Power Up: Why EVERYONE Should Train Explosive

September 15, 2021

It seems like we hear the word power a lot when describing athletes and movements in sport, but what does it means to be powerful? Power can get used interchangeably with the word strength, but they aren’t the same thing. Power and strength are related concepts, yet have different properties and real-life outcomes. Strength is simply how much force the body can produce for a given movement, regardless of time. A one-repetition maximum (1RM) is the heaviest weight a person can lift one repetition of for a certain exercise (squat, bench, deadlift). If a person’s 1RM for a back squat is 300 lbs , they need to be producing over 300 lbs of force to complete that movement successfully and their maximal strength for a squat is considered to be 300 lbs. 1RM testing is a measure of a person’s maximum strength.Power is related to strength in that is it the rate of strength (force) development (RFD).

If strength is the body’s ability to produce maximum force, power is the body’s ability to produce force QUICKLY (Power= force x velocity). A person can be strong without being powerful but can’t be powerful without being strong. When a person is doing a heavy lift that’s close to their maximal effort (85%+ 1RM), the speed of the lift usually isn’t fast and not considered powerful. To have a powerful movement, it must be completed as fast as possible. Maximal strength takes time to produce and in sport athletes must produce force in under a second. Power training is much more transferable to sports than just pure strength training.

Power Training For Athletes

For many athletes, power is the name of the game. Sports are played at high speeds and require athletes to be able to produce as much force as possible as fast as possible. Maximal strength doesn’t necessarily transfer to a sports setting, but power output is a huge predictor of performance in sports. Power training can improve performance in throwing, jumping, striking, change of direction, and acceleration in sports settings. If an athlete just trains at slow speeds it may interfere with their ability to produce force at higher speeds in a sports setting. Velocity based training (VBT) should be an essential component of any athlete’s training program.

Power Training For Novices & Older Adults

The ability to produce power doesn’t just transfer to sports setting, it can also improve quality of life (QOL). Older adults can improve their abilities to complete simple daily living tasks by improving their power output. Tasks such as getting out of bed or chairs, climbing up a flight of stairs, balancing, and simple lifting may become easier for older individuals who incorporate explosive training into their routine. Strength training definitely improves the ability of older adults to complete acts of daily living (ADL), however power output has been shown to be a better predictor of performance. If a person takes a long time to get out of a chair, that means their muscles were contracting for longer and may now become fatigued. There’s also more stressed placed on joints and tendons and this can be very hard on an aging body. VBT can help to avoid that fatigue and extra stress by minimizing the amount of time that muscles are contracting.

How To Train Power

For the sake of this article I’m going to talk about 3 effective ways to train power: Post-activation potentiation (PAP)/complex sets, Olympic lifts, and cluster sets. The first two are for more advanced lifters and athletes, and the last one is appropriate for all training experiences.

Post-activation Potentiation-In everyday life, it is unnecessary for the body to produce high levels of force for tasks like pushing a grocery cart or grabbing an egg. If you produced maximal force when grabbing an egg, you’d probably crack it. In order to avoid producing unnecessary levels of force, the body doesn’t activate its’ strongest muscle fibers unless it needs to (this is also good because those muscle fibers are highly fatigable as well).

One of the ways to activate those muscle fibers is with a heavy load. This is accomplished with a heavy compound lift (squat, bench, deadlift). Now that your strongest muscle fibers are in a “potentiated” (active) state, the amount of force you can produce is higher, and you can perform explosive/jumping movements better. PAP is my favourite way to train power.PAP is one of the most effective ways to train power, however it is meant for more advanced lifters with a good base of general strength to decrease their risk of injury. PAP requires the ability to perform high-intensity (>80% 1RM) compound lifts and plyometrics.

