The three major training methods that we took a bite out of in the last CXP Fitness post were Endurance, Hypertrophy and Strength… But there is a fourth element that is the key to unlocking athletic performance, and that’s: POWER!
Now, we cannot and must not underestimate the tremendous benefits that the other three have to offer – both separately and/or when blended into a periodized program. But power is something that the majority of mere mortals simply overlook. Either because it looks too intimidating, or we just haven’t realized how much of a difference it can make.
‘But Chris, isn’t “Strength” the same as *Power*?’, I hear you ask. Well, yes and no – confounding as that may be to hear. Explosivity is the crux of the matter; Strength is raw and unrestricted by the parameters of speed – take classic Strongman events such as the Truck Pull (or Plane/Train/whatever insanely large vehicle they attempt to haul)… It takes an incredible amount of brute strength to overcome the inertia and get those tons of metal moving, which can be very slow [to start] until some momentum is gained, but even then the speed of getting the load moving and over the line is modest.
‘… begin introducing explosivity into your workouts.’
Sticking with Strongman events as a reference, an example of Power would be the Keg Toss whereby they literally fling kegs [of varying weights] overhead, which requires an immense burst of explosive power. Although strength is required to move the keg, it is the speed of the movement that results in the release of power!
Don’t worry – I’m not telling you that you need to start tossing kegs in order to become more athletic! Far from it. All you need to do is begin introducing explosivity into your workouts. This is where plyometrics comes into play… “Plyo-what-rics”? We can describe any exercise that involves a burst of motion as being plyometric in nature.
So, for example: a tuck jump or “clap push ups” (where you push off the ground with enough force to perform a quick clap before landing). Plyometrics encompass a huge array of what makes up the proverbial blueprint of an athlete’s workout regime.
Think of the NFL Combine – yeah, it’s nice if they can bench 250lbs, but are they quick and *explosive*? Look at World Class Boxer – Anthony Joshua – he doesn’t just lift heavy and practice his “bobbin’ & weavin’”, but he’s swinging kettlebells (a classic “power tool” to incorporate into your training), he’s furiously whipping battle ropes, and leaping on/over 40” boxes. Basketballers are making fast breaks and launching off the paint to dunk. Baseballers are swinging and pitching with ferocity. Gymnasts are blitzing down the mats doing back flips and somersaults.
Point is: all of these examples have *power* at the core of their movements. And look at the people doing them – they’re all in stellar condition!
Okay, fine – we can’t all do backflips. And most of us can’t dunk. However, almost anyone can wield a kettlebell, use battle ropes, and jump. Consider actors – when Hollywood needs them to transform from “Zero to Hero” in a matter of months – they’re usually put through rigorous routines that involve a lot of cardio, plenty of resistance work, and a ton of conditioning work (which involves lots of power-based exercises).
The brutal truth is this: notching up your 10,000 steps will NOT render you the physique of an Olympian, though it is a good place to start if you are severely overweight and completely new to exercise. Using the “Ab Flexer 5000” every morning is NOT going to garner the washboard abs of Michael Phelps, so throw that sh*t away and start doing some real ab exercises! (Engaging the core while performing kettlebell swings is infinitely more effective anyway). And while Zumba may be spritely fun, it will only get you booty-bouncin’, but sadly, we can’t classify this as attaining ‘Athlete Status’.
Bouts of short bursts is the name of the game. Now, hopefully you’ll have had a read through How Many Sets and Reps? Understanding the Effects of Rep Range and Set Volume, and taken note of the part where I talk about rest time between sets. So, consider Track & Field events – you’ll see Long Jumpers bolting down the runway and exploding off the mark in one enormous bound [like a gazelle]; then they’ll usually get a good several minutes of rest before they’re up again.
Same with the Javelin Throw, same with 100m Sprints, and many others… This isn’t just competition formatting – it’s not about letting the other athletes take their turn. When they’re in practice they’ll do the same. It is physiologically essential to take that break!
‘… you may be able to endure a 1000-rep workout… but do you have the power?’
Obviously, if you have any contraindications that preclude you from performing exercise at any degree of HIGH intensity, then we just have to accept that this type of exercise (sprints and jumps and such) is going to be outside the realms of what is possible [for the moment?]. If you’re tipping the scales at over 250lbs then sprinting is going to be arduous (to say the least).
But then, saying that – if you’re that heavy [and your body composition is anything north of 30% bodyfat] then you have more work to do before you can start stepping up to athlete status.
See, where I illustrated Endurance, Hypertrophy and Strength training in the form of a pyramid [in the aforementioned blog post], we would now place POWER at the absolute pinnacle of that pyramid! So, your journey will want to begin with gaining success in the other three levels before you can pass over into the leagues of performing like an athlete.
You should view this as a challenge – akin to a game that involves progressing through the levels in order to win the ultimate prize. If your bodyfat levels are anywhere near 30% (or more), then you can most definitely begin by tackling Endurance based training – cardio, lifting weights, and aerobics are all viable options.
Once your body adapts and starts to realize what effortful movement is all about, you can try increasing your muscle mass (through Hypertrophy training), and even start with Strength training. You’ll want to cycle through these and incorporate High Intensity Intervals into your program in a bid to drop down to at least 20% bodyfat, at which point, your body composition should be muscular enough to effectively employ explosivity.
So, you may be able to endure a 1000-rep workout, or squat double your bodyweight, but do you have the power? If you’re thinking about stepping up to athlete status, then consider working in plyometric exercises into your workout (like jump squats and “plyo push ups”), and substituting that hour of ambling on the treadmill for 15-20mins of shuttle sprint intervals.
You’re going to notice that this takes a LOT out of you initially; don’t feel discouraged – it’s simply your biomechanics adjusting to performing at a different intensity. So, take adequate rest between bouts, keep very well hydrated, and push through! After about 6 weeks you will start normalizing and feeling the difference – now you are movin’ and groovin’ like the elite!
Guys and gals, I hope [as always] that you have learned something new here, but more importantly, I hope that this post has inspired and/or challenged you to want to step things up with your training and reach for higher levels of performance.
Remember: train hard, and train smart!!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO