SESSION NOTES: Power (1012-1031)
Complete one couplet every 2:30 until each has been completed four times. Go immediately from one exercise in the couplet to the next.
Power sessions incorporate very heavy power lifting; heavy Olympic lifting; moderate weighted loaded ballistic throws, jumps and sprints; unloaded jump training; and high speed plyometrics and sprinting.
To maximise power, we take advantage of a phenomenon called the ’stretch-shorten’ cycle. This is where we ‘load’ up our muscles and tendons before we immediately and rapidly contract them to create powerful, explosive movement (like pulling back an elastic band then immediately letting it go to fling it across a room). This cycle is maximised when the initial ’stretch’ has a small amplitude but a high velocity (so there’s no delay between the stretch and shorten phases). As well as increasing force and power, this also improves the neural connection between the nervous system and the muscles and the speed of the stretch-shorten reflex.
In many traditional ’strength based’ exercises (where movement speed, and therefore, power, are not prioritised), there is a ’slowing’ or ‘deceleration’ at the end of a repetition. Picture a squat. Once you’ve got through the hard part of the squat (the ’sticking point’), you just rely on momentum to lock out the repetition. The same on a bench press, where you slow down the bar as you’re about to lock your arms. In sports term, throwing a strong punch that slows down as it’s about to contact your opponent will be low power, and therefore, ineffective. In power training, the aim is to continue to accelerate through the end of range.
There are several methodologies we have to improve power, and to understand them, it’s important to understand the ‘force-velocity curve’. This is a curve that plots force (strength) versus velocity (speed). There is an inverse relationship between force and velocity. So movements that are very high force are very low velocity (like a very heavy deadlift). And movements that are very high velocity are very low force (like sprinting). Because power is a product of both force and velocity, it is important that we optimise speed and strength to maximise force.
This session trains all five points of the force-velocity curve; max strength, speed-strength, peak power, strength-speed and max velocity.
The order in which exercises are completed is important. In a principle known as ‘post- activation potentiation’ (PAP), a small set (2-3 repetitions) of a heavy strength movement is followed immediately by a higher velocity exercise (from the peak power, speed-strength or max velocity groups) with a similar movement pattern (called a ’synchronised activity’). For example, two heavy back squats might be followed by a set of max height vertical jumps. Heavy bench press may be followed by plyometric push-ups or medicine ball throws. And heavy deadlifts would be followed by broad jumps.
This technique works as a result of the heavy movement ‘exciting’ the fast twitch muscle fibres. They are then able to generate more power in this new ‘heightened’ state. PAP may also work due to increase nerve conduction speed, more synchronised motor unit (the nerve and the muscle fibre it innervates) firing, reduced inhibition from the Golgi tendon organ, reduced co-contraction (reciprocal inhibition), and reduced inhibition in the central nervous system.
Over the course of multiple sessions of this type, there is an equal training of the following power movements; Vertical jump, horizontal jump, lateral jump, trunk/hip extension with arm flexion, squatting, running, change of direction, pressing, trunk / hip flexion with arm extension, and rotation.
The session cycles through the three movements to allow for maximum rest and recovery, while still being time efficient. Power training requires maximum recovery between sets to maintain this movement speed. A work to rest ratio of 1:10 (rest between sets for ten times as long as the set took to complete) should offer full recovery. This will also allow recovery of the phospho-creatine energy system to ensure energy delivery for these explosive movements.
Health and Body Composition Benefits:
Aside from an improved ability to complete ‘power-based’ activities of daily living (such as loading heavy items onto a high shelf or moving quickly to stop a child or dog walking into traffic), the benefits of power are considerable as we age.
It’s widely demonstrated by the research that strength declines with age, but what isn’t as widely known is that power exceeds the rate of strength loss. As we age, we lose power faster than we lose strength. There is a faster decline (called ‘preferential atrophy’) of our faster twitch ’type two’ muscle fibres than there is our more ’slow twitch’ ’type one’ muscle fibres. And power may actually be more important than strength later in life, as it’s a stronger predictor of fall risk and functional decline. If you think about it, recovering from a trip (before it becomes a fall) requires speed, not just strength. Power protects long-term health.
Power training like this will also improve your flexibility (by going through a full range of motion), posture and coordination. It will also build stability around your joints and spine to give you a healthy musculo-skeletal system and reduce joint and back pain.
The session will minimise losses in bone mineral density and will improve your balance. The dynamic positions you encounter will improve your agility and change of direction ability.
The complex nature of these movements, and the need for high levels of learning, will improve and preserve your cognitive function with age, and encourage neuroplasticity.
As a result of this style of session, you will experience changes in blood chemistry, including favourable effects on cholesterol, blood glucose, triglyceride and lipid levels.
After this session, your body will go through a prolonged state of ‘EPOC’ (excess post- exercise oxygen consumption), meaning you’ll continue burning energy long after you finish training – further aiding healthy body composition.
In physics terms, power = force x distance / time. We can simplify this equation by saying that power is the ability to move a large load, a long distance, quickly. Whereas absolute strength doesn’t take speed into consideration, power does. A powerful person is not just strong, but fast too.
For performance-based athletes, the benefits of having more power are obvious. A more powerful sprinter will run faster. A more powerful boxer will punch harder. A more powerful contact-sport athlete will tackle harder. A more powerful thrower will throw further.
The aim of training to increase power is to move the entire force-velocity curve to the right. That is, increase the movement speed for any given load. However, if we only train one of the five aspects of the curve, the law of specificity tells us we will only improve that element. Not only will that be the only element that improves, but the other elements are likely to be compromised (reduced).
If only max strength is trained, maximum velocity will be damaged, and if a training program includes only maximum velocity training, max strength will decrease.
Training all parts of the curve is called ’surfing the curve’ and is the most effective method of training power.
The high movement velocities in this session will train your ability to move fast, increasing speed. These speed benefits will not only improve your Olympic lifting, but will increase your explosiveness and agility in a range of explosive athletic movements, and will allow you to generate force at a higher rate in the slower power lifts (increasing your absolute strength).
This session will also improve the efficiency of your fast-twitch muscle fibres (those responsible for lifting heavy and fast), and will improve your neuromuscular efficiency (your ability to turn on a very high percentage of your muscle fibres).
Every movement in this session should be completed at an absolutely maximum level of speed and explosiveness.
How it Should Feel:
At no point in this session should you feel fatigue. In terms of perceived fatigue versus reward, power sessions deliver a large amount of benefit relative to the amount of work completed.
For any power movements that require ‘depth jumps’ (jumps from a height), reduce the height you’re jumping from for less well conditioned individuals.
The common mistake here is to perceive that a session has to leave you exhausted to deliver a benefit.
In addition, you should ensure maximum effort in every single repetition.