When you strength train, your goal is to become stronger. But there’s another aspect of fitness that both men and women need to be athletic and fully functional. It’s power! Power is one of the most indispensable components of health and fitness.
What does it mean to be powerful? It’s the ability to exert a lot of force in a short amount of time, and it’s a must for any sport or activity that requires explosive bursts of speed and power. For example, sprinters, volleyball players, and basketball players all need power to excel at their sports.
Strength and power are not synonymous. You can be strong but not be powerful. Power is the capacity to generate muscle force quickly while strength is brute force, irrespective of how long it takes to produce that force.
You’re powerful when you can create a maximum amount of force in the shortest time possible while you’re strong if you can produce that force, no matter how long it takes. We use power when we jump, throw, punch, and even run. Sometimes, power is referred to as explosive strength.
If you’re trying to gain power, you train differently than if your aim is strength. Your primary goal with strength building is to generate maximum force with each set and then give your muscles several minutes to recover so you can optimize how much you lift on the next set.
If you’re trying to become more powerful though, you need a different strategy. You want to train using a faster, even explosive tempo. You can do that by adding explosiveness to the strength moves you currently do, for example, squats, one of the best exercises for building strength and power in the lower body. How can you turn squats into a power move?
Squat Variations for Building Power
One of the cornerstone exercises for building lower body strength is the squat. Few exercises are as effective for building lower body strength and muscle size, but what about power? Can you build power by doing squats too?
It depends on the type of squat. Standard squats that you do at a slow speed will do little to build power. To turn a squat into a power-building movement, you need to increase the tempo and add an explosive component to the exercise. Remember, power means generating force in less time.
Squat jumps is the best starter exercise for turning squats into a power move. You’re probably already familiar with how to do one:
- Stand on the floor or mat with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your body into a standard squat. At the bottom of the movement, jump explosively into the air.
- As you land softly, lower your body back into a squat to complete one rep.
- Repeat 8-10 times and do 2-3 sets.
That’s your basic squat jump, but you can make squat jumps harder by doing weighted squat jumps.
Weighted Squat Jumps
When bodyweight squat jumps are no longer a challenge, weighted ones will help you work up a sweat and build power. You can do a weighted jump squat by wearing a weighted vest, by holding a dumbbell in each hand, or by placing a barbell on your shoulders. When you add resistance, it’ll be less than what you typically use when you squat, around 20-30% less. Therefore, it’s less ideal for building brute strength since you’re not maxing out on the resistance.
When you do squat jumps, focus on the quality of movement rather than quantity. Land softly each time you jump and keep your form tight. It’s easy to get sloppy with squat jumps and allow your form to break down. Good form is even more important when you’re doing weighted jumps. Always warm-up before doing any kind of explosive exercise, particularly when you’re using resistance. Make sure your muscles are warm, pliable, and ready for rapid contractions.
Squat Box Jump
The squat jump is an excellent exercise for building power and when you add weight by holding dumbbells or wearing a weighted vest, it makes the exercise even more effective. However, you can kick it up a notch by adding a platform or box. It’s best to try this more advanced movement without added weight first, so take off your weight vest or put down the dumbbells.
Stand facing a bench or platform. When you first start, keep the platform low. Lower your body into a squat and propel and jump onto the bench or platform. Turn around and step off of the bench and repeat. Keep repeating. This is an excellent movement for building agility too.
As with standard squat jumps, form matters. Focus on landing softly on the platform or bench and don’t jump down off of the bench, as many people do, step back down.
According to Paul Fabritz, C.S.C.S., who trains NBA players, quarter squats is an effective variation for building power. He points out that deep squats are optimal for building muscle, but quarter squats are better than full squats for building explosive power. When you do quarter squats, you can work with more weight because you’re working within a narrower range of motion but it’s the range-of-motion you use when you jump, so it’s not hard to see how it could build power. You’re also loading your thighs without applying excessive load to your back and spine, so it’s a more back-friendly move.
The Bottom Line
Give these squat variations a try. Power is an important aspect of balanced fitness, and you can build power by making almost any exercise more explosive, but the squat has the advantage of working multiple muscles in the lower body, so they’re ideal if you play sports. Plus, you need to preserve power capabilities as you age since you need power to even thrust yourself out of a chair. So, stay fit and strong, but also stay powerful too!
- “An Elite NBA Trainer Explains Why Quarter Squats Build ….” 10 Mar. 2021, https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a35771306/squat-science-paul-fabritz-trainer/.
- “6 Ways to Squat for More Size, Strength, and Power ….” https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/6-ways-squat-more-size-strength-and-power/.
- Marián V, Katarína L, Dávid O, Matúš K, Simon W. Improved Maximum Strength, Vertical Jump and Sprint Performance after 8 Weeks of Jump Squat Training with Individualized Loads. J Sports Sci Med. 2016;15(3):492-500. Published 2016 Aug 5.
- co.uk. “Squat Jumps: How To Build Power With The Jumping Squat”