Power Up! The Need for Speed - POWER, SPEED, AGILITY - Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methodsp (2015)

Explosive Calisthenics, Superhuman Power, Maximum Speed and Agility, Plus Combat-Ready Reflexes--Using Bodyweight-Only Methods (2015)




First things first: Who the hell am I to be teaching you how to build incredible bodyweight power and speed?

Fair question. My name is Paul Wade, and it’s probably more helpful to tell you what I’m not—I’m not a certified personal trainer; I’m not a famous champion athlete; and I’m sure as damn not some scientist with a million PhDs who wrote a doctorate on nerve transmissions and their relationship to plyometric overload. (Woah! I impressed myself there. A little.)

I’m not disrespecting any of these folks I mentioned. They all have their own types of knowledge, in many ways superior to mine. If you want to buy books by men and women like that, there are plenty. But my education was very different. I learned what I learned about bodyweight training from close to twenty years of obsessive workouts spread out in American institutions like San Quentin, LSP (“the Alcatraz of the South”), and USP Marion. (If you understand jails, that probably sounds like a weird spread. It might make more sense if you understand that I was initially incarcerated for possession plus intent to manufacture, and later trafficking across state lines, which is a federal offense.)

Strength calisthenics has a long tradition in our American penitentiaries. These grainy old photos are from an article entitled Training in San Quentin in a 1939 copy of Health & Strength Magazine. Left and right, inmates performing bodyweight team feats; below is a fold-out shot of the prison calisthenics club. The densely muscled athlete standing at the right was the real “father” of modern progressive calisthenics. Beardless and young, but unmistakable, he is my mentor: the late, great Joe Hartigen.

I’m going to end the prison talk right there. My books are not an attempt to make prisons sound like kick-ass gladiator schools. They really aren’t. There’s nothing gangsta about me, kid. In some circles, however, American prisons are still sources of great knowledge in bodyweight training, because the cell athletes within them have very little else to work with. (This was particularly true of older generations of inmates.)

My mission in life over the past ten years has been to spread as much of this useful knowledge as I can, to any athletes around the world who might be interested. Aside from my writings, I choose to remain fairly anonymous, for reasons intelligent people can probably guess at. I cannot go back in time and correct my own messed up, hurtful, destructive actions. But to bring something good from those dark years—this I can try to do.

The bottom line: if you are expecting instruction from an officially certified expert who can tell you every type of amino acid, and who reads (and understands!) every new scientific study on training that comes out, you picked up the wrong book. But I hope you’ll stick with me for a few pages anyways—I’d like to get to know ya, kid.

Besides, who knows? With luck, I might even be able to teach you a thing or two the certified guys missed.


This manual focuses on three major athletic qualities:

In the remainder of this chapter, I’ll explain these three qualities by giving you some working definitions. There are, of course, alternative potential definitions for these qualities. These are just the ones I choose to use with my athletes. They are direct, easy to understand, and pretty simple. (Like me!)


The term power often confuses athletes, because it is so often used (incorrectly) as a synonym for strength. In fact, many hugely strong men—ironically termed “powerhouses”—are lacking in power compared to smaller athletes. Power is strength and speed, blended.

It may sound crazy to say that strength doesn’t require power, but it’s true. At its purest level, strength requires zero speed. Imagine a man holding up a crashed vehicle, so that his child can safely crawl out from underneath—this would require massive strength, but no power, since there was no movement and therefore no speed involved.

Strongman Warren Lincoln Travis built a machine that allowed him to hold huge weights on his back—the “back lift”. He worked up to 4240 lbs! Incredible strength, but no power—he wasn’t moving.

Strength without power is a phenomenon which can also be found in bodyweight training. Both this above technique and the one on the previous page require huge strength (not to mention great balance) but since they involve fixed positions, there is no speed, therefore zero power.

Next, imagine a kung fu master whipping out a backfist with such rapidity that he can “punch out” a candle flame, several feet away. Such a feat would require great speed, but since the moving arm is under very little load—just the inertia of its own mass—there’s not much strength, and therefore not much power.

Moving a significant load--like the body itself—quickly requires power!

Genuine power lies somewhere in the middle. It is the sum of speed and strength. The greater the load, the more strength and less speed. The lower the load, the more speed and less strength. This “middle road” of true power is best achieved not by performing light, load-less drills (like punching or kicking) nor by trying to snap up gigantic barbells. The best golden mean is the one given to us by Mother Nature: moving your body’s own weight quickly, the way an acrobat or parkour master does. This is the true meaning of power in athletics.


Let me say something that might sound strange, at first: I’m not really interested in pure speed. What do I mean by “pure” speed? Here’s legendary Olympic coach Al Murray to give us the answer:

One talks of speed, and of an athlete being the fastest in the world, but this can often be incorrect. To say that a man is fast because he covers many miles in a record time is extremely misleading as this is principally endurance. But when a man is fast over a very short distance, or in performing a single action like punching, kicking, leaping, springing or turning, then this to me is speed.

