Many sports require rapid changes of direction, sprint work, acceleration and deceleration, fast throwing motions and the ability to do high vertical jumps. Think of a basketball player, swiftly changing direction, pivoting, jumping and sprinting to meet the demands of the game.
All of these movements require a combination of strength and speed, which, when used effectively, is referred to as power. You may think that unless you practice these sports, there is no need to train for power. However – it is actually incredibly useful in everyday life! Have you ever been about to trip and roll your ankle, but managed to pull yourself back up to standing upright just in time? Or congratulated yourself on your ninja skills when you manage to catch a falling object just before it hit the floor? In both scenarios, you’ve successfully used power.
Power is defined as the ability to exert maximal force in as short a time as possible, such as accelerating, jumping and throwing. It is equal parts strength and speed. You can’t be powerful if you’re slow. Those who are naturally strong need to work on getting faster. Conversely, those who are naturally fast and reactive need to get stronger.
Training for power means better performance in the gym (in terms of total amount of weight lifted), improved performance in your sport (accelerate and decelerate with ease, jump higher, sprint faster, and change direction more swiftly), improved muscle recruitment and enhanced reactivity for everyday life movements.
This form of training has clear benefits for sports performance, but it also transfers to everyday life. By improving the quality, control and reactivity of each and every movement, power training enhances our stability, body awareness and control, mind-muscle connection and reaction times. This makes everyday tasks easier, from stepping off a train, running for the bus, jumping around with your kid or catching a falling object. Increased awareness of our body and stability reduces our risk of injury when going about our day. And when falls or accidents do inevitably happen, the gravity of injury can be reduced by helping us to react faster to protect ourselves.
Power training can greatly improve our quality of life as we age. Although some power exercises will not be suitable due to the stress it places on the body, it can be tailored to the individual’s needs and modified and progressed appropriately.
Benefits of power training
If you already train regularly in the gym to keep fit and healthy, here are a few power exercises you can try to get you started with power training! Start slow, build your confidence and once you have mastered the basics, work your way through more advanced progressions.
This is an example of a basic, “Phase 1”, exercise that requires you to jump UP. Stand in front of a box (12 inches off the ground is a good starting point, but this can be higher or lower depending on your fitness level). Bend your knees and swing your arms to jump up onto the box, stand up fully, then step back down to the starting position. From here, quickly jump up again. During the upward phase of this movement, you’ll use your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and arms as you propel yourself onto the box. When you land, your quads will do most of the work.
The next progression would be single leg hopping up onto a box or platform then stepping back down.
Jump squats are an example of a Phase 2 power exercise. They’re great for building explosive power, strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quads and increasing the height of your vertical jump.
Keeping your back straight and chest up, inhale and squat until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Pressing mainly with the balls of your feet, jump straight up in the air as high as possible, using the thighs like springs. Exhale during this portion of the movement. When you touch the floor again, focus on landing softly and immediately sinking back into your squat position before exploding upwards again.
You can also try tuck jumps, jump lunges and – once you’ve really mastered the latter two – skater jump lunges. Grab a trainer to help you with these!
In this jump, you will focus on propelling yourself forwards as opposed to upwards. Try going from one line on the floor to another or from one box to another.
The above jumps are examples of plyometric exercises, characterized by a rapid succession of jumps forwards or upwards. This “shock” improves the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC), a three-step process in which the muscles slow down the body’s momentum, hold on to the energy from landing for a fraction of a second, and convert that energy into forceful movement. Examples of plyometric movements include skipping, bounding, jumping rope, hopping, lunges, jump squats, and clap push-ups.
Ballistic training is another common form of power training that we’ll delve into in a later blog – so watch this space if that’s something you’re interested in learning more about!
Recovering after training power
It’s important to note that power training can be quite stressful on the nervous system (speed, reactivity and control all require high CNS activity), so you may need more time to recover than an endurance, aerobics or strength session. Consider taking 48 hours to recover and repeat a maximum of 2 times per week.
As always, when trying out a new sort of training, focus on looking after your body by building up gradually!
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