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Training For Power

Muscle bulk, symmetry, proportion and definition are the key components of success in the bodybuilding arena. On the sporting field, these adaptations and qualities do little on their own to improve performance. However, the development of strength is fundamental in order to successfully convert that adaptation to sport-specific strength, muscular endurance or power. Power is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. A slightly more technical way to look at power is force multiplied by velocity, or P = FxV. Any increase in power must result from either an increase in strength, speed or both. A common misconception exists that large muscles must be powerful: this is simply not true. Heavily muscled athletes may not be able to contract their muscles with much force quickly, for these particular athletes, power training is the key. Before we discuss the training methods that will best facilitate power adaptations, it is useful to have a basic understanding of the various types of power one can train for. Listed below are the six main types of power with a brief description of each: for future reference, remembering the six types of power is simplified by remembering the acronym STARTD.

  • Starting Power – is the determining factor in sports where the initial speed of action determines the final outcome (i.e. boxing and karate), or aggressive acceleration from a static position in team sports. The athlete’s ability to recruit the highest number of fast twitch (FT) muscle fibres is fundamental for success.
  • Takeoff Power – is required by athletes that participate in sports where explosive jumping is necessary (i.e. volleyball and basketball). In order to perform an explosive jump, quite often it is necessary to engage in an explosive takeoff. At takeoff, stored energy is used as an acceleration thrust, resulting in a powerful jump.
  • Acceleration Power – is required by athletes who need the ability to accelerate to high speed in sports such as swimming, cycling, running and most team sports.
  • Reactive Power – also known as landing power is required by athletes who participate in sports where the completion of one skill is followed by another skill (i.e. figure skating) or where a rapid change of direction is required, such as tennis, squash or many team sports.
  • Throwing Power – is fundamental to success in sports such as baseball and throwers in track and field events.
  • Deceleration Power – many sports require the athlete to slow down or stop quickly and change direction (i.e. ice hockey, basketball and soccer). The athlete who has the greater deceleration or stopping power has a distinct advantage in setting themselves up for the next shot or move.
So, how does one train for power? Some of the more common methods utilised will be discussed in some detail and are as follows:
  • Isotonic method,
  • Ballistic method,
  • Power resisting method, and
  • Plyometrics.

Isotonic Method

The isotonic method typically involves moving a weight as quickly and forcefully as possible through a full range of motion. Free weights are generally used, although other equipment can be utilised. The weight of the equipment used represents the external resistance whilst the force required to move it represents the internal strength. The way it works is quite simple: the more internal strength exceeds external resistance, the more rapid the acceleration. Internal strength is developed by implementing MxS training phases (refer to the Training for Strength article). For sports involving cyclic motions such as sprinting and team sports, the load should be between 30 to 50 percent 1RM. Sports involving acyclic motions such as weight lifting and throwing, the load must be higher as these athletes are required to overcome a higher external resistance. When selecting exercises for the isotonic method, ensure they are very sport-specific. Exercises must mimic the action or skills of the sport. Table 1 identifies the training guidelines for the isotonic method whilst Table 2 provides an example three week training program for a sprinter.

Table 1: Training Guidelines for the Isotonic Method

Training Guidelines

Work

Load:    Cyclic

Acyclic

30-50 percent

50-80 percent

Number of exercises

2-4

Reps per set

4-10

Sets per session

3-6

Rest interval minutes

2-6

Speed of contraction

Fast

Frequency per week

2-3

 

Table 2: Example 3 Week Training Program for a Sprinter

Exercise

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Power cleans

70/6x4

60/8x3

70/8x4

Seated Row

60/8x3

70/6x4

70/8x4

Reverse Leg Press

60/8x3

70/6x4

70/8x4

Knee Lifts

3 x 15

3 x 15

3 x 15

Ballistic Method

The ballistic method involves using training aids such medicine balls, shot puts, kettle bells or rubber tubing. Unlike the isotonic method where the external resistance can be as high as 80 percent 1RM, the ballistic method sees the athlete’s internal force clearly exceeding the external resistance. This results in an explosive motion of the training aid which is proportional to the force applied. This form of training is known as the ballistic method. Ballistic drills / exercises can be implemented either at the start of a training session after the warm up, or if technical skills need to be practiced first as they would in team sports, then the end of the session would be more appropriate. Table 3 identifies the training guidelines for the ballistic method.

Table 3: Training Guidelines for the Ballistic Method

Training Guidelines                              

Work

Load:                                                         

Standard weight of aid

Number of exercises                                  

2-5

Reps per set                                                

10-20

Sets per session                                          

3-5

Rest interval                                               

2-3 minutes          

Speed of contraction                                 

Explosive

Frequency per week                                   

2-4

(The Deadlift - A Classic Power Movement)

