A few years ago, I visited the Toronto Track & Field Centre (TTFC) at York University to do a workout. York U is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Toronto Track & Field Centre is a great indoor and outdoor track and field training and competition facility. Within the facility there are two weight rooms and it’s a great place for doing some serious strength workouts.
It’s an energizing experience to do a workout at the TTFC. There are many athletes training who are in constant motion doing sprints, mid distance runs, poll vaults, long jumps, high jumps and many other activities that involve movement through space. During my workout, the weight room I was in, known as the power weight room, was quite busy.
I noticed a slim female student, who was average height, doing the bench press. I paused to observe her technique. She was doing it slowly and it seemed like she found the weight she was pushing to be somewhat challenging. I believed that this student could boost her workout if she added one key element.
I approached her and started a conversation. During our conversation I asked if she’d permit me to show her a technique to help her dominate the bench press. She was cool an accepted my offer. I’m glad she did because of what happened next.
I’ll backtrack for a moment. This female student performed her bench press in a way that is common. She used a slow controlled movement to bring the barbell down and pushed up slowly and not so confidently.
She definitely had strength and it was clear she was not new to strength training. But like many, and I will say most, when it comes to doing a dominant bench press, she failed to apply one key element.
The key element missing in her training is broken down into this equation: (force x distance)/ time. That is the formula for power. Power is the ability to generate a great deal of force over a certain distance as quickly as possible. In this particular case, pushing the barbell up with power can accelerate a person’s development in the bench press immensely! Understand and master the application of power and you will significantly boost your workouts, not just for the bench press but for many other exercises.
In the case of the female student, I gave her a few simple techniques to apply. The most important element was adding power into the upward push for each rep. We achieved improved power in the bench press by doing among others, two key things:
- Brought the barbell down at a slightly faster rate than she previously allowed it go down; and
- Generated an explosive and reactive forceful upward push as soon as the barbell touched her chest (it didn’t bounce of her body at any point).
The application of power led to a significant improvement in her performance doing the bench press. Needless to say, she impressed herself and was proud of her performance.
I got her do a couple of warm up sets in order to prepare her for applying power to her reps. She ended up doing more weights, for the same number of reps or more and with greater ease than she did before I approached her. She did a heavier load with greater ease than the loads she did before; that’s one massive benefit of adding power to your workouts.
You can develop power without using weights. Strength exercises that use only body weight will also provide an opportunity to develop power. Think of power as a dead start force or a reactive force (force generation can occur in both scenarios). The reactive force acts almost like a spring, where energy is absorbed and channelled back.
Your goal is to generate as much of a forceful push or pull as quickly as you can. The rapid generation of force in turn causes elements in the muscles, known as motor units, to fire rapidly. The rapid firing of the motor units helps cause muscle fibres to generate a lot of power. The addition of weights will provide additional challenges that can further boost your workouts and results. Heavy loads aren’t necessary, but challenging loads can definitely be beneficial; it just depends on your goals.
Applying power to strength training and general workouts such as sprint training demonstrates some notable benefits such as:
• Improving your ability to strength train using heavier weights with greater ease;
• Delaying your time to muscle fatigue (meaning you may increase the number of reps you can do before muscular fatigue sets in);
• Allowing for an easier transition to heavier training loads and weights; and
• Possibly experiencing an improvement in muscle growth and a more muscular bodily appearance.
How can you develop power? In one example, let’s start with a simple push up exercise. In the bottom phase of a push up, generate as much force as possible on the upward push and that will help develop explosive force, also known as power. Similarly, when in any part of a down phase of a squat, exploding up with force will help develop greater power especially when weights are added to the exercise.
Plyometric exercises are exercises that involve applying power to create explosive push offs. Some good examples of plyometric exercises include jumping squats, jumping lunges or split squats. Push ups with explosive pushes off a floor or ground are another good example (an example is a push up with a hand clap).
It’s essential to ensure an adherence to good postural alignment and exercise techniques; this will go a long way toward allowing for a safe development of power and can help reduce the possibility of injury.
When it comes to fitness, many people lack power. But it’s something that, like many things, you can develop with practice. The benefits of adding power, as listed earlier, focused specifically on exercise related benefits. Benefits exceed strength and performance achievements and carry over to daily activities. The results improve your confidence in being able to apply power safely, with good posture and efficient technique.
You don’t need to belong to a gym or fitness club to have access to equipment that can help you develop power. Developing power can be done using body weight and various types of strength training equipment. For examples of equipment that you can use to develop power, check out a previous blog post titled “5 Types of Strength Training Equipment for Great Home & Portable Workouts.” That blog post lists different types of equipment that are also great for developing power. Start applying power development to your workouts program soon. Once you add power to your workouts, you will really start to tap into your potential and boost your workouts.
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