These Explosive Power Training Moves Will Take Your Workout To The Next Level

·8 min read
Photo credit: Martin Rusch
Photo credit: Martin Rusch

You knew Megan Thee Stallion’s song “Savage” was a jam before Beyoncé jumped in on the remix, but combining the two queens on one track took the hit to a whole new level. And while you also know that strength training equals all sorts of benefits, add speed to the equation and you’ve got a whole new badass-making beast: power exercises.

When you think about power in a sport sense, what comes to mind? Basketball players jumping sky-high and sprinters exploding off starting lines? Well, truth is, you don’t have to be a pro athlete (we’re all athletes!) to reap the rewards of training this way.

Power Training, Explained

“Power training is essentially overcoming resistance as quickly as possible,” says Mel Herl, CSCS, performance center manager for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. This means that working to boost your power is less about what you do and more about how quickly you do it. Instead of teaching your muscles only to get bigger and stronger, power work enhances the neuromuscular system, which sends signals from your brain to your muscles so your body can respond to a stimulus and jump into action more efficiently, says Herl. When you work on box jumps, for instance, the message passing from your mind to the leg muscles that propel you up off the floor gets faster.

Photo credit: Martin Rusch
Photo credit: Martin Rusch

Benefits Of Power Training

As a result, power work improves not only your reaction time but also your balance, coordination, and overall performance, says trainer Danyele Wilson, CPT, whose power workouts generate lots of buzz on Instagram (@danyelewilson). So whether it’s tripping over your dog or almost missing a curb on a run, everyday situations are what power training prepares you for. And that’s just one reason Wilson refers to developing power as “training for life.”

Since power training is higher in intensity, you reap cardiovascular endurance benefits. Oh, and did we mention it’s also hella good for your joints? This fiery workout mode puts more of a load on them—as well as on the tendons and ligaments—than other types of exercise, which makes them stronger and more stable over time, says Herl. (It’s no wonder she calls power-focused sessions “WD-40 for your body”!)

All of these perks appeal at any age, no doubt, but they become increasingly important as we get older, since we tend to lose power more quickly than we lose strength, notes Wilson. In fact, power declines by 7 to 14 percent per decade in adults, recent research suggests—hence we can all benefit from power training, like, right now. That’s where WH comes in. Use this primer to add a little more ka-pow! to your routine.

Photo credit: Martin Rusch
Photo credit: Martin Rusch

Types Of Power Training

The methods for developing serious voltage fall into three buckets.

  1. Plyometrics (also called jump training) challenges your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are responsible for explosive movements, by forcing them to stretch and contract quickly. All sorts of explosive jumps, hops, and quick agility moves that involve fast feet or changes in direction fit the bill.

  2. While in plyo your body actually leaves the ground, in trajectory or ballistic work the focus is on your ability to move or even launch an object (like a medicine ball) as hard or far as possible, says Wilson. Two common examples: wall balls (in which you throw the ball) and kettlebell swings.

  3. In dynamic power training, you tweak your approach to typical strength moves and use a moderate weight—50 to 60 percent of your one-rep max (the most you can lift for a single rep)—to tap into your intensity. So you might lower slowly into a weighted squat and then rocket up.

The Difference Between Power And Strength Training

Though the concepts seem similar, they’re actually quite different. While speed is top priority in anything power-focused, it’s not a factor at all in strength training. The latter is about how much total force you can exert, not how quickly you can exert it, Wilson says.

What this means: While power work offers neuromuscular benefits, it can’t stimulate your muscles (or bones) to get bigger. Only good ol’ strength training can do that, Herl says. You develop power with low reps but need more like 10-plus reps for your bod to grow muscle.

It’s because of these defining factors that strength and power actually pair perfectly, though. The more muscle you have, the more fibers your brain can signal to jump, sprint, or pivot when you train explosively. Think of it as having more horsepower to work with.

