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Upper-Body Power Development

This is an excerpt from High-Powered Plyometrics, Second Edition by James Radcliffe and Robert Farentinos.

Plyometric training is the coordinated use of the entire body in the expression of power. Those powerful movements employ the upper body as they traverse the center of the torso, involving the motions of tossing, passing, and throwing, and their subcategories of swinging, pushing, punching, and stroking.

Tosses and Passes

Tosses and passes are projecting movements of the upper torso and limbs that take place below or in front of the head (or both). In tossing, the functional anatomy is identical to that involved with swinging and twisting, and combinations of these. Tossing by our definition is anything that occurs across the torso vertically or horizontally in which the arm does not go over the head, hence the description of keeping it below (such as forward, backward, or sideways) or in front of (such as upward) the head. Passing is often likened to throwing when comparing the forward pass in American football. However, in our definition, passes are movements in which the implement is pushed from close to the body outward (e.g., the basketball chest pass).


Throws are projecting movements of the upper torso in which the arms move above, over, or across the head. Throwing employs more cocking and whipping effects than the other projectile movements do, often requiring a start from one side of the head and a follow-through finish over and past the head for maximal horizontal distance.

In many sports, we can see the power the hips and legs transfer through the midsection to the chest, shoulders, back, and arms. So throwing, catching, pushing, pulling, and swinging movements are primarily upper-body activities. Thrusts, throws, strokes, passes, and swings all engage muscle groups of the upper body. The relative degree of arm movement differentiates these action sequences. In their functional anatomy, these movements are similar and involve integrated flexion, extension, and abduction of the arms, as well as the support of the arms and shoulder girdle throughout flexion and extension.

Throwing success depends on how well the transfer of force is synchronized from the opposite foot plant, through the hips, across the body’s center of gravity, and up through the throwing arm. Failure to coordinate this load and whip through the hips can cause many problems, the least of which is poor throwing performance. The same can be said about any of the following upper-body-related exercises. A great deal of them are not truly plyometric in execution; however, they are progressive lead-in exercises that foster coordinating and synching the body to achieve optimal upper-body execution of the pass, throw, pitch, toss, punch, and so forth. Using the upper body without this synchronization and without involving the intermuscular aspects sets people up for many forms of failure.

In keeping with the concept of synchronization, we have included the dynamic forms of upper-body lifting, known as the Olympic lift progressions. Pushing and catching a barbell in countermovement style develop strength and speed for overall power improvement. These exercises have been added to the list of progressive work to provide true elastic–reactive training of the upper body.

Upper-Body Power Exercises

The following progressive medicine ball exercises are helpful to any athlete exploding from a stance, starting blocks, or a platform (e.g., in the sports of American football, track, and diving). The exercises begin by emphasizing hip and shoulder extension and technique; they then incorporate footwork and reactive work.

Learn more about High-Powered Plyometrics, Second Edition.

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High-Powered Plyometrics-2nd Edition

High-Powered Plyometrics-2nd Edition

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