The physical abilities and attributes that we train are the ones that will develop. If you spend a lot of time on flexibility you will become more flexible. This is not an earth shattering concept but what happens if we think we are training something were not? What kind of negative situations occurs when someone works really hard to develop a specific physical ability and after months of hard work and effort there is little to no change? Sadly this is a position that trainers put themselves in too often, what causes it? I believe that common misconceptions regarding certain areas of fitness and performance can lead fitness professionals down the wrong path to helping their clients reach their goals. Without a strong grasp of what needs to be trained to increase ability and how that training will impact the end result; we can easily be lost in how to get there. I’m not talking “oops” missed a turn lost I’m talking drove 12 hours in the wrong direction lost.
Training for strength and training for power are two perfect examples. 1st let’s look at the major difference between the two as they are two totally different things.
Strength boils down to the ability to move a load. When the focus is on strength the end goal is to move a weight, since we are adding resistance (stress) to the body we do so in a slow controlled pattern with as much stability as possible. Pressing movements are great examples since most are done seated or lying down supported by a bench or seat and the reps are both lowered and raised with a slow tempo. Our end goal in strength training is to challenge the type 2a fast twitch muscle fibers (for more on muscle fibers and training click here), using the load to stress them so they fail in a short amount of time or reps. In a sense we “overstress” them so they fail or breakdown then their natural response is to grow “stronger” so they are ready next time they encounter the same stress.
Power differs from strength as the end result is to produce force. A key component of force is acceleration so power is broken down to the combination of strength and speed. If you can bench 135lbs with the concentric portion (upward phase) of the motion takes 2 seconds; by speeding up the push to 1 second you have just increased your power because you have increased your acceleration. We train power by developing both of the attributes in the power equation. Strength is a big part, increasing strength will have a very positive effect on power output but it is only half the picture. The speed component is where true power comes from. Training the body to quickly and effectively load on the eccentric phase, rapidly transition to the concentric phase and accelerate through to full extension is what truly develops power. The limiting factor in power production is the nervous system. For movements to happen fast the brain need to be able to quickly communicate with the muscles and they need to respond rapidly, this only happens with practice and repetition. To be fast you have to train fast, it is not realistic to expect that I can always do exercises slowly and that my body will somehow figure out how to move fast when it needs to. Like any other physical attribute this needs to be practiced and developed.
If you talk with most athletes male or female and ask them which physical attributes they would like to increase power is usually in the top 3. If you look at those same athletes workout programs you might be surprised to find a gross lack of movements and tempos that will achieve their goal. What you might find are a whole list of strength exercises that are some bow supposed to make them powerful. Remember power is about speed, you have to train fast to be fast. Increasing the weight on my squat can help with power production but without teaching the nervous system how to move that quickly to produce maximum force optimal performance will never be reached.
Power and strength does not just apply to those training athletes. Regular Joe’s and Jane’s often focus most of their fitness goals on increasing strength, they don’t always see the value in increasing their power production but it has huge benefits for this population. The first; rapid and intense power training exercises effectively stress type 2a muscle fibers meaning that people can train the “strength” fibers without excess load; this can help the longevity of your clients. An added bonus to these exercises is the strong neuromuscular component, as we age communication between the brain and muscular system deteriorates power training is a perfect way to help keep clients active and vibrant into their golden years.
Second, power training can help with a person’s ability to decelerate because it challenges eccentric loading. When injury occurs it is usually on the landing not on the jump, there is always a greater force on the way down rather than the way up. Incorporating power training and tempo variation into workout programs helps teach the body to properly decelerate to absorb force throughout the system to keep smaller joints and muscles safe from carrying too much of the load. We also help the body become more effective at eccentrically loading muscles, training them to extend under stress and under control to avoid strains, pulls and tears. When our clients get injured in the gym or in the real world it is usually do to their inability to decelerate or eccentrically load a muscle, this can easily be avoided by “practicing” these physical skills in their workout program.
Take some time to look at your workout programs or sessions you have later today, what changes can you make to train both strength and power?
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