We ought to be doing something much more valuable, namely equipping our clients with the skills they need to improve their performance outside the gym, not just lift massive loads in a few exercises.
This article explains how to apply everything I’ve learned in working with both athletes and general population clients. They have more in common than you might think.
Everyone needs power. But most non-athletes are sorely lacking when it comes to power.
Even strong clients struggle to translate gym success to the real world activities. That could include 27-year-old Bryce playing beer league softball. Or 45-year-old Becky running around with her kid. Or 64 year old Bob catching himself to prevent a fall.
We need to translate gym strength into a more usable, real world form: power.
In this article, I’ll show you that improving power isn’t just for athletes. It’s for everyone.
What is Power?
Power may be defined as the ability to generate usable strength as fast as possible.
This includes a variety of movements from sprinting, jumping, throwing, changing direction, punching, kicking, lifting, and putting a foot in front of you (before you fall over a curb while tweeting on your iPhone.)
It’s great to have a ton of horsepower in the form of maximum strength, but once a basic level of strength is developed it’s best to refine your clients ability to generate that strength rapidly.
Why Power Matters
Refining strength into usable power is like brewing your morning cup of Joe.
Like a cup of coffee, power requires high quality ingredients — in this case, a base of strength and movement proficiency.
But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
Just because you have the raw materials to make good coffee, doesn’t mean the process doesn’t matter.
Too many trainers chase raw PR numbers as the only measure of success, even in clients that aren’t competitive lifters.
Refining performance and training for power upgrades your clients’ software and hardware. It helps them build strength, power, muscle, and burn fat, improving all around performance.
The Power Continuum
Different clients require different, specific needs, which are met through training across the force velocity curve.
In general, moderate loads allow for the greatest rates of force development and power output. Going along the curve, speed-strength, explosive-power, and strength-speed use moderate loads (up to 60% in most cases) for a blend of speed and strength for high power outputs.
On the far end, where most lifters spend most of their time, is strength, a key component for building a strength base and fairly high power output.
Training Power and Fat Loss
Training explosively burns fat efficiently a few different ways.
First, explosive training requires an intense focus on rep speed and rep quality. As a result, your muscles contract harder and faster for better motor unit recruitment and as a result, fatigue.
All other things being equal, an exercise performed with more explosive intent will be more demanding. This translates into greater caloric expenditure during exercise.
Second, exercises used for power development like sprinting, jumping, and high-speed multi-joint exercises significantly disrupt homeostasis in the body at the hormonal level.
Research has consistently proven that levels of serum testosterone are higher after a bout of demanding resistance training and sprinting. In the case of a caloric deficit and sound diet, greater testosterone levels will promote greater muscle growth and fat loss.
Third, most exercises for developing power are total body in nature. Using the clean as an extreme example, over 200+ muscles in your body work synergistically in a coordinated, explosive action. This creates an extremely metabolically demanding environment to both deplete energy stores and burn calories, even with submaximal loads.
Furthermore, more demanding exercises will over time, promote greater insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control.
Takeaway: Ensure your clients have sound technical skills, and then begin implementing compound exercises with explosive intent for greater fat loss.
Training Power and Strength
Most coaches are so focused on getting their clients strong that they neglect explosive movement.
It’s a fair point. To maximize training for strength, it’s imperative to spend significant time under heavy load. Most lifters are strong. But they fail to convert strength into power because they can’t develop force fast enough.
If you don’t generate force fast enough in lifts, you may miss the lift due to fatigue from the load and lack of overcoming strength.
Use a variety of methods. Incorporating bodyweight movements, light-throws and jumps develops the capability to generate force rapidly.
Training submaximal loads will optimize weak points across the entire strength curve. Your clients will move heavier weights faster through sticking points. They’ll also move faster during unweighted, athletic movements in everyday life.
Training Power and Muscle
In many cases, moving lighter loads with more speed help the nervous system fire at full speed to maximize fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment. After all, you can’t train muscle fibers that aren’t being recruited.
There are a few popular ways to recruit more muscle fibers:
- Lift heavy weights (which I’m sure you’re already doing)
- Lift lighter weights faster
Smart coaches realize people can’t lift heavy all the time without increasing the risk of injury and neural fatigue. Lifting lighter weights is an intelligent alternative that maximizes muscle unit recruitment without overstressing the body.
Explosive exercises with lighter loads will increase neural drive to the muscles, recruit more/activate dormant muscle fibers, and maximize the efficiency of the central nervous system to stimulate new muscle growth.
Training Power With Older Populations
According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults, with nearly 2.5 million non-fatal falls requiring medical attention each year (3).
As trainers, it’s important we do everything in our power to improve functional capacity in older adults. That often requires improving strength and power concurrently.
In 2002, the American Geriatrics Society found that High-Velocity Resistance Training Increases Skeletal Muscle Peak Power in Older Women (2), which lends credence to developing power for functional capacity in older clients.
I use explosive intent on exercises with older populations if they’re able to hold proper positions, even though most of my clients are aged 15-35.
My advice? Use caution with your exercise selection. But incorporating less strenuous power development exercises appears valid for developing functional capacity in your elderly clients.
When to Train for Power
Exercise order is always important, but even more so when training for power. The nervous system is the primary driver of performance, so the exercises that require the most power are most sensitive to technique and must be performed first.