— Al Murray M.S.R.G., Modern Weight-Training (1963)

Some training manuals take this idea too far—they focus heavily on pure speed “tricks” like flipping coins and catching them, or catching a slide rule dropped by another athlete. Unfortunately, this kind of pure speed is useless, because it’s only in exceptional circumstances that we need to move just one limb, or one part of the body. The body evolved to move as a whole. That’s why I’m much more interested in functional speed, which is about moving the entire body as quickly as the limits of your frame will allow.

This book will teach you how to move your entire body with lightning speed. In the real world—in sports or a survival situation—displacing part of your body isn’t good enough, no matter how quick you can do it. Imagine:

· A soldier diving to avoid a line of fire

· Jumping over an obstacle

· A fighter dodging an oncoming opponent

· Getting over a wall quickly to escape danger

· Twisting in mid-air to land safely

These are examples of “real world” speed. The entire body is moved. That’s why, in this manual the drills will focus on moving your entire body as fast as possible. (You can see that speed and power overlap here: moving the entire body quickly requires power, due to the body’s mass.)

“Matrix” style! Hand speed alone is useless. Foot speed alone is useless. In the real-world—in combat, sports, or in a survival situation—you move your entire body fast or you’re dead in the water!


One problem with the modern “plyometrics” trend is that the drills develop power, but not agility. An athlete can have great power but still lack agility. Powerful athletes can quickly explode their body in one direction, but lack the ability to alter their movement at high velocity with other muscles. Whenever multiple-directions or velocities are required in rapid succession, agility is involved. (In this sense, agility can be seen as complex power, as opposed to simple power, which expresses in a single basic direction.)

Take for example a back flip. An athlete can have a huge vertical leap (power), and yet be completely incapable of a back flip (power + agility). Why? Because their nervous system lacks the ability to switch direction and bring in alternate muscle groups with the balance, speed and precision required to pull off the skill. The same is true for kip-ups, front flips, and—to some extent—muscle-ups.

This book contains drills which will lead you to a very high level of agility. Whereas power can be trained very simply—in a similar way to peak strength—agility should be trained like a skill. Part III of this book will explain the difference and teach you the distinct training methods you’ll need for optimal power AND agility.

Power can be simply expressed in a single direction—like a vertical jump.

Agility is more complex and requires alternating expressions of velocity—like a kip-up. (The arrows show the direction of the forces.)


In this manual I occasionally refer to a fourth quality: reflexes. Often, laypeople and athletes misuse the term reflexes. The common use relates to the ability to respond defensively to an external situation like an oncoming object—such as dodging a punch or catching an arrow in midflight. This is not quite right; in reality, reflexes perform a more basic, less theatrical task. They are our body’s automatic movements in response to any stimuli.

Imagine walking down the stairs, and accidentally missing a step. Whether you fall on your face, or your leg automatically stabilizes itself depends on the quality of your reflexes. The reflexes move faster than the mind, because they bypass the mind; they come directly from the nervous system. When something happens so fast that the mind can’t react to it, the reflexes take over, and the nervous system makes thousands of instantaneous calculations and readjustments to keep the body safe.

If all this happens when you make a misstep, how hard do the reflexes have to work to make sure your arms fire at exactly the right time during a handspring? Or to ensure you land safely after a front flip?

To keep a long story short, if you want to generate high levels of power, speed and agility, your reflexes need to level up to the same degree. They will do this automatically as you practice. After you initiate ballistic power movements voluntarily, there is a host of involuntary stuff that needs to happen—stuff that happens quicker than the conscious mind can process. When you perform an explosive pushup, flip or kip-up, you need to readjust and land—and this happens in a fraction of a second. You are essentially training your reflexes to do this job for you. Although many of our reflexes are innate—also called natural, or unconditioned reflexes—we can also train our nervous system to react more efficiently to different situations—these are called conditioned reflexes.

The take-home? If you train right using the drills in this book, your movement reflexes will automatically ramp up to black belt level—and you don’t need to catch a single arrow, ninja-boy.


Most gym-trained athletes build strength, but true athleticism—and youthful movement—will always be out of reach for them because they don’t truly understand how to build the three major explosive qualities: power, functional speed, and agility. (Your reflexes are also crucial, and can be seen as the sum of your development of these three.)

If you follow the teachings in this book, you can build all these qualities: faster and more efficiently than you can build strength! Anybody who can move can rapidly learn to build awesome levels of power—the kind of explosive power normally most people only see in wild animals or superhero comics. But modern methods won’t cut it. You need to ditch the kind of un-functional strength movements trainers get paid to teach at the gym. You have to go back to the hardcore basics and do it the right way. What’s the “right” way?

That’s up next.