Power–Resisting Method

The power-resisting method is actually a combination of isotonic, isometric and ballistic movements. The athlete is first required to perform a partial concentric contraction: the coach or training partner would then apply just enough resistance at about 25 percent range of motion (ROM), which would initiate an isometric contraction in the athletes target muscle group. This would be held for 3 to 4 seconds in which the coach would then release the athlete, who would finish the exercise being performed through the full ROM. This final contraction is ballistic in nature (i.e. as fast as possible) and thus completes the concentric portion of the isotonic contraction. From here the athlete slowly returns to the starting position and rests for 10 to 30 seconds before completing another repetition. The following example may help to explain the method further: An athlete is suspended with full arms extension from a chinning bar. He flexes his elbows as he attempts to pull himself toward the top of the bar. At about 25 percent ROM (a quarter of the way up), the coach places his hands around the athlete’s waist and applies just enough resistance to prevent any further movement toward the top of the bar. This position is held for 3 to 4 seconds which would create an isometric contraction in the athletes back and biceps. After this time has elapsed, the coach releases the athlete who then as dynamically as possible, pulls himself to the top of the bar and thus completes the repetition through the full ROM. The athlete would then slowly return to the start position and rest for 10 to 30 seconds before attempting another rep. Table 5 identifies the suggested training guidelines for the power-resisting method whilst Table 6 provides an example of a five week training program for a rugby player combining isotonic and ballistic methods.

Table 5: Training Guidelines for the Power-Resisting Method

Training Guidelines

Work

Load:

Exercise related

Number of exercises

2-4

Reps per set

4-8

Sets per session

3-5

Rest interval

2-4

Minutes

Speed of contraction

Explosive

Isometric contraction

3-4 seconds

Frequency per week

3-4

Table 6: Example 5 Week Training Program for a Rugby Player

No

Exercise

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

1

Jumping Half Squats

40/6x4

50/5x5

60/5x5

50/6x5

60/5x5

2

Medicine Ball Side Throws

4 x 10

5 x 10

5 x 12

5 x 10

 

5 x 12

3

Between the legs two handed overhead throws

4 x 6

4 x 8

5 x 10

5 x 8

5 x 10

4

Reactive Plyometric Jumps

4 x 6

 

5 x 6

5 x 8

 

4 x 6

5 x 8

Plyometric Method

Plyometric training is probably the most common method of training for power, and for good reason. Also known as the stretch-shortening cycle, plyometric exercises have an athlete load a muscle eccentrically (i.e. lengthening) followed immediately by a concentric (shortening) contraction. This lengthening phase, or amortisation phase, must be performed quickly: A slow and lengthy amortisation phase is responsible for a loss of power. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that a muscle that is stretched prior to a contraction will contract more forcefully and rapidly. An example is an athlete doing a half squat before exploding into a vertical jump. The force applied and height achieved in the jump is significantly greater if the half squat is performed, as opposed to when it is not. A solid strength training background is required before embarking on the plyometric journey and will accelerate the acquisition of power adaptations. A considerable amount of controversy surrounds some components of plyometric training, with one of the major debates being in relation to the training surface. It is recommended that beginners utilise a soft surface; however, experienced athletes are better off using a hard surface as only a hard surface can enhance the reactivity of the neuromuscular system. Another controversial component is whether or not weighted vests or ankle weights should be used. It has been shown that the use of such training aids slow down the speed of reaction and the rebounding effect; consequently, their use is not recommended. When designing a plyometric training program, it is important to consider that the level of intensity is directly proportional to the height, or length of an exercise. Plyometric exercises can be categorised as either low or high intensity, with each representing the level of impact on the neuromuscular system. An example of some low intensity plyometric exercises are skipping, jumps with short and low steps, hops, jumping over 25 to 35 centimetre benches and light medicine ball throws (i.e. 2 to 4 kilograms). Some high intensity examples include standing long and triple jumps, jumps over benches greater than 35 centimetres in height, hops, drop jumps, reactive jumps and heavy medicine ball throws (i.e. 5 to 6 kilograms). To further simplify plyometric training, the exercises can be broken down into five levels of intensity (see Table 7). Before identifying the suggested training guidelines, the following factors should be considered before developing the training program:

  • the age and physical development of the athlete,
  • the skills required to perform the exercises safely and correctly,
  • the performance factors of the sport,
  • the energy requirements of the sport, and
  • progression.

Table 7: The Five Levels of Intensity of Plyometric Exercises

Intensity / Type of exercises / Intensity of No reps / No reps RI between sets Level / Exercises & Sets per session

1

high reactive jumps > 60cm / maximum / 5-8 x 10-20/ 120-150  8-10 minutes

2

drop jumps 80-120cm / very high / 5-15 x 5-15 / 75-150 5-7 minutes

3

bounding exercises / sub-maximum / 3-25 x 5-15 / 50-250  3-5 minutes

4

reactive jumps 20-50cm / moderate / 10-25 x 10-25 / 150-250  3-5 minutes

5

low impact jump/throws / low / 10-30 x 10-15 /  50-300 2-3 minutes

The Final Word on Training For Power

The type of power training method used will be dictated by the particular sport you are involved in, and the type of power adaptations required. A needs analysis should be conducted in order to determine which training system is most applicable, and which exercises should be selected. A solid MxS training background is required in order to minimise the chance of injury and more specifically, to allow those MxS adaptations to be converted to power. Power training is extremely taxing and the training guidelines outlined in Table 7 should be strictly adhered to.

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