ANY TIME YOU launch an object quickly through space—be it the weight of your body or the collected works of the Backstreet Boys—physics and physiology require that you undertake two steps in quick succession: recoiling your muscles into position to prepare to move the object (technically, if counterintuitively, called a stretch) and then quickly throwing your muscle fibers into reverse to shorten them. In fitness parlance, these two movements together are called the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), and the production of power lies in the ability to switch rapidly between the two.
Some of the most effective exercises for improving SSC speed are Olympic-style lifts such as the clean (lifting a barbell from the floor to your chest) and jerk (raising a barbell from your chest to overhead). Unlike typical strength exercises like the bench press, depending on your height, Olympic lifts require muscling a barbell a whopping seven to ten feet in one repetition. To do this you have to utilize strength, speed, and momentum simultaneously, and over time this combination increases your muscle elasticity and primes the pathways for electrical signals to and from the brain, the two keys to speeding up your SSC.
Problem is, traditional Olympic lifting requires excellent technique and sound coaching to avoid injury. The solution? Dumbbells. "If you adapt Olympic lifts to dumbbells, you reduce the safety problems," says Gambetta. "Dumbbells accommodate to your body's structure and individual range of motion."
On Tuesdays and Thursdays of this month (see "Plug Yourself In" on page 5), you'll incorporate three Olympic-style dumbbell drills—clean-pulls, rotational clean-pulls, and squat presses—into your strength workout. Starting off lightly with dumbbells weighing 10 percent of your body weight, you'll execute each repetition as fast as you can while maintaining good form. On clean-pulls and rotational clean-pulls, this means keeping your back straight; pushing with your ankles, legs, and hips; and finishing with a shrug of your shoulders, letting your arms bend to accommodate the upward momentum. On squat presses, keep your back straight and descend into a squat before exploding upward, shifting your weight to the balls of your feet, and raising the dumbbells sky-high.