Knowledge

Optimal Strength And Power Performance Training

Christian Thibaudeau

Co-founder of Thibarmy, Trainer

Articles, Strength and performance

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Optimal Strength And Power Performance Training

While some of you know me mostly as a “body composition guy,” the older generation knows that I’m first and foremost a high-performance guy. For the first twelve years of my career, my focus was on training athletes. I have worked with athletes from 29 different sports, ranging from kids to Olympians and pro athletes.

Performance remains my passion, and I developed two training approaches that I still use with high-level athletes today to make them brutally strong, powerful, and lightning-fast.

I’m not going to lie; my skill set is not improving someone’s endurance or conditioning. But if you want an athlete to be strong and powerful, I’m your guy!

In this article, I want to introduce you to the two main training approaches I use with athletes. They never fail to give me the results I want.

But which one should you use? Read on, and you’ll know which one will give you the best possible results.

Omni contraction set-up

This is my base system. I’ve been using it for over 20 years and written about it in my second book, “Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods.”

It is based on the concurrent use of eccentric, isometric, and concentric training methods. Each contraction type is trained during every training phase.

Origin of the Omni Contraction System

Before I get into the description of the approach, I want to discuss this system’s origin. A lot of people have commented that it’s like Triphasic Training by Cal Dietz. This always irks me. First, because it is not at all similar. Just because two systems use eccentric, isometric, concentric, and plyometric exercises, they are similar (Jay Schroeder also uses these contraction types).

Another crucial point is that I wrote about my system several years before Triphasic even existed. I first wrote about the Omni Contraction System in 2003 on the T-nation website.

It is also explained more in-depth in my second book, published in 2005 (although the system has evolved since then). 

Triphasic was published in 2012, seven years after my book and nine years after my first article on the topic. Furthermore, I have never even read Triphasic Training.

No, my original inspirations for the system were two European coaches: Jean-Pierre Egger and Gilles Cometti.

Egger was the coach of the shot put world champion, Werner Gunther. I first saw his training videos when I was a university student in 1999 (you can find these on YouTube, but they are in French).

If you know about strength and power, these videos are mind-boggling. Gunther was not only strong as hell with a bounce bench press of 573 pounds, a power clean of 462 pounds, and a jerk from the racks of 440 pounds, but he could do jumps and plyometrics as well and as explosively as sprinters and jumpers, including a standing long jump of 3.60m / 10’10”… at 6’7” and 290lbs!

Here are the videos of his training (sorry, they are in French).

PART 1: https://youtu.be/d4e5cuyqjqw

PART 2: https://youtu.be/zJImRx3rpW0

PART 3: https://youtu.be/YqFP9gySw34

PART 4: https://youtu.be/frFVhwIy_PU

Parts 2 and 3 are the most interesting (to me at least). You can find an English translation of all the commentary in these videos here.

These videos completely changed how I viewed strength training. I was training for Olympic lifting back then and started including eccentric, isometric, and plyometric training from that day on.

Then one of my professors gave me a book by Gilles Cometti, which further explained how to combine various types of contractions: eccentric, isometric, concentric, stato-dynamic, plyometric, and EMS.

From that point on, it was only a matter of personal experimentation, eventually leading to the Omni Contraction Training System’s development.

What does the Omni Contraction Training System look like?

If you want to know about all the science behind this system and the methods that I use, I recommend looking up my online OCTS courses in our online store.

It’s also worth noting that my new training programs use this set-up. Ok, enough with the sales pitch! Here’s what the system looks like:

*It has three main lifting workouts per week (Monday/Wednesday/Friday)

*Each of these is whole-body workouts

*They usually revolve around 3-4 significant compound movements (an Olympic lift or dynamic pull, followed by a squat, a press, a hinge, and sometimes a pull or row).

