If you’re like most gym-goers, you don’t necessarily want muscles on top of muscles on top of muscles. And you don’t want to look like a distance runner, either. Instead, you head to the gym chasing that toned beach body look. And really, that’s the look of an athlete. And that means you’ve got to do more than lift weights and do cardio.
Why? Because athletes don’t actually train to look like athletes. They just train to be athletes. And they do that by working on something called “power training,” which is what I’m going to break down for you today.
You’ve seen power training before, and you may have been intimidated by it, too. The main goal of power training is to get your body to generate power. You can do that in a number of ways, many of which you’ll see in CrossFit, where rowing machines and AirDyne bikes and exercises like power cleans and snatches challenge you to be explosive. Because of CrossFit, in fact, more and more facilities are being outfitted with rowers, AirDynes, and powerlifting platforms.
That may have you thinking that power training isn’t meant for you. But it’s something every person should implement in some form. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to do it too.
Why You Need To Power Train
You know strength training is good for you. But it’s easy to overlook introducing power into your program. Thing is, power is critical.
Essentially, when you generate power, you’re generating force. And force is what moves all weight, even when you’re doing basic biceps curls. One quick formula you may know from high school: Force = Mass x Acceleration.
Your body creates force, and that force accelerates a mass. Power training simply has you applying that force to move a mass with speed, and, in most cases, max speed. That mass can be anything from a dumbbell or barbell to your bodyweight. Jumps, sprints, and plyometrics are all under the power umbrella.
This may differ from the slow, controlled pace you use when you bench press, and it differs from, say, holding a plank. It’s also very different from walking on a treadmill. Power training has you moving with great speed. This’ll do a host of things, from protecting you as you age to helping you burn through fat stores at a great rate.
What Power Training Does For Your Body
As we age, we tend to lose power at a much greater rate than we lose strength. Around 28 to 30 years old, we hit our physical peak in terms of development. Every decade after that, men have been shown to lose around 4.7 percent of their muscle mass due to a number of different factors including hormones and water content in the body.
Falls are the second-leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide. Due to this, you see people older populations and the trainers they work with working on balance, balance, and balance. Balance is certainly a piece of this but now there is a focus point on how quickly someone can pull their leg up in front of them. Balance will keep you standing, but you need to quickly pull your leg up in front of you to land on. That is power training.
There are different fibres in the body with specific roles. Type I fibres are slow-twitch and aerobic. Type II fibres are fast-twitch and anaerobic. When there is a lack of activity and stimulus, most fibres will stay as hybrids. That means you will have some Type 1/Type IIA, Type IIA/X fibres, and others that aren’t really sure what you need them to do.
If you get into a certain training routine or lifestyle, those fibres go towards the function you need them to do. This won’t change muscle fibres from their natural makeup, but it can push hybrid fibres into choosing a role. The body has an incredible capacity to adapt for change, as long as you teach it what you need to do.
The Biology of Power Training
Power training is essentially training your maximal human potential. Strength is an incredible asset to have as we age. Strength allows us to do many things.
But power? Power lets us react to things. Usually, we associate power with chiseled physiques, mostly because of the adaptations that occur in the body when we do enough power training.
Want an example? Think about a sprint, a true sprint, a 100-meter dash. When sprinting, the body is working to accelerate so quickly that it utilizes energy sources but doesn’t actually have time to tap into the traditional aerobic metabolism you use for most other running. Think of it this way: Aerobic capacity is a checking account, and anaerobic metabolism is a credit card. To sprint, you don’t have the energy in the account, so you swipe your credit card.
That means you don’t have the most efficient energy, so you are going to have to pay back that debt you created. That is EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption). This means your baseline metabolism over the next 24-48 hours will be elevated to pay back the debt you created. That elevated metabolism is why power exercises harness more fat storages and are associated with lean physiques.
Don’t Sacrifice Form!
Power isn’t just stressing your muscles when you do this type of work. Long term joint health is something that really needs to take priority. Your shoulders and hips can undergo serious damage if you don’t use proper mechanics when power training.
Did you ever jump off the swings when you were a kid and land with straight legs? Wild guess: no, because doing so would cause pain from bone-on-bone collision. You land using your muscles to absorb and control force.
So take your time with power training. It’s critical for all ages, but you need to start slowly and work on your own mechanics. Also, keep your reps and sets low when power training, and take plenty of rest between sets. This will help you maintain flawless form.