Plus, beelining to power work without a solid strength base first is a big no-no that often leads to tendinitis, ACL injuries, and ankle tweaks. Power may be all about flooring the gas pedal, but you need adequate muscle strength to hit the brakes without ending up hurt.

Photo credit: Martin Rusch
Photo credit: Martin Rusch

How To Incorporate Power Training Into Your Workouts

Giving your all requires a specific approach. Use these parameters to make sure your effort pays off.

1. Keep intensity moderate

Maintain an effort level of 50 or 60 percent of your max, especially when performing weighted movements, Wilson says. This intensity sweet spot ensures you can still move with the explosive speed needed to reap true benefits.

2. Mind your reps

You can’t push yourself into fatigue (or bad form) and still develop power, so Wilson recommends sticking to about six reps—or roughly
10 seconds of work time.

3. Rest, rest, rest.

In order to maintain peak output, you’ve also got to take active recovery seriously. A work-to-rest ratio of one to five ensures you can bounce back. So if you work for 10 seconds, rest for 50.

4. Work smarter, not harder

Power training is bigger than ever thanks to group fitness and badass social media trainers, but the boom has led to some misunderstanding. Truth is, not all trainers program power properly. So if a coach has you doing 15 box jumps or a minute of ball slams in a class (or personal training session) and labels it “power work,” get skeptical. Do any move for much longer than 6 to 10 seconds and it’s just “fancy cardio,” Herl says. It’s not necessarily bad—these longer bouts of effort boost your endurance—but this approach won’t help you level up your jump height or slam with more oomph.

Pro tip: None of that satisfying soreness post–power sesh? Don’t be alarmed. “You’ll be dog tired—but your muscles won’t be sore,” says Herl.

Then there’s the misconception that power training has to look fancy. “People see someone jump five hurdles before getting to a box jump and hop around like a bunny rabbit on Instagram, but it’s just too much,” Herl says. The complicated stuff definitely looks cool, but it’s not necessary (or even advisable) for newbies. Simple body-weight movements—like jumping rope or lateral shuffles—are your best bets for seeing results and avoiding injury from the start.

5 Exercises That Improve Power

Pick four or five of the following moves. Perform three sets of six reps of each, resting for one minute after each set, then continue to the next.

Rainbow Slam

How to: Kneel on the ground, with your knees slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in both hands, rotate your upper body slightly, and extend your arms so you're holding it towards the right side of your body. Forcefully, but with control, swing the dumbbell over your head in an arch or rainbow shape, until you reach the same position on the opposite side of your body. Alternate directions, and swing the dumbbell back to the other side. That's one rep.

Broad Jump

How to: Start in a squat position (feet under shoulders, toes facing forward, thighs parallel to floor). Bracing your core, push off from ground and jump forward as far as you can, using your arms to help propel you forward. Land in a squat, with control. That's one rep.

Kettlebell Swing

How to: Start in a hinge (hips back, knees slightly bent, torso leaned forward at 45 degrees) holding the handle of a kettlebell with both hands, arms extended straight toward floor and bell between knees on the floor. In one motion, squeeze glutes, straighten legs, lift torso, and thrust hips forward, while swinging the weight to chest height, keeping arms straight and core tight. Reverse the movement, bringing the kettlebell between thighs this time when you hinge. That's one rep.

Squat Jump

How to: Start in a squat (feet under shoulders, toes facing forward, thighs parallel to floor) with torso upright and hands clasped in front of chest. Press through feet to straighten legs and jump up off the floor while swinging straight arms behind body. Land back in a squat position. That’s one rep.

Plyometric Woodchopper

How to: Start standing with feet just outside of shoulders holding one dumbbell with both hands in front of body, arms extended straight toward floor. Lift right foot up off mat and behind body while bending at elbows to swing weight over left shoulder. Quickly hop from left foot to right while straightening arms and drawing dumbbell diagonally across chest toward right hip, torso and gaze follow weight. That’s one rep.

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