*Each day focuses on one type of muscle action (Monday is the eccentric focus,

Wednesday is the isometric focus, Friday is the concentric focus)

*A fourth lifting workout can be added on Saturday if there is no sprinting/agility/conditioning work. I call this day a “Gap workout” because that’s where we can do isolation work for muscles that might be neglected by the main sessions or are lagging. We can also use this day to do technique work on movements we want to introduce later on.

That’s the basic set-up.

When it comes to longer-term programming, each training cycle includes three types of phases:

*Accumulation (similar to Egger’s Extensive block) is designed to prepare the body for the more demanding lifting to come. This means using methods that will develop the muscles and tendons but also improve movement quality and control. This means lighter weights and longer durations (either via more reps or longer eccentric or isometric phases).

*Intensification (similar to Egger’s Intensive block), which is designed to increase strength as much as possible in every muscle contraction type. This means using methods and loading schemes that utilize more weight for shorter efforts. Explosive work is often introduced in this phase, too (usually in the Gap workout).

*Realisation (similar to Egger’s Explosive block). This could also be called a “transfer” phase, and some might say “sport-specific” phase, but I hate that term. This phase begins with a focus on increasing your power and subsequently learning to transfer your strength and power in movement structures resembling your sports actions (although I’m NOT talking about copying sports movements). I will write about the concept of transfer and how to maximize it in a future article.

Interesting point: it is not unusual to see an athlete get slower and less explosive during the accumulation phase and even the intensification phase before experiencing a huge leap in performance during the realization phase. You need to be aware of this to avoid panicking if it happens.

I’ll use myself as an example: my golf Overspeed work went from a high of 143 mph (blue superspeed golf stick) at the end of a previous realization phase to 136 mph at the end of the accumulation phase of my current cycle, to 137 mph at the end of the intensification phase before finishing up at 149 mph at the end of the current realization phase, an increase of 6 mph.

This is not just a fatigue issue. If you train your body to move fast, it will become better at moving fast. And the movements don’t even need to be “specific’. Just by always doing high-speed work, you become more efficient in this type of contraction.

The accumulation and intensification phases include a more significant proportion of slower speed work (due to more volume and heavier weights), making it likely you will lose some speed while you are in those phases.

That doesn’t make these phases worthless—quite the contrary.  As the old saying goes, strength is the foundation of power. When you increase your strength, you also increase your power potential (power = force x velocity) and if your power goes up, so does your speed of movement.

By increasing your strength, you can become even more explosive once you train your body to use that strength in high-speed actions.

This is the system I always use when I start to work with an athlete. The more strength he needs to develop, the longer I’ll keep using it. I feel that it is the best approach to build a sturdy base of strength and technical efficiency.

However, once an athlete has a high level of strength and muscle mass, or at least a level that is sufficient to achieve a high level of performance in their particular sport, I want to spend more time focusing on explosiveness.

That’s when we switch to my second system.

Physical capacity set-up

Increasing your strength up to a certain point will, by itself, increase power production. And likely speed and agility as well.

However, beyond a certain point, getting stronger has less and less of a direct effect on power and speed improvements. What is that point? I can’t give you a universal answer. There are lots of individual differences. 

For one thing, the more naturally gifted you are for speed and explosiveness, the less strength you need.

By extension, the less naturally explosive you are, the stronger you need to become to improve your power (and speed).

There is evidence that in pretty much everybody, increasing squat strength up to twice bodyweight will, by itself, increase power and speed. Also, reaching a 1.25x to 1.3x bodyweight power clean or 0.9x  to 1.0x bodyweight power snatch will do the same (although these can also be considered “power” work).

While the bench press (and other upper-body lifts) has less impact on sprinting speed, increasing your bench press (and other upper-body lifts) will increase power and movement speed in upper-body actions. Increasing your bench press to 1.5x bodyweight and your strict overhead press to 0.9x bodyweight will, by themselves, increase upper-body power in everyone.

Those who are not as naturally explosive will benefit from pushing these numbers even higher. But certainly, when you reach those numbers, it is crucial to start focusing more on power-specific exercises (while still attempting to increase your strength). That’s the point when I like to begin using a physical capacity set-up. 