To utilize PAP, a compound exercise is performed, followed by a brief rest period (for muscle recovery), and then immediately performing a similar body-weight or low-resistant plyometric exercise. You should perform 3-8 repetitions of each exercise and the rest period should be between 15-30 seconds. Here’s an example:-85% 1RM Back Squat x 3 reps-30 seconds of rest-Body-weight Jump Squats x 3 repsOr-80% 1RM Bench Press x 5 reps-20 seconds rest-Plyometric Push-up x 5 repsPAP covers both components of the power equation (Power= force x velocity). The heavy lift covers the strength component while the explosive plyometric exercise covers the speed/velocity component.

Olympic Lifts-Olympic lifts are some of the most complex movements that exist and should be left to more advanced lifters. They require a high degree of coordination, mobility (flexibility), and stability (ability of your body to resist moving when external forces are applied to it) in order to perform them correctly. Olympic lifts have been shown to increase vertical jump height, 10m sprint speed (acceleration), and explosive power output.

Olympic lifts combine heavy loads and high bar velocities to produce higher power outputs. Some examples of Olympic-style lifts are hang cleans and snatches, high pulls, and the split-jerk. The lower body component of most Olympic lifts are similar no matter which variation you’re using. They all involve triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips to propel the bar vertically.

The lower body mechanics of an Olympic-style lift mimic the takeoff for a vertical jump (that’s why it improves jumping performance so well). You can perform anywhere between 1-6 sets of 1-6 reps of Olympic lifts to improve explosive power production and athletic performance. Both heavy (>80% 1RM) and light (30-70% 1RM) can be used to train power with Olympic lifts, however heavy is the most beneficial. Here’s an example:80% 1RM Hang Clean x 2 reps2-5 minutes rest85% 1RM Hang Clean x 2 reps2-5 minutes rest85% 1RM Hang Clean x 2 reps2-5 minutes rest90% 1RM Hang Clean x 2 reps2-5 minutes rest90% 1RM Hang Clean x 2 repsIf you’re a more advanced athlete or weightlifter, you should consider adding Olympic lifts to your program.

Cluster Sets-Cluster sets can be more beneficial for novice learners or older individuals to train power, but athletes can also benefit from these as well. If a traditional (continuous) set would have 8 repetitions in it, a cluster set might break that up into 4 sets of 2 repetitions with 15-30 seconds rest between sets. When we train power, we want to train at high velocities, and high velocities can’t be maintained in continuous sets. The extra added rest within the cluster set allows the lifter to maintain a high velocity and power output throughout the exercise.

You can also use low intensities (30% 1RM) to train power with cluster sets and could be ideal for older populations that may not be comfortable training at high intensities (>80% 1RM). With repetitions being performed as quickly as possible, it means the lifter is spending less time contracting their muscles, reducing wear-and-tear on the body. You can also train at intensities as high as 70% 1RM as long as you’re completing the movement as quickly as possible.

Ideally, you should be switching between higher and lower intensities for better overall power output with cluster sets. Cluster sets should have 1-4 reps in them if used for training power. Here’s an example:50% 1RM Back Squat x 3 repsRe-rack weight and give yourself 15 seconds rest50% 1RM Back Squat x 3 repsRe-rack weight and give yourself 15 seconds rest50% 1RM Back Squat x 3 repsCluster sets have even been shown to increase maximal strength as well, so this type of rep-set scheme can really push novices or older populations with functioning independently. Whether you’re an athlete looking to get an edge or an older person trying to improve QOL, cluster sets can be a useful tool for increasing power.

In Closing

Power training is essential for sports performance and QOL. More advanced lifters should look at programming PAP or Olympic lifts into their routine. Anyone, including novice lifters and older individuals, can improve power output safely with cluster sets. Whether you’re an athlete looking to gain a competitive edge, an advanced weightlifter looking to make some changes to their program, or a novice/older individual looking to gain functional benefits, power training provides the most “bang for your buck.” Get into the gym, get out of your comfort zone, and try one of these three types of training.

Alex Lipman

Alex Lipman

Alex is one of the student interns of Iron Performance Center. Alex is looking to focus on athletic performance training, specifically explosive movement patterns. Alex comes from a baseball background and is looking to continue his development towards becoming a Strength and Conditioning Coach.

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