As stated by the NSCA, “Compound power and core exercises require the highest level of skill and concentration of all exercises and are most affected by fatigue (1).”
That means you shouldn’t do your cardio before heavy strength work or explosive weight training. Instead, you should do power work directly after your warm-up to minimize injury risk and potentiate your body for maximal training.
Power Primer Methods
You don’t need full Olympic lifts to build power. There are other methods like jumps, lower impact plyometrics, throws, and lifting with higher speed. In addition, lifting with maximum explosive intent is more important than huge loads.
Here are a few popular power primer methods:
1. Lift weight maximum concentric speed
Rather than excessive loading, using maximum rep speed and applying force into the bar develops more power. Think of having your clients lift each rep like it’s a maximum intent, without sacrificing technique or eccentric control.
Obviously, this will depend on your population and exercise selection. But coach your clients to lift with a purpose!
2. Jump Rope
When combined with weight training, jumping rope is a viable method to developing explosive and reactive power (4).
Additionally jump rope requires minimal equipment or space and has a non-existent learning curve, making it a simple tool for power development.
Three to five minutes at the end of a warm-up is an easy way to build some explosiveness and coordination.
3. Floor plyo push-up
The floor plyo push-up is a great option for weaker clients to develop upper body pushing power. Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up.
4. Hackey pull
The hackey pull is an uncommon power-clean regression used to groove explosive hip extension.
From an RDL position and the bar just below knee-level, accelerate the bar as it passes the knees, aggressively extending the hips forward, “popping” the bar off the thighs.
I got this variation from Loren Landow and it works extremely well to develop explosive hip extension while minimizing the complexity of the Olympic lifting exercises.
Furthermore, if clients can’t rack the bar in an Olympic lift due to shoulder or elbow issues, this exercise is a viable alternative.
3-4 sets of 2-4 reps with a moderate-heavy work loads works well.
5. High Pull
The high pull is a great exercise for accelerating the bar after hip extension is reached and minimizing elbow and shoulder stress during the catch of exercises.
3-4 sets of 3-8 reps with a moderate-heavy work loads works well.
6. Squat Jumps
Squat jumps are an explosive lower body exercise with a short learning curve””perfect for most non-athletes.
In the case of the squat jump, start slow with un-weighted jumps before moving to light dumbbells after landing mechanics and full hip extension are reached.
Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up, best on lower body days.
7. Box Jumps
Box jumps are a great exercise when done correctly. Rather than emphasizing box height, have clients jump as high as possible, regardless of box height while focusing on landing flat foot with the knees vertically aligned and chest up.
Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up, best on lower body training days.
8. Overhead Slam
Use the overhead slam to incorporate explosive movement while preventing flexion through the trunk.
This is an awesome exercise to build a trunk resilient to explosive forces in sport and potentiating the nervous system during training.
Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up, best on upper body training days.
9. Plyo Bench Push-Up
Plyo bench push-ups are an advanced upper-body pushing exercise that works well to improve upper body pushing strength. Keep the abs braced and spine neutral during all pushes.
Try 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps after your dynamic warm-up.
Related: Fixing Bad Pushups
Skipping is a great, low risk alternative to sprinting. Skips for height, distance, or even basic coordination are best. Make sure you use a contralateral arm swing with the knee bent to 90 degrees and foot dorsiflexed while driving the knee up and forcefully “punching” the rigid foot back into the ground to generate force.
2-3 sets of 10-15 yard skips at the end of dynamic warm-up.
Proceed with caution, but sprints can be a great option for improving performance because they require high-speed muscular contractions and an influx of anabolic hormones. It’s important to slowly work into sprints and prevent fatigue to reduce injury. If you go this route, start conservatively with short distances or short treadmill sprints.
Like lifting, sprinting requires high impact muscular contractions that potentiate the nervous system for better neural recruitment and stimulate the release of anabolic hormones.
Treadmill: 5 x10 seconds on moderate speed with an incline, 50-second/full recovery.
On ground: 5×10-30 yards, 60-90 seconds recovery. Limit top-end speed to 85-90 percent of top speed to limit injuries until work capacity and technique improve.
Improving physiological performance is important regardless of goals. And training explosiveness in a properly controlled and structured manner is even more important for clients with active lifestyles and athletic ambitions.
Using the Power Primer methods in this article you’re now equipped with some new ideas to:
- help make your clients more athletic
- build a bit more muscle with less stress
- cut some body-fat.
Most importantly, you’re giving your clients the tools to transfer their hard work in the gym to a more capable body outside the walls of your training facility.
55 Reasons Why the Deadlift is the Best Exercise of All Time – Dean Somerset
1) Baechle, Thomas, and Roger Earle. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. 3rd. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. 390-391. Print.
2) Suzuki T, Bean JF, Fielding RA. Muscle power of the ankle flexors predicts functional performance in community dwelling older women. J Am Geriatr Soc 2001;49:1161-1167.
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed August 15, 2013.
-Masterson, G., & Brown, S. (1993). Effects of Weighted Rope Jump Training on Power Performance Tests in Collegians. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 7(2), 108-114. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/1993/05000/Effects_of_Weighted_Rope_Jump_Training_on_Power.6.aspx