Build Lower-body Strength + Power
Part One: Lower-body Strength
In textbooks, there's a line that separates strength and power. Strength is the ability to generate force, while power is the speed at which you can generate force. In reality, the two are intimately connected. Top athletes train for both, lifting heavy weights for pure strength and moving lighter objects at high velocities to develop power. The result is the ability to move fast (an expression of power) and hit hard (a demonstration of iron cojones... and the strength to haul them around).
"The deadlift might be the best indicator of your overall strength because it's applicable to almost any real-world task, such as moving a couch or lifting boxes," says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., coowner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. It's a "posteriorchain" exercise, meaning it develops strength in your rear-body muscles: hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, trapezius. These are the muscles you depend on most when you run, jump, or stand your ground while someone's trying to run or jump over you. They're also among your biggest and fastestgrowing muscles—so adding more pounds to your deadlift almost guarantees that you'll pack more muscle onto your frame.
Load a barbell and set it on the floor. Stand over the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward. Bend at your hips and knees, grab the bar overhand with your hands just outside your legs, and roll it up to your shins. Push your hips back, flatten your back, and tighten your entire body from feet to hands. Pull the bar straight up until you're standing upright with the bar against your thighs. Lower it to the floor, keeping it as close to your body as possible.
Start with a light weight to warm up, and then add weight for each subsequent lift until you reach your maximum.
Below average You lift less than your body weight
Average You lift 1 to 1 1/4 times your body weight
Above average You lift 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 times your body weight
MH Fit You lift more than 1 1/2 times your body weight
Reach the Next Level
The best way to improve your deadlift is to deadlift. But that doesn't mean you should limit yourself to one version. Robertson recommends the straight-leg deadlift, which targets your glutes and hamstrings more directly. Stand holding a barbell at arm's length in front of your hips with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Push your hips back, keeping your lower back naturally arched, until the bar is just below your knees. Thrust your hips forward and return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top of the lift. Keep your knees at the same angle throughout the movement; this ensures that the glutes and hamstrings do the work. Do three sets of six reps twice a week, using progressively heavier weights. Retest yourself on the traditional deadlift after eight weeks.
Part Two: Lower-body Strength + Power
Unless you're a competitive lifter, there aren't many sports in which your feet stay on the ground. Most involve leaps and sprints, and springing off one or both legs for maximum height, distance, and velocity.