them!

    Best – Mark

  2. I happened to catch a segment of CrossFit games on TV the other day. One of the competitors was Chris Spealler. He has had success before in these competitions despite being much smaller (5’5″ @150) than many of the other male athletes. I do wonder how it would change things if the resistance levels in the power movements were scaled according to the athlete’s size.

    • Taking nothing away from Chris — great athlete — but scaling for total power output would make all the difference in the world 😉

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