When it comes to the concept of fitness, what makes a person “fit” has lots of different dimensions. For example, a yogi may have a great deal of flexibility, but not be as fast in laps around the track. An Olympic weightlifter may have a great deal of strength, but not be as agile as a soccer player.
When it comes to developing power – that explosive element of fitness that makes us accelerate, jump, and throw with maximal force - a common misconception is that it can only be done via power lifting. Power lifts are comprised of the squat, deadlift, and bench press, and aim to determine an individual’s heaviest one-repetition maximum (1RM) across these three push and pull metrics. While power lifting is a fantastic way to develop strength and power, it can be intimidating, especially for those new to exercise, and the limited choice of movements is not for everyone.
Another assumption that many tend to make is that explosiveness can only be harnessed via the traditional weightlifting movements – the snatch and the clean & jerk. The truth is while that these movements do require a high amount of power to perform, they are also very demanding technique and mobility-wise. This may not present them as the best options for individuals who lack the proper conditioning or experience, or those whose pre-existing conditions prevent them from executing the movements correctly.
However, there are ways to add power training to your everyday workout without getting under the barbell – or without continuously adding weight towards a 1RM. In fact, nearly every sport or activity has a way to incorporate power elements (ever heard of power yoga?) without injury-causing stress or professional-level weightlifting technique.
I like to divide power training into two categories – plyometric (jumping) and reactive (producing force against resistance). Plyometric jump-based movements are highly effective ways to develop speed, strength, and power, especially in the muscles of the lower body – but are not always safe for those with joint, alignment, or mobility issues. Reactive movements, on the other hand, involve moving an object or your body against a resistive force, such as banded sprints, sled drags, or rotational lunges, and are better for scaling to all levels and abilities.
When planning to add power elements to your workout, first determine your goals: are you looking to run a faster 2.4KM? Jump higher on the basketball court? Shred body fat? Depending on what you need and want to achieve, you should focus your power program on performing complementary movements that match your intended outcome. For example, if you’re looking to develop faster running times, you’ll want to focus on lower body power, whereas if you’re trying to build greater conditioning for a round of boxing, you’ll need to enhance upper body power – two different styles of movement.
Next, decide whether you’re going to integrate power movements into your existing workouts (for example, adding a set of box jumps after each of your weighted squat sets), or if you’re going to do a workout that consists entirely of full body power movements (in which case you’d want to diversify the types, intensity, and duration of each movement, such as alternating 30 seconds of tuck jumps with 30 seconds of plyometric push-ups).
Finally, you’ll want to attend a class or hire a coach specialised in these types of movements to ensure your form is correct before adding plyometric or reactive exercises to your regimen. Because there is a higher requirement of force (and sometimes speed and impact) necessary to perform power movements, the potential for injury can be higher, and proper alignment and form become even more important.
It doesn’t take much to turn familiar movements in your existing exercise program into power-focused movements – for example, a bodyweight squat can easily become a jump squat; a kettlebell swing with a partner’s resistance turns into a spike swing, and changing the trajectory of a wall ball converts it to a rotational wall throw – all of which are simple adaptations toward power movements.
Remember that, when transitioning quickly across multiple planes of motion, the velocity of power training means that the weight does not need to be high to achieve results. In fact, many of the most effective power movements such as jump lunges and single-leg plyo deadlifts are bodyweight-only. When you train safely and within your ability level, take time to learn proper form and alignment, and focus on what you need to excel at your sport or activity, power training can absolutely take you to the next level of performance.