Here are the characteristics:

*It has three main lifting workouts per week (Monday/Wednesday/Friday)

*Each of these is whole-body workouts

*They normally revolve around 3 to 5 exercises per session

*Each day focuses on one type of physical capacity.

*We normally train three physical capacities per block (we can go up to 4 if there is not a lot of speed, agility, or conditioning work).

*There can be a 4th lifting session in the week if there is not a lot of speed/conditioning work required.

*Some of the physical capacities can also be trained as part of a speed session. That is the basic structure. If we look at programming, it looks something like this:

*There are six main “capacities” or types of workouts to use: Hypertrophy, strength, supra-max/accentuation, strength-speed, speed-strength, and reactive strength. As mentioned, we normally train three of these per block.

*Hypertrophy: This is pretty straightforward – we use training parameters to maximize muscle growth and tendon development. These can use lower stress exercises (even machine movements), especially if we also have the strength or supra-maximal day in the phase. These are used mostly with athletes who are lacking muscle mass compared to the ideal for their sport.

*Strength: These days can use any of the training methods (eccentric, isometric, concentric) or loading schemes that we use in the intensification phase of the Omni-Contraction set-up. One approach that I like is to change the contraction focus from week to week in a block. Week 1 utilizes a stato-dynamic method; Week 2 has an eccentric (not overload) emphasis; week three a concentric method; and Week 4 an eccentric overload. However, you can use any approach that is designed to increase strength.

*Supra-maximal/Accentuation: On these days, the goal is to use partial movements to overload the ranges of motion utilized in your sport. For example, we can use partial squats, deadlifts, or split squats for jumping or sprinting, all with a knee angle of 90-100 degrees. We can use such partial movements in the normal manner (lowering the weight than changing direction), pure concentric lifts (starting from pins in the power rack), or methods like box squats or board presses.

These should only be used by strong athletes with a lot of heavy lifting experience, who can effectively maintain control of the heavyweights used in such exercises.

*Strength-speed: This is the first “type” of power training. It refers to lifting moderate weights with acceleration. This includes variations of the Olympic lifts, and conventional strength lifts done with maximum acceleration using weights ranging from 50 to 70% of one’s max. One can even use partial movements done with maximum acceleration, using 70%-90% of the full range maximum (e.g., squats to a 90-100 degree knee angle using 70%-90% of one’s maximum full squat).

*Speed-strength: In this second “type” of power training, the goal is to lift light loads with maximum violence! This can consist of jumps, throws, loaded jumps (using 10-30% of your max on the corresponding movement), loaded sprints (prowler, sled), hill sprints, or even light power snatches or push presses (using 40%-50% of your max). 

*Reactive strength: In this third “type” of power training, I include intense plyometrics (depth jumps, depth push-ups, depth landings, hurdle jumps), the drop and catch method. Methods in which you must very quickly absorb force and violently change direction. The loads used are minimal (if any), as the goal is to maximize turnaround speed (the“amortization phase”), not the weight with which you can quickly change direction. This type of training is often done in conjunction with a speed/agility session.

*The physical capacities used in a training block will depend on the needs of the athlete. But a good starting point can be:

Accumulation phase

Workout 1: Strength

Workout 2: Strength-speed

Workout 3: Hypertrophy

Intensification phase

Workout 1: Strength

Workout 2: Speed-strength

Workout 3: Strength-speed

Realization phase

Workout 1: Supra-max

Workout 2: Speed-strength

Workout 3: Reactive strength (often done with a sprint/agility session)

Workout 4: Strength-speed

Can I combine more than one capacity per workout?

Training two physical capacities (or more) in a workout can be tempting. In theory, it could allow you to train all six components in every phase or train more capacities per phase. But you must be careful when combining capacities in one workout. Yes, it can be done. But it has to be used for the proper purpose, and you must understand the drawbacks and shortcomings.

