As a population in general after we turn 35 to 40 years old we experience more rapid muscle atrophy than we would in our teens and twenty’s. Our strength wanes and we tend to gain more body fat. Now if you are someone who is training on a regular basis, working hard on your fitness and eating well then this change is far less noticeable and for many it can be some of the best years in relation to how you work and feel.
One aspect of our capacity to do things that takes a much bigger drop in performance is our ability to produce power. This is one of several “use it or lose it” physical attributes so even younger people in their late teens and early twenty’s need to work on this aspect of their abilities.
So what is power?
The scientific equation for power is – Multiply force by distance and divide by time.
So if two people can pick up 100kg as their 3 rep max in a deadlift, for example from the ground to lockout at their hips, they are equally strong. If one of them can pick it up and it takes 9 seconds to complete the lift and the other takes 6 seconds to complete the same lift then the second person is more powerful as they are able to move the weight the same distance in a faster time.
Power is your ability to produce force quickly, whether this is lifting a barbell or moving your own bodyweight. Moving weight fast recruits a lot of motor units and whilst strength and power have some overlap the foundation for athleticism and performance is power. If you focus on speed in your lifts in time you will always be capable of moving more weight before you cannot actually complete the lift.
In the gym you can get more powerful by doing many of the following type of exercises. Olympic lift variations such as power cleans, snatches, hang pulls and push presses. Additionally all versions of medicine ball throws, Kettlebell swings and jump squat variations, both single and double leg.
As a general rule your focus should be on using a lower load and moving it as fast as possible as acceleration is the key.
In the outside world sessions such as Short sprints 20-30m and longer sprints 40-200m as well as stair sprints, uphill sprints are all great ways to improve power output.
Whenever you are looking to improve your power the rules to remember and abide by are
Quality of quantity – ensure you stop before your performance deteriorates by more than a few percent and then take enough recovery time to ensure your next effort is of the same standard. This is not the time for testing your fatigue tolerance levels, save that for another session.
Less is more – you are much better off doing a few less reps of a really high standard and finishing on a positive note, than attempting too many reps or sets of work that ultimately lead to too much fatigue.
If I use a running example to demonstrate this it would be as follows;
At the track you are going to do a series of 30 metre sprints the target time to maintain or better is 5 seconds. If we allow a 10% variation window this gives us 4.75-5.25 seconds as our working number
So at the track you can run repeats on a recovery of 1-3 minutes depending on your training phase. Now instead of choosing a set number of reps to do you instead work that you only do as many as you can until you fall outside the 5.25 second window so 5.3 seconds or slower means you call it a day and do your cool down. So if you have run 4 and on the 5th you go 5.4 seconds then you finish it there.
This is a much better option than having 10x 30m prescribed where you may run too many of them too slowly and thus only create fatigue but no real stimulus for adaption. The latter leads to improved fitness as a best case scenario (or worst case injury) but the former leads to fastness and power production improvements.
Power work is also a great neural activator and when done correctly it will lead to improved strength gains in many of your other lifts. So the take away message is to add some power work into your weekly schedule and stay awesome for longer.