Power Training: Combining Speed With Strength

Powerful Man

strength, endurance, and power need to be developed in order to improve overall physical performance. Every sport will vary in that one of these components will dominate. However, what is certain is that all three must be at some baseline level in order for an the athlete to be able to develop the one needed the most. In other words, you can't develop endurance if you can't even lift a dumbbell. First, let's define these components, then we will examine how they interact.

Strength: This is quite simply how much force a muscle can exert at a specific resistance. It does not take into account how fast the movement is performed, nor how many times the movement is repeated. In other words, it is brute force. A prime example of an action that only requires strength would be a one-max-repetition. For example, an athlete might see how much weight he can bench press, only once. No emphasis on how long it takes him to perform the movement or a need to repeat it more than once. Another example is performing a single dead-lift, again, with as much weight as possible. The only factor is the load, or resistance.

Endurance: This is defined as how many times a specific movement can be repeated before fatigue causes muscular failure. There must be a certain level of resistance, but it will be much lower than when measuring only strength. Speed might be a factor but not necessarily. For example, a professional cyclist must have very high endurance in order to compete, sometimes for hours at a time. His legs must keep rotating repeatedly against a given, and often fluctuating, resistance. The higher the endurance the longer the athlete will last. Other examples might be how many chin-ups (or push-ups) someone can perform before their muscles give out.

Power: This component, power, is closely related to strength with the added consideration of time. Strength is the maximum force an athlete can apply against a given level of resistance, or load. Power is proportional to the speed at which an athlete can apply this maximum force. So, doing one repetition of a bench press is strength only. Timing how long it takes to complete that one repetition, and reducing the time as much as possible, is power. The higher the load, the more time it will take to move it. Training involves being able to move that load as quickly as possible. The better the athlete, the faster the load will move. The load we're referring to might be the athlete's body, such as in sprinting, high jump, doing chin-ups or push-ups, or it might involve an object such as a barbell.

  • Power is harder to train for than just strength. It requires specific training depending on the activity being targeted. Ideally, an athlete would first strength train in order to reach adequate strength levels. Then, gradually switch the training to sport specific activities to develop the power movements needed.
  • Power training usually does not produce large muscles. But in some athletes power training is good for developing 'tight' muscles.
  • Most people who are just interested in general fitness don't need to worry too much about power. But by adding some power training into your workout it can provide something different than your usual training routine and reduce boredom.
  • Measuring power must involve speed and strength. A very simple test is to find a hill that you can run up. Pick a specific distance then run up the hill as fast as you can. The hill provides a greater resistance and therefore requires more strength compared to level ground. When you include speed as your goal you are now also working on improving your power.

Examples of Power Oriented Workouts:

  • Cycling as fast as you can up a hill or against the wind.
  • Cycling, using intervals, on an indoor trainer with high resistance.
  • Swimming against a current or with large hand paddles.
  • Swimming in a pool while being tied to a pole on deck with a waist harness.
  • Doing battle rope workouts. This is where a 50 foot thick rope is wrapped around a stable object. The person holds both ends about 20 feet from the object, and performs certain movements with the arms.
  • Doing kettlebell workouts. While holding a weighted kettlebell exercise movements are performed at a high speeds
  • Crossfit workouts.
  • Body weight dependent exercises are usually quite effective. Such as push-ups, chin-ups, squats, vertical jumps, etc.

If you look at almost any sport, the participants must have all three physical components developed. Some examples:

  • Track sprinters, who need a lot of power, only run for 10 seconds, but they must also have enough strength to run, and enough endurance to last for 10 seconds.
  • Marathon runners, who primarily need endurance, still need to have strength to support their leg movements and enough power in order to have some speed. Strength and power may play a more vital role if a marathon runner is going up hill or running against the wind.
  • Gymnasts, whose events can last 5 seconds, such as in the running vault, to over 2 minutes, such as in a floor routine or a bar routine. Strength is obviously a major component otherwise the athlete would not be able to jump or propel themselves at all. But also, endurance so they can last the entire routine, and power because it is a fast, dynamic sport.

Note, everyone was born with different proportions of the types of muscle fibers. This means, everyone is predisposed to being able to develop one area of either power, strength or endurance more than the other two areas. This is why you see some excellent sprinters who could not run more than 2km to save their lives. So, while you can improve your abilities to a certain degree you will eventually run into certain genetic limits.

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