Every balanced exercise program should include an element of power. Life doesn’t happen slowly, it happens quickly and we need to able to respond that way. Train the way you play.
Power, by definition, means applying the greatest amount of strength in the shortest period of time. Power = Force x Distance/Time. The slower you move, the higher the force production. As you speed up that movement, force production decreases. Optimal power occurs between these two extremes.
Why train power? For athletes the answer is easy: performance. In actual athletic performance, an athlete will probably never use maximum strength. Athletes don’t train to lift heavy things slowly. They train to move quickly and explosively in order to produce maximum power output. Simply being strong doesn’t translate outside the gym if you are unable to apply that strength explosively in a short period of time.
Yet power training isn’t just for athletes and young people. Every program should incorporate power training. As we age, we lose power faster than we lose muscle. Resistance training has a positive effect on strength but only a small effect on functional ability, while power training improves function. Power is thought to be a better predictor than strength of an older adult’s ability to perform the activities of daily living. The loss of muscle and power make it harder to balance and to catch yourself when you trip. When older adults fall, they don’t fall slowly. It happens quickly and they need to be able to react that way.
Sarcopenia, or the gradual decrease in muscle tissue, begins at age 30, partly due to aging, but dis-use is a culprit as well. It has been thought that as we age we lose muscle mass and therefore we lose power, but perhaps it is the other way around. We stop TRAINING power so the body lets go of muscle mass. Regardless, when we train power, the muscles stick around and boost our metabolism.
Power training is also an important component of fat-loss. As intensity goes up, so does caloric expenditure. Medicine ball training, for example, significantly increases heart rate even though it is not traditionally thought of as “cardio.”
Power training can be achieved with Olympic-style lifts (it is important that these lifts be executed properly to avoid injury), medicine ball training, plyometrics, even hill sprints. The key is to move as fast as possible while maintaining control. Stability and proper movement patterns are important when moving explosively. It isn’t how hard we train, but how well we train. For older adults, this only means moving faster than normal in order to be effective power training.
Power is difficult to train on traditional weight machines because of the momentum of the weight stack. The change in speed varies the resistance, making it inconsistent. The faster you move, the LESS work you are actually doing. However, with the introduction of Keiser’s Infinity Series, we are able to train explosively via their pneumatic system. Keiser is hard on muscle (resistance stays smooth and consistent), yet it is easy on joints and connective tissue (because of the low impact loads the air pressure provides). Not only does this allow us to train speed at any given resistance, but it provides feedback on the force production of every rep. This allows us to diagnose bilateral asymmetries (right side vs left side), track force production (session to session) and stop someone once power falls below a certain level so the body doesn’t learn to move anything but explosively. Keiser equipment can be found at Presidio Fitness (which was not, by the way, the impetus for this blog).
Power is king. It is the key to human performance – as an athlete or as an older adult. The future will be measured not by how strong you are, but how fast you can throw a medicine ball, so incorporate power into your program. It’s like John Wooden said, “be quick but don’t hurry.”