T Nation

Incorporating Power Holds

Hi CT,

I am really interested in the 3 types of power holds you wrote about a while back and the effects they have on the body and CNS. My question is:

Is there any way of incorporating them into a 6,6,6,3,2,1 program using a push/pull/leg split with 2 push days, 2 pull days, one leg day? Below is what i had in mind:


  1. Push Press 3,2,1,6,6,6
  2. Bench Press 3,2,1,6,6,6
  3. Dips 4x8
  4. Overhead Hold- 7 x 6 seconds


  1. Deadlift
  2. High Pull
  3. Deadstart Row
  4. Extension Hold- 7 x 4 seconds


  1. Squat
  2. Leg Press
  3. Pelvic Power Hold- 7 x 6 seconds

Many Thanks CT

yep hull

you have a link for the 3,3,3,6,6,6 Program, and that speaks of strength capacity too?
I tried, but I have found some post that talks about it, but not CT explains the rest time, the% used etc. …

thank you dude

Power Holds

Live coaching Tuesday 3/27/12

I’ve always been a big believer in using isometrics to enhance training. Sadly, much like jumps, this method is misused by most and as a result few actually get good results.

I now prefer power holds which are different than regular isometrics. The latter are more externally focused: you’re trying to push an immovable resistance or hold a barbell in place. Power holds are more about loading specific body positions to have an overall effect on the body.

Types of Power Holds

There are three main types of power holds, or more specifically, three training adaptation types to stimulate:

  1. Positional Awareness Via Enhanced Feedback

The goal here is to assume a certain position you want to master (e.g. overhead squat position) under a “light” load. The load itself should not be challenging or tiring; it’s simply to enhance the feel of the position: with the muscles and structure being under load, you’ll better be able to find out which muscle is doing the job, then make small adjustments to make the position stronger and ingrain that pattern.

Power holds also serve as a diagnostic tool to find out if you have weak spots or lack range of motion. Sets of 9-12 seconds should be used with a very light weight – just enough to get a better feel for the position. You shouldn’t feel fatigued at the end of a set.

This is a great method to stagger between sets of lifting movements. Example: doing an overhead squat hold between sets of snatch-grip push press behind the neck. Remember that finding out the proper power position for your body to be in and drilling that position is very important for maximal performance and lifting longevity.

  1. Building Strength and Size

To accomplish that goal, you need to put the body under a challenging load: 80-100% of your capacity. With rings it means assuming a position close-to or at the limit of what you can hold solidly, with perfect body position, for 3-6 seconds.

With free-weights it means using a weight that is 80-100% of the maximum you can hold for 3-6 seconds in the required position. Remember that with power holds perfect body position should always be prioritized over increasing resistance. To make these types of holds work, you need to focus on whole body tension (mostly with rings) or select exercises that put most of the body under load (mostly with barbells).

  1. Improving Structural Integrity

Muscles improve at a faster rate than tendons. And when the tendons’ strength is much lower than the muscle’s, it leads to either stagnation (you can’t gain strength anymore) or injuries. So if your goal is to become as strong, powerful, and muscular as you can be, you must develop your tendons as much as your muscles.

With power holds, this is done for much longer sets under a moderate load. For maximum effect, a total of 2-3 minutes per position should be the goal. You don’t have to do it all at once; you can take short pauses during the “set,” but these pauses shouldn’t be longer than about 10 seconds, and try to take less and less over time. I prefer to use free-weights for this one because even the easier ring positions will be too hard for most to complete the duration of the set.

What Exercises Do I Perform?

In the next few installments I’ll be describing more exercise options for each goal. Obviously, the basic ring holds are great for goals one and two.

I’ll briefly discuss my own favorite barbell power hold. I feel that this simple exercise has the power to build whole body strength, awareness, and stability like nothing else.

This exercise is the overhead support. You’ll need a power rack with adjustable safety pins. You set the pins at a height where you would only have to press about 4" (when standing) to complete an overhead lift.

For that position, you get under the bar and hold it with arms extended and elbows locked (so you get under the bar by being in about a 1/8 squat position). From that position you lift the bar off the pins by extending your legs and hold the top position for the duration required by the method you select.

IMPORTANT: It’s not just about holding the bar overhead; it’s about perfect positioning. You must:

  1. have the bar aligned slightly behind your head, about in line with the “back end” of your rear delts

  2. your humerus needs to be slightly externally rotated

  3. shoulder blades squeezed together

  4. flare your lats and contract them hard. Imagine that the lats are the pillars that hold the weight

  5. whole body is tensed, mid-section and legs especially

This movement will build whole body strength and “solidity” like nothing else. It can be done with a snatch or jerk grip. I personally like to do 6 sets of 3-6 seconds, then one set of 2 minutes for tendon strengthening. – Christian Thibaudeau

The Pelvic Power Hold

Thursday 3/29/12

Yesterday I covered the overhead power hold. The second barbell power hold I like is the pelvic power hold.

This exercise is great to improve your performance in the deadlift, olympic lifts, front lever (on rings or bar) and in sports requiring a solid “athletic position” (think linebacker). On top of that, it’s an amazing drill to gain lat mass.

I originally designed this exercise to solve one issue that I had on the olympic lifts. The goal is to keep the bar close to the body during the lifts. I always had problems doing that; the bar often drifting forward before the second pull – which is why I was much stronger from blocks than from the floor. Starting from the blocks I could place the bar close to the body without effort.

