When I decided to go from strength and conditioning in the university setting to fitness for the general public, I realized there was going to have to be some differences in the way I approach training. The average age of someone I would work with in the university would be 19 years old while in the general fitness setting it was more like 40. The average athlete was genetically gifted at some level because it was a Division I school and most had no major aches and pains. On the other hand, the average fitness client I worked with hadn’t worked out in some time, maybe got onto a high school varsity team (although a good portion never did), and had some type of chronic ache/pain that made exercise much more challenging.
I want to explain these differences because I knew I wanted to bring some concepts to my fitness clients that I used with athletes. Why? Even if their goals were different, the benefits of some of the strategies are also applicable to my clients’ fitness goals as well. A great example is power training.
Good quote, but we do have to be mindful of the asking deeper questions!
For athletes, power training seems like an obvious benefit. They learn to express high levels of force at a faster rate which had a direct impact upon their performance in their sport. My fitness clients weren’t mostly going to compete at anything, so why use it with them?
The first quality we lose as we age is power because we lose fast twitch muscle fibers (those that are responsible for great strength and power) and that can impact how we perform every day activities and even our ability to not be as prone to injury. While we will discuss why foundational strength exercises like deadlifts are essential, the truth is you are more likely to perform something with power than just purely deadlift.
Picking your kid up from the ground, you are going to use a power move, not just deadlift. Lifting something from the bottom of your shopping cart and putting into your car, going to have a strong power component. Stepping off a curb a bit awkward and catching yourself from falling is going to require power. We could keep going, but I think you get the point.
The question is not whether power training is really good for someone, but rather what power training looks like for that individual. Power after all doesn’t have to be a specific exercise. In fact, for people that do have a lot of the issues we have already discussed, doing a lot of popular power training exercises probably isn’t appropriate. Being able to actually not just survive, but really thrive from such training. So, what steps do we have to take and what should we be doing in order to maximize our efforts in power training.
Step 1: Build Good Movement Patterns
It should make sense that before we try to create high levels of force really quickly, we need to own the movement patterns foundations first. Power training can be created in any of the 7 foundational human movement patterns, but we need to be quite proficient in them first. That doesn’t mean doing a couple of workouts with deadlifts and then going to kettlebell swings and Ultimate Sandbag power cleans, it means spending a few months building that foundation.
Step 2: Develop Good Mobility & Stability
Yes, strength is very important to both our power training and efforts as well as well as creating a good foundation with our movement patterns. However, strength without good mobility and stability won’t get us very far. I would go as far to say that even if you can lift a good amount, if you don’t possess good mobility and stability you are waiting to have an injury or you are right now trying to work around them as we speak. That is why we use concepts of changing holding position and body position to accomplish such goals.
The lunge is actually a great power exercise that also can help us bridge our mobility and stability. Check out these progressions by Coach Cory Cripe!
Step 3: Learn To Just Accelerate
When you are an athlete so much of your sport training is based around being fast. So, going into the weight room and doing the same isn’t that big of a stretch. However, if you have never played a sport or haven’t played one in a long time, it can feel very odd to try to lift quickly. That is why using many of the drills we are using in our preparation for power training and learning how to just intentionally accelerate the weight quickly can be a helpful teaching tool.
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Step 4: It Isn’t Just About What Goes Up
There are many differences between using kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags versus a barbell in developing power. Some obvious things are kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags have instability for different reasons while the barbell is always a stable object. There are plenty more and if you can check some of them out HERE. One of the biggest that gets overlooked though is the role deceleration has in the use of kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags compared to a barbell.
Deceleration doesn’t sound cool, but it is the ability to decelerate that is very closely linked to reducing the risk of a lot of injuries to the knees, low back, and shoulders. However, when people perform popular Olympic lifting and its variations with a barbell, there isn’t much of a focus on deceleration. While with kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags there is a VERY large emphasis on how we lower the weight quickly which is also very challenging!
Step 5: Don’t Start Power Training With Conditioning
Power training instantly raises the intensity of any exercise, this means that technique can go quite quickly as fatigue kicks in. That is a big reason that we don’t want to use our new power training with a HIIT workout or any type of conditioning program. Generally it is good to keep the reps low (4-6) initially and keep the quality of work very high.
Typically we would see power in athletes programs in the lower repetition ranges and with long rest intervals to ensure recovery. However, athletes have a lot of luxuries that most fitness clients don’t have. Meaning, they will do their conditioning separately, they have multiple training sessions including practices, and so forth. For most fitness clients we can circumvent the need for long rest to simply put power training as part of a circuit.
You can hopefully see that power training can be a huge asset for anyone, but it has to be thoughtfully done and progressed over time. Many times people argue about topics like this on the internet without being nuanced to context or putting systems in place to ensure people can actually benefit from such training and not be terrified of it as well!
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