BY KENNETH MILLER, MS
Training for power has been underrepresented, or at least misrepresented, for its benefit and application in life. When we’re younger we take for granted our ability to sprint after a ball, jump over a fence, or evade the person who is “it” in a game of tag. As years go by and we spend increasingly more hours sitting at a desk, slumped over the computer, staring at a smart phone or behind the steering wheel, our need for power still remains. However, hours upon hours in those seated positions lead to a gradual decrease of our ability to move and react quickly. With this said, training for power is not just reserved for on the field or on the court performance by professional athletes. The questions now become “Why do I need power?” and “How do I get it back?”
Why do I need power?
In the example of playing tag and doing all you can to not become “it,” you have to outrun, or at least outmaneuver, your playmate. Speed and a rapid change of direction are what make this possible. Power is the ability to efficiently decelerate and then transfer this energy to rapidly accelerate in the desired direction. Other examples of this can be seen when you shuffle right, stop and change direction to the left, or when you lower your hips toward the ground in preparation to jump vertically in the air. All of these require force and speed.
As we progress in years, the need for power is more evident with fall prevention programs. Traditional programming to prevent falls has primarily incorporated balance training with the participant focused on standing on one leg or standing unaided. One component that’s typically ignored is speed of movement. What good is sensing that you’re losing balance if you are not able to move quickly to regain it? The end result is still going to be the same with the only difference being that one person didn’t see the fall coming while the other sensed it but was too slow to do anything about it.
For those who are consistent exercisers and in good shape, training for power has multitudes of physical benefits. For those wanting to get in “summer shape,” the added benefit is in the enhanced calorie expenditure. If the goal is on-field performance, power training can lead to improved quickness and also overall strength gains. As you continue through the aging process, physical markers for strength and endurance can be improved with some aspect of power training.
How do I get it back?
First things first—in order to get power you have to attain and eventually maintain range of motion. This means that you need to have the capacity to move the joints through an appropriate range with control and strength. Once a plan for mobility is created that addresses movement restrictions (i.e., calf stretches for tight calf complex), you can now progress toward improving stability and strength. When muscles can lengthen and shorten with control and efficiency, you are in a better position to improve strength with ideal sequencing and coordination.
The progression is to then work on strength endurance. This is the ability to hold and maintain posture with control. At this stage you are able to move with coordination for extended periods in multiple directions and/or positions with different loads and speeds. You or your client can then be challenged with increased range of motion, speed and resistance based on an ability to move with command.
The final step in gaining or reeducating the body for power is to now increase both speed and force, as power is the product of both factors. Assuming an intermediate level of conditioning, the body will be primed for the increased intensity and volume of work required to improve power. This type of workout can be built around the superset model of training where similar motions are combined, with the first requiring relatively high resistance immediately followed by a quick and forceful movement. This sequence of exercises needs a high level of nervous excitement with education of the same muscle groupings for speed.
Here is an example of a total-body routine built around conditioning for power that can be done twice a week.
– Forward Lunge to Balance
– Side Lunges
– Knee HugsSpeed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ)
– Speed Ladder Drills
– Side Shuffle x4, alternate lead leg
– In-In-Out-Out x2
– Cone “T” Drill x3
Resistance Training x4 sets
- Movement #1—Performed with HEAVY Resistance
- Movement #2—Performed in rapid succession—As Fast As Possible (AFAP), with resistance up to 30 to 45% 1RM, or up to 10% body weight for Medicine Ball (MB)
- Rest—2 to 3 minutes between pairs
- Dumbbell Bench Press (5 reps). With feet flat on floor and back flat on bench, press dumbbells straight up and then together by extending elbows and contracting chest. Return dumbbells by flexing elbows and allowing shoulders to retract and depress.
- Lateral MB Chest Pass (10 reps). Facing a wall (or partner) hold MB in both hands at chest level with elbows flexed. Push and release the ball forward as hard as possible by extending the elbows and contracting the chest. Catch the ball and repeat.
Squat / Lunge
- Front or Back Squat (5 reps). With feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, knees over 2nd and 3rd toes, slowly squat down bending knees and flexing hips, keeping the chest tall. Rise back up by pressing through the heels and contracting the glutes.
- Repeat Ice Skaters (10 reps). Standing on one foot, toes pointed forward, rapidly hop to the other foot, switching back and forth. Progress by adding a reach with the opposite hand as in a skating action.
“Regardless of the phase of training, you can always integrate some aspect of power training with moderate levels of plyometrics and agility interjected into any workout.”
- Seated Cable Row (5 reps). Start with arms extended at chest level. Flex elbows and pull handles toward armpits with thumbs pointing up. Keep shoulder blades retracted and prevent head from jutting forward. Return to start by extending elbows with control.
- MB Slams (10 reps). Feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight forward, hold MB directly overhead, arms fully extended. Quickly throw toward the floor, allowing arms to follow through. Catch (if it bounces) or pick up and repeat.
Here’s an alternate power routine to try as well:
- Incline Bench Press
- MB Chest Pass With Squat
Squat / Lunge
- Dumbbell Staggered Stance Squat
- Power Step Ups
- Dumbbell Row
- MB Slams With Rotation
After four weeks at this level of training the exerciser should revisit previous formats of training, stability and strength. This will help recalibrate muscle imbalances and overuse patterns generated through the high level of intensity training. At the same time, it will set the stage for the next bout of high-intensity training. The most important part of adding speed to your workout or exercise session is to laugh and have as much fun as the kids in the park playing a game of tag, trying not to be “it.”
For more on power training, check out NASM’s Personal Trainer Certification and Performance Enhancement Specialization