Do you know the difference between strength and power? The two terms aren’t synonymous. You can be strong but still not be powerful. Strength refers to how much weight you can lift or resistance you can work against irrespective of how long it takes to lift that weight or resistance.
Power, on the other hand, has a time component. It corresponds to force generated or work done divided by time. If you’re more powerful, you can lift a weight or resistance faster than someone who is less powerful. You also exert power when you swing a golf club or hit a tennis ball where your muscles have to generate force quickly.
Power AND strength are essential for functionality. In weight training, we focus much of our time on becoming stronger but being powerful is no less important. You lose strength as you age but, after the age of 65, you lose power at almost twice the rate!
In fact, after the age of 60, you’ll lose power at the rate of about 3.5% per year. Why is this important? Without functional power, you can’t thrust yourself up out of a chair. How many older folks are confined to a wheelchair because they can’t generate force quickly enough to propel themselves out of a chair? You need strength and power for successful aging.
So, how can you become more powerful? You won’t develop it with conventional strength training unless you use a rapid tempo when you move the weight. That’s why power training is velocity training. Let’s looks at some of the ways you can improve functional power when you train.
Increase the Tempo of Your Lifts
To develop power, pick up the tempo of your reps. During some sessions, lighten the weight or resistance you’re using to between %50 and 60% of your one-rep max. Then, move the weights quickly, almost explosively, while still using good form. Do three of four sets of 6 reps each. Once you’re comfortable with the move, gradually increase the weight but don’t go higher than 70% of your one-rep max. Remember, you’re focusing on generating force quickly, not using the heaviest weight you can.
Add Some Plyometrics to Your Workout
Plyometrics are an explosive form of training that involves quick stretching of a muscle followed by shortening or contraction. This form of training takes advantage of the elastic properties of a muscle combined with the stretch reflex to boost the ability to generate explosive power. Plyometrics usually involves jump training and range from jump squats to box jumps onto boxes of varying heights.
During a plyometric move, you rapidly stretch a muscle before shortening it. This activates the stretch reflex and the elastic component of the muscle recoils in response. When you combine this with a contraction of the muscle, it increases the power you’re able to generate. So, plyometric moves are a way to activate fast-twitch muscle fibers and build strength and power.
Keep in mind, plyometric training is high impact and, depending on how high you jump, you expose your body to lots of force when you land. Start out slowly by adding a few plyometric drills, like squat jumps, to the end of your routine or mix them in with your strength moves. Don’t attempt box jumps until you’re comfortable with squat jumps and then start with a low box. Another good starter plyo exercise is explosive split squats. For upper body, try plyo push-ups, starting on your knees. Other plyometric exercises include lateral jumps and hopping over a cone or other small barrier.
You can either incorporate plyometric moves into your other workouts or do an entire session of plyometrics once a week or so. If you circuit train, you can use plyometric moves to keep your heart rate up between strength-training moves. Plyometrics activates fast-twitch muscle fibers and can actually help you get more out of strength training.
Dynamic kettlebell moves are another way to build explosive power and the kettlebell swing ranks high in terms of explosiveness. The classic kettlebell swing helps build power in the lower body and core due to the dynamic, ballistic nature of the movement. When you do a kettlebell swing correctly, you generate force (using the kettlebell as resistance) at an explosive rate – the perfect formula for boosting power. However, before grabbing a heavy kettlebell and catapulting it into the air, pick a lighter one and master the hip hinge movement that’s so important for swinging a kettlebell properly. The power you generate for a swing comes from thrusting your hips forward and using your upper body to control the swing. It takes time to master the art of hinging your hips when you swing the kettlebell.
Beyond the swing, kettlebell swings, snatches, and cleans also build power – but start with a basic swing first.
Medicine Ball Throws
Throwing a medicine ball against a wall is a way to develop power in many planes of motion. There are lots of ways you can throw a medicine ball to develop power. You can do overhead tosses or chest passes where you throw the medicine ball against a wall and catch the rebound. Plus, you’ll discover lots of other variations that will enhance upper body power. Try doing a few tosses or passes at the end of a workout as a finisher.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be so focused on building strength and muscle size that you forget about power. Who doesn’t want to be both strong AND powerful? It’s an ideal combination for functional fitness and it becomes even more important to have these capabilities as you age.
BodybyBoyle.com. “Delaying the Loss of Power as a Result of Aging”
Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2013 Oct-Dec; 3(4): 346–350.
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