First, you should never combine capacities to “develop” more capabilities in less time. The main benefits of combining methods are activation and transfer.

Track coach legend Boo Schexnayder said it best:

You must give your body an unambiguous signal as to what you want it to become.”

This means that as much as possible, you give one adaptation signal per session.

This is why I like to either use only one contraction type (Omni-Contraction System) or a single physical capacity per workout. This will not only lead to more significant progress in the trained ability than what you would have achieved in each capacity trained in a complex session, but it also decreases the neurological demands on the workout. Decreasing the neurological demands decreases cortisol and adrenaline, making it easier to recover from and less likely to cause training burnout.

There are two cases in which I consider it acceptable to use more than one type of physical capacity in a session.

  1. They are using jumps and throws at the beginning of a workout to amp the nervous system up. Canadian National weightlifting coach Pierre Roy always had his athletes start their workouts with a few sets of jumps, a habit I kept using for years. It works well to increase neurological efficiency for the training and improves performance. It is a warmup or potentiation exercise for your CNS. As a side note, Fred Hatfield (Dr.Squat), who squatted 1014lbs at 45 years of age, would always perform a maximal vertical jump before big squat or deadlift attempts.
  2. You are using complexes to facilitate the transfer. In this case, you would combine exercises for two (or more) different physical capacities for a similar movement pattern. The purpose is not to develop both simultaneously but to speed up the transfer of strength toward speed. While strength is the foundation of power, and power is the foundation of speed and agility, the transfer is not automatic. It takes some time to learn to use the strength you have efficiently and effectively in higher-speed movements.

One way to speed up the process is to combine an exercise that involves the more fundamental quality you want to transfer (like strength) and another movement that consists of the quality you are ultimately trying to maximize (like strength speed or speed-strength).

Here are some examples that should clarify what I mean by this:

  1. Transferring strength to strength-speed: Back squat and power clean from the hang.
  2. Transferring strength-speed to speed-strength: Power clean from the hang and loaded jump squat.
  3. Transferring speed-strength to reactive strength: loaded jump squats and hurdle jumps.
  4. Transferring reactive strength to fundamental movement: Hurdle jumps and sprint.
  5. Transferring fundamental movement to sport skill: Sprint and passing route and catch (for a wide receiver in football)

It is important to note that the two exercises are complex and include a full rest period between them. One must understand that this is a full, gradual, and slower transfer process (you can switch from one to the other weekly or bi-weekly) where you only try to transfer your capacity one “step” closer to the end product (sport skill) each time. This is the safest way to do things because the closer two capacities are from one another, the easier the transfer will be.

You can try to transfer strength directly to the movement skill, for example combining squats and running a passing route. But the chance of achieving a positive and effective transfer is much smaller.

A faster but still likely to be successful approach is to go two steps further in the chain. For example:

  1. Transferring strength to speed-strength (squat and loaded jump squat)
  2. Transferring strength-speed to reactive strength (power clean from the hang and hurdle jumps)
  3. Transferring speed-strength to the fundamental movement (loaded jump squat and sprint)

Yet another method is to combine three different capacities in one complex. Regardless of the approach you use, understand that the primary purpose is not to develop both capabilities but rather to facilitate the transfer of one to the other. Using a complex approach will not lead to the optimal development of the two capacities trained. The improvement will not be as high as if both are trained separately. But the transfer will be much more excellent. 

Conclusion

My approach with athletes is a paradox. It’s both super simple and complex. Simple in the fact that I use few exercises and stick to the big basics like squats, bench press, cleans, snatches, rows, etc. And once I find the ones that work best for an athlete, I rarely change them (as changing exercises increases stress).

The system is complex in terms of application in that the methods are carefully planned out and structured to lead to the best possible outcome. I do not want you to copy my approaches blindly. I don’t feel the need to have mini-Thibs running about (I already have two at home).

Analyze what I have outlined here and see how it can be integrated into your approach to making your current system even better. I want you to become better coaches or athletes, not a paint-by-number copy of me!

-CT