Training the Serape Effect for Maximum Power Generation

By on May 13, 2020

A trained boxer throwing a punch is capable of generating around 5,000 newtons of force. That’s roughly half the force that a one ton car exerts on the ground!

A martial artist delivering a well-executed kick meanwhile can exert around 9,000 newtons!

Serape effect sidekick

The top baseball pitchers are capable of throwing balls at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. That’s insane!

How is the human body capable of generating such incredible power? The answer has a lot to do with a function of your body you may not be aware of: the serape effect!

The top baseball pitchers are capable of throwing balls at a speed of over 100 miles per hour.

The serape effect refers to the diagonal arrangement of many muscles in the torso. Specifically, these are the rhomboids, the serratus anterior, the external obliques, and the internal obliques. Together, these muscles wrap around the back and form an x-shape across the abdominal region. The resulting image is similar to the Mexican serape, which is what gives the effect its name.

Muscles involved in the serape effect

In short, our musculature is designed to link the left shoulder to the right hip, and vice versa. This effect can be seen as soon as you go to throw a ball. You’ll find that you naturally raise your throwing hand back, pulling your shoulder back as you do, and that your hip on the opposite side comes forward.

What you’re effectively doing here, is “winding up” the body. You are stretching the muscles responsible, which in turn allows you to then exert the maximum amount of power when you put your entire body into the throw.

This is absolutely key to the way the human body was designed to move.

This is as opposed to keeping the body steady and simply throwing the ball with your arm, which puts a lot less mass behind the movement, and involves far fewer muscles. The same thing is true for a great punch or kick: the power comes from the rotation of the entire body, which engages as much muscle mass as possible.

This is absolutely key to the way the human body was designed to move. We see it when we walk: the left hip comes forward as the right shoulder moves backward (giving us a contralateral arm swing). We also see it when we look at the brain: the left side of the brain is primarily wired to control the right side of the body and vice versa.

And it’s a key factor in a huge number of sports, from a tennis serve, to a javelin throw, to a punch or a kick.

How to Train for the Serape Effect

This is why it is so extremely important that you train in the transverse plane: using movements that twist the body. So many conventional training programs completely ignore these muscles, which in turn means you are completely unprepared to deliver serious power from your limbs.

So how can we do this? One of the best examples of all is to use a medicine ball and throw it using hip rotation. You can do this with a rotational throw, or with a shotput throw. Either way, the medicine ball allows you to train power generation, as you can exert as much force as you want when slinging the heavy ball.

Medcicine ball training for serape effect

Another excellent option is sledgehammer training: hitting a tire with a sledgehammer again allows for ballistic strength in this range of motion.

For developing strength, you can train using cable moves like the wood chop, or the cable punch out. Anti-rotational movements are also excellent for this, such as the one-handed push up. Lizard crawls and other examples of quadrupedal movement are also great examples of contralateral training, and can similarly help to build strength in these areas along with the intermuscular coordination necessary to engage them together.

The Turkish getup actually has similar benefits.

Turkish Getup

Controlling the Power – Loose vs Rigid

In a recent post, I explained how Bruce Lee’s core stability ultimately allowed him to deliver more forceful punches by creating a rigid body in the kinematic chain. Some commenters asked whether this would make them stiff and rigid. Wouldn’t that be counterproductive? Especially as martial artists are supposed to be loose until the moment of impact! And what about martial arts tricking?

But of course the purpose of core stability training is not to permanently lock you in a rigid position! Instead, the aim is to give you that option. And it is by transitioning between loose and whip-like, then solid and tense, that you can exert the maximum force.

Core stability

In this case, you will be loose as you relax and wind up the muscles, then contract at the moment of impact. Specifically, you’ll tighten the core, so that the fist can be driven into the target, and you’ll clench the fist to harden the forearms and surrounding region via irradiation. If you stayed lose at this point, the impact would lose some kinetic energy as your body reversed that twisting motion.

The ultimate goal is perfect muscle control, so as to relax any muscle working in an antagonistic fashion while contracting the rest at the perfect moment to deliver maximum impact.

The ultimate goal is perfect muscle control.

Part of this power is achieved through another effect, called the stretch-shortening cycle. This refers to the rebound effect that muscle has after being stretched. Of course, lengthening the muscle will always provide greater distance for power to be generated. But the key is speed: the faster you stretch and then shorten the muscle, the more power you are capable of generating. This is why you can jump much higher by swinging the arms up, squatting down, and then launching back up: versus simply jumping out of a squat position.

Band training serape effect

This stretch-shortening cycle is likewise something that can be trained, which is why using ballistic-type exercises such as the medicine ball throw is particularly good for developing the kind of power that will translate to powerful throws. This is also why kinetic linking is so important in martial arts: throwing a punch and then placing your hips and shoulders in the perfect position for the next strike ready to generate the maximum amount of power.

You can also find some more examples of training for the serape effect over on my Instagram, at @thebionneer.

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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