Most people tend to follow pretty standard strength training programs over time. Often, we’re resistant to changing exercises—you go with what you know, right?—and most of us make even fewer changes to the pace or speed at which we do those exercises. That last option may never even have occurred to you. But it turns out that adding power to your workout can get you amazing results—and turn your old, tired lifting program into something new (and newly effective).
What Is Power?
If strength is your ability to perform a movement, such as lifting a bar up from the floor to over your head, at all, then power is your ability to perform that same movement quickly.
Seems simple enough, right? It is—but the results are impressive. By adding a power period to your training, you will gain a lot more functional ability. That means greater power and strength for sports movement training, sprinting, and jumping, but also for even less obviously athletic but very physical activities like intensive yard work—digging is tough! And within your lifting program you should also have much more success in avoiding and beating plateaus.
The key to adding power is periodization. Periodization is the idea of breaking down your workout program into shorter stages of progression. Each of these sections can include speed changes, rest period alterations, or exercise changes; the point is that you change your workouts more frequently to shock your body and force it to adapt and improve to meet these new challenges. Slow strength training or speed training alone is far less efficient than combining periods of each. So for a power program, insert a week of speed and power exercises into your regular regimen. During this week—or period—you will do all of your exercises with power, with the exception of warm-up and cool-down.
Focus on Form
Before you start picking up the pace, a word on form. You need to be careful with power exercises. Good form is important in all body building movements in the gym, and proper form is extremely important when you are moving at higher speeds. So make sure that your form is perfect on each movement before attempting any speed and power versions in the gym. If you can’t do it properly slowly, you don’t want to try it with power. Make sure that your joints are stabilizing properly, your body's alignment is correct, and that you are doing balanced work throughout your program. In other words, work all muscle groups evenly—don’t neglect your back in favor of your chest.
When you train for power and speed, you should increase your rest periods between sets should to allow your muscle fibers to recover fully. Allow three to five minutes for full recovery between sets of power exercises. During this rest period, you can do small muscle group movements with other body parts—for example, between your box jumps, you can do bicep curls.
When do you add these intense power and speed movements into your workouts? It all depends on what you are hoping to achieve from your program. For every workout program, you should have two versions, so that you can work in a cycle. For example, you might do one program for two weeks, and then a different program for the next two. Either between versions, or after both, you can insert power—and, since most weightlifting programs can be converted to power, you should be able to do so for both versions of your lifting program. Then, the only question is how much, for how long. Below is a sample table showing how you might integrate power with three different types of workout goals:
|General Fitness Workouts||Start with 3 weeks of a standard strength training workout, followed by a 1 week power workout. Next, do another 3 weeks of an alternate strength training workout, followed by an alternate 1 week power workout.|
|Sports Performance (Off-Season)||Start with 2 weeks of a standard strength training workout, followed by an additional 2 weeks of an alternate strength training workout. After the 4 weeks of standard strength training, do a weeklong functional power workout—using functional exercises that are related to your particular sport.|
|Sports Performance (Pre- or In-Season)||Start with 2 weeks of functional power workouts—using functional exercises related to your sport. Follow that with 1 week of a standard strength training workout. Next, do another, different 2 week functional power workout, followed by an alternate 1 week strength training workout.|
|Body Building (Hypertrophy)||Start with two weeks of a standard strength training workout, followed by an additional two weeks of an alternate strength training workout. After the four weeks of standard strength training, do a weeklong power workout.|
Some exercises adapt very easily to power. Here are some particularly good exercises, organized by muscle group, that you can start inserting them into your workout program: