Power can sometimes be an intimidating concept to new or returning exercisers, and training for power might seem to be something that only an athletic population might consider. However, if we gain a better understanding and appreciation of power training and its benefits, we actually may grow to enjoy it.
What is power training?
Power is required in all activities, not just jump training or sprinting. It's related to not just the amount of force you can generate, but how quickly you can develop that force. Power is needed to get out of your chair, walk upstairs, or catch yourself if you fall. And the amount of functional power you generate is based on the amount of strength you have, and the speed at which you move. So to improve power, we can increase the resistance while moving at the same speed, or we can increase the speed at which we move the same resistance. Let’s look at the speed component of power and how it might be something we should consider.
Importance of speed in power training
Power is a relatively simple concept: if you increase the speed at which you move a resistance, you are putting more demand on the muscles. When you're on a machine, and the weight moves more rapidly (which results in your muscles having to decelerate the load quickly), the muscles are forced to work a little harder as they have to overcome the inertia of faster moving load. Likewise, the faster muscles contract, the less force they are capable of generating (can you throw a bowling ball as quickly as a baseball?).
Speed in power training also helps to increase our cognitive ability. At first, this may not seem important, but think about when you trip and fall, for instance. If someone is falling, they first need to recognize that they are falling, and then respond to the cognitive stimuli through the strength and power of their plantar flexors. The more conditioned the “brain-to-muscle” connection is to speed in a power training, the more likely they are to push off quickly and recover from that fall.
This idea of power provides two key benefits during training sessions:
- Lighter loads can be used in the beginning, with a focus on improving the speed in which we move. This allows new exercisers to lift with more confidence.
- Increasing speed allows us to build power (and in most cases strength) due to increasing the demand on the muscles (increased speed instead of increased resistance).
Increasing speed for power with one leg
Increasing speed for power with both legs
Power training with athletes
Using those key benefits, we work with our athletes to first create excellent exercise form, then moving towards increasing speed. This allows them to exercise in a safe, effective manner.
- We start with a focus on coordination and body control (form and technique).
- We move through full ranges of motion and develop a comfort with the exercise.
- Next we start to move in a more dynamic manner (adding speed).
As the athlete demands more from their muscles, we take great care to notice their strength and confidence, as well as performance gains. With those gains in mind, we are able to optimize their training schedule.
Exercising beyond a plateau
Every athlete will soon reach a plateau, and a new stimulus will be required to continue to make gains. We usually increase the weight and slow the speed of movement, building a confident control of heavier weight. The cycle of slow to fast, slow to fast will be repeated as the athlete develops.
Recreationally active individuals
We can take this philosophy to the recreationally active population as well:
- We start by developing a comfort with the exercise, slow tempo through a full range of motion.
- As the exerciser develops a confidence with movement pattern, we identify a moderate to light weight and instruct the exerciser to move as aggressively as possible through the range.
In this population we will often use machines like the Cybex Eagle NX Leg Press, as it allows us to train aggressively with minimal risk while the exerciser is reaching a state of fatigue. Exercisers will develop strength and confidence in this phase with noticeable improvement in daily activities.
Try the exercises yourself
During your next lower body workout, try to lighten your normal training load by about 20% and perform each repetition at a more aggressive tempo without pausing (fast, but under control). When fatigue sets in, and you feel the tempo slow down, rest for 45-90 seconds, and repeat for 3-5 sets.
Also, try to move slow and controlled as you decelerate the weight stack on the way down, then explode on the way out. Many people have a tendency to lower the weight very quickly, then bounce off the weight stack into each repetition.
What is a watt?
If you're wondering about focusing on power for cardio workouts, particularly on the Arc Trainer, treadmills, or bikes, read the article Whatt is a Watt? by the Cybex Research Institute's Cory Hofmann.