With so much focus on building strength, there’s less emphasis on power training but having the ability to generate power is critical as you age. Muscle strength and power are two different aspects of muscle function. Muscle strength is the ability of a muscle to exert force against resistance and refers to how much force muscles can generate.
Power is the ability to produce force in minimal time. Power is what allows you to do explosive movements, such as jumping off the ground or throwing a ball. Time is an element for power training (faster is better) but not strength.
You measure strength and power differently too. Strength is generally measured in terms of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) or one repetition maximum (1RM), which is the amount of force a muscle can generate during a single maximal effort. In contrast, power is typically measured as peak force, peak power, and mean power during repetitive efforts at sub-maximal intensities.
When you strength train, you move the weight at a slower tempo. The goal is to generate force, regardless of the time it takes you to do that. Doing it at a slower rate helps with muscle hypertrophy by increasing time under tension.
But moving a weight slowly isn’t effective for boosting power. Remember, the time element? For example, power helps you jump into the air, launch into a sprint, kick, or punch a punching bag with force. And as you age, it helps you stay functional, even more so than strength training.
To build power, you’ll need to lighten up on the resistance and increase the tempo of each set. For example, using a weight that’s around 50% to 60% of your one-rep max and moving the weight at a fast, or even explosive, tempo helps boost power capabilities. Power training is a form of weight training that focuses on explosive, fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Why is power training so important in the second half of life?
Power Training Helps You Stay Independent
One of the biggest reasons to power train is to maintain your independence as you age. While strength is essential, research power is even more important for functionality. Even if you have a baseline level of strength, you still need power capabilities to get the initial thrust to push yourself out of a chair. What you might not realize is that older adults lose power three times faster rate than strength. Power losses lead to a decline in functionality, the ability to do the things you enjoy.
Power Training Can Improve Connective Tissue Health
Connective tissue is the non-muscular tissue in your body that holds your muscles together and provides support for joints, bones, and ligaments. This type of tissue consists of tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone, and synovial fluid — all of which are important to mobility and performance. Connective tissue is the framework that supports and connects your body. It needs to be strong but also flexible enough to allow movement.
Power training can improve connective tissue health by increasing the production of collagen and elastin proteins that make up connective tissue. This keeps your joints stable while improving their ability to absorb stress during physical activity or when performing everyday tasks like walking up stairs or picking something up off the floor. You do these activities almost every day!
Power Training Combats Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break. It’s more common in women than men, but it affects both genders. The risk of developing osteoporosis increases with age, as your body produces less and less estrogen after reaching menopause—a significant drop in this hormone can cause the amount of calcium in the blood to drop as well.
Strength training, using challenging resistance is one way to boost and preserve bone density. But a study found that lower load, fast tempo training in older women with muscle loss increased bone mineral density in the pelvis. That’s why it’s good to exercise: Power training stimulates bone production and builds muscle mass, which means you have more “hardware” (aka bones) available for support.
Power Training Improves Coordination and Reaction Time
Coordination refers to how well your muscles work together during physical activity, while reaction time refers to how quickly you respond to stimuli in the environment. For example, if an attacker approaches you from behind while you’re jogging on the treadmill at full speed, your reflexes will kick in right away so you don’t fall off the machine or get hurt by stumbling over someone else’s feet.
Power training works at the level of your central nervous system to activate fast-twitch muscle fibers as quickly and efficiently as possible to help you generate force fast. By developing the central nervous system muscle connection and making it more efficient, power training can improve reaction time and the coordination of movements.
Power Training Increases Flexibility and Balance
Power training can increase your overall flexibility by improving the range of motion in your joints. This can help prevent injuries because it allows you to move through a greater range of motion without causing discomfort or pain. As we age, our bodies are naturally less flexible. Flexibility is important for muscle health and range of motion, which can help prevent injury and discomfort.
Now that you know you need it, what’s the best way to train for power? There are two main types of power training exercises: Explosive strength training. This is the most intense form of power training, and it involves moving a weight from point A to point B as quickly as possible. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands for this purpose.
Ballistic and plyometric exercises. Ballistic exercises usually involve movement of an object, like a weight or a ball, and are commonly used by athletes to improve their explosive power by using exercises like medicine ball throws or kettlebell swings. Plyometrics are exercises that involve jumping or explosive moves like tuck jumps, jumping rope, or clapping push-ups.
The key is to incorporate this type of training into your fitness routine. If you’re consistent about it, you’ll find yourself becoming more powerful over time – and that’s something you’re going to need as you grow older.
- Hamaguchi K, Kurihara T, Fujimoto M, Iemitsu M, Sato K, Hamaoka T, Sanada K. The effects of low-repetition and light-load power training on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with sarcopenia: a pilot study. BMC Geriatr. 2017 May 2;17(1):102. doi: 10.1186/s12877-017-0490-8. PMID: 28464798; PMCID: PMC5414134.
- “Connective Tissue Training – National Federation of Professional Trainers.” 13 Feb. 2015, https://www.nfpt.com/blog/connective-tissue-training.
- “Resistance Training Improves Flexibility, Too – WebMD.” https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20100604/resistance-training-improves-flexibility-too.
- “Benefits of Power Training Exercises: 7 Reasons to Get Started.” 27 Aug. 2015, https://www.acefitness.org/resources/pros/expert-articles/5623/benefits-of-power-training-exercises-7-reasons-to-get-started/.