The source of the problem, which is quite common, is that people do not engage their lats when doing an olympic lift (same holds true for a deadlift). I actually had a breakthrough this year when I started working on the olympic lifts again. As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of ring work, working especially hard on the front lever since it solved my lat stimulation problem.

During a snatch workout I was getting mad at myself because I was losing the bar forward, which was my problem back in my competitive days. I told myself, “I’m gonna try to do a front lever action with my arms to keep the bar close.” Well, the first rep I did it, the lift felt almost twice as easy!

So I designed the pelvic power hold to strengthen the lats’ capacity to get engaged and keep the bar close to the body. It’s also a full-body tension hold in that the whole lower body – lower back, glutes, lats, rhomboids, rear delts – receives a profound stimulation.

That movement is simple. You can do it either from the floor (a bit more complex but not much), from the hang (physically harder but technically easier than from the floor), or from blocks (easiest version).

The key part of the exercise happens when the bar is just above the knees (end of first pull position). Torso is about 45-60 degrees, hips are back. From there, while maintaining the position, pull the bar to your pelvis – or upper thighs depending on your arm length – keeping the arms straight. While doing that, externally rotate the shoulders a bit to get a stronger position. Imagine trying to bend the bar toward you. Hold that position for 7 sets of 3-6 seconds.

– Christian Thibaudeau

The Extension Power Hold

The last position I like to drill with a barbell power hold is the fully extended position: the position you should find yourself in at the end of the explosion phase of an olympic lift, and also the end of the “driving up” phase of a jump.

Why is this position important to drill?

Well, it’s the last moment at which you can apply force to the floor during an olympic lift or jump and you can create a lot of momentum in that position, which can make a big difference in your actual results. One key thing to remember is that if you’re out of balance then you can’t apply maximum power. It’s also hard to maintain balance in the fully extended position if you’re not trained in it.

From a muscle-building standpoint, the extension power hold will help you build big calves, vastus medialis, traps, and forearms, while still being a good way to load the whole body.

So to recap:

  • More “pop” in your olympic lifts and jumps

  • Better balance

  • More ankle stability (helps with injury prevention)

  • Bigger calves, VMO, traps, and forearms.

Decent deal, no?

How to Perform It

This is the simplest, yet probably the most difficult power hold to do. Simply start as if you were in the finished position of a deadlift, either with a snatch or clean grip.

From that position, simultaneously rise up on the tip of your toes and shrug you shoulders up. These are the two main things to do. But also important are:

Flex your wrists. This will help you get a stronger pull and keep the bar closer to the body.

Look up 15-30 degrees.

Lean back slightly, about 10-15 degrees.

Move your hips forward slightly. Basically your body looks like it’s bowing a bit.

Hold that position for 7 sets of 4-6 seconds. I don’t recommend longer holds on this one as few people can do it without massive calf cramps or they’ll simply get out of position, which is not something we want to do. – Christian Thibaudeau

Overhead Power Hold Position

Live coaching Wednesday 3/28/12

In yesterday’s Live Coaching, I discussed power holds and how important and effective they are. The first of the key holds to perform is the overhead hold.

This exercise, when properly performed, will have a profound effect on your overhead lifting strength, on your snatch, and even on your bench press strength. On top of that, it’s a fantastic way to build the whole body: legs, glutes, lower back, abs, shoulders, back, traps, etc.

But to reap the benefits from this movement, it’s very important to be able to get into the proper position. Most people will simply get under the bar, lock their arms, and stand up, letting the delts do most of the work. This is especially true of bigger guys who lack the shoulder mobility and are “forced” to hold the bar forward, bending back a bit to compensate.

Learning the Proper Position

The first thing to do is learn how to get into the correct overhead position and contract the proper muscles to do the job. If you’re not feeling the overhead position in your mid-back and lats, you are not doing it properly.

In the correct overhead position, the scapulas are squeezed together and you’re externally rotating the shoulders (imagine trying to show your armpits to someone in front of you).

Here’s the first drill to work on that position:

  1. Band Overhead Pull-Aparts

First you assume what I call the neutral position: your arms are held overhead with a wide hand spacing. You’re aligning the band directly above your head and are not making any effort to get the scapula in the proper position. This is the overhead position that I see most people using when doing overhead work.

From the neutral position, you’ll move on to what I call the locked position. Start by squeezing your shoulder blades together then externally rotate the shoulders, trying to show your armpits to someone in front of you. If you do this right you’ll see the lats pop out and the mid-back get super tensed.

Once you’re in that position, SLOWLY move your hands wider and narrower focusing on maintaining the scapular position and back tension. Then you move on to:

  1. Bar Overhead Rotations

This is basically the same exercise as the pull-aparts but with a barbell. Start in the neutral position, then rotate into the locked position, contract hard for 2-3 seconds, and get back to the neutral position. Perform sets of 3-5 reps focusing on contracting the back hard in the locked position.

When you’re comfortable taking that position, you can work on the actual overhead power holds. It’s very important to get into the locked position before lifting the bar off the pins. Basically you’re getting into the overhead power hold position by doing a 1/8 overhead squat with a perfect locked position.

Hold that hold for 6-9 seconds for 6 sets. Then lower the weight and do one longer set to create better tendinous adaptations. – Christian Thibaudeau