Insert these 6 exercises into your workouts to improve your power.
Why? This is essentially the stock photo attached to every thought about power training. The purpose of the move is to get as much weight as you can from the ground up to your upper body. Imagine an explosive deadlift with enough power to drive the weight high enough to fall under the bar and catch it.
How To: Grasp a bar with an overhand grip, feet shoulder-width apart, as if setting up for a deadlift. Explosively extend knees and hips with max force to stand up. The move will almost be like jumping from the floor as you will end up on the balls of your feet as you extend. During this time, shrug the weight up simultaneously to develop as much momentum in the bar as possible. Once the bar is at peak height, drop below it and explosively drive your elbows forward, catching the bar on the front side of your shoulders. You should maintain a strong spinal posture throughout the move. Lower the weight in a controlled manner. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 4 to 6.
Why? Snatches are a great full-body move to get weight from the ground to all the way above your head. You’ll see CrossFitters and powerlifters doing the move with barbells, but that may not be the best for you; many people don’t have the prerequisite shoulder mobility and posterior stability to get a barbell overhead in a safe manner. The dumbbell is the ideal choice for moving weight from the ground explosively above head.
How to: With the dumbbell between your feet, sit down deep enough to hold the dumbbell with a straight arm. From that position, drive your feet into the ground with maximum power to the standing position. In this span, shrug the dumbbell up to develop maximum momentum in the dumbbell. At the dumbbells peak, you will flip you hand so your fingers are facing outward now explosively extending your arm up above. While the arm extends, you will drop below the weight to catch the dumbbell at the top. When fully standing with the dumbbell above head in a strong posture, bring the dumbbell down to your shoulder in a controlled fashion. From the shoulder, control the weight down to your hips before eccentrically lowering it to the floor. That is one rep; do 3 sets of 4 to 6 per arm.
Why? This one’s all about glute power. This move allows your body to move heavy weight ballistically, driving it forward to the front of the body. Think of it as a broad jump with your feet fixed to the ground.
How to: Sit back into the heels with an athletic stance. The kettlebell starting position should be far enough that you are reaching at full extension and the kettlebell is leaning towards yourself. With both hands firmly gripped on the handle, lift the hips enough for the bell to swing back between your legs. From the loaded position, explode the hips forward propelling the kettlebell as if you were throwing it as far as possible in front of you. At the top, you will be standing tall with the body rigid. Allow the kettlebell to drift forward based on momentum. As the kettlebell descends back towards yourself, receive the kettlebell with pushing the hips back and maintaining a tall spine throughout. That is one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12.
Why? This is the power exercise you can take anywhere. Sprinting is bodyweight, explosive, and you can do this almost anywhere. Full lower body drive pushing the ground away below you. This requires strength, abdominal control, and cardiovascular demand that most exercises can’t match..
How to: You know how to run, but sprinting is different. Focus on lower body explosion and keeping a tight core. Sprinting is best with a slow escalation of speed into a full sprint. Try starting with both feet together, leaning forward as much as possible until you fall forward with one leg, then extending and beginning to run. This is a great way to get comfortable with stride length and working into full sprint running. Keep your distances short when doing this; think of running 50 to 100 meters at a time, at most, for 6 to 8 sets.
Why? External weight can change the mechanics of any movement. The sled sprint will take the sprint and force you to lean further forward. This lean helps the spine accommodate vertical stress, increase quadricep recruitment, and teach the body to move smoother with extra demand.
How to: Load a sled with light weight. Lean forward at a 45-degree angle and grip the sled with your hands close to your chest, a position similar to a pushup position. From a staggered stance, drive through the balls of your feet with all toes in contact with the ground. Each step, maximize your stride length pulling the leg forward as far as possible to get the most of each step.
Why? The beauty of this move is that you start leaning forward, then must transfer lower-body power to upper-body extension with a weight. This can stack some serious mass on the system with the single side capabilities of the landmine.
How to: Start from the standing position with the barbell loaded on one shoulder. With one hand gripped on the end of the bar, slightly bend the knees and explode vertically to propel the weight up. Catch the bar with a locked out arm and a forward lean of the upper body where all parts of the move are in one line. The legs will be transition from a bilateral to a staggered stance from start to the catch position. Bring the bar back down to shoulder and repeat. Do 3 sets 6 to 8 reps.
By David Otey, C